Maria Midttun on cowboys, biology textbooks, and her top five book recommendations

Self-proclaimed "collector, reader, admirer, attempted maker" of books; Norweigan illustrator Maria Midttun has a close relationship with novels and publishing, from her professional and tutoring practice to her personal life.

"Right now, I have a couple of books on the go," Maria tells us, discussing what she's reading currently, recalling Ikaros by Aksel Jensen and I Love Dick by Chris Kraus as the books in question. "I recently managed to get my hands on a copy of Taking A Line for a Walk – Assignments In Design Education," she adds, "and I've been bookmarking all the briefs I want to have a go at this summer."

With a fundamentally tactile, insatiably fun and beautifully heart-warming practice, Maria's work is inescapably human, feeling personal to the point of nostalgia. Forever inclined to create books at any given opportunity, it's no surprise the significant sentimental value they carry. "As an object, they're beautiful, and they tell a story in how much they're used," Maria regales, "any marks, dedications, where and when I was reading it or looking at it for inspiration, or if it was gifted from someone." Also drawn by the second-hand mystery books offer, Maria, explains: "I am a sucker for books with evidence from their past life," adding, "any notes from previous readers, personal dedications if it was a gift or a name inside the cover, old bookmarks, or a withdrawn library books!"

On a more practical note, Maria thrives in the design limitations they offer. "I love the physical aspects like paper and print quality, binding, and presenting content as a part of a series or collection," she explains. "Small press publishing and self-published zines and books are huge sources of joy and inspiration to my work;" a practice that itself includes a remarkable amount of printed matter.

We have spoken to Maria about her favourite books, cowboys clothes and what she bought with her 18th Birthday money. So over to you, Maria!

1. How The West Was Worn: A History of Western Wear by Holly-George Warren and Michelle Freedman

I came across this book at a campus bookstall when I was a student. It's about the history of western clothing from its early origins, cowboys to rodeo and performance wear, based on an exhibition at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage. These clothes hold so many stories, skills, and traditions and have incredible details and tailoring and humour, making it one of my favourite books! Of course, my love for western movies, 1950s and '60s country music, rodeo aesthetic, and rhinestones also play a big part.

2. The Catalogue by Saul Steinberg

My university lecturer Joel Lardner had this copy by his desk; he also introduced me to Steinbergs' work. Coming back to teach, I would photocopy my favourite pages in the library and put them up in my workspace. In the end, I thought it was time to get my own copy, so I found a second-hand one on Amazon (sorry). This collection of drawings by Saul Steinberg from The Art of Living, The Passport, Labyrinth has been important to my practice and makes me feel hopeful and happy and excited about drawing every time I look through it. It's from the '60s, so the quality is incredible, and it is so beautifully worn. The best part is a newspaper clipping I found inside the book (which has discoloured a perfect square) of Saul Steinbergs' obituary when he passed away in 1999.

3. Framework Houses by Bernd & Hilla Becher

I bought a few postcards of these houses from Donlon Books without knowing anything about the artists or their incredible photographic work documenting framework houses and industrial building structures. I found four of their books at a Paul Smith staff sample sale and got them all for a fiver, serious deals, and the framework houses book is my favourite. I love these encyclopaedia style photo books of very niche subjects. It has so many things I appreciate, simplicity, pattern, structure and repetition.

4. Role Models by John Waters

A colleague at a gallery/bookshop job ages ago recommended this book after discovering a common love for John Waters' films. So many fun and interesting stories and anecdotes from a cult movie director about his favourite personalities. No holding back, and the super cute cover by Eric Hanson is a bonus.

5. The Giant Golden Book of Biology by Geral Ames & Rose Wyler. Illustrated by Charles Harper

I bought the Charley Harper An Illustrated Life with my 18th birthday money, and it had a big impact on my decision to become an illustrator. The Giant Golden Book of Biology was referenced a lot in An Illustrated Life, and I managed to find a cheaper withdrawn school library book on eBay, making it more special! It was such a huge influence in my early illustration days, and the work still amazes me!


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