Kirsi Salonen is a thirty-three-year-old visual artist, writer, and make-up artist living in Finland. She’s an award-winning digital painter with over ten years of experience working in the industry. As a freelancer, she’s had the opportunity to work in many different areas, including cover design, card illustration, concept art, and comics. She designed London’s Olympic street posters in 2012, and recently won the Best Script award from Veles 2015, the International Comic Festival. Her makeup skills can be seen in the music video for “Reversed World” by God Is an Astronaut.
Kirsi’s approach to expression revolves around the spectrum of emotion, aspects of epic drama, and the use of classical color palettes. She’s passionate about preserving and appreciating wildlife and always looks for ways to open doors to inspiration and reveal hidden beauty, especially when painting horror and dark fantasy.
First off I’d like to ask you a question in the spirit of Nightmare: What scares you the most?
Proper question, right to the point straight away! The way I handle fears is different when it comes to art and real life, naturally. I’m very rarely terrified of those creepy unconscious “terrors” anymore, since I’ve become so accustomed to working in the realms of dark imaginings and bringing them out visually into sensible forms and narratives. In real life, I’m really not a fan of violence—I mean the wrong kind. There’s violence that is a part of life and then there’s unjust, criminal violence. Coming from a broken home, I’m very alert when I sense a situation turning violent, and I react very strongly to it. I’ve learned to turn the negative emotions and anxiety into art, and it’s helped me tremendously to handle my own mind when it comes to approaching frightening issues.
Plus, I fear spiders and wasps. I try not to freak out when I see them, but it’s pointless.
You wrote a poem to accompany Lady in Red, the cover piece for this month’s Nightmare: “I wish I wish I wish so much for me, / so I’ve become too blind to see, / what all my wishes have done for me.” Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for both the illustration and the poem?
The illustration was done as a “how to paint hair and skin” tutorial for a 2D-magazine some years ago. Since I didn’t want to be all “normal” and simply paint nice looking skin, I made it dry, itchy and worn-out, like it was about to fall off. It was also a custom-brush tutorial and I demonstrated how to make a skin texture like that with a certain brush.
I liked the idea of doing a painting about a woman who can wish for anything she wants, but she wishes for the wrong things too many times and loses parts of herself in the process. So she becomes what you see—like a monster and half-blind, a freak of nature. Her beauty is frail and skin deep, in a way!
Do you often write companion poems for your artwork?
Not regularly. Sometimes, when the mood strikes and I see the work in need of a storyline to help the viewer get what I was after when I painted it. Some poems are like an afterthought. I decide to simply look at the final result and if it wants to say something more than just a title, then I consider a poem with it. Usually a painting is totally enough on its own, and leaves the viewer to decide what its message is, and I’m fine with that.
Besides being an illustrator and writer, you are also a makeup artist. What enticed you to study makeup?
I was looking for an additional career within the creative arts, and when I found an ad for the Make-Up Academy in my hometown, I decided to give it a try. Since my graduation in 2012, I’ve happily done special makeup for a few Finnish music videos to build up my portfolio. Otherwise, it’s unfortunate how little practice I’ve gotten, since alongside my career as a visual artist, it would require a lot of dedication, more experience with different materials and applications, and goals to develop my skills as a makeup artist. I hope to fix that at some point. Good things take time and effort!
Is there a horror movie, short story, novel, comic or television series that has heavily inspired or intrigued you? What do you like about it?
Yes, I have plenty of everlasting inspirational movies and stories that I’ve loved since I was a kid. The Dark Crystal is something that has never left me, with its incredible characters, amazing story and epicness. It was such an exceptional dark fantasy at the time, and the world hasn’t seen anything quite like it since it came out.
Don Bluth’s Secret of NIMH is another that I adore to this day. When it comes to comics, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was my first love. Another comic is Drew Hayes’s Poison Elves, which is still a great comic that has the kind of dark, twisted humor that really makes me tingle and giggle inside.
Is there a certain scary place you’d like to visit someday? For example, a specific tomb, ruin, or haunted house?
I’ve travelled quite a bit across Europe, for example I’ve seen the underground catacombs of Sacromonte in Spain, the misty mountaintop caves of Gibraltar, the Colosseum and the inside of the Vatican, and Sisi’s castle in Vienna, and the old castle ruins of Aquila, and the incredible Monster Park of Bomarzo in central Italy, and in a certain light all those places are quite the “tombs” for me, haha! But honestly, I’d love to see some of the ancient castles in England and Scotland. I’ve seen so many TV shows say how haunted most of them are. Personally, I think all huge stone buildings just carry a strong echo through their walls, and they’re almost impossible to keep warm, but I’d keep an open mind about a ghost encounter. I would probably either laugh, or run away screaming to the hills!
Do you have any favorite winter or holiday traditions?
Yes, Halloween, if that counts as a winter holiday. But it’s just for the opportunity to make a stunning makeup!
Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
I hope to tie the knot with a publishing house in Finland for my epic dark fantasy book Ordera this year and really make an effort to boost my career forward. I have high hopes for the future, both personally and career-wise. My sweet dog Aave (his name means ghost in Finnish) helps me for sure, and he always encourages me with a constant wagging tail and playful nature. I don’t believe in one-track New Year’s resolutions; I think it’s best to diligently pursue goals that you can actually see in the horizon. That’s what good dreams are made of!
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