Concept artist Mikko Eerola was formally educated at the Upper Secondary School of Visual Arts and ALFA Art School in Helsinki, but he's studied art since he was old enough to hold a pen. Working both digitally and traditionally, Mikko creates illustrations across a range of styles and subjects: in his world, you'll encounter bright stylised animals, inky portraits, and otherworldly landscapes bathed in luminous mist... sometimes with bears.
He spoke with us about positivity, motivation, and being a 'creativity cheerleader' for other artists.
Where are you from?
I’m from Finland, the happiest country in the world!
What’s your creative process look like?
I’m pretty open about my process in the various videos I’ve made for my YouTube channel.
I love to start painting before I know what I’m making. It’s like an inkblot test with a high likelihood of bears and landscapes. I see myself as just a workhorse, and my creativity does the actual thinking side of the job. This frees me from pressure and expectations and lets me enjoy the art when it’s finished.
How long have you been making art?
When I was a kid my family lived all around the world. Often we would live in hotels and I wasn’t able to leave the premises because it would have been too dangerous. The worlds I created through my drawings were my way of escaping those physical restrictions. I was also responsible for keeping up with school, but because I was self-managing my curriculum there were a whole lot of art classes. (Full disclosure: I’m still terrible at math!)
Do you have any other hobbies outside of art?
I play a lot of video games and I like to run. I’m not a fast runner but doing long distance running has taught me everything I know about grit and positive self talk. Those two are still my most useful tools as an artist.
What’s your favorite Procreate feature?
QuickShape has enabled me to invent a completely new style for myself, so I think it would be pretty ungrateful not to name that one.
If you could add anything to Procreate, what would it be?
For QuickShape, I’d love to have S curves that I can adjust.
As a whole, the thing that made me switch to Procreate as my primary tool is how simple it is and how few buttons there are. It feels like it has been created for art first and foremost. I just love that.
What’re you trying to focus on in 2019 when it comes to your art?
With my YouTube channel and Instagram, my goal right now is to help new artists to the best of my ability. I’ve worked as a concept artist for over ten years. I’ve seen people face real challenges, and not only when it comes to the technical side of that profession. I’ve seen a lot of artists struggle and break down mentally because we’re not taught how to survive creative work once we get it. To me, this is NOT okay.
The greatest thing in my life right now is the fact that I re-learned how to enjoy painting, and more importantly, I now love the paintings themselves. When I teach art this is the one thing I want to pass on to new artists. It has had a tremendous impact on my productivity, style and happiness.
As a culture I think artists glamourise hating their own skill level and the art they create. Often that self hatred is waved around like a badge that proves their professionalism. This is a very dangerous mindset, and it’s literally making the lives of artists worse.
After overcoming a mountain of those challenges, I feel it’s my responsibility to extend the rope down so that climbing that mountain will be easier for those behind me. I can’t offer one-on-one teaching to everyone, but with my Instagram posts and my YouTube videos, people can have access to that information for free anytime.
How did you get into concept art? Was it a natural development of your art or a conscious decision?
One of the first paintings I did with my father was a recreation of a Super Mario Brothers cover in watercolor. I wanted to be a concept artist for video games before that was even a real job in Finland. After a decade of making video games I quit my job as a concept artist. Now I’ve been able to do all kinds of art projects: painting a metro station, film concept art, building visual identity though illustrations for start-up companies, and teaching art in schools. Visual design for traditional video games can sometimes feel limited in what you can do within that space, so I definitely feel like these new opportunities have given my painting skills an opportunity to grow in new directions at a much faster rate.
Favorite thing to draw?
You set yourself a challenge of completing 200 paintings in 2018, and succeeded. Do you think challenges are a useful way of pushing yourself as an artist, and how do you stay motivated to continue doing something for that long?
I set myself that challenge to get rid of perfectionism and it worked like a charm. I’m a strong believer in not over-rendering a painting, otherwise you might kill it in the process. I didn’t really need to motivate myself because I love the process itself. I do quite drastically different styles sometimes, so when I get bored with the current artist sitting at my table I go inside my head and ask for the artist who does pixel art to hop in my place, or that guy who does those graphic flat illustrations. Sometimes a completely new artist shows up and then I make room for them inside my head and see how that goes.
Maya Angelou once said: “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” That’s something I can confirm from my personal experience completing that challenge.
What keeps art from becoming “just a job” to you?
I always try to create something that feels true to me. Even if it’s a commercial project or a commission, the first thing I go to is what I want to talk about in my life, or what I am feeling. When I can transfer those emotions into the painting it feels important to me. Every painting teaches me more about myself. At the risk of sounding like a hippie, it’s a very healing experience.
For the release of 4.1, I created the 'Free Ride' painting for Procreate. It’s a very bright, whimsical piece that makes me smile when I see it. However, the flamingoes are a meaningful symbol within my life, and including them in this painting was my way of seeing something beautiful in a memory that has been hard for me to process.
I don’t think doing a commission is a reason to leave your heart out of the work. An artist can’t be afraid of big emotions. When I go to those places with courage and honesty, it lets people process their own lives and emotions through the work I produce. I think that’s the purpose of art. Even silly ideas require bravery to present to other people. This sort of emotional courage feels like a superpower. It’s an addictive feeling.
Do you have a favourite traditional medium?
ALFA Art, the school I attended, was focused on oil painting. I still love that. I hate washing brushes though, it takes forever. I also love sumi-e ink drawing and I’ve been doing that for a few decades now. It’s a medium that teaches you to be okay with happy accidents pretty fast!
We’ve seen some of your amazing work with Procreate Pocket - how does Pocket fit into your workflow?
When I can’t have my tablet with me I always have my stylus with me so I can paint on the phone. A lot of people think that Pocket is just for quick sketching, but honestly I don’t think people can tell which of my paintings are done on the phone or not. If you’re in a queue waiting for your coffee, you’re probably on your phone anyway. Being able to paint in those situations makes me feel like queues aren’t so bad after all.