Kiki Ljung is a Swedish-Italian Illustrator and Graphic Designer from Brussels, currently living in Paris.
She is represented by Folio Illustration, for any commercial inquiries please contact : firstname.lastname@example.org
Selected Clients: Fred Perry / The Independent / The Washington Post / OKI / Refinery29 / State of New York / Penguin Random House / Orange /Saintsbury / Barbican Center / Samsung / The Guardian / HSBC / Facebook
You are a Swedish-Italian illustrator and graphic designer from Brussels, currently living in Paris. Can you tell me about your journey? When did you first find your love for Illustration/Design?
However much I could romanticise ‘my journey’, it’s quite a boring and straight-forward story. I have never really considered pursuing anything but a creative profession, so there was no light-bulb moment for me. My high school was heavily focused on politics, economics and European studies and I always felt like the odd one out, I knew I wanted to change environment and do something completely different. At age 17 I moved to London and started a Graphic Design degree at Central Saint Martins. It felt right from day one, London taught me so much and totally shaped the creative I am today.
How did you land your first ‘real’ Design/Illustration job?
I did a few minor illustration gigs for blogs or family friends when first starting out, trying to gain as much experience as possible. My first ‘real’ job, came from Refinery29. It was an ideal first job, the team was a incredibly friendly and easy to work with, and the brief was fun and had lots of room to be creative in.
You have worked with a wide variety of clients including Fred Perry, The Independent, The Washington Post, Refinery29, Penguin Random House, Samsung, The Guardian and more. You also have an extensive amount of personal work. What is your favorite kind of work?
I really enjoy commercial work with the limitations of a set brief and the challenge of trying to balance personal taste and style with feedback from an art director. Usually the outcome benefits from this exchange and I feel like I have been pushed in an exciting direction.
I have found though that working in larger teams, usually with bigger project such as on advertising campaigns, it’s complicated to stay true to my own voice. There are so many contrasting points of view and the time limitations make it hard to reach a compromise. I’m still trying to figure out when it’s appropriate to take a stand in defending my work, it can be hard at times to accept that the client ultimately has the last word.
That’s why I think it’s important to take time working on something that you have complete and total control over. Personal projects give me the possibility to experiment and develop my practice, with no constrains or external pressures.
What’s the most useful piece of feedback you’ve ever received?
I’m not sure if this classifies as feedback, it’s more a piece of advice.
It’s not to forget to draw and make things by hand. I am so used to working digitally now that I can go entire months without putting pen to paper! It’s good to step away from the screen from time to time and focus on making physical art, there is a total different joy to it. Your life, and even you screen-based work, will benefit from it.
What inspires your work?
This is such a difficult question to answer without going into clichés. I think that as an illustrator you learn to pay attention to the world around you, there are interesting details everywhere, in nature, architecture, pigeon poop. I have a folder on my camera roll where I collect pictures of things I want to remember. I screenshot everything I like on the internet. Then there are the obvious things such as going to gallery and museum shows, visiting bookshops, browsing through markets, traveling. The list is endless.
What Illustrators/Designers have influenced your work the most along the way?
Two of my favorite designers that I like to mention in pairs, as together they make up my dual nationality, are Burno Munari and Olle Eksell. Pattern designers like Josef Frank and Stig Lindberg, old greats like Matisse, Mondrian, Magritte and Rousseau and children’s book authors like Maurice Sendak and Tove Janson. I’m also a big fan of early Disney, especially the Silly Symphony shorts.
What are your favorite things to illustrate/draw?
I love drawing plants and flowers, which I think becomes quite obvious when looking at my portfolio. For my graduate show, I made a giant wallpaper-sized jungle landscape illustration, which clients still refer me back to as reference for new projects. I like the idea that I have this recurring theme that clients associate me with. Especially as I enjoy drawing it so much!
What advice could you give to someone who just graduated college and is new to the design/illustration world, but does not know where to begin?
Once in a while I receive an email in my inbox from a young student or recent graduate asking for trips on ‘how to break into’ the illustration market. These were questions I myself had struggled with, so I can relate. The jump between university and working as a successful professional felt like a mystery. I looked everywhere for clues. As it turns out, there is no puzzle to solve! The answer is so straight forward it’s almost provocative. Develop your personal style, produce a diverse body of work and get it out there! I spent my first months as a graduate working on a web-portfolio and making lists of potential clients. I sent out hundreds of emails every week. Sooner or later, fish will start to bite!
The purpose of this podcast is to bridge the gap between entry-level designers and the industries best. I also want to point out that they fail along the way. Do you have any stories? Can you share your most embarrassing story?
I recently went through quite a rough dry-spell that I was completely unprepared for. Since deciding to work as an independent illustrator, jobs had been coming in with an impressively even flow, when one job ended another began. I had been told about the ebb and flow of freelance work, but had never experienced it firsthand. Needless to say, I was freaking out, convinced that my baby career had already come to a humiliating halt. This was of course not true, and as suddenly at it had stopped, jobs started pouring in again from all directions.
Moral of the story — freelance life is a rollercoaster! The moments of quiet are just the calm before the storm, and should be taken advantage of, not stressed over.
Do you have anything you’d say to your younger self when you were starting out?
Probably to be more confident in the value of my work. Most of my friends are fine artists and somehow I felt that illustration was a less intellectual, frivolous pathway which mades me look down on myself. Not to compare myself with other as well. There are so many amazing talents out there, it can sometime be a struggle not to feel jealous of other peoples achievements, it’s a deeply unproductive feeling. I still struggle with these thoughts sometimes.
What makes a great mentor?
The ability to inspire confidence and perseverance.
Who were some of your mentors? How did they effect your journey?
I’m not sure how arrogant this makes me sound, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a mentor. At university I felt quite disappointed by my tutors and and since I have kept quite a lone-wolf style to my practice. I have very meaningful creative exchanges with my friends who I often seek advice from, and cyber colleges to turn to when in doubt about something relating more directly to the industry. I also feel very supported by my agency Folio, who I started working with very early on in my freelance career.
Finally, what are you currently focusing on?
I have a super exciting project I’m working on for next year. Top secret of course, which makes it sound all the more cool!
As soon as my commercial work starts to settle down a little I want to take some time to learn a new skill. Animation feels like a natural next step for my illustration practice to develop into, and I’d love to be able to give life to my illustrated world.