Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ask: Anna Emilia Laitinen - Illustrator

At a sweet little park full of wooden play things, we took in with all our senses the weather rolling over us very suddenly. Though a much cooler evening had been forecasted, it came on so very quickly, like magic in our dusky sky. We wrapped our girls up in the warm woolens we had packed in our little red wagon for the trip home and started on our way, my mind marveling at the weather as my husband excitedly gushed about it to Nona.

Not that my husband's very mechanical explanation of the weather wasn't interesting to me--it certainly was--it's just that it didn't exactly get at that magical translation of cloud formation to the feel of the frosty air on our cheeks. It was this translation that caught my wondering mind. More specifically, I wondered what kind of a painting an experience such as this might turn into in the hands of Anna Emilia Laitinen, a magical illustrator and lover of weather. 

The lovely Anna Emilia is a master story teller, both through her illustrations and her simple, poetic writing (on her aptly named blog, Weather Diary). Her love of and connection to nature is abundant in her work.  

Like the weather she so admires, she weaves through all our senses to create really complete impressions. And a trip into her world delivers an appreciation for the simple beauties that are immediately accessible to us all--both within the cozy Finnish home & forests she so seamlessly makes us part of, and within our own homes and outside our own windows. 

I love simple, whole stories like these best of all.

No matter how I'm feeling, her work soothes, comforts and delights, like a quiet celebration or healing heart to heart. 

Perhaps her illustrations already seem a bit familiar to you? She's a contributor at Kinfolk Magazine; is featured in The New Artisians, by Olivier Dupon; Illustrators Unlimited, put out by Gestalten; and From Orchard, Fields and Gardens, edited by Kerstin Svendsen-- all publications which have been readily accessible here in the U.S. for the last little while. 

Her Bio is a real joy to read. 

Anna Emilia had me at "strawberry fields in Finland", but then I read on.....

--....small town in Finland with strawberry fields, lakes and pine forests. There I built huts out of branches with friends and my brother, listened to stories from tapes and drew, cut and glued paper. One summer we found Melancholy thistle flowers which we used as painting brushes...."

The full bio can be found here, as heart warming as it is poetic.

She makes and sells her own art here, and has taught art to children, as well.  How happy for those little ones--all childhoods should be full of lessons such as these,shouldn't they? 

And just as I expected, Anna Emilia is every bit as charming as her writing and illustrations.  I hope you'll snuggle up with something warm and happily savor the coming chat! 

--What was your first creative endeavor, was it drawing, sewing, or something else?

When I was very small, my mother and both grandmothers taught me how to sew, crochet and knit. My father taught me a bit of wood carpenter´s tasks. On my own I drew, painted and made small sculptures, probably like anyone else. I still remember that drawing and coloring were my favorite things to do, though I enjoyed them all together. Also baking was very fun.

--How did you get into drawing, painting and illustrating?

At school I chose as much art as possible. I did not feel that I could make a living out of it, so my clever teacher told me to apply to a graphic design school. At that time, I had no idea what graphic design was. In the school I learnt that it is about much smaller things than millimeters. I was blown away with the idea that such small things existed and mattered. I enjoyed it. Even though studying graphic design gave me a lot, I knew that I wanted to do more with my hands, so I started to create all the assignments by cutting and gluing paper, painting or drawing, instead of using computers all the time. It just happened with small steps that I understood what I really want to do.

-- I'm curious about how non-visual experiences like listening to music, the taste or smell of something yummy, or even the way a cozy blanket feels can inspire visual arts.  Do experiences like these ever find themselves being translated into your illustrations or provide you with an emotional current that guides your hand a bit?  

Surely they matter and give guidance toward a certain direction. It might be something that I don't really think about, but that leads me to a right feeling. When I paint, I try to feel comfortable, so there is probably always something soft around me, something warm in my cup and some mellow tunes around.

--What other types of things do you enjoy making and doing?

Reading, listening to music, having long walks, observing nature, writing, being with friends. Eating together. Dreaming. I still sew most of my clothes too, but it seems to be that there is patience in me only for painting. Everything is pretty spontaneous. 

