Meet the Makers

Meet the Maker Interview – Annu Kilpelainen

We recently caught up with Finnish Illustrator Annu Kilpelainen at her Studio in London to find out all about her process, inspiration and style. Annu is one of twelve fantastic artists that have collaborated with Bookblock to create the Bookblock Editions series.

How would you describe your work?
Colour! It’s all about colour. I work with a lot of imagery of nature and cars. When I’m drawing, it tends to be really tight crops, I think that’s because I used to take a lot of screenshots of films so it was more of that sort of super quick shot of life rather than doing a big scene of things happening: I enjoy looking at the tiny sections of the bigger picture. But everything comes from my head, I don’t actually work from screenshots. My drawings are quite loose, they don’t really tell much as pictures, what is behind it, the back story, that kind of thing but that’s what’s nice: they’ve got a lot of space for people to build their stories in. I like that the viewer could relate my images to their own story.

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How do you make all your images is it the same process every time or more intuitive?
Technically it is the same because I always start with doodles or sketches. It’s usually either based on certain colours that I want to use or an image that I want to make. A lot of the time it’s simply playing with exploring how to use certain colours and working intuitively from that. Then I think for commissions it’s a lot more straightforward because obviously you have a brief to work to – so that’s more just coming up with an idea, sketching it out, adding colours and then drawing it up. Commercially it is way more straightforward just because of the time limits and I need to show the sketches to people so I am more conscious of the images I am making. But when I sketch for myself it doesn’t need to look like anything. When I was at uni and we had to do sketch books and it was so awful because it was always like ‘there’s a project to do, there’s a starting point and an end.’ So you try out all these things then you have to like keep a log on the sketchbook and just show everything that you’re doing and I would just do loads of stuff and then back track everything! My ideas just don’t work like that. Sometimes they come out of really stupid things and it might be a really nice end result for a picture but I don’t want anyone to know how I came up with that!

Has growing up in Finland inspired the way you work or what you make work about?
I get asked that a lot… and people say ‘is it cause it’s so dark and miserable?’ It’s not intentional but there might be something to do with it. When I was at Uni I did a lot of very detailed, black and white drawings. But my work just evolved: I got really into watercolours and acrylic and would mix up really psychedelic colours. And then it just went on from that but just losing all the black and white. But this definitely links to when I worked in a biscuit factory, designing biscuits. So I would make huge patches of colour and mix them. The colours were really simple, candy colours. So doing all these samples repetitively I think definitely influenced my art work. It was cool to have such a free range, I had any colour at my fingertips in huge quantities. It had to be super simple because there’s only so much you can fit on a biscuit! I was working there for a few years between studying as well so it’s hard to not be affected by this. It was such a free range to try out everything. And with the actual material there were two different icings: one really hard for the outlines and then one is really thin so you just pour the colour in.

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You can really see that influence in your work! There’s so much separation between the primary colours, just like the playfulness of these candy biscuits you were creating, sort of patching things together. And for the content of those images, your work often features the body and the female form but rarely faces- it’s more a snapshot of a body- is that intentional?
I think I do some faces like a few years ago and I always found that as soon as you show a face it’s about that person like if there’s a crop of a body then it’s more relatable. I feel like there’s just too much the look in your eyes or you know, it’s really hard to convey a certain feelings. Then i end up doing things that are like much more like comic.. They end up looking funny or wonky or different to what i want. So it was quite i’m not going to do faces and that’s it. But when I decided that straight after I got asked to do some portraits! But I sort of made it my own with the flowers, where you’ve got the eyes hidden, which are reoccurring in my work. I have thought about doing a children’s book but I don’t know about the faces! Cause otherwise it’s just saying too much. It’s like in Southpark how they always have the same feet because they just don’t like drawing feet, they’re either hidden behind something or just these little shapes. So I thought i’d just do that with faces!

What artists or illustrators have influenced you?
I think Tove Jansson from when I was a kid, I loved the Moomins. I had all the stories, I had a Moomin house, everything but then since that there’s so many. It changes every other month, especially with the Internet you’re discovering new things all the time. I think the past couple of months I’ve been looking at a lot of Japanese design.

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What inspires you to keep making work?
I get really excited about making new work and want to make new work, new techniques. When I was studying I wanted to be a lot more commercial, but now I really need to do my work: I need to remove myself from all the commissions. When you get commissions they always refer to your past work so it’s easy to get stuck in this role of the same style. I definitely think working in this way means I can am progressing. I’m not sticking to the same style all the time, I think the work has moved as time goes on. Keep doing, keep moving.

Can you tell us a little more about the mediums you use?
I used to use a lot more acrylic but I think for speed it’s a lot easier to use Poscas and the pigments are so bright. The other thing I’ve started doing is opening up the pens, because they only do a really limited range… in a way this is really good because I’ve only got a really limited colour palette. But I started feeling that I needed to have a bit more, a bit more variation. So I started taking the ink out and mix new colours and replacing them, and seal them up. Then I thought, I’m just gonna make my own factory! I think you could put acrylic paint in there too so yeah it’s really cool! There’s so much variation.