I’m Marika Maijala, an illustrator living and working in Helsinki, Finland. I have MA in Cinema Studies and also have accomplished a three-year-long course in graphic design and illustration in a vocational school. Since 2003 I’ve worked as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, illustrating mainly editorials and picture books for children. For the past five years illustrating has been my primary form of income, and I have found that my deepest passion is to tell stories with my pictures.
When did you decide you wanted to be illustrator?
As a child I was more interested in words than images – I dreamed of becoming a writer or a journalist. I loved writing stories of my own (and I still do!). I liked to draw as well but didn’t really think I had talent for it. During my university studies I somehow got involved in illustration, making some pictures for friends’ and university magazines. But it was only after I found that academic writing really wasn’t my cup of tea that I really decided to give illustration a try. Still I think that studying cinema and storytelling made sense after all: it has been really useful when working with picture books.
Would you recommend studying at art school?
I loved those three years in the small art school I studied at. The course program wasn’t very strict so you got to try many different things: drawing, painting, photography, etching, sculpting, what ever. Also the teachers were inspiring and encouraging, as well as the whole atmosphere at the school. The school is important but it is just the start… You need to keep on challenging yourself all the time, to find new ways. And most of the things I now know about illustrating and making your living with it I have learned by doing the job and collaborating with colleagues.
How long was it before illustration became your primary form of income?
It took several years… I’m mainly illustrating fairly non-commercial picture books at the moment and you don’t get paid well for that due to very small circulation of books in Finland. But there is a scholarship system that helps some: you can apply scholarships from private foundations and the state for art projects and sometimes you even get lucky! I have also started a collaboration with the Bright Agency to find assignments abroad (UK and US). You have to be able to multitask to make your living as an illustrator in Finland.
Could you describe your typical day?
I share a studio called Kalapok with four other creatives, who are also good friends of mine. I cycle to the studio in the morning, check my emails, work until lunch, then have lunch in some nice place in the neighbourhood, work some more, chit chat and drink tea with my colleagues and work even further. Days can be very different according to the stage my work is in: I love the sketching part (that you can do in cafes or wherever) but the stage when you are supposed to finish the images and put the book in print is sometimes almost horrifyingly stressful for me. On some projects I work together with my colleagues and that is really fun.
What do you wish you’d know when you first started out?
That you don’t need to define your style immediately – it evolves with time. You are allowed to experiment, and fail.
What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?
To draw. To be independent.
What’s the worst thing about being an illustrator?
Those moments when you have a deadline next day and suddenly your head is as blank as the piece of paper in front of you.
If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
A sailor. Or a film director.
Any other tips you could share?
Be curious, don’t be afraid to fail or try strange things, share your ideas with others.