M is for Marika Maijala

M is for Marika Maijala



When composer Mark Inchoco met illustrator Marika Maijala in Paris, he was inspired enough to write “Fanfare for Marika” (2019), a piece for brass and percussion. I don’t wonder.

Marika Maijala‘s artworks speak to us with a long-lost language of childhood. She has recently received the prestigious Finnish Rudolf Koivu Prize for her debut as a writer, Rosie’s Journey (Etana Editions 2018). The award was given to Maijala for the second time in her career. Yet humble-minded illustrator’s studio is located in the Artists’ house on the untamed island of Harakka, just in front of Helsinki. She has illustrated children’s books for all the main publishers in Finland and books with her illustrations have been published also in the USA, United Kingdom, Japan, Korea, Germany, France, China, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, India and Abu Dhabi. Maijala’s illustrations have been shortlisted in The AOI World Illustration Awards as well as in The White Ravens List, and she has been selected to the prestigious Illustrators’ Exhibition in Bologna Children’s Book Fair twice. This year, she was one of the nominees for the ALMA prize 2019 and The Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize 2019.

Marika’s illustrations convey a rare creative freedom and joy, she is able to switch between different techniques, still maintaining her distinctive, sophisticated touch.

Koja Agency

In 2017, I coordinated two group exhibitions on which some works of Marika Maijala were exposed. “Näkyvyys-Galleria” group show focussed on the controversy of “visibility” – which is too often promised to the artist as a compensation. Dark Visions was a more intimate group show of four illustrators: Leena Kisonen, Marika Maijala, Camille Romano and Wensi Zhai. I was fascinated by their idea of illustrators especially known for their colorful and playful styles trying out their limits with darker colour palette.

Dark Visions was an artist-curated show and the exhibition schedule did not allow us to do more collaboration or curatorial work understood as a practice centered on longer-term, discursive thinking. Dark Visions was, however, a promising start for something deeper.

Making of Dark Visions, 2017

Making of Marika Maijala | Maria Herreros, 2019


Just recently, Marika agreed to do an interview with me and talk about her thoughts on being freelance illustrator, working in artist residency in Paris and other things important to her.

Last spring, You were a Finnish freelance illustrator working in a residency in Paris. Why Paris?

It was the artistic community, which includes artists from all fields, that fascinated and was of interest. And of course, the thought of being “an artist in Paris”. I did not know any other illustrators who would have been there.

How long did you stay in Paris?

Three months.

What is it like to be a freelance artist, for you? What opportunities are there?

I’ve never thought there would be another kind of way to live and work. And it is really hard, so there must be something in it… But it also enables a lot, I mean you can go to Paris when you want. I don’t think I could do it any other way… sometimes you need to have a three-day break but then again you work until late in the night.

You have studied media and video. Has is influenced or helped your illustration in any way?

When I graduated I first felt that it was just useless and silly (I am a sort of narrative person, and it was so postmodern. Everything needed to be approached in an ironic, postmodern way) I think that it wasn’t the right field for me then. Or the thing was right, but what I did and how I studied, was completely different. I don’t know so much about those studies, but movies! I always go back to the movies that influenced me, like silent films. And books, of course. Stories. As a child, I only read text books, not illustrated. Or maybe Barbabapa, for example, made an impact.

You create playful illustrations, often with hidden message. How do you get your inspiration?

It’s kind of simple. Something happens and I just draw what happened.

And it somehow feeds itself, like the exhibition that was done in 2017, so that when you draw much, it just comes. It doesn’t dry up. Of course, the same things come again…

What technique do you use in your work?

Mixed media. Different kinds of drawing tools. I think that’s a fine word! (piirtimet) I enjoy drawing with sakura crayons and oil pastels, watercolor and ink, as well as with wacom board. I wish to keep the free spirit of sketching in the final illustrations as well.

Do you ever feel the need to change your drawing style? Do you ever get bored and want to do something different?

I do, and that’s just what I often do. But for example that book, Rosie’s Journey, it feels as though it is so natural – I feel like I don’t have to change that method anymore, maybe ever.

Do you draw all your illustrations on paper? 

The paper is very important to me, I’ve noticed. For example, I’ve been searching now for paper that feels right. I feel that the paper is almost the most important thing. The way it feels when doing. In Paris, I tried an awful lot of all sorts of papers.

Have you consciously learned to draw like you draw? Have you learned to break away from everything, the way we are taught to draw?

Yes I have. I can draw from model and I can do all that, like hand and photorealistic drawing, that is easy. It’s only a matter of practice. But my characters have now for example this round head that looks like a child made it, and a protruding shoulder. It might be a universal way in which children draw a person.

You can follow Marika Maijala’s picture diary on Instagram @marikamaijala

and familiarise yourself with her style at her home page.