Get to know Finland-based graphic designer and illustrator Leena Kisonen as she shares her approach to finding inspiration, what her creative process looks like, and how she structures her workdays to stimulate both creativity and productivity.
Where do you work? Tell us about your space(s).
I currently work from home in the lovely Vallila district in Helsinki, Finland. I used to have a shared studio with other illustrators, but I have now discovered that I’m most productive when I’m alone. It’s probably needless to say that I’m an introvert and like to hide in my cave!
I keep switching between my desk and the kitchen table depending on what I’m doing. During the Summer and warmer weather, I also go out to the parks and to the seaside to do work where I don’t need the computer.
Where does your inspiration come from and what does your design process usually look like?
In my opinion, almost anything can be a seed for an idea, you just have to keep your eyes open to spot the things that speak to you. I think everyone’s personal way of creating reflects the way they see and experience the world around them.
I love to travel and discover new places. Traveling is a great way to get inspired because different cultures make you question your usual surroundings. Japan is my favorite place of visual discovery. I’m also a huge folk art fan and keep looking for ethnographic museums wherever I travel.
I create my illustrations by combining handmade paper cuts to vector graphics. The beginning of my work is handmade, but the final piece is vector. I started to use paper cuts in my work back in 2006, when I was an exchange student in Cracow, Poland. Poland has a great tradition of folk art paper cuts and seeing them inspired me to create my own versions. I’m still on that path as I like the quality of work achieved this way.
Process-wise, I must say I’m quite straightforward. I’m not much of a sketcher, so I just usually do a few very vague sketches and just get directly into work after that. I kind of consider myself to be having a conversation with the piece I’m creating and I think the process will tell me which way to go. Probably not the most stress-free way of working, but it works for me.
Tell us about your routine (or lack of one.) How do you structure your days to get things done?
I like routines and try to be at work by 9:30 am every weekday. Working from home can feel a bit random sometimes, so I have made up a simple routine for myself to keep my day structured.
This is what I do: I first fill a pitcher with water and place it next to my desk with a glass. Then, I switch on an aroma diffuser I have next to my desk. It makes a sound that helps me concentrate and also works as a timer for me. It runs for three hours and then beeps when it’s over. That’s my morning session after which I’ll have lunch. I’ll repeat the same session in the afternoon and continue to work until 6:00 pm or so with a few breaks. At the end of the day, I check what I should be doing on the following day. It’s pretty much the same process every day when I’m creating new work.
I also have this rule that my phone has to be in the other room in silent mode when I’m working. That way, I avoid the urge to check my phone and get distracted. It’s a small thing, but makes a huge difference! In addition to this, I also use the Pomodoro technique if I’m struggling to get something done. I think limiting and dividing your time into parts is an effective way to get things done.
How do your space, tools, and habits benefit you? What about those things do you think needs improvement?
I like working in calm and silent surroundings, but I do listen to music and podcasts too. I especially love listening to a good true-crime podcast when working! So many of my positive, cute, and playful illustrations are actually created with murder stories in the background. It’s good to have a bit of a contrast, isn’t it?
I love creating for clients and working to a brief, but often feel like I don’t have much time for my own work. My goal for the rest of the year is to create more work that’s self-started. At some point, I’d like to have an actual studio just for myself. I’d love to have a space where I could make a mess and also make bigger hand-made pieces. So I’m keeping my other eye open for that perfectly peaceful and beautiful studio space!