A tribute to self acceptance and positivism: Fotini Tikkou

A tribute to self acceptance and positivism: Fotini Tikkou -The ART.gallery. Elizabeth Souflis interviewing Fotini Tikkou, an amazing illustrator from Greece living in Copenhagen. A tribute to self acceptance and positivism: Fotini Tikkou

My illustrations are simple, colorful and I think they might put a smile on some people’s faces. And I just love that!

Her unique style will amaze you. Right from the start, you want to become friends with her characters, listen to their stories, feel their sentiments and follow their advice!

She embraces curves, she fights through her art for self-acceptance and self-love. She blends watercolors with pencils on paper which gives you the warmer of feelings. She is not afraid to think outside the box, she makes her own creative “box” and wanders in and out of it.

Fotini Tikkou is a Greek illustrator currently based in Copenhagen. She graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Athens back in 2009. Through her great journey, she embraced creativity, curiosity and most of all herself. At the moment she is working as an illustrator for children’s books, editorials, book covers, surface patterns along with other diverse series of illustrations.

I met Fotini through her Instagram page and I haven’t stopped giving her “hearts” ever since. Her illustrations are tender, sweet, but above all meaningful. Through simplicity and minimalism, Fotini spreads her message to the world about diversity, self-esteem, motherhood, women issues, and acceptance. Her warmhearted characters will offer you a hug or a helping hand; teaching us how to enjoy the life we are living and seize the best of our time.

What really caught my eye was her new series of ceramics.

Meet Fotini Tikkou and her cheerful illustrations…

Frida

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Καλημέρα Fotini! We are really happy to have you here. Thank you!

Καλημέρα, ART.gallery! I’m really happy to be here too. Thank you for this interview!

 

So, let’s start with the basics. You are an artist, you are born in Greece and the last few years you are living and creating in Copenhagen. How was this transition for you, leaving your country to live abroad?

Well, this is actually the fourth time I have moved to a foreign city. I was living in Seville, Barcelona, and Brussels before I moved to Denmark, 4 years ago. I’ve been living away from Greece on and off since 2006. So, moving to a foreign country and starting fresh is not new to me and its actually something I have always enjoyed. 

Moving to Denmark was a very conscious decision we made with my Danish partner, who I met in Greece. We both felt that it was the right step to take at the time so we went for it.

The transition, however, was not as easy as it had been for me in the past. And even though I think Copenhagen is a beautiful and very citizen friendly city that offers a quality of life I love, it was also quite hard for me to adjust to the Scandinavian reality.

The gray and old weather is a really challenging thing for any person that comes from the Mediterranean, where we take the sun for granted. In addition, the way that people interact and socialize here is much more introvert and scheduled than how you would do it in a southern country.

On top of everything I had my daughter just months after moving to Copenhagen and being away from my close friends and family made the feeling of isolation and sadness that many times comes with motherhood even harder for me.

 

Breakfast

Was it tough for you to follow your dream of becoming an artist? And actually, has it always been your dream?

I’m not sure whether it has always been a conscious dream of mine to become an artist, but I do remember that when people asked me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up I would always say a painter. And of course, I remember myself painting all the time. When the moment came I chose to study Fine Arts because I felt that was the one thing I knew how to do better than anything else.

However becoming an artist was not always my goal. I spent many years traveling around, doing different jobs from serving at cafes and restaurants to working as a language teacher or a party animator. At that point in my life, I didn’t really consider myself an artist and I barely created any artwork. I guess what was important for me back then was to kind of discover the world a bit, collect different experiences and see where that would take me.

Some years later I started working as a children’s book illustrator but for a long time, I had to have a day job on the side to be able to pay my rent. Back then the only time I created artwork was when I had to make a book. I was never one of those artists that created art daily. I admired that so much!

It was not until I came to Denmark that creating artwork became part of my everyday life. It became some sort of necessity, almost like a therapeutical means of expression during a hard period of my life. Through creating art I was able to get the joy and passion that were missing from my life. And even though those times were really hard I almost feel blessed to have gone through them because they gave me the chance to re-establish my relationship to art and they have made me who I am today as an artist.

