How often can people say that they’re living their childhood fantasies? For Iisa Mönttinen, art has always been her lifeblood. By dreaming big, working hard, and never losing her passion, she’s become one of those few lucky people who’ve been able to turn their talent into a full-time job. When she’s not in her own studio listening to audiobooks while she works, you can catch her in other studios teaching people how to paint.
Keep reading to learn more about her artistic process, her tips for other aspiring artists, and what she hopes to accomplish next.
How long have you been working as an artist? Do you have a story about how you started painting or when you discovered your passion?
Art has been my passion since childhood, so I’ve always been drawing and painting. After high school, I studied layout design. I had plans to work as a graphic designer, but then I decided to continue my studies, so I studied art teaching.
While I was studying, I started to focus on developing my own artistic style and give more serious thought to where I would like to channel my passion. I began to paint daily and design illustrations and patterns.
Eventually I started collaborating with various brands and companies. Little by little, my career as an illustrator began. So even before I graduated, I already had started my design business which employs me today full-time.
You like to listen to audiobooks like Harry Potter while you paint. Do you have any favorite audiobooks that you like to listen to while you work?
Yes, I absolutely love audiobooks. It’s really relaxing to listen to an interesting story as I paint. At best, I can listen to several books a week!
I mostly listen to biographies and real life stories. In that genre, I must say my favorite is Unbroken, an amazing, heartbreaking biography of Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini.
At the moment, I’m listening to Educated by Tara Westover, which is also a very interesting story. Harry Potter books are also always good!
How long does it normally take you to finish one piece? Do you have a favorite step in the artistic process?
The process from a painting to a digital file is sometimes quite a long process.
The painting itself takes about 2-4 hours, but it depends a lot on what I’m painting. After I’m finished painting, it has to dry. Once it’s dry, I scan it and start editing it in Photoshop, which can take another hour more or less.
The act of painting is my favorite phase of the process. I love the moment when I mix my colors, my paper is still clean as a pile of snow, and I get to make that first brushstroke. However, I have to say I honestly enjoy every step of my artistic process. I can’t really name a phase I don’t enjoy!
You sometimes paint in beautiful workspaces like the mountains. Can you describe your dream work environment (location, tools, or any other details that would make you the happiest)?
Sometimes I do paint outdoors, like in our summer cottage or a nearby park! But I must say I love my own studio in our apartment. I have a small workspace where I have all of my supplies ready and I’m free to leave a mess if I feel like it!
Art supplies are quite easy to carry. My tubes, brushes, and paper pad are small, so I can pack them in my bag and have my “studio” anywhere. When I’m editing, I can just grab my laptop and go to a nearby coffee shop or anywhere else. I’ve edited my designs in a rental car in Portugal, on an airplane to Thailand, on a local bus in the morning traffic, and at the beach while sunbathing.
At the moment, I’m planning a work trip to Rome and Florence. I’m planning to rent a house where I can paint and do creative work. In the evening, I want to visit all the museums and eat pasta as much as I can. Since I have the opportunity to work anywhere, I want to take full advantage of it!
The only thing that would make me even happier would be to have my colleagues and social work environment! It’s awesome to be my own boss because I’m such an introvert, but sometimes it would be fun to have colleagues to chat with and exchange ideas!
Your pieces are very colorful and uplifting. I love how you portray plants, animals, and use motivational phrases like “Make empathy great again.” Can you tell me more about your motivation to create art? Do you paint to portray the world in a beautiful light, to express your own happiness, or to inspire others to feel good? Do you have any goals when you create?
I paint what I feel is beautiful and what makes me happy. Bright colors come naturally out of me. I feel like my paintings and designs represent my personality quite well. I do feel that I express my own happiness through my paintings! Bright flowers and colors represent my goofy, cheerful, and positive side of me!
I’m a very creative person in all areas of my life, not just artistically. I have such an urge to express myself in creative ways. This may sound weird, but if I’m not able to paint for a very long time because I’m busy, I feel it in my body and mind. It’s like I’m in a knot or a deadlock, so creating is like breathing to me.
Black and dark colors are not familiar to me. I don’t want or need to paint anything that’s depressing or has a dark theme, so in that way, I’m not the stereotypical “tortured artist” who turns their suffering into beauty.
My goal is to create and express the light and splendor I feel inside of me and share it with the rest of the world. The world definitely needs more colors and uplifting art in these fairly dark, egoistic times.
Whenever I hear that my art has made someone smile or feel happy, I feel like my work is complete. This is exactly what we need in today’s world: art that combines souls, art that makes people feel better. If I can do it by painting colorful flowers, I’ll definitely continue doing so.
A lot of your art combines different kinds of plants and other objects. Some artists have a hard time knowing when to stop working. How can you tell when a piece feels complete?
Usually my work progresses the same way: first, I paint the main elements of the piece (big flowers and leaves), then second elements (smaller flowers, branches, leaves), and then I paint many more layers, such as details and finishing touches.
I paint so often and I’ve always proceeded in the same order, so I usually know when the piece is done, but sometimes afterwards I do some retouching or adding things digitally.
You said that your personality could be described as the color turquoise. What does turquoise mean to you?
For me, turquoise represents calmness and tenderness, yet at the same time it represents bubbly energy and warmth, too. Turquoise is a mixture of energetic, airy yellow and deep, restful, and thoughtful blue.
What’s your favorite part about being an art teacher? What is the most important tip you can give to other artists?
My favorite part is the moment when I see a student or participant succeed and when they discover the joy of making art! It’s the best! I’m extremely happy when I see someone is experiencing something new through making art.
The most important tip I would give to other artists: create, create, create. Trust your own style and the way you express yourself. Create whatever feels natural to you. Don’t underestimate yourself.
Can you share more information about the children’s book you hope to publish one day?
The project is still a distant dream, but I’ve thought about it for so many years that I can see it happening one day! I can’t share much of it now, but let’s just say it might be a very colorful book… 🙂
Want to Know More about Iisa?
If you loved this interview with Iisa Mönttinen, be sure to follow her on Instagram @art.iisan to keep up with her latest work.