Charming and childlike – Caterina Kiki Ljung

With flat, brown hair, round eyes and a tiny nose, Kiki Ijung looks just like Bambi. She jokes about being refused coffee on several occasions simply because waiters often mistake her for being too young to handle caffeine!

Describing herself as a positive and easy-going person, Kiki, who will be turning 22 at the end of this year, is a lively and fervent illustrator and designer.
“My cultural background and sense of home is very [confusing]. My father is Swedish and my mother Italian, but my child and teen years were spent growing up in Brussels where I attended an international school,” she says. “I have always been a foreigner, but this also gives me a natural ability to make every city my own.”

Over the past four years, Kiki has been “living in the creative-melting pot that is London,” she says. Calling it the perfect place for her to be in at that period of time, she describes the creative energy of the bustling city as both unique and important for shaping the person and designer she is today.

It was in London that Kiki completed a Bachelor in Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins. “While having spent the totality of my degree complaining about poor teaching, looking back, I am thrilled and grateful for the years spent there, primarily thanks to the beautiful fellow artists and friends I have made there,” she says.

This year, Kiki left London for Paris and has just started “a new chapter as an independent illustration freelancer,” she says.

As both a designer and illustrator, Kiki says the terminology is not of great importance. “There is a broad range of art forms within and beyond the graphic arts that I engage with,” she says. “Making things that look good, which is the basis of design, is something I enjoy and that can be applied to anything. My designer instincts take over most of my normal day activities; from the way I write the postcards that I send to the way I serve food on a plate.”

Asked about the details of her illustrations, Kiki says “I would describe my illustration as being quite charming and childlike due to my simplified imagery and my visual playfulness through use of vibrant colours and compositions.

”I aspire to make work that is accessible and enjoyable to everyone,” she says. ”I have developed an individual style that I feel is true to myself and made up my own fictional characters and visual worlds.”

Kiki further describes her work as “always pictorial and seldom abstract.” She adds that “while always including some element of illustration, the shape varies: I have made books, 2D wood sculptures, screen and mono prints, pillows and patterned scarves.”
She recalls her mother drawing a lot for her sister when she was little. “[My mother] would start drawing a shape and we had to guess as quickly as possible what the shape was turning into. I was hugely impressed by this and remember thinking it was the coolest skill in the world. It became my biggest aspiration to be able to imitate her.”

Kiki says designing and illustrating was never an “active choice” that she made. “It is something I do naturally and I have never had any ambition doing something I’m not fully devoted to,” she says.

When she was in school, Kiki says all her projects were personal. “I figured that if I liked it, everyone else would too. Bruno Munari once wrote ’A thing is not beautiful because it is beautiful, as the he-frog said to the she-frog, it is beautiful because one likes it.’”

When asked about her typical work routine, Kiki says this: “I begin with a hot cup of coffee and my Internet browser. I do an extensive bit of research both visual and contextual to get a good feel of the theme and of the main characteristics of the image I’m going to produce.

“Then come the sketching and the collaging, this is something I do both by hand and on the screen. I try out a few possibilities combining different compositions, textures, colours and styles, until I have a favourite. I rarely stick to the chosen initial sketch, but allow the image to change and form itself as I go along drawing.”

Some artists that Kiki has great esteem for include Henri Rouseau, Henri Matisse, René Magritte, Kazimir Malevich, Sol Lewitt and Bruno Munari, to name a few. For inspiration, she looks at many artist websites, magazines and tumblrs.

“I spend a lot of time in bookshops, especially the children’s section for a browse through the picture books or vintage markets where I hunt for old Disney comics and bird illustration guides, which I collect,” she says. “I also go to galleries and shows, I pay attention to flyers and metro posters that look interesting and I look at food labels, road signs etc. The beauty of design is that it’s everywhere!”

One of Kiki’s favourite works is her screen-printed series ‘Tongue Twisters” that she made in her last year of university. “My friend and fellow colleague, Tom Scotcher, actually helped trigger the process while we were discussing ideas,” she says.

“The project is a collection of popular English tongue twisters and their graphic representation. As the tongue twister is a random sentence put together for the purpose of sound with no coherent grammatical logic, its visual counterpart becomes strange and surrealistic. I did a lot of research surrounding Magritte’s ‘Words and Images’ on the ambiguity of the connections between real objects, their image and their name as context for this project.

“The outcome became a series of very fun images with unusual compositions. I also made a bound version of the drawings into a children’s book with the visuals on one side of the spread and the sentences on the other. The lot was exposed in my first group exhibition titled ‘Two Thirds” at Backall Studios in Old Street.”

What makes Kiki positive and confident in her work are her past experiences – some pleasant and some that she needed strength to overcome. “In my final year at university I was given a tutor that was my complete opposite. We were always disagreeing, she thought my style was too ‘cute’ and ‘commercial’; Art shouldn’t be ‘cute’.
“I chose to stick with her and listen to her advice because I believed she would push me forward and into different new directions that would ultimately make the struggle beneficial,” she says. “Unfortunately it came with very big self-esteem issues and I questioned my creative identity a lot. Towards the end I decided to just do whatever I wanted to and draw only for myself. This decision was instantly rewarded as I received huge amounts of positive feedback, which made me feel comfortable about sticking to my own style and strengthening it.”

“I have always considered myself a person with little ambition, not because I’m lazy, but because I have very humble and simple dreams. What I want is to keep doing illustration for a living, work hard, collaborate with brands and people that I admire and make work that I’m proud of,” she says.

“I would very much love to write and illustrate a children’s book one day. I want to travel and live in many different cities and I want to do it with a person that I love and with a dog in my backpack!”

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