Design nation Finland also becoming illustration nation

Helsinki Design Week, September 7–17: Design means more than simply ceramics and other household items. We talk with Kustaa Saksi, one of many gifted Finnish illustrators you should keep your eye on.

Finland is widely known as a design nation – anywhere you go, you find glassware and tableware by Iittala and Arabia, as well as iconic, bold Unikko floral prints by Marimekko. These days, gifted Finnish illustrators and designers are extending the country’s reputation in the realm of illustration, too.

Kustaa Saksi is one of Finland’s internationally best-known illustrators. The artist has recently added textile arts to his already impressive portfolio, and is now taking New York by storm with his modern take on tapestry.

“Creating an international career nowadays is surely a lot easier when the internet makes getting visibility more democratic,” Saksi says. “Anyone, anywhere, can start an ‘international’ career by putting their portfolio online. But in addition to that you’ll need hard work and a pinch of good luck.”

Saksi, whose work has been exhibited all around the world, and commissioned by clients such as Nike and the New York Times, is wowing people with his experimental material usage, psychedelic atmospheres, and daunting imaginary.

Finnish graphic designers are technically skilled, and they have an ability to adapt different styles and to filter them in their own way.

“The dark Nordic sense of humour and worldview are also characteristic of Finnish designers,” says Saksi.

“Finnish designers are known for their courage to commit so wholeheartedly to a concept,” says Teemu Suviala. As the executive creative director of the New York-based brand and design consultancy Collins, Suviala really knows the ins and outs of the international world of design. Asked about the unifying characteristic of great Finnish designers, Suviala names the courage to commit.

“No matter whether the concept is minimalist or maximalist, Finnish designers approach it with similar fearlessness,” says Suviala.

Saksi doesn’t think it’s important for a designer to represent a certain country. He has lived outside Finland since the mid-2000s.

“I am, of course, a Finn, and grew up in Finland, so impressions for my works come from there,” Saksi says. “But designers should keep their eyes open and live in the moment.”

Finland’s education system can take part of the credit for the courageous approach of the country’s creatives.

“Our education aims to spur fearless, open-minded, and curious approaches to design,” Suviala says. In his opinion, this leads to a style that is both original and unique – just the kind that has put artists such as Saksi on the design map.

Suviala also notes that illustration agencies play a key role when it comes to opening international doors. They pair talented artists with clients, and take care of the business end of things – everything from marketing and contracts to international property rights issues – freeing up the designer’s time for creative work.

“A good, holistic design is the best way for a brand to stand out,” says Suviala, and quotes Thomas J. Watson: “Good design is good business.”

By Tiia Rask, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2017