Finnish artist Anna Emilia Laitinen’s delicate watercolor illustrations depict the great generosity of nature — fields of wild flowers, tall forests of birch, people enjoying activities specific to each season. Her beautiful works illustrate books and magazines, decorate paper goods, and are printed on textiles. Anna Emilia has collaborated with a long list of companies, including Urban Outfitters and Chronicle Books, to create unique products (check out the links below for places to find them). And don’t miss her blog and her Instagram (one of my favorites!). Thank you Anna Emilia for sharing these lovely words about your life as an artist! -eden
Where are you based?
What three words would you choose to best describe your artwork?
Forest, meadow, wind.
Has your childhood had a significant effect on your work? If so, paint us a picture of what your childhood was like in words? (If you have an image you would like to share, please do.)
My parents are strawberry farmers and we lived in the countryside in the middle of forests and fields that were connected to lakes by forest paths. We spent the days outdoors — exploring, building huts, skiing in the wintery fields, and skating on frozen lakes. During summers we bicycled to the summerhouse to swim. We made bonfires and rowed boats. Snowmen and snow houses covered our fields during winters. I had a very free childhood growing up in nature. I believe that my ideas come from those days, and even I live in a city now, my days are pretty much the same.
Have you had a formal art education?
In 2008 I graduated as a graphic designer. I studied here in Finland and was an exchange student in Iceland. I studied illustration as much as possible, and my teachers were very helpful even though there wasn’t an illustration program. As an entrepreneur, I’ve been able to use a lot of things that I learned as a graphic designer.
Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to be an artist?
I don’t think so. All my family members made things with their hands — everything that we could, we made ourselves. So it was always very natural for me to do things with my hands. I started with drawing, sewing, and knitting — it was much later on that I started to enjoy painting. That was when I was studying and living in Iceland. At that time, I mainly painted for myself, but my style was there already.
What was the first piece of art that you sold? How did the sale come about?
It was for the daughter of a friend from work. I did not sell it, but it was my very first real water colour painting. The painting had a volcano, a girl, a fox, and a bird on a sea shore. I was living in Iceland then and was inspired by the nature there. It was at that point when I knew it was possible to sell my work.
Tell us about what inspires your work.
Nature is the biggest inspiration for me. I think about the weather and the changing of the four seasons when starting a new work, as well as the people that live in the middle of these strong powers. My friends are also inspiring; they all do amazing things. Traveling and seeing new landscapes is foremost vacation for me, but those moments are translated to new images later on.
When you feel a lack of inspiration, how do you find it again?
Usually it helps to do something else for a little while. Walking in nature gives me new ideas and connects old lost ones. Usually being outdoors solves any problem.
What materials and/or tools do you use to create your work? Do you have any favorite techniques or processes that you are willing to share?
My painting style is very spontaneous. I rarely sketch before starting to paint with watercolours. I rely on high quality watercolours and very strong paper.
How do you make money through your art? Please explain what works for you and why. (For example: selling originals or prints online or in galleries, doing commissions, working with major brands, etc.)
With great gratitude, I have been able to collaborate with wonderful people who appreciate what I do. Mostly I work on commissions that range from children’s books to children’s clothes, from stationary to tableware. Commissions are easiest for me because I like to create work that is in communication with something else — like a form or material. I also enjoy the process of collaborating with someone else, otherwise, being an artist can be quite lonely work. Besides these commissions, I have a small online shop where I sell mainly prints, books, and greeting cards. Original paintings are available as well; contact me directly with inquiries. Finland also has a great funding system, and I have been lucky enough to receive funds for some of my own projects and collaborations.
Do you “make a living” as an artist? If not, how do you primarily support yourself?
Luckily and gratefully, I can say that yes, since I began in 2010. Thank you to everyone supporting my work!
What have you found to be the most successful way(s) to market your art? Do you have any tips to share?
Often I think about when the internet did not exist yet. Would I have been traveling with a suitcase filled with paintings from door to door, trying to find people who were interested in them? Before I started to study, I already had a website and a blog. Some of my followers have been following me since those early years — that feels so lovely. I think that blogging was a great way to start. It feels close to my way of working; it is like my diary — I even call it a small weather diary.
How would you describe the “business” of being an artist?
Being an artist is quite a lot of different things. For me everything works the best when I am able to do as much as possible myself. It means the bookkeeping, sending all the orders from my online shop, making my website, and being able to know what happens with the commissions after I have done my part. So it is also a lot of communicating, reading contracts, learning new things, searching for new ideas and what is going on in the world, near and far. Sometimes it is even learning a new language. It is also the free time, which is not really being off from work, but time when I am able to relax and process the new and old.
What is your favorite thing about being an artist?
That I am independent and able to decide most of the time when, what, and how. Meeting all the wonderful people is very lovely too, and hearing from my past customers. A few times I have found a letter or a postcard in my mailbox from a person on the other side of the world who has seen my work and wants to say hi. Sometimes I get photos from parents of their children reading the books that I illustrated or wearing the clothes with my illustrations. At those moments I stop and just try to breath; they mean so much.
Who have been your biggest supporters?
My family is the greatest support for me. Also friends who have taught me new things and brought me so much inspiration.
If you could collaborate with anyone (a person or a company) who would it be?
One of my dreams came true this year when I illustrated a cover for a book by my favourite childhood author, Marja-Leena Mikkola. Also, I always enjoy musical collaborations and working with texts. There are many musicians that I would love to collaborate with — some that I have been enjoying recently are Arvo Pärt, Feist, Stephan Micus and The Clientele. Happily, they are all alive and composing, so I will keep on dreaming! I would also like to help save our planet Earth, which we are unfortunately ruining little by little. I try to do my best to support fair trade and ethical choices with my work, which means that sometimes I have to say no to things.
Do you have any current obsessions, art or non-art related?
I enjoy to read a lot and see things from Northern places — it might be an obsession or a way to live that life. Last year I traveled to Svalbard, and this spring I went back to Iceland after seven years. It was lovely to speak Icelandic again. Next year I hope to visit the Faroese Islands, maybe to find a project that I could do there. Then there are the North and South Poles…
What piece of advice would you give other women who are pursuing careers in art?
Be true to yourself and enjoy what you do.
Do you have any upcoming shows, news, or things you’d like to let us know about?
“The Dandelion Fields” — my stationary collection for Chronicle Books is available through their site.
The autumn and winter 2014 children’s clothes collection for Jacadi Paris with my illustrations is now available here.
“L’ours et le soleil” — my illustrated book about winter, a bear, and the hiding sun should be available again this winter at Jacadi stores. It can be also be found through Amazon, see the link on my blog.
My first illustrated book with Giovanna Zoboli’s text about different kinds of houses and homes, “Casa di fiaba,” is still available at Topipittori. This year I won the second prize of the Finnish competition and exhibition “Mikkeli’s 10th Illustration Triennial” for the illustrations.
There is a group exhibition called “Colours of The Sacred – The Journey” with a few of my paintings traveling around Italy this year, it was last in Padova.
“The Kalevala,” an interactive painting and musical toy app, created with Oliver Blank and Kalle Karjalainen, is available for free for iPhone and iPad on iTunes.
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