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Marika Maijala

Baby steps for arts: ”It’s a privilege to be allowed to play for a living and illustrate stories with my art.”

With a long career in illustration, Marika Maijala has also written two of her own children’s books. A recipient of the Rudolf Koivu Award and the Finnish State Prize for Illustration, her first illustrated book, Ruusun matka (“Rose’s Journey”), was a nominee for the Nordic Council prize for Children and Young People’s Literature. Maijala has a unique ability to jump into children’s shoes, and she credits children for some of her most important career lessons.

We find Marika Maijala working in the Artist’s House on the Island of Harakka, next to the Kaivopuisto park in Helsinki. Spending time among other artists on the island, Maijala has learned a lot about herself: ”I now identify as an artist.”

In addition to illustrations, Maijala has taken up writing, painting, drawing, graphic design and expressing herself through music. She says that she’s gone off on all sorts of tangents with her art lately.

”Besides illustrations, I can express myself artistically in many different ways. I have the ability and the passion for all kinds of new things. I’m just now taking up studies in painting.”

Illustration has always had a special significance for Maijala. She has been working as an illustrator for twenty years or so.

”I think I’ve always been particularly drawn to making illustrated books. It’s such a diverse field. It’s like directing a movie: you tell the story with pictures and create different worlds around the story.

Making illustrated books for children has been a conscious choice. She finds children’s culture especially important and wants to promote it with her work. She possesses a rare ability jump into children’s shoes and draws lessons from their mentality, for both her life and her work.

”Children are able to approach things without preconceived labels, with such openness and curiosity. They have the right attitude towards life and art. I myself approach my work and other things like a child would. It’s a privilege to be allowed to play for a living and illustrate stories with my art.”

“I wish we adults learned more from children.”

Somewhat timid and restrained earlier in her career, she has grown into a bold and curious artist not afraid to innovate and experiment. Maijala’s life is a story that reflects her personality.

”While I’ve had some missteps along the way, I’m proud that I was brave enough to take on the right path. What’s the harm in trying something new in your career, or in a specific illustration?”

Maijala has found the signature style for her art.

”When studying, they kept telling us that we need to find one specific style that helps us stand out and attract customers. I found that annoying. It’s boring to do everything the same way every time. As it turns out, my style is that I do a lot of different things. My craft and my ideas come through whether I work with a pencil or a machine.”

Maijala is hard-working by nature and the view to the sea feeds her creativity, but outlook and attitude play a significant part too.

”Every new assignment brings along a bit of anxiety about how it’s going to turn out. My current philosophy is to face challenges by diving straight in and not allowing myself to hesitate. For example, illustrations for Million Billion Santa Clauses came about when I just let myself draw and experiment. The illustrations are really simple, and the international attention has been a nice surprise.”

Million Billion Santa Clauses, written by Hiroko Motai, has been translated to over 15 languages. Maijala says that the great thing about illustrations is that they take a life of their own. A picture comes across no matter where you are, and they speak differently to each reader.

”Sometimes it’s scary to let go of your work, because then it’s beyond your control. The work takes a life of its own when a reader brings their life and experiences to it. But that’s the great thing about art.”

Who is Marika Maijala?

An artist who illustrates, writes, draws, paints, and makes music. She draws inspiration from the sea and wishes for more kindness in the world.