Meet Kiki Ljung: A Freelance Illustrator

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Dec 03, 2021 •  Interviews

Kiki Ljung is a Swedish-Italian illustrator who now lives in Barcelona, Spain. Her work focuses on creating warm, engaging characters and environments, rich in color and wit; used in editorial, advertising, packaging, publishing, and interactive media.

“… I also think that more praises should be sung about the business abilities of many self-employed creatives.

Artwork by Kiki Lung

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Can you please tell us a bit about your background?

My name is Kiki and I’m a Swedish and Italian illustrator, interested in creating work that people can enjoy looking at and connect with.

Raised in Brussels, Belgium and after spending some years living and studying in London and Paris, I have now set base in Barcelona. I live in a small apartment with hydraulic Catalan tiles, and I spend most of my days working from my living-room sofa.

A fun fact about me is that I do a lot of dog sitting. I’m crazy about dogs, but am not able to adopt one for myself due to frequent traveling. So I dog sit for others instead! 

What inspired you to make art?

I’ve been drawing all my life, and have always known I’d want to be working in a creative field. It was warmly encouraged by friends and family alike and became part of my sense of identity early on. I can’t really identify what or if something inspired me to develop this side of myself, I think it simply always existed. 

Did you study at art school(s) or are you self-taught? What did you study? What were the “aha” moments? What did you find the most beneficial?

I studied graphic design and illustration at Central Saint Martins in London. I loved my years there, but I believe that most of my learning happened through my conversations with friends and peers, and the soaking of the London creative spaces, not through my engagement with classes or tutors.

Universities can be elitist and are far from essential to developing a creative practice. What is essential I think, is sharing work with creatives around you, and developing a relationship where you can push and root for each other.

Artwork by Kiki Lung

How did you develop your own art style? Where do you go for inspiration? How do you keep your creativity flowing?

By drawing things that I like and drawing from work that I admire, lots of playing and experimenting, and allowing things to take time.

I don’t always feel creative, but my easiest day-to-day tricks to be able to concentrate are tidying my space and going for long walks.

How did you start making a living as an artist? What was your first paid art job?

I started freelancing right after graduating from Uni. It was something I wanted to try out right off the bat, knowing that I would need to look for other employment if it didn’t work out straight away.

Luckily I signed with my agency Folio early on, which helped me gain access to clients, as well as giving me a sense of stability.

My first paid job was for a magazine called The Recorder. I made a set of illustrations to accompany an article about typography.

What do you live from as an artist now? What are your main income streams and what is the approximate % split of each?

I make all of my income from illustration. 

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on an editorial illustration for New Scientist, for a story exploring the principle of Occam’s razor, as well as some school book illustrations for a Spanish learning book.

What do you think are the most important characteristics of an artist?

The art industry is systematically undervalued and under-compensated, and the people working within it often need to develop levels of resilience and determination, as well as inner confidence, so as to not undersell themselves.

I also think that more praises should be sung about the business abilities of many self-employed creatives. Part of my job as a freelance illustrator requires skills that don’t have anything to do with the creative side of it, such as accounting, and management. These elements are often overlooked because they don’t fit with the romanticized idea of ’the artist’. 

Artwork by Kiki Lung

What are the art tools and other products and services you can’t live without?

Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

What are your favorite art and other books (fiction, non-fiction)?

Some of my favourites at the moment are ”Contes de petit duc” by Jérémie Fischer and Jean-Baptiste Labrune, ”Paul Cox Design and Art” by Paul Cox, ”El Paper retallat, coltura popular Xinesa en paper” by Isidre Vallès Rovira and ”Ludwig Bemelmans: The Illustrators” by Quentin Blake and Laurie Britton Newell.

My most loved non-art books from this year are ”Motherhood” by Sheila Heti and ”Fille” by Camille Laurens.

What advice would you give yourself as a beginner artist? Or alternatively please include your favorite quote and the author.

I would probably tell myself the same things I tell myself today – to worry less, not to compare myself, and to be content with where I’m at.

Get in touch with Kiki

Thank you, Kiki, for joining us today!

All artworks by Kiki Ljung, used with permission.

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Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.