--Can you tell us a bit about your process?  Does it differ when it's a commissioned piece or series?

Usually every work starts with some walking and tea drinking-- this is my time to get to know the subject first, time to think and get on the right mood. Sometimes I have an idea right away and I start without making any sketching. Commissions that are for magazines, for example, I do sketch first, as they are more tied to a certain layout. It is pretty spontaneous how I work--feelings come and go and when the right one is found, the image is finished.

- Your paintings have been described as being delicate and calm. While you may appreciate many different styles and approaches to life and art, when it comes to your own approach to being and making, do you find that you have a (mostly) consistent aesthetic and rhythm over multiple areas of your life?  Do you find similarities in your illustrative practice/preferences and your home making or even in how you prefer to enjoy the outdoors or food? Is there a steady rhythm? 

My days are pretty slow ones and I try not to separate work and free time from each other too much. I can have a long break in the middle of a day to read a book or have a walk, but I count it as just one part of the painting process. When I cook or meet friends, I can reflect on my thoughts about a painting. I refer to it as "breathing" when I do not paint but am thinking about painting. So in a way, I want to feel as comfortable all the time as when I am painting. In that way, my painting probably affects everything in my life. Maybe it could be analogous to handwriting: when I am not in a hurry, I have all the time in the world to write in beautiful letters on a paper. When I am in a hurry, I do as straight of lines as possible and the letters become completely different. If I were to use both these styles of writing on the same paper, the recipient of this letter might feel confused by two such different approaches.

--When you are drawing people or animals, do you ever think about what their names are? Do you find it helpful or limiting?

It is funny to think about it, but I think that I never even had in mind what names my characters might carry. Instead I really enjoy thinking about how Finnish and English (or Icelandic) names for plants, for example, differ from each other.

--Is there a story linked to your own name or a special reason it was chosen?

My grand-grandmother was also Anna Emilia, if I remember correct. I was born as a premature baby, so the doctor asked my mother what my name was, in case something happened. She told the name immediately.

--What are some Finnish names you like?

Enni, Aava, Ruut (girls).

Onni, Toivo, Topi (boys).

-- What is your favorite Finnish word?

Kuura, "frost".

-- Your favorite place in Finland?


--You've spent a lot of time in Iceland (such a beautiful, magical language)--any favorite words or expressions in Icelandic? 

Icelandic in general sounds very playful, very happy and full of life as a language to me. It feels nice in the mouth to speak Icelandic, and I like the complicated grammar, where words can change a lot when they are bent to different cases. For example "to Anna" would be "til Önnu".  A simple greeting like "Good morning/day!" is "Góðan daginn/ Góðan dag!". "How are you?", which is "Hvað segir þú?" always makes me happy. And "thank you" ("Takk fyrir!") is always very beautiful, in any language.

-- Favorite type of tree?

Birch trees-- their trunks are so special; it feels like reading a secret story to watch the black individual lines on white bark.

--What's the element of the weather you most enjoy?

Gentle autumn wind.

--Which season makes you feel happiest?

Autumn and winter. It feels very comfortable to be able to wear long sleeves again and to feel the softness of woolen clothes.

--What's a film you recently watched and loved or an old favorite which you find consistently inspiring? Do you have a good Finnish movie to share with us (we'd love to see it!)? 

As a present from Iceland I got a documentary called "Bakka-Baldur". It is a very sweet story about a man living very simple and humble life in a village (where I also lived for my first time) in Iceland. He wants to find his friend who moved to Hawaii. It is filled with such kind people and touching, familiar landscapes. The last Finnish movie was probably the new movie by Aki Kaurismäki "Le Havre"; it also made me smile and feel very good.

--What's the last beautiful thing you paid close attention to outside?

How good it feels to breath very cold air that is clean. How beautiful the snow sounds under feet. Sometimes those are forgotten, taken for granted. This year the winter was very late and I missed it already a lot.

--What's the last beautiful thing you paid close attention to inside?

The voices from the radio.

