Illustrated treasures: Astronautin rusinapulla

Ladies and gentlemen, let me present you the third book in my archive of inspiring children’s books: a rhyming Finnish poetry book (which unfortunately hasn’t been translated to English) written by one of my favourite children’s book authors, Jukka Itkonen.

Astronautin rusinapulla
Loosely translated: Astronaut’s Raisin Bun
Written by Jukka Itkonen, illustrated by Matti Pikkujämsä

Badge of greatness for playful rhymes and matching visuals

astronautin-rusinapulla-lasten-lorukirjaI love, love, love rhymes, and when I first came across the children’s books of Jukka Itkonen, it was literally literary love at first page. The prolific Finnish writer has written multiple rhyming poetry books for children under different themes, and now I will present you one of them: Astronaut’s Raisin Bun. The theme of this collection of poems is food: where it comes from, who makes it and how it is eaten. The poems introduce a number of different characters and their food-related stories. There’s a picky eater, a real culinarista, a secret agent and a pizza baker, just to mention a few. The characters are exhilaratingly recognisable and the choice of words in the poems are sure to give the reader – young or old – the giggles.

astronautin-rusinapulla-lasten-lorukirjaInstead of focusing on fantasies (although Astronaut’s Raisin Bun does feature a superman), the books of Itkonen tend to give a witty spin to perfectly normal things, portraying them from a humorous point of view. As you might remember from the previous book feature, I’m a huge fan of writers who have this kind of realistic yet amusing approach to their stories. 

astronautin-rusinapulla-lasten-lorukirjaWhen it comes to illustrations, Astronaut’s Raisin Bun is not the only book that Jukka Itkonen and the illustrator Matti Pikkujämsä have collaborated on. And if you ask me, that’s no wonder – the raw brush strokes of Pikkujämsä go really well with the uncomplicated, humorous text. Also the typographic choice of hand-written titles combined with a typewriter font compliments the style of the book well. All in all, I think the written and visual elements of the book compliment each other beautifully, making a great, coherent package.

astronautin-rusinapulla-lasten-lorukirjaastronautin-rusinapulla-lasten-lorukirjaMy favourite poem in the book is about a grandma, who reminisces her childhood in a pizzeria. It was so wonderfully fun that I had to make my own grandma read it, too! To give you a taste of the poems in the book, here’s a snippet of it (in Finnish):

Isoäiti pizzeriassa

Muistot tulvii mieleeni,
ja kerron vähän tästä
minun lapsuudestani
ja maalaiselämästä.

Ennen vanhaan eläminen
oli erilaista.
Ei meille ruokaa lennätetty
kaukaisista maista.

Kirnupiimää hörpittiin
ja syötiin piirakoita.
Ja kun kermaa kirnuttiin
niin siitä tuli voita.

Vanhat ajat, niistä kyllä
riittäis kertomista.
Tarjoilija, olkaa hyvä,
tuokaa pizzalista.

Oh boy. Did I already mention how much I love rhyming poems…?

Illustrated geboortekaart

When someone asks me what kind of projects I most enjoy working on, I always give children’s books as an answer. However, there is also another type of assignment that is very close to my heart, and that is illustrating custom-made cards to mark the special occasions in the lives of my good friends.

When a friend of mine had her first child a few years ago, she commissioned me to illustrate a geboortekaart aka birth announcement card for the baby. (Geboortekaarts are cards that parents in the Netherlands send out to their families, friends, neighbours, colleagues etc in order to announce the name and the strategic measurements of their new family member.) I was honoured to be trusted with that kind of special task and really enjoyed working on such a personal thing. So, when my friend got the happy news for the second time around, my hand was already raised, volunteering for the geboortekaart-job again.

I had drawn a giraffe for the card of the first baby, so I decided to stick with the same concept and draw an exotic animal for her sibling as well.

Here’s sneak peek of the illustration process of little Otto’s* tiger!

*names and information on the card have been changed

sketch-tigerInitial sketches of the character

geboortekaart-tiger-sketch-birthcard-illustrationThe final drawing ready to be made digital

illustrated-birthcard-geboortekaart-tiger-by-Emmi_OjalaVoilá, finished illustration!


