Heikala is an illustrator, with a background in graphic design, from Finland. Her style is influenced by Finnish children’s book illustration and Japanese animation and culture. Heikala uses watercolour and ink to create her illustrations which centres on characters, environments and storytelling; focusing primarily on witches and their familiars.
Heikala developed her brand over her time studying and used the combination of university and Artist Alleys to find her visual voice. Heikala circulates her work through social media and has published multiple books.
“I use the traditional mediums of ink and watercolour to tell stories and bridge the divide between mundane and magical.” – (“About Heikala”, 2020)
I am drawn to Heikalas work for three reasons: Japanese influenced, storytelling and because of the emotional connection that she creates with the viewer. I recognise the influence of manga in Heikalas work by the eye shapes of her characters and the similarities between her work and Studio Ghibli, detailed but not realistic; stylish and subtle playfulness. The main character subject in her work is witches and utopic settings. Heikala does not objectify her characters and takes a thoughtful and responsible approach to how she represents them. I feel this an incredibly important aspect of Heikalas work. This is in stark contrast to the majority of the anime and manga industry. I am greatly interested in the Japanese Visual Language and the combinatorial qualities that arise in the lexicons of visual language. The path I am going down to develop my own work and creative journey is similar to Heikalas practise, so she is therefore a great source of inspiration for me.
Why I have chosen this illustration…
This piece is titled “cosy”, created in 2018. This illustration conjures comfort, warmth and the feeling of calm; it has soothing effect on the viewer. I find this piece out of context for the artist as her work is predominantly known for fantasy elements and subtle magic, none of which are features of the illustration in question.
However, there are a few other pieces like this produced by Heikala and I wonder what context they are made in, perhaps just an emotion or moment that she wanted to express or capture. This intrigues me and is part of her charm, illuminating the magic of ordinary life.
My understanding of the illustration
When analysing this illustration, the first signifier I can identify is the snow on the bare branches behind the window. The signified is the winter season. One character has an additional blanket around them, the other is next to a thick scarf, which are items linked to cold weather further supporting my interpretation; as well as the calendar in the background depicting white tree shapes.
Usually Heikala creates utopic fantasy environments but in this instance, I can tell she is drawing more on her experiences of Japanese culture. The table depicted is called a Kotatsu. This is a table traditionally used in Japan in the winter, as it is heated underneath. The curving lines used to create the Kotatsu material and the pillow indicate that it is soft in form and texture. The Kotatsu is the next signifier, which signifies where in the world this setting is taking place; giving cultural context to the illustration. I have also noticed the Shiba Inu dog, which is a breed from Japan, the flooring has straight black lines patterned in a way that reminds me of Tatami. If this piece was part of a seasonal set of illustrations I would not be surprised if the tree was full of cherry blossoms in the spring, with the characters drinking green tea and eating mochi. Therefore, I can assume this piece is set in Japanese winter because of the cultural signifiers. This is due to the visual homology of the piece; the viewer can easily identify and enjoy its reference points.
The next signifier I find is the book on the table top, sitting in wrapping paper, positioned next to scissors, blank tags and Sellotape. The signified is the concept of wrapping a present. Which in itself is the signifier of celebration. The sleeping character is positioned next to a pair of books on the floor, one opened (signifier), signifying that they like to read. Putting this together with the other elements creates the context of wrapping a present for a loved one. No anchorage is needed to understand this story.
The use of light and purple shadows suggests to me that it is early morning. The gentle pastel colours used create a warm palette. The pink in particular reminds me of a rosy sunrise. I find it interesting that the snow and steam have no ‘outline’, I like this because the elements seem more organic this way. The irregular shape of the steam suggests movement and the use of varied line lengths and widths implies texture of the matt, flooring and animal fur. I could go into detail and say the shadow is the signifier of light from the window and the sunlight is the signified. The steam is the signifier of heat from the cup and kettle and the signified is the warm drink and water. The orange and yellow colours underneath the kettle is the signifier of fire and it signifies the stove is on. The orange going beyond the stove signifies the spreading of heat and light in the room.