The best thing about launching a travel magazine about place and people is that you cross paths with some immensely talented individuals with passions for paint, the unexpected and the world. London-based Saara Karppinen is one such person. We fell in love with her whimsical creations, all of which have a dream-like element and a distinct fondness for colour and material, meaning she was the perfect illustrator for our Scotland edition. We had a chat with the creative lass about her work, training and the joys of travel.
Can you tell us a little about your training and artistic background?
I studied illustration at Camberwell College of Arts, where I learnt that the most important thing is to enjoy your work, and to always keep experimenting. It seems like a simple lesson, but it can be easy to forget. During university I did a lot of printmaking, mostly stone lithography. Though I’m not working with these techniques at the moment, they helped me to learn a lot about colors, how to build texture, and most importantly, patience.
How would you define your style?
I think everyone has their own natural style, and there isn’t really a need to ‘name’ it as such. Of course there are influences, but what I mean is that I’d rather focus on doing the work then analyzing what I’m going to call it afterwards.
What inspires your work?
I listen to a lot of podcasts, like Lea Thau’s Strangers, which is basically people telling stories about their lives. I’m interested by stories about people, but in my work I like to focus on a single moment. When I work, I imagine I’m painting the scene from the middle of a story, where you won’t know the beginning or the end, but you can get a sense of an atmosphere. So often, I will invent a story to go along with what I’m painting.
What do you love about your job?
Sometimes I can watch Buffy in the background while I work.
5) There is a certain innocence to your work - is this intentional and where does this come from?
I would say this is intentionally unintentional. I paint by what I call ‘working backwards’, which is painting on acetate so that the final image is the reverse of what I am looking at when I paint. In a sense, I keep myself in the dark from the final image, so that there are qualities that I can’t control. Sometimes I paint really small so that when I blow up the image the proportions are slightly odd and you can see all the fine brushstrokes and scratches. I try and work in a way where I am constantly surprised and allow ‘accidents’ to happen. I want my work to feel playful and a bit dynamic, which I guess is a kind of innocence.
Does travel influence your work in any way?
I grew up in five different countries, so I think it would be hard to sort out the start of the influence of ‘travel’ in any tangible way, but I’m sure it’s there. I’m interested in the natural curiosity people have when they travel, that kind of gentle wondering around and appreciating everything in a different way than you would in your own neighborhood. I have a lot of paintings of people and dogs just wondering around, which I suppose captures a bit of this sense.
Has there been a project (past, present or future) that you’ve particularly enjoyed?
I wrote and illustrated a comic for a competition which was supposed to be on the theme of ‘polar night’, but I got a bit carried away and it ended up being about some kind of space purgatory with dogs and 80’s starlets. Needless to say, the competition didn’t go so well, but I had so much fun with it. I think it was the first time I really worked with a long narrative, and I couldn’t really contain my enthusiasm.
What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators?
I spent a whole year trying to figure out what I thought ‘illustration’ is, and trying to adapt my work to suit this - whatever you do, don’t do this! The most important thing is that you enjoy your work, then other people will too. There isn’t much point in making work that you think is boring, because it will be so boring. And you don’t want to get stuck doing that.