Illustrator Riikka Laakso begins working long before she ever picks up a pencil. The Finnish born, Berlin-based artist first thinks about, or you might say calculates, how her illustration will look. “It’s the most essential part of my drawing process—without drawing,” Laakso says. “In my head, I plan the idea, the composition, and can imagine quite well which idea will work and which one will not. Then I draw a little sketch, sometimes just a few centimeters, to check it. And if it works I draw more seriously in the right size. Often, it’s just a simple linear drawing.”

Laakso’s work is both minimal and complex. Her modular grids and diagonal lines, which first appear flat and two-dimensional, take on a depth, even in mostly muted palettes. Her map-like compositions paired with textured patterns produce a collage effect. Skewed perspectives turn traditional rules of proportion upside down with echoes of folk art, creating a refreshingly analog feel in a digital world.

“For me, the manual part is very important, as is the fact that you can see this process in my illustrations,” Laakso explains, though she also admits it’s a balance. “I’m also fascinated by working with digital tools.” Laakso adds color and layers on the computer and that’s where the “unplanned” things happen. They surprise her—and that’s exciting.

“The mixture between the controlled, straight line and free, intuitive drawing interests me. I experiment with composition, play with simplifications, and concentrate mostly on the idea,” she says. “It’s a challenge to tell a story or to translate an idea and, at the same time, give the viewers enough space for their own thoughts and interpretations.”

When I ask her what led her to illustration career, she cites her sister. “My older [by eight years] sister Laura had a big influence on my development. She’s an illustrator, too, and when I was a child we did a lot of drawing together.” Even so, as with most things in life, it wasn’t a clear path for Riika. “After leaving school, I studied graphic design in Mainz, Germany. I did a lot drawing during my studies, but was too shy to do it seriously.” Though she soon realized that design wasn’t a good fit, it took a while before she admitted that she wanted to be an illustrator. “After [receiving] my Bachelor of Arts, I moved to Berlin and that’s when I started to work hard on my drawing skills. I was so happy about my decision that my euphoria helped me survive the difficult time after the graduation, when I didn’t have a real job. I worked on personal projects and, for the first time, felt free by drawing.”

Now life is busy and full for Laakso. She’s working on an MFA in illustration at Berlin University of Arts, where she’s focusing on manual printing techniques: linocut and dry-point process, which she describes as “a more emotional way of printing.” On finding inspiration Laakso says, “I need some relaxed time in my life to get the energy for new ideas. And nature, especially the forest, inspires me. I love visiting Finland. I find inspiration in the atmosphere, the melancholia, the colors, the frostiness.”