The appointment is set. Myriam Van Neste connects directly from Vienna, where she lives with her spouse and children. For her, it’s almost time to pick up her son from daycare. For us, the day has just begun. And it begins beautifully with this illustrator who makes you dream of distant Nordic countries…
First, tell us about your journey: from Montreal to Vienna, Austria, via Finland and California…
“First, I completed my bachelor’s in sculpture at Concordia University in Montreal. I then studied environmental art in Helsinki, Finland, where I lived for two years. My goal was to create public art, which I was able to do for some time in Quebec. When I had my first child, we were living in California. I no longer wanted to do large-scale work that generated a lot of stress and took up a lot of my time. I started doing collages and illustrations as a creative outlet. I was working in the field of culture. When we moved to Austria for my husband’s work (a plant biology researcher), I could no longer work in this field, and I was expecting my second child. At first, I drew for fun. But then it became more and more prominent… I had found my niche! It made more sense for me to do this kind of work…”
Where did you get the name Helsinki mon amour?
“I would say that that my practice became more focused during my studies in Finland’s capital. I chose this name when I created my online boutique when I came back from Scandinavia and was selling my illustrations. Six years later, I still hadn’t changed it, and it was starting to become known. I couldn’t go back. At the same time, Finnish design is so much a part of my work.”
What inspires you in these Nordic countries?
“I think people who like winter are attracted to Nordic countries. I’m one of those people. I also inevitably work with nature. While I am a city girl—I like to live in a big city and soak up that energy—when it comes to design and cutting, I always go for landscape shapes, animals, flowers, leaves…”
Collage is always part of your creative process…
“Absolutely. This is the link that remains from my sculptural practice. Collage is my way of sketching, of letting my ideas fly. If I’m not motivated, I just have to take out some coloured paper and it allows me to start the day on the right side, creatively. I have lots of notebooks filled with quick collages. I consult them from time to time. I come back to one or the other… It’s more creative for me to start with my hands than to jump right onto the computer. For editorial work, however, I do less cutting.
I choose a theme of 20 to 34 colours and work with that. I will often reproduce the collage or elements of the collage in Illustrator. I work in vector format. Making a new pattern takes several days before I am happy with it. I finish with the colours.”
At what point did you feel comfortable defining yourself as an illustrator?
“When I was in the art world in sculpture, I could never identify with this world that I loved. I found it arduous and cumbersome to always have to justify my artistic approach, since I was mostly intuitive. Can’t we just make something beautiful, have fun and work with brands that stimulate us? Art can have a very inaccessible side. I work on a lot of products that will be used in everyday life. All this can also exist.”
“I have no problem doing commercial illustration projects. My illustrations are present, they embellish life.”
What state of mind do you have to be in to create? What environment do you immerse yourself in?
“I have a work space that must always be clean. I like to create in a minimalist, clean environment. In the morning, I am hyper creative and in the early afternoon, I ‘crash’, so I do more administrative tasks. My office is bright. I am lucky, because we live in an old apartment with a very large window in the heart of Vienna.”
How does your collaboration with Demain Demain inspire you?
“I love to illustrate products that are part of everyday life. I am happy that my work brings colour and joy to people’s lives!”
“It’s important for me to work with businesses that share my values. What could be better than an ecofriendly, local Quebec business, founded by a woman!”
Where to find Myriam Van Neste’s creations:
A Few Quick Questions
Who are your main clients and for what type of projects (editorial, youth, advertising, murals, animation, storyboard)?
“My clients are really diverse, which is the favourite part of my work! I divide my time between commercial illustration projects or designs for various products (packaging, clothing and accessories, textiles, food products, etc.), illustrations for the visual identity of companies and organizations, as well as illustrations for books and magazines. I also occasionally design murals.”
Your favourite illustrator at the moment?
“Taiwanese illustrator Hsinping Pan. I love her visual world, her colours and the childlike joy that emanates from her work!”
A children’s book that you never tire of revisiting?