Over the past few years, I’ve been drawing postcards inspired by interesting cities and countries I have travelled to. It all started from a trip to Istanbul…

…and continued with a tribute to my current hometown Amsterdam…Typography-Amsterdam-by-Emmi-Ojala…the overwhelmingly big and beautiful Russian city, St. Petersburg…Typography-illustration-Petersburg-by-Emmi-Ojala…my country of origins, Finland…Typography-Finland-illustration-by-Emmi-Ojala…and finally the latest addition, Italy.Typography-illustration-Italy-by-Emmi-OjalaThe whole idea of these cards was to capture the unique characteristics of the places and their culture – to show the people I would send these cards to what I had seen in these places. Backgammon culture in Istanbul, electric wires above St. Petersbur, cinnamon buns and woollen socks in Finland…What I wanted to show with the Italy-card was the typical colours and style of buildings, the food, the life by the sea and the lush Mediterranean nature. Although the card ended up quite stereotypical with its pizza A and focaccia Y, it is simply because these things are not stereotypes for nothing; you really see them everywhere!

The next city I would like to travel to and make a card of is Berlin. Hopefully I’ll get to draw some bears and pretzels sooner rather than later!

Colours of Italy


A few weeks ago, I packed my backpack and travelled to Italian Riviera. The week I spent there (marinating myself in SPF 50 sunscreen) was wonderful. We travelled from one town to another and changed the scenery pretty much everyday, ate great pizza, amazing gelato and found the best pasta bolognese in a simple beach bar in San Remo. We walked till our feet were about to fall off, swam in the most extraordinary places between the cliffs and also got to experience an impressive thunderstorm on the hills.

I carried my camera everywhere we went and it became a bit of a thing for me to photograph the charmingly colourful old buildings. Some of them also had painted decorations on them, making it difficult to see whether the intricate frames around the windows were real or 2D paintings. Indeed, the Italians seemed to have paid lots of attention to details and the colour palette of their towns. 

Visiting the colourful villages, I couldn’t help thinking what a pity it is that the majority of Northern European cities are quite plain and colourless. It reminded me of something that happened years ago in Finland, when my parents decided to be a bit playful and had the wall of our back porch painted purple. The innocent splash of colour resulted in a disapproving comment from the officials. Luckily, the porch was facing the forest, so there was practically no-one except the squirrels to see it. Therefore, we didn’t end up having to repaint it. Of course, the case would have been different had there been another house facing our back yard, allowing our neighbours to see the purple porch. Good grief, the poor people might even have found it cheerful!

Anyway, back to Italy. Here’s a glimpse of the Italian colour palette:

Riviera_colours_by_Emmi_Ojala Riviera_colours_by_Emmi_Ojala Riviera_colours_by_Emmi_OjalaRiviera_colours_by_Emmi_Ojala Riviera_colours_by_Emmi_Ojala Riviera_colours_by_Emmi_Ojala Riviera_colours_by_Emmi_Ojala Were you able to spot the painted 2D window frames…?

Illustrated treasures: Hvordan Greger Grinebiter havnet i bitter duell, og alt nesten ble helt rosa

Ladies and gentlemen, let me present you the second book in my archive of inspiring children’s books, a Norwegian treasure (which unfortunately doesn’t seem to have been translated to English) written and illustrated by Camilla Kuhn:

Hvordan Greger Grinebiter havnet i bitter duell, og alt nesten ble helt rosa
Loosely translated: How George The Neighbourhood Stalker Got Into A Duel And The World Almost Turned Rosy
by Camilla Kuhn

Badge of greatness for the hilarious story and lively illustrations

Herra Yrmäs Korttelikyylääjä-lastenkirja-arvostelu1 This Norwegian book tells a story of an old bitter neighbourhood stalker, whose life revolves around making sure that no-one breaks the rules. He has covered the corridors with warnings and reminders and is always looking for a chance to complain. One day whilst spying on his neighbours from the window, he notices that someone is actually keeping an eye on him. It turns out that another stalker has moved into the same building. This is of course very upsetting, as there can’t be two spoilsports in the same area. To find out who gets to stay and who has to move out, the two stalkers have to compete in who is the best at complaining and being a difficult neighbour.

