Once Upon a Time, a Story-Book Illustrator Learned to Draw With Sincerity

TIMEFebruary 18, 2014

Children in Iceland taught Anna Emilia Laitinen her painting techniques—the perfect training for a children’s book illustrator. But transforming the spirit of words into pictures requires more than just good painting techniques.

“[The children] taught me how spontaneous life can be and how much they can trust you. They also showed how sincere everything should be. Though maybe the best lesson was that bad weather does not exist, there are only wrong clothes,” Laitinen recalled. Now 30 years old, she had moved to Iceland from her home in Finland in 2004, and worked in a kindergarten painting and drawing with children.

There is definitely something uplifting in her drawings. The sincerity with which she draws every detail carries the spirit of fairy tales, which she read often as a child.

“Fairy tales are a nice way to think about life. I think that the everyday life is hidden in them in a very nice way. They can be guides for us or just places to drift to with adventures and different landscapes from our daily lives,” said Laitnen, whose daily life is actually rather similar to the fairy tales she illustrates in some ways.

 Epoch Times Photo

She lives surrounded by the vivid nature of Finland, or sometimes she escapes to Iceland, where she used to spend her summers.

“It is very different to Finland, as there are barely no trees at all. The landscapes are so beautiful with volcanoes, lava fields, moss covering stones and rocks, and the sea all around,” Laitinen said.

As a child, she had a wish to “become something more traditional—a teacher or a travel guide,” she said. One of her teachers suggested she study graphic design, and she didn’t even know what that was really.

Now her drawings have become part of many magazines, websites, clothing designs, and also children’s books from different corners of the world.

Epoch Times Photo

Many illustrators struggle with how to bring a story to life, while keeping it close to a child’s imagination. Laiten thinks that “we cannot know what children like.”

“Every child is one personality. I just paint the way I see the things in my mind.”

The sort of “zen” state is what Laitinen loves most about drawing. “It is probably like meditating: the brush is moving, but I do not understand it. Working with colors makes my each day very happy.”

For Laiten, being an illustrator seems like a dream job indeed: “I also like that I cannot divide working and free time. Anywhere I go, the thoughts from my working table are in my mind and the inspiration can happen anytime or anywhere.”

But there is no gain without loss, and as with other professions, this one can also have it’s hard days. It requires a lot of heart. “To work full-time as an illustration is surely not that easy, you must do it from your heart and work a lot for your own style and don’t mind the long hours,” Laiten said.

Another aspect of the job is uniting the creative vision of the author with the illustrator.

“For the children’s books, I got the text to be read first and then I painted the images, still talking with the publisher and author together if some changes were needed.”

Cooperation with the authors seems to be no problem for her: “Some customers have stronger wishes and they might even have a preliminary sketch for me about their thoughts. Others give me completely free hands. In these cases, I go through ideas in my mind and just start to paint and see what it becomes.”

Laitinen hopes to tell stories “from the nature and remind us that we need to take better care of our surroundings and planet.”

 Epoch Times Photo


Ingrid Longauerová
journalist/graphic designer
Ingrid Longauerová is a long time employee at the Epoch Media Group. She started working with The Epoch Times as a freelance journalist in 2007 before coming to New York and work in the Web Production department. She is currently a senior graphic designer for the Elite Magazine, a premier luxury lifestyle magazine for affluent Chinese in America produced by the EMG.