So, to answer your question I don’t feel that it was tough to follow my dream of becoming an artist because I let go of that dream many times because I felt it was not relevant at certain points of my life. And I was ok with that. So, I guess that can be liberating. I would say that the dream kind of found me again on the way, and I embraced it. That doesn’t mean though that it was handed to me just like that. I had to work really hard to become a better artist, to get my work out there, to make things happen for me, there was a lot of trial and error.

But to me it didn’t feel so tough because I enjoyed almost every minute of it.

Yoga with a cat

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How would you describe yourself as an artist?

Oh, that’s such a difficult question. It’s like having to describe yourself as a person. You might not be completely sure about it and you don’t want to sound full of yourself either.

But anyways, in short, I would say that I love telling stories through images and conveying positivity through my work. Embracing diversity is a recurring subject in my illustrations and I guess that is because it’s something that interests me in life, too. I’m trying to embrace diversity every day. I think the world would be a better place if more of us did. Self-acceptance is also very present in my work; I think it’s essential in order to get closer to happiness and it’s something I’m also working on a lot personally.

My illustrations are simple, colorful and I think they might put a smile on some people’s faces. And I just love that!

 

Your prints are of unique style indeed. You embrace curves, you embrace “free” lines, blending colors, you are not afraid to think outside the box. How did you come up with your characters? How were you inspired to create this specific style of yours?

I’m not sure I know the exact answer to this question. Through the years I have been practicing a lot with different styles and techniques. Much of what came out at first sucked, some was kind of good… truth is I am never absolutely happy with what I make but I think that is also what pushes me to re-invent myself every time and to try different approaches. There are times when you can feel you are in the right way and at some point a certain style will hopefully emerge. I guess that’s how it happened for me. I feel comfortable with my style today but it has definitely changed a lot compared to years ago and I’m pretty sure it will change again.

I think the way to define a style is to let go, try different things, explore, research, practice but most of all enjoy the process. And when a style that you feel good about comes, stick with it for a while. If it flows and gives you joy, then you’ve probably found your style. Hopefully, the rest of the world will also like it.

 

Colored pencils, watercolors, acrylics, what’s your favorite material to work with?

My favorite materials at the moment are definitely gouache, watercolors, and pencils. I tend to use them all together in my work. I love the imperfect textures and the happy little accidents that gouache and watercolors give you and I also love balancing that out with the precision of pencils.

Except for your prints, you have also created a ceramic series, right?

Yes, ceramics is a newly found love for me! I started working with clay only a few months ago and I’m absolutely obsessed. I find clay such a fascinating material in the sense that it gives you so many creative possibilities. The fact that you can transform a ball of clay into almost anything you can think of is pretty amazing to me. I am self-taught so there has been a lot of trial and error and some frustration along the way but after having practiced for some time I feel that I now understand clay much better. You need time to get to know how it works, to respect its limits, to let it do its magic in its own time.

What I also love about ceramics is that it has an almost meditating effect on me. With ceramics, there’s a lot of waiting involved… you have to do things slowly, to take some distance and not to rush things. That is something I can really benefit from in my life as I’m not the most patient person in the world…

So, I think ceramics for me is here to stay and I’m looking forward to working with clay even more in the future. So, yes… I have created my first series of functional pieces where I try to combine painting and ceramics. I would say these are the first fruits of my efforts within the past months. They are all handbuilt and handpainted or glazed. They will be available soon through my online shop. I hope people like them!

 

I met you through your Instagram account. In one of your posts, you mention that you are thankful for all the love and support you get from your followers. But has, in fact, Instagram helped you raise your art sales? Do you recommend it for emerging artists as a promo tool for their works?

Instagram has definitely been a game changer for my career. I’m still quite new to this. I started my account less than a year and a half ago and the fact that there are a bit over 80.000 people following my work is absolutely mind-blowing to me. I could have never imagined this would happen and the funny thing is that I didn’t really believe Instagram could give me much, starting out. I was really skeptical about it. But boy, was I wrong!

Instagram has given me visibility, commissions, collaborations, my new agency and of course the ability to open my online shop. I would say that about 90% of the people that buy my work come straight from Instagram.