Herra Yrmäs Korttelikyylääjä-lastenkirja-arvostelu2
When I realized that this book was made by an author-illustrator, my jaw sort of dropped. Firstly, because the story itself is extremely amusing and well-written (I read the Finnish translationMiten herra Yrmäs Korttelikyylääjä joutui kauhukääkkien kaksintaisteluun ja maailma melkein muuttui ruusunpunaiseksi”. It was great, so applause to the translator!). The humour in the book is very smart, starting from the names of the characters to witty points made about the rules and formalities that anyone who’s ever lived in an apartment building can relate to. Secondly, the illustrations are simply brilliant; I read the book twice, first focusing on the story and then going back to take a more profound look at the images. Each page is full of life, expressions and details that make the story all the more fun. I think Camilla Kuhn really excels in telling an amusing story, both visually and in writing. The story stays close to real life with the events taking place in ordinary locations like a supermarket, but the exaggerated details and little absurdities make it extremely imaginative in all its commonness.

Herra Yrmäs Korttelikyylääjä-lastenkirja-arvostelu3In terms of colours, the book stood out on the shelf for its fairly muted, earthy colour palette. Whilst reading the book, I wondered if more vibrant choice of colours would have made it even better, making the characters and the environments pop up and draw the reader’s attention. However, I concluded that the muted tones were actually exactly what the story needed; they created the kind of vibe that immediately brings you to the suburbs, where average families, the elderly and a few neighbourhood stalkers live.

Herra Yrmäs Korttelikyylääjä-lastenkirja-arvostelu4This kind of amusingly realistic stories are totally my cup of tea. Camilla Kuhn seems to have been quite prolific as an author-illustrator, so I will have to find out if her other books have been translated to Finnish or English. Someone, who had reviewed this neighbourhood stalker-book, mentioned that the humour is similar to the one in Erlend Loe’s Kurt-series, so those books should be worth of checking out, too!

How to find your focus?

I recently started working on a personal project that has been stuck on the “yea, I should do it” stage for quite a while. The concept still needs polishing, which means that to get started, I’ve had to simply sit down with a pencil and a notebook, write down my thoughts and think. I don’t tend to struggle with motivation when I get to work with my hands, but when it comes to having to do something that will occupy my mind 100%…well, that’s another story.

I often think back to my teenage years, when I could spend hours sitting in my room alone with some music and a diary or a drawing project. Time would fly by as I would immerse myself into writing somewhat embarrassing stories, metaphorical poems and such. I still remember how it felt to be in that productive bubble, where nothing would disturb my thoughts. What happened to it? Why do I struggle getting into that mode now? What has changed?

When I decided to get started with this project of mine, I positioned myself in front of the living room table, which is where I usually work. However, somehow I couldn’t bring myself to concentrate. I figured that a more comfortable, relaxing environment might do the trick. So, I took my pencil case, laptop and notebook to the bedroom and arranged the cushions on the bed around me. “From now on this will be my creative oasis,” I announced to my boyfriend, as I put on Jamie Cullum’s playlist and sat in the middle of the pillows. It worked, but after being productive for a while, the laptop started luring me into the world of Social Media. Facebook was just one click away and so were blogs, Pinterest and such. Maybe I could browse a bit, just for inspiration? A few minutes later, my productive bubble had burst and I was surfing on websites that had nothing to do with my project. 

A few days later, I returned to my oasis armed with determination to get further with the project. This time I didn’t take the laptop with me; although music usually helps me switch to creative mode, access to internet easily ruins it. So there I sat, in complete silence, ready to work on my project. However, I wasn’t inspired at all. The silence bored me, and I ended up just staring out of the window, counting birds. Something was missing from my oasis…


What you see here is not just a 90s revival. It’s the key to my creative bubble, a good ol’ CD-player that will play me Jamie Cullum without giving the option to procrastinate online. Just like back in my teenage years! And guess what? It works beautifully for my creativity, and it’s also pink and darn cute!

