In the Studio: Kiki Ljung

Paris, France

Kiki Ljung is a digital artist in vogue. Her bold, graphic style of illustration creates engaging and witty narratives. Colourful textures and shadows create compositions popular with editorial, advertising and publishing, and perfect for interactive media. As a Swedish-Italian designer hailing from Brussels, studied in London, and living in Paris, Kiki informs her work with her worldliness.

Working within illustration and creativity can have its highs and lows. What are your three constraints and three motives to work during the day?

I would describe myself as a productive lazy person in the way that I am always looking for something useful to do, but I want to do it in the comfort of my stretch pants and slippers. Working freelance in a creative field allows me to live out both of those personality traits and I am constantly reminded of how well that suits with my life style.

Not having a 9-5 job routine is also a privilege I am thankful for, I can space out my work day in a way that maximizes my productivity but also so that my personal needs are met. I am more of a night owl and can sleep in in the mornings, I can take long lunches and go to the cinema in the middle of the afternoon if I fancy it.

When you’re lucky enough to work with what you love, the line between your work time and leisure time gets blurred, which has both positive and negative consequences. A lot of what I do in my spare time can be linked to my work, going to museums, browsing in book shops, looking at design furniture, all of it fuels my creative process. Work is fun, it’s my profession and also my hobby. This however, becomes a problem because I never seem to be able to stop! It is difficult to disconnect and to sit back and relax and so something that is completely unrelated.

Lastly, as many freelance creatives out there, I have found that illustration can be quite isolating. On busy weeks I get sucked into work and am rarely able to leave the house. I can’t wait to get myself a pet studio mascot to keep me company in a few years time.

Who and what keeps you inspired?

I am ashamed to admit that I am a big consumerist and a hoarder. I have a lot of object in my house and around my desk space, books, ceramics, design objects – it is very important for me to collect and to be surrounded by beautiful things to keep me inspired. I don’t think I would have the capacity to produce good work in a sterile environment. I love a good museum visit, but even more so if it involves a browse through the museum shop afterwards. I’m that kind of person.

I am a big collector of children’s books and am thankful for my double nationality because I grew up with twice the children’s book culture! Two of my greatest idols are Bruno Munari and Tove Jansson, references I always go back to. I have also a passion for vintage illustrated bird books and have several dozens in my bookshelf.

Other contemporary illustrators such as Olimpia Zagnoli, Atelier Bingo, Virginie Morgand, Vincent Pianina are huge inspiration sources, and I thank Instagram, the Internet and our modern times to allow me so much regular and constant access to the work they produce. Then there are the greats of course, artist like Matisse, Hockney and Shirley Jeffe who’s work I never tire to look at, time and time again.

You predominately work in digital and vector; have you tried experimenting with other working methods?

When I was doing my Bachelors degree at Central Saint Martins we had access to many incredible workshops and facilities. In my first year I was introduced to screen printing and I have been a fan of the medium ever since, I think that my work translates well through this technique. Wood work was also something that caught my interest and the idea of creating 3d objects. However, since graduating and losing entry to the workshops I haven’t spent time experimenting much.

Other than that I enjoy working with felt, ceramics and pastels.

You are currently studying a masters, how has being at university influenced your illustration practice?

I think that the best part of university and the reason I chose to go back this year is the creative environment you are surrounded by. As I mentioned, illustration can be a pretty lonely practice and I love the creative exchange that I get from having a peer group. More than the actual ‘learning’ it is a chance to experiment, to get out of ones comfort zone, to spend time exploring personal work and to give and receive feedback.

What three pieces of advice would you give graduating and aspiring artists/illustrators?

To keep doing what feels best! In my last year at CSM I had a tutor that hated my style of illustration and that did everything to push me in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. It was extremely frustrating and it took at toll on my self confidence, until finally I decided to ignore my tutors advice and draw the way that felt natural to me. From then, my work boomed and I started receiving plenty of positive feedback and affirmation from people around me. To me that was the moment where I felt that I had ‘found’ my creative identity.

To copy the people who’s work you admire. I believe this is how everyone learns to develop the kind of style they are happy to adopt. First you copy and then you make it your own.

To not be afraid to show your work. I had so many insecure friends (ok I mean me) during my Bachelors that would not put their work out there and then complain that they were going nowhere. Confidence is something that you learn and that you can achieve through working hard and receiving reward. Use mediums like Tumblr, Instagram, Behance etc. to promote what you do and reward will come!

Pick three things that are most valuable to you in your studio and explain to us why you have chosen those and what story there is behind them.

First up is my Marimekko tea pot, a stunner to look at and useful to my tea addiction. I’m am obsessive about this brand and could imagine owning most of their ceramic collections.

Second is my red Roberts radio, a gift from my uncle from a few years back. I love to use it as background noise when I am working.

Third is a Mexican devil paper mask that hangs on the wall above my desk, it has a frightening appearance but in a sort of comical way. This too was a gift from my Mexican roommate when I was living in London and I’ve taken it with me and hung it in the same spot above my desk each time after moving.

If you could pick any artist/illustrator to make a collaborative piece, who would it be?

That’s a hard question, there are too many to chose from! I would love to work with a feminist artist/illustrator in the future, I think the work of Sara Andreasson, Cécile Dormeau and Laura Breiling, to name a few, is really strong and empowering. I would love the chance to collaborate on something that has a social significance and that sends an important message.

How would you convey your illustration in five words?

Bold, graphic, modern, charming and childlike.

How do you spend your free time while you aren’t working on illustration?

I like eating pop corn in bed, taking long walks, reading, (right now I’m reading the Harry Potters in Spanish to try and learn the language) going out for coffees and beers with friends, going book hunting, working with felt, eating take away pizza, and the list goes on.

Which project, to date, has tested your style and working method?

It is always a challenge when I get asked to narrow down my colour palette. I like to work with an unlimited amount of colours and struggle to limit myself. In the passed two years I have worked on Niro Wang’s SS 2015 and AW 2016 collections, and as he was printing and embodying on linen fabric, the colour choices had to be few, despite the drawings being fairly complex. It was extremely challenging and there was a lot of trial and error, but the reward of seeing the work on a finished product was incredible.