So, yes; I think Instagram can be a very powerful tool for artists to promote and sell their work. Of course, it’s not gonna happen magically overnight. It is a promotional tool, which means that you have to invest time and energy in it. You need to post nice pictures of your work regularly, engage with your followers and share bits of your creative process.

But yes, I definitely believe that nowadays artists should invest in their online presence and Instagram is a great place to do that.

 

Instagram has given me visibility, commissions, collaborations, my new agency and of course the ability to open my online shop. I would say that about 90% of the people that buy my work come straight from Instagram.

 

What’s a regular day like for Fotini the illustrator? 🙂

Uff, that’s a tough one. I mean as a freelancer and especially one working from home regularity in my schedule is almost impossible. Not having a 9-5 job is something that I love and that I am so grateful for. But it also makes it really hard to draw a line between your personal and your professional life. Most of the time, I just end up working pretty much all day.

In general, not two days are the same. There are times that I work mostly during the day and others during the night. My natural tendency is to work late at night and that is what happens most of the time. I love the peace and quiet that the night offers you, when the phone is not ringing, your toddler is sound asleep and the city is hibernating. There’s much less distraction for me and a certain charm knowing that the rest of the world is inactive at the same time that I’m creating something.

So, during my ‘night owl’ periods I wake up late at noon to recover from the previous night’s sleeplessness. First thing I do is admin stuff… checking emails, social media etc. I don’t really get my hands on big projects during the day cause my daughter comes back from daycare around 15.00 and then I spend the rest of the day with her till she goes to bed at around 21.00. That’s when my artist’s ‘day’ starts. That is when I begin working on commissions, personal projects or ceramics. I usually work for hours, many times pulling all-nighters which gives me a chance to see my daughter once again in the morning before her dad drops her off at daycare.

During my ‘normal person’ days, I work mostly during the day and go to bed at around 01.00. But the truth is that I love the ‘night-owl’ routine much more than the morning one and I’m so happy I am actually able to do this. Without my partner that would be impossible.

 

Through your Instagram, you support a lot of people suffering from mental health problems, and you are not afraid to say that you had a hard time yourself. What’s art’s effect on you? Was it a therapeutic tool or maybe is it still?

Yes, I have been very open about my experience with postpartum depression. I saw the first signs of it about a month after I had my daughter. And even though there were more signs along the way it took me around a year to realize or better said to admit that I was suffering from it. Postpartum depression has many faces. People tend to think that depressed mothers are suicidal or that they want to harm their babies. It doesn’t always have to be like this. In my case, it was a high-functional depression which made it hard for me and the ones around me to acknowledge its existence.

I feel that there is a lot of pressure around the issue of motherhood; it’s not easy to accept that you are not happy at a period of your life when people expect you to be in the clouds because you have just had a child. There is a lot of guilt and a feeling of failure involved when you realize that you are not the happiest person in the world as a new mother. So, for me, it’s really important to address this issue and make more women talk about it openly so that we can normalize postpartum depression and encourage women suffering from it to speak up and ask for help as soon as possible.

Art definitely served as a means of therapy for me at that time. Finding time to create art through sleepless nights and around the clock nursing was not easy but the few times I did I noticed how it gave me a bit of my previous self back, the one before I became a mother. And I needed that so much… With motherhood, I feel that what happens is that all of a sudden you lose yourself completely as you put your baby’s needs above your needs and then you have to slowly balance this out by merging your new identity with your previous one, and that was so hard for me.

So, I subconsciously held on to my art cause that felt like the only thing that I could relate to from my previous self. I feel that it was what kept me from sinking into the depression quicksand. And what is interesting is that during probably the saddest and darkest period of my life, the art that I was creating was the most colorful and joyful one I had ever have made. I remember at the time Picame featured my work on their website calling me ‘the illustrator of joy’; I remember myself thinking ‘how ironic!’

So, creating art became a necessity or me, a tool that helped me keep going, gave me joy and hope for the future. I had never before been more creative than when I was depressed and thankfully even today, three years later even though I have managed to solve most of those issues through therapy, that amazing creative flow is still with me and I feel so blessed for that. I guess it’s true when they say that many times great things can come out of bad ones.