Turns out 90s technology is crucial for my focus.
What’s crucial for yours?

Illustrated treasures: Filippa & Company – The Great Escape

I recently took a holiday to visit family and friends in Finland. Although it was a laid-back vacation, I had some things on my agenda; next to going to sauna, swimming in a lake and eating cinnamon buns, I also wanted to make an excursion to a library and devote an afternoon to reading children’s books. I already had some books in mind that I wanted to chase down, and generally I was just curious to see what kind of illustrated treasures I would find on the bookshelves.

Getting to read through a pile of books was really fun, and it also helped me clarify and confirm my thoughts and views on children’s books in general. Now I have a bit more concrete idea of how I would like to develop myself as a storyteller and illustrator. It makes me feel challenged and that, my friends, is quite crucial if you want to avoid getting overly comfortable with your go-to style!

To make a little archive of inspiring children’s books, I decided to make a series of blog posts featuring some of my favourite publications. So, ladies and gentlemen, let me present you the first one in the series:

Filippa & Company: The Great Escape
Original Finnish title: Filippa & Kumppanit: Piano Karkaa
by Marika Maijala and Juha Virta

Badge of greatness for graphic style

Piano Karkaa 1

This book was published by Etana Editions, a small Finnish publishing house that has been producing absolutely beautiful books in the past few years. I have always admired their publications, and now I finally got a chance to take a closer look at one of them. In short, the book tells a story about Filippa and her friends, who find a piano on their yard. All of them have different ideas for how to use the piano; it turns out that next to being an instrument, a piano can also function as a coffee table or a place for a nap. However, as Filippa’s friends are busy multipurposing the piano, somewhere someone is missing his instrument.

Piano Karkaa 5

Piano Karkaa 2
What makes the book so special is the playful graphic style and the bold colour palette that sets the mood for each page. Every page looks different, and I love the loose feeling in the illustrations. This book is a perfect example of how a fully illustrated spread with lots of details can feel somewhat haphazard and yet be beautifully composed at the same time. I find this kind of style really lovely, perhaps because I always tend to go for structured compositions myself. It can be quite challenging to create this kind of full, creative spreads without trying to over-tie your artwork to a grid, so thumbs up to the illustrator Marika Maijala for a job well done!

Piano Karkaa 4

Next to this one, Etana Editions recently published another book called A Year with the Wind (Finnish: Tuulen vuosi), which also looks really lovely. I haven’t gotten a chance to read that one, but concluding from the images online, I could pretty much frame every single spread from it on our walls! So, if you are looking for visually exciting and unique children’s books, the selection of Etana Editions is worth of checking out!

EDIT: Initially I repeated the word “lovely” in this post about six times. Trying not to get too syrupy, I ended up replacing a few “lovelies” with other words…but anyway, this book really is lovely!

Times they are changing

One day, I woke up to notice that my blog had pulled a disappearing act. In fact, the blog had not only disappeared, but it had pretty much become non-existent. So, I took a few deep zen-like breaths (admittedly, after freaking out and writing a few emails including bold fonts and capital letters to communicate how…well, displeased I was) and built the whole thing from scratch. Unfortunately, I had been foolish enough not to make a second backup of the blog’s content, meaning that I also lost all the posts I had written in the past months. Oh well…

I’ll raise my tea cup to a fresh start, learning experiences and the millions of backups I’ve made of everything since the incident!

Next to my blog collapsing, there have also been some other changes in my life recently. A few months ago, I started a new job and went from being a full-time freelancer into becoming a part-timer. Now I’m a copy-editor of sorts during the day and an illustrator by night…or early mornings and evenings. Although this change came as quite a surprise even to myself, it has certainly been very welcome; it doesn’t only give me the peace of mind that comes with a stable income, but it has also brought me more creative freedom, as I’m no longer dependent on client work. Some people around me were a bit concerned that I would slowly give up illustration, but I feel like the total opposite is happening: I have spent much more time doodling for fun recently. I’m also increasingly enthusiastic about getting started with some bigger projects of my own, which I didn’t really have much time or energy for when I was illustrating full-time for others.

