How can you make the outdoors feel super cozy and homely? With a hot cup of coffee, a good pair of headphones, and a considerable amount of talent, apparently!
That’s how Kaja Kajfež does it, and we’re here for it. Thanks to her skillful use of pastel-like colors and soft shapes, she consistently paints scenes where the only thing that could disturb the serenity would be the occasional gentle breeze blowing through her heroines’ hair.
It’s no surprise, then, that she’s chosen to focus mostly on drawing for children’s books and nature-related projects. A fascinating choice, especially the way Kaja talks about it. Make yourself a fresh batch of coffee and come join us:
Take us through your career path, so far.
I became obsessed with illustrating at a young age. At the same time, I was equally into all things computer related – I’m self-taught at most of the software I still use to this day. A big breakthrough happened when my parents recognized both of my passions and bought me my first digital tablet! I became invested in drawing digitally and with time I was confident enough to start searching for some gigs as a graphic designer and illustrator. Gigs slowly started to come and I decided to steer my portfolio toward the children’s publishing industry. That’s when my agency scouted me and I’m proud to say that since then I’ve had the honor to work with both big and small publishers.
Your focus is on children’s books and all things nature-related. What draws you to these topics?
My love for children’s books followed me to adulthood and I remember spending hours browsing through various titles, so I figured I could try aiming my portfolio towards that industry. It was a lot of work and sacrifice but it paid off! I started getting projects that were nature-related as I was already drawing those motifs to display in my portfolio anyway. Today, I’m proud to say that most of my projects are in one way or another related to nature.
On your website, you write that your personal projects tend to be an expression of love for nature and an exploration of both character and emotion. What are your biggest inspirations?
Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to dedicate to personal projects these days but for my client work, which is primarily mostly nature-related projects, I