 

Mommie Set (part I)

What are the common comments and reactions you get from people discovering you illustrations for the first time?

People usually tell me that they find my work inspiring, joyful, optimistic and that it puts a smile on their face. Honestly, that is the best thing I could hear about my work. It makes me so happy!

You are now working with publishers, you have your own shop, you are LIVING THROUGH ART! That’s, in fact, every artist’s dream… What would you say to all those “fighters” out there who are trying hard to get noticed and earn a living by doing what they love the most?

I get this question a lot from many aspiring artists and I totally understand the agony related to how to make it into the illustration industry. I wish I had one magic recipe for all but I don’t. However, I do believe that by taking certain steps one has more possibilities to make things happen for them.

I think the most important thing is to build a strong visual portfolio that shows clearly ‘who’ you are and ‘what’ you do. Having a signature style will help people remember you and hopefully, offer you the right kind of jobs that fit that style.

Promoting your work is extremely important, too. You need to put your work out there for people to see. Having a website or a blog is a great way to share your art. A social media presence is also essential in our days and it’s probably the easiest, cheapest way to promote your work and it can give great results. So, share your work, engage with your audience, play nice and be kind; it always goes a long way.

For a more targeted approach, make a list of your favorite publishers, magazines, companies, and agents that you feel fit your style and send them a sample of your work. Remember to always respect their guidelines; some will need a number of low-resolution images, others a link to your website. Do what they are asking for otherwise it might leave a bad impression or they might actually not even take your mail into consideration.

Φεύγει – Έρχεται, by Kontoleon Manos – Kontoleon Anna

When those first commissions start coming in, try and be professional; be polite, respect the deadlines and try your best to give your clients what they are asking for. They might not like some things, they might need changes. Be nice. No matter how good your work is, if your attitude is unpleasant they will probably not want to work with you again.

The money might not be great at first but it will get better in the future and you’ll be able to negotiate fees better once you have more working experience. We’ve all had to do work we were not crazy about at the beginning or that didn’t pay that well, but with time you’ll be able to be more selective and demand better fees. I would strongly advise against accepting to do jobs for free or ‘for promotion’ as they sometimes might say to you. People tend to think that because we love what we are doing we are

Τι τρέχει με τον Μπαντού; by Anna Mihidi

expected to do it for free or that they are even doing us a favor. Don’t fall for that. Work is work and it has to be remunerated, no matter what. Your time is precious. The promotion will not pay the bills. The more artists turn down spec work, the more possible we make it eliminate it for all of us.

So all in all, hang in there; practice a lot to become a better artist, promote your work as much as you can but most importantly try to maintain the passion for your art. With a little bit of good luck, things will happen for you.

 

Do you visit Greece often?

I visit Greece usually at Christmas and during the summer. I enjoy going back to Greece because I get a chance to reconnect with my friends and family and enjoy the sun that I miss so much here in Copenhagen.

 

What do you miss about it the most?

Oh, I miss quite a few things about Greece. As I mentioned above I miss the long sunny days, the great food, my friends, and family, speaking my own language, the spontaneity of the south and the warmth of the people. For all these reasons I am actually moving back to Athens this summer. I feel like I need to touch base again for a while.

 

How is life for an artist in Copenhagen?

Well, the truth is that the life of a freelance illustrator especially one working from home can be a very solitary one. We tend to spend a lot of time working alone and since we don’t have any colleagues we don’t socialize much like in other professions.

However, Copenhagen is an incredibly inspiring city for artists I think in the sense that there is a high aesthetic feel around everything. From design to architecture and from illustration to ceramics the elegant and minimal Scandinavian design can be seen everywhere. Together with the beautiful urban landscape, this is a city that can give an artist a great amount of inspiration. Copenhagen is also full of museums of exquisite contemporary art and there are many regular exhibitions and art markets that one can visit.

So personally, I draw a lot of inspiration from everything that surrounds me here and I’m very happy about that.

 

For closure, I want you to tell us in three words what’s your message to the world through your art.

Diversity, acceptance, freedom.

 

Proud bodies

Fotini, it was a pleasure meeting you. We wish you inspiration, creativity, and happiness. Thank you 🙂

Likewise. Thank you so much!


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