When you grow up in Sweden, even a tiny town “known for its depopulation” is probably a dreamscape of little red cottages, flowing pastures, and heart-shaped pastries.
Jeff Östberg spent his time drawing, skateboarding, and snowboarding. He says, “Coming from a small city was a way to focus and build my own world and this is where art became a way of expressing things.” Back then, his collection was comprised of monsters with futuristic weapons, tractors, and skateboarders. Over time, his interests have shifted to fashion and hip hop, and he has managed to create a style that is uniquely his own.
Östberg’s illustrations depict people from a variety of backgrounds — a refreshing departure from the willowy white girl aesthetic. No shade to willowy white girls. His work is a means of giving back to the music and culture that shaped him, both as an artist and person. His musical influences are vast: “I listen to jazz, afro-beat, rap, disco and RnB.” He describes these genres as having resulted from people of a variety of backgrounds coming together. He explains, “I think that without the music, I wouldn’t make the same pictures or even look at my surrounding the way I do. I often put on a mix or track that has a certain atmosphere when I work and what comes out is often a reflection of the vibe I get from the music.” For Östberg, hip hop is more than just music, its a state of mind and a way of looking at the world. “Hip hop has roots in soul, disco, and jazz,” he says. “It’s all linked together, and it’s cool hearing samples that are pulled from records my dad bought in the 70s when he travelled with cargo ships abroad.”
Östberg is not only drawing—he is styling his subjects. He remembers how fashion played a role in his life growing up: “My fashion interest goes way back. I still remember the feeling and color combo of my first bulls snapback, and my black velcro turtles kicks. My mom is an artisan as well, and she’s always helped me create anything from jackets to bags, scarfs and leather key holders.” He was close to studying fashion before diving headfirst into illustration, but he still muses on the possibilities: “Although we have a lot of influential Swedish brands, I think that when it comes to good streetwear I still feel that there is a hole to fill in here. I miss having stores that aren’t afraid of combining street wear with luxury brands. I often feel its either this or that, which bores me.”
It’s easy to become jaded by the constant barrage of people we see and smell each day. But once in a while, we encounter somebody so effortlessly cool that our faith is restored. These, I would imagine, are the people Östberg is drawing. Some are his friends, some are made up, and others are pulled from his everyday life. He says, “I like drawing people who have a great expression and energy and it’s often the small details in the personalities that make me feel I want to document them. If I see someone in my surroundings, I try to memorize their essence and then add my personal interpretation.” This could mean changing a few colors to make a more cohesive composition and to better capture the vibe of the character. In this way, drawing allows for incredible flexibility. He explains, “When I draw I feel that I have the freedom to communicate what I see but in a way that a photo can’t achieve, and for me thats the beauty of drawing. I often feel like a director who can create a scene where every detail is important to tell the story.”