So, here’s to new work-life balance and creative freedom!

Another small change in my life is called Instagram. I’m one of the dinosaurs, who take their time with the new and exciting technological developments and always approach them with some level of skepticism. I don’t have a smart phone, which is one of the main reasons why Instagram didn’t lure me into its visual world already earlier. I still don’t have a smart phone (and I pray my good ol’ Nokia will last at least for another 13 years, letting me continue my retro-smart life as long as possible), but I found my way around it. That said, you can check my little updates by following @emmimarjukka. Amongst other things I post on Instagram, I’ve been sharing little comics about the life in our household. Although it is just a funny little thing I do for fun, it’s also a nice exercise to draw people and incorporate little stories into simple drawings.

So, here’s to my good old Nokia and the holy matrimony of Instagram and my sketchbook: hurray, hurray, hurray!

Whathedudesays1-by Emmi Ojala-lowres

Whathedudesays-by Emmi Ojala-lowres

Whathedudesays2-by Emmi Ojala-lowres

Speaking of Instagram, any recommendations for interesting illustration-related accounts to follow…?

Istanbul (not Constantinople)

A few weeks ago, I took a one week semi-holiday to visit Istanbul for the second time in my life. I was told to send postcards from the trip, but as you know, buying postcards and hunting for stamps is one of those things that you usually end up doing on the last day of your trip. That happened to me as well. In fact, I was already at the airport, when I saw a rack of postcards and the “oh yea, I should buy some postcards” thought hit my mind again. But did I really want to buy a set of typically lame holiday cards with radiant letters running over a collage of touristic photos? Not really. What would those cards have told about our trip, anyway? We spent our time sitting in cafes, drinking Turkish tea and playing backgammon whilst it was rainy and grey outside. Walking around parks, meeting friends, eating watermelon when it got too warm and stuffing ourselves with the ever-so-yummy local pastries called poğaça. The only tourist attraction we visited was Galata tower, and even that was just because we happened to buy ice cream somewhere near by and there happened to be a nice place to sit next to it.

I decided to forget about buying postcards and spend the flight with my sketchbook and pencils instead. Here’s the result, which is on its way to seven different mailboxes as we speak!


See the letter L…? One day in a park, we saw a cat that had climbed all the way to the top of a tree. He was so high that you couldn’t reach him even with a tall ladder. The poor cat was just hanging on to a tree branch, helplessly swaying in the wind. We didn’t see how it all ended, as people were advised to leave so that the cat might be able to find the courage to try coming down. I hope he fell on his feet and will be smart enough to stay away from trees the next time he wants to admire the views.

The makeover of a yogurt bucket

For years, yogurt has been an important part of my breakfasts, and after having been introduced to the Turkish cuisine and their yogurt based sauces, I’ve started eating it next to dinners as well. I’m not only a lover of yogurt, but I am also a bit of a snob; although I wouldn’t refuse any yogurt, I know what I like: half litre jars of skim natural yogurt that is so thick it could stand on its head! (My favourite brand is Konings BioGarde – I get the same kind of kicks from digging my spoon into it as some others get from cracking the surface of créme brûlée.)

DIY yogurt

Luckily, I’m not alone with this fetish. My boyfriend loves yogurt as well, and although he is not as obsessive about it as I am, he is quite an expert, too. He prefers the creamier kind, the real Turkish yogurt, which we sometimes buy from the local Turkish market. They sell it in 1 litre buckets, and by time we have gotten ourselves a nice collection of empty buckets. Now, that kind of buckets can come in very handy, especially if you live in an old house in a tiny room without much storing space and plenty of snacking opportunities for mice. We store our pastas, breads, nuts and lentils inside the empty buckets, keeping all the food away from any unwanted peeping guests. One day, I looked at our kitchen counter and got an idea: if we were to keep the buckets piled up in there, then at least I could make them look a bit nicer.

So, that was my little project yesterday:

DIY yogurt5 DIY yogurt3

DIY yogurt1

Our pasta box shall be next in the DIY line!