Originally from Finland and now living in Edinburgh via Glasgow, freelance illustrator Essi Kimpimäki delights in visiting new places as it inspires her. And in her artwork, she blends colours, shapes and characters magically to spread joy to her audience.
Like many artists, drawing has been a lifelong fascination for Essi. And just like many people with creative ambition, when she was a kid, she didn't know it was possible to do it for a living. "Back when I finished school, there weren't any illustration courses available in Finland," she tells Creative Boom, "graphic design was the closest thing to illustration, so I planned to study that."
But while taking a gap year before going to university, Essi visited London and realised that doing a full degree in illustration was possible. So, a few years later, in 2007, she moved to Glasgow to study illustration at the Glasgow School of Art. Yet despite graduating in 2011, Essi didn't start working as an illustrator properly until a few years later.
She reveals: "I went travelling and worked in other jobs. I got a few illustration commissions, but I didn't know how to move forward with them. I started a two-year college course in graphic design, thinking it was still close enough to illustration and would be easier to find work in that area.
"However, the course made me realise that I desperately missed making images and had zero passion for graphic design – illustration was all I wanted to do! And I think that was the push I needed; I dropped out of the course after the first year, started to seriously pursue a career in illustration, and haven't looked back since."
Having moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh due to her partner's work, Essi has a new-found appreciation for the city. Beforehand she admits to having found it a bit "touristy and slightly boring", but now she's amazed at how beautiful it is. "It's full of history and gorgeous old buildings, picturesque little streets, and because it's quite hilly, you're often treated with great views over the city," she enthuses.
"Nature is also very important to me, and I love the many green areas in the city. I get a lot of inspiration from my surroundings, so it's been nice to have a new city to explore after so many years in Glasgow. I'm happy to live in Edinburgh at the moment. However, I am dreaming of eventually relocating somewhere with more sunshine!"
As well as nature, Essi's constantly changing inspirations include colourful and playful art by the likes of Matisse, Derain and Gauguin. "I also really like Rousseau's jungle paintings, landscapes by Roger Mühl, Mary Fedden, Tove Jansson, Japanese woodblock prints, and folk art."
On top of this, she especially admires illustrators who have found their own unique artistic voice and have an individual quality that shines through regardless of the subject or the medium. "I think it can take a lot of time and effort to find your own visual language, and I love it when an artist has been sharing their work online for a long time, and I can scroll back and see their work from years ago," she explains. "You can often see where the distinctive style they now have started from and how it has evolved."
But Essi is careful when it comes to her inspirations. She constantly keeps in mind that when looking at the work of other artists, you see the world as they interpret it. "So, to avoid being too influenced by that, I try to make sure to spend more time looking at the real world instead and focus on creating my own interpretations. I take a lot of photos wherever I go, so I have a big selection of reference images that I can browse through later when looking for inspiration."
Describing her style as joyful, cute and whimsical, Essi is especially drawn to illustrating flowers, plants and trees; the more tropical, the better. And even a quick glance over her portfolio indicates that she also likes drawing animals such as cats and dogs, as well as landscapes and – the "occasional" – human.
"In the past, I've worked on a couple of projects that required me to draw things fairly realistically, and I realised that it wasn't nearly as enjoyable to me as drawing in a more stylised way," Essi reveals. "So I've intentionally steered my style more and more towards that direction; wonky, flat perspectives, imaginary flowers and plants, bright colours, exaggerated and simplified figures and shapes.
"That's where the magic of illustration lies for me, in the freedom to play with shapes and colours, to create new imaginary worlds."
And if Essi can't indulge in the new shapes, colours, and scenery of a new location, that doesn't get in the way of her sourcing inspiration. "Looking at photographs of faraway places is a good alternative. I like the challenge of capturing the feel and atmosphere of a place without replicating the way it is in reality too closely and trying to translate it into simple shapes and limited colour palettes."
One of the highlights of working as an illustrator is when people tell Essi that they can relate to the work she has created. "It makes me so happy if my art has made someone smile or maybe reminded them of a dear pet, a happy moment or a place they love," she says.
"After art school, I had it in my head that a good illustration needs to be very conceptual, to always have a deep meaning or message to be good or worthy. But I think spreading joy and warm feelings are very important too."
With the holidays just around the corner, Essi is currently winding down her work ahead of jetting off to Spain to see her family. But before she goes, she shares the best advice she's ever received as an illustrator: "I think one of the most consoling pieces of advice has been the idea that to create one good drawing, you need to first make ten (or more) bad ones.
"So try not to feel discouraged when a drawing doesn't work out the way you wanted but instead try to view it as a necessary and unavoidable step towards a better drawing. Just keep going!"