-- One of the things I most enjoy about your writing is how you create such lovely, complete sensory experiences: the weather, what's being tasted, viewed, and respectfully listened to. As more of us are looking out our windows onto snow covered trees, is there a song or musician you like to listen to for snow watching (after we're done listening to the snow and wind, of course)?

Lately I have been enjoying a lot the works by German composer and musician Stephan Micus. It is amazing how he can transform landscapes and weather into music so well. He even has an album called "Snow".

—Your perfect cold weather food and drink for a cozy afternoon?

Potatoes in any form with a sauce of spinach or mushrooms. A huge salad with a herb spreading for bread. Green tea.

--Name Game.
 I'd like you to help me create a name by answering the following questions:
1. For the first name-the name of your favorite illustrator:

Ilon (from Estonian Ilon Wikland)

2. For the middle name- the name of a favorite weather element,which you find to also be a beautiful word: 

Myrsky ("storm"). These together make a nice coincidence in Finnish as Ilon Myrsky means "Storm of Happiness".

Oh man, Ilon Myrsky is so pretty, and what a treat for us all to get to hear from you today, Anna Emilia. Thank you, again, for chatting with us and for all the inspiration you provide!

From today's interview:  

Ilon Myrsky

Anna Emilia









Kuura (Frost)

Autumn (Sysky)

Wind (Tuuli)

Words, which could easily be names, to be found in Anna Emilia's illustrations:

Apple (Omena)

Birch (Koivu or Visa)

Blossom (Kukka)

Bonfire (the english doesn't work, but Kokko sure does)

Cardamom (Kardemumma)

Claude Monique (this is found on a woman,and I love it.)

Clover (Apila)

Cotton (Puuvilla)

Dream (Unelma)

Emerald (Smaragdi)

Feather (Sulka)

Field (Pelto)

Flora (Kasvisto)

Forrest (Metsä)


Garden (Puutarha)




Kalevala (the national epic of Finland.)

Lake (Järvi)



Louhi (witch of the north)

Meadow (Niitty)

Midsummer (Juhannus)

North (Pohjoinen)


Orchard (Hedelmätarha)

Romance (Romantiikka)

Sea (Meri)

Snow (Lumi)

Spring (Kevät)

Strawberry (Mansikka)

Tiger (Tiikeri)

Winter (Talvi)

Readers, did this make you as happy as it did me? Any favorites from today's list? Are you craving a trip?

Next up in this series: more Finnish nature names, word names, and modern entertainment. 

See you all soon.  

(images: all courtesy of and by Anna Emilia Laitinen, shop and blog. all images and artwork are protected by copyright--thank you for your courtesy.)


  1. Kuura is my favorite word/name mentioned in this post -- it really sticks with you, and I love the meaning. Gorgeous.

  2. I have always loved the name Lumi - unfortunately my boyfriend vetoed it. So our daughter carries another name. Still love Lumi though.

  3. Sulka and Meri are lovely ones here.

  4. Beautiful illustrations, and lovely names too!

    I heard these Finnish words in a song once, and I think they would be great names for a girl: Suvi (summer) and Ilta (evening).

  5. Such a lovely interview! I love Anna's blog and truly enjoyed getting to know her a bit more from this interview. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I love her artwork and your interview has been very inspiring! Thanks*

  7. i love her work
    it was SO interesting and inspiring to read this interview!

    for christmas i got one of her sprout prints,
    i have wished for it for a long time...it is so beautiful.

    wishing you a nice start on the month of february,

  8. Vibeke, I love that print, too! This was one of my most difficult posts to edit b/c I love all her images and work so much, I wanted to show them all.

    Deepa, Suvi and Ilta are some of the most beautiful names on the planet, I think, and plan on visiting them in a finnish nature names post!

    1. i actually haven't hung it on the wall yet because i am unable to decide where i shall have it! want to have it in every single room : )

  9. Wonderful to read this interview, have just discovered her work and am enamoured with it!

    Thankyou very much! beautiful photo two! x

  10. I do like her illustrations. Nice.

    Liida was the name I liked most from the list. Not sure how it's said exactly, but I'm guessing 'lee da'.