Liisa’s wonderland, an illustrator’s story
By Carina Chela
Photos: Sami Sallinen
One sunny day at the beach Little Papu, a Finnish tortoise, takes his shell off to go for a swim. But while he is swimming, his shell shrinks and he doesn’t fit in it anymore. Fortunately, he solves the problem and finds a red glove that makes an excellent outfit, at least for a while. That’s the start of Little Papu’s life.
Little Papu is a series of books written by Liisa Kallio, one of Finland’s most prolific children’s writers. In 2010, Kallio was awarded the prestigious Kylli Koski Award for her Little Papu book Pikku Papu. She has also been nominated twice for the Finlandia Junior Prize. Together with author Hiroko Sakomura, Kallio is working on a book about Milla the elf which will be published in September 2016 by the Japanese publishing company Bunkeido.
Why children’s books?
It all started when I was working as a graphic designer at YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company. They asked if I was interested in making the animations for their Christmas calendar. They needed elves, birds, all sorts of little creatures. I immediately thought it was a great idea. Later on the publishing company Tammi asked if I wanted to illustrate the same story but as a book. Shortly after my first daughter was born, I decided to write and illustrate my first book which tells the story of a new-born baby. I was a bit surprised the book took off so well. That was very important for me: my first book!
To find a way for both tools, text and image, to alternate and tell the story. It’s all about storytelling. I love it when the drawing is really turning out the way I want it to. When it flows it feels good. Or when I’ve found the solution to a drawing, that aha! moment is also awesome. And I love it when there’s not much left and the book is almost completed. I guess I enjoy the whole process! But I also like to illustrate other authors’ books.
How would you define your own style?
A lot of my work is done by hand, I only use a computer for a few things. My style is that I have several styles. But I know what my limits are. For instance, I’m not good at drawing cars but I can draw emotions and social relationships quite well. My aim is to simplify texts as well as the images.
Do you work in silence or do you listen to music?
I like to listen to audio books when I don’t have to do any so-called intellectual work and I’ve made all the decisions about how I’m going to proceed with the illustration. I like Agatha Christie, they are great stories! It has to be a book that doesn’t make me think too much. But it works when I have to only draw. Sometimes I look at my books and I remember what audio book I was listening to when I drew a squirrel or a bunny. It’s quite funny!
Tell us about the Little Papu world you have created.
We invented the tortoise’s name with my daughters on a car trip. First came the books, then the Little Papu Orchestra, the song books and CDs. I love writing poems and they are great as lyrics. It’s an incredible feeling when I go to a Little Papu concert and all the children in the hall know and sing the Little Papu songs!
Are you ever short of ideas?
Nope, never. Sometimes I have to repeat a sketch many times before I get it right. But that’s part of the creative process. The process offers you alternatives, different paths you can take, or different ways of associating ideas. If everything evolves perfectly then I would stop searching. I’m the type of illustrator who can go on forever before getting to the final version. It doesn’t matter how simple the illustration is.
The magic comes from my own daily life. When I have time for myself I start consciously developing a story, but I need that time. To maintain that continuous working flow I often start thinking about the next book when I am about to finish working on another book. Having ideas gives me a sense of security.
Any new projects?
I’m starting to work on a comic book for adults. But I won’t say any more about that!