What brought you to illustration?
I’ve always really enjoyed drawing, and I did a lot of art studies in my free time as a child and teenager. I went on to study textile design at Aalto University in Helsinki. I wanted to design print patterns for interior design and fashion, but then started to find the design process creatively too restrictive. For my MA thesis project I decided to purely focus on drawing as self-expression, free from the demands of a repeat pattern or other resulting product. I researched different methods to “free” the drawing hand from perfectionism and other pressures, with the aim of drawing more spontaneously, intuitively, experimentally and expressively. I focused on drawing my favourite theme, wildlife, and the result was a large series of ink-drawn animal illustrations. Through that long, immersive creative process I almost accidentally found my “calling”. I found such joy in drawing that I realised that I wanted to share it with others.
Illustration for me is about sharing my ideas, thoughts and feelings with the world, in the way most natural to me – through visual storytelling. At the same time it is what roots me in the world I guess. I also try to share the joy of drawing by teaching workshops which are about finding one’s own creative voice through experimental drawing.
I ended up working as a children’s book illustrator almost accidentally. The wildlife-themed drawings I created during my MA thesis project were on show at a gallery in Helsinki, and the lovely Jenni Erkintalo and Réka Kiraly from Helsinki-based Etana Editions, now my publisher, came to the exhibition. They fell in love with my animal characters and suggested making a book with me. They have now published three children’s books illustrated by me and we have plans for making more.
What was your very first illustration?
Hmm, I have been drawing for as long as I can remember, so it’s hard to say. What counts as an illustration? I recently ran into my first art teacher on the street in my home town. I was five years old when I started going to children's art classes. My teacher claims that as a 5-year old I refused to draw anything other than spiders for some reason. So perhaps that was how I started?
What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
I draw a lot of animals! I’ve always been fascinated by wildlife. As a kid I kept pets ranging from snails and lobsters to rabbits, cats and goats. I spent years saving my weekly allowance for a donkey! I never got one though, but I worked at horse stables and spent a lot of time on farms when growing up. As an adult, I try to get away from the city and hang out with animals for at least a few weeks every year.
I spent a month working on a goat farm in Portugal. Walking with the herd of goats and the milking routine every morning made me so happy! The year before that I went on safaris in West Africa whilst doing an artist residency in Benin. Sitting on the roof of an old landrover spotting exotic animals had a huge impact on me. I’ve just been on a week-long horseriding expedition in the mountains in Macedonia. That was a breathtaking experience. I can’t wait to get back to my studio and draw some horses.
This times spent in nature with animals are like breathing space for me, and they are vital for my work. Of course I have other sources of inspiration, too: different forms of visual art, music, people, urban culture, urban space.
Do you have a favourite place to work?
I love my own studio, but I also enjoy working with my Dad in his wood workshop. We are currently making some wooden toys and sculptures together.
Is there a particular story you would love to illustrate?
I have felt the urge to illustrate a Silent Book for a while, but have not yet found the time for this.
What makes the art of illustrating special to you?
I am a very visual person: I think, dream, memorise and learn things through images. Hence telling stories through images comes very naturally to me. When working with images, you have so many different tools to play with: lines, forms, perspective, composition, texture, colour ... And every element has a symbolic as well as an informative meaning.
Illustrating children’s books is very special. When working on a children’s book, the dialogue and harmony between the text and the images is very important. It’s all about finding the right balance. The ideal situation is where the illustration fills in the gaps that the text leaves and vice versa, but in a way that both leave enough space for the reader’s own imagination and conclusions.
Do you struggle sometimes? Do you have to motivate yourself, and if so, what helps? Is there a kind of "illustrator’s block?"
Yes, and for me that block is perfectionism. I’m a perfectionist by nature and I find that perfectionism can really hinder your creativity. It is a kind of a curse and a blessing at the same time. It’s what drives me to create, but in some important parts of the creative process it can also really distract and blind me, make me focus on the wrong things and as a result lose oversight.
To battle this I’m always looking for new ways to “trick myself” to draw with less care and less attention to detail. I find drawing tools which are hard to control, can help. I will draw with anything that I think will leave an interesting mark: cleaning equipment, tools from hardware stores, sticks, plastic and cardboard shapes and other bits and pieces I get my hands on.