Emmi Vartiainen is an illustrator and graphic designer hailing from Lahti, Southern Finland. Interested in flora, fauna, horror and all things pretty, there is an undeniable hint of macabre in Emmi's work, though it is introduced in the most soft and subtle manner. When she's not playing an earlier version of Final Fantasy or drawing a sweet family of rabbits, the 22-year-old is likely to be blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. It's not often for art to have the ability to wholly transport the viewer to another place but delicate and eerie, Emmi's illustrations do just that; always hinting at an alternate pastel reality that might just be lurking underneath the skirt of someone's Japanese sailor uniform.
When did you start drawing? And what led you to study graphic design and illustrate on the side?
I can't really remember when I started drawing, it was such a long time ago. Maybe when I was able to hold a pen. Maybe when I was three, or four. I feel like I've always been drawing. My education was at parts art-based, so that led me towards graphic design as I began to develop interest in visual media. I'm probably more of an illustrator, with graphic design on the side. Nowadays I'm interested in contemporary graphic design, typography and illustration. I hope to incorporate them in future works.
Your most recent illustrations are beautifully delicate and coloured, and there seems to be a lot of recurring forest animals… Who and what are your current influences?
As I'm currently working on my graphic design thesis project, which is a children's picture book of well-known finnish wild animals, a lot of my influences come from classic children's animal literature with naturalistic illustrations. I've also been fascinated with scientific illustration for quite a while, and for example flower encyclopaedias are for me very inspiring to look at. I'm interested in drawing with accurate details but keeping an organic line to keep the picture from going too stiff.
*Note: Emmi has recently finished her thesis, Little Nature Book, which will hopefully be made available online because it looks like the cutest thing ever.
Can you tell us about your creative process when starting a piece?
The process varies a bit depending on the style of the piece. Usually a vague image just strikes my head and I think "Hey, that'd make a nice drawing!" And I take the idea and start gathering some inspirational material to build around the idea, working towards the final image. These illustrations are usually done more freely, and are more stylized than my naturalistic illustrations. When drawing naturalistic animal or nature illustrations, it's more about observing the subject through photographs, books, videos or most ideally through real life. With these illustrations the process is about finding a suitable way to represent the subject as it would naturally appear and keeping your own style in mind while drawing the illustration.
Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators and designers?
Practice. Practice as much as you can, as often as you can. Preferably every day, at least a little bit. If you really want to become an illustrator or a designer, it is important not to underestimate the amount of work you must do to become good at your chosen profession. Also, practicing has no certain point that once you pass it you've honed your skill to perfection - there will always be room for improvement.
Also, get inspired, collect loads and loads of material that inspires you and your work. Look around you, and look around often. It's important not to let your mind grow dull!
If you could illustrate any book or text from any time in history, what would it be?
This is a hard one, as so many occur to my mind. Illustrating a classic animal tale like Richard Adams' Watership Down would possibly be a real challenge but really fun too. And I just love rabbits so much, so having the opportunity to provide illustrations for the tale would feel really special.
I've discovered you're a fan of video games - which are your favourites?
I certainly do love my video games! They're a great way of loosening up a bit and letting your mind get completely immersed in some otherworldly business. Games also let my slightly nerdy geeky side loose.
For serious gaming, my favourite games are the more classic Final Fantasy and Pokémon games. Out of those, my favourite games are Final Fantasy IV, VIII, IX (and XII from the slightly newer ones), and Pokémon Crystal. I love old game graphics and the simpler mechanics, and prefer playing them to playing new more complex HD games.
I also love the Silent Hill and Fatal Frame/Project Zero series, and for more casual gaming Spyro, Klonoa and other platformer classics.
If we came to visit you in Finland, where would you take us?
Oh, I'm such a hermit I don't know any cool places, haha. The Kiasma contemporary art museum in Helsinki would probably be a great place to visit for some interesting finnish and international art exhibitions, I'd like to go there probably.
And finally, what are your hopes for the future?
I hope to keep on improving and producing more work. And I'll be graduating soon so the future will be open! I'm very excited for the future, as anything's possible. Someday I'd like to work as a full-time illustrator, though. That would be nice.