Forward, Leena Kisonen
Hi Leena! Could you tell us a bit about yourself, please?
I’m a Finnish illustrator and artist with a background in graphic design. I live and work in Helsinki, Finland. My work is largely inspired by folk art, Scandinavian style and Japanese aesthetics. I create my illustrations through combining handmade paper cuts to vectors, which gives a very unique look to my work. People often tell me they like the bold colourful look and the positive feel of my work.
I shifted into full-time illustration after years of working different kinds of day jobs in graphic design. I’ve now ran my own studio full time for 3.5 years and haven’t looked back since. My practise is a mix of commissioned illustration projects and my own art projects. I’m grateful I get to do something I like to do so much for a living. I’m glad to be able to say that I’m in my dream job right now.
If I wasn’t an illustrator, I would probably be working with travel in a way or another. I love to travel, learn new languages and discover different cultures. My favourite place in the world is Tokyo in Japan and I also adore the Japanese approach to art and craft.
Let’s talk more about A Decade of Change. What drew you to collaborate with us on this project?
The optimistic feel and the open-endedness of the project came across as something interesting to me. Also being asked to create an artwork for the whole next decade is quite unusual, so that felt like a fun challenge as well.
We’d love to hear about about your interpretation of the brief for A Decade of Change, and the intentions of your print.
I see the new decade as an exciting journey yet to be experienced. Starting something new is often a mix of excitement and uncertainty, so I wanted to picture a positive character boldly taking the first steps to the 2020s. The new decade allows us to learn new things and grow - let’s celebrate the good things ahead of us!
What is the message behind your piece in the collection, and what does it mean to you?
I wanted to create a piece that would feel visually current to this time and age, but that would have a message that would be timeless. I think the idea of always moving forward and developing as a person is a good idea in 2020s and beyond.
Talk us through your design process, from the initial idea to the finished piece.
I must say I’m very straightforward when it comes to working - I like to move forward quickly. I also love the feeling of finishing a piece, so that’s probably why I like to get there fast.
When I get a new brief, I first try to find an interesting way to approach the topic and how could I treat it in a fresh way. I also try to figure out what would be interesting to the people who are going to see the piece.
I process my ideas a lot in my head before putting them out on paper. I’m not much of a sketcher - I’d rather just make a few very vague line sketches and then just directly go into execution. My work takes its form in the process which I consider to be a conversation between me and the piece I’m creating. The piece I’m creating will tell me which way to go and I try to listen what it’s trying to say. Probably not the most stress-free way of working, but it has worked for me very well so far!
What - or who - influences your creative style and ethos?
There are so many! Some of my all time favourite illustrators and artists are Swedish graphic designer Olle Eksell, Swiss illustrator Lora Lamm and American textile designer Tammis Keefe. I love everything about their work. Their positive, uplifting styles and use of color has influenced my work a lot. I also adore the illustration work Andy Warhol made before his more well-known career as a world famous artist.
What is your biggest art pet peeve, and why?
I guess it’s people who don’t consider illustration as proper work that should be paid for and see it more like a hobby that people just do for fun. I don’t understand how someone can still think you wouldn’t have to pay to an illustrator while they use their time, skills and tools in order to help other people achieve their goals.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Lately I’ve gotten very interested in the Finnish folklore. The local myths, folk stories and mythological characters are very unique and I am fascinated by their strange world. Many of these stories or characters have never really been illustrated - they’ve been just stories that have been passed on from one generation to another orally. That’s something exceptional in this world so full of images. I have developed an obsession of creating some kind of a personal illustration project around them. Let’s see where this path will take me…
Tell us something that we wouldn’t know about you.
I’m a dog person and I especially love basset hounds, because they have so much personality and have big floppy ears. I dream of owning a basset at some point of my life!
What would you like to change over the new decade?
I haven’t made any big plans for the next decade yet, but one thing that I would like to change is to learn how to go to bed earlier. I hope that won’t take a decade though…
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To go back in time to meet my art heroes in person and pick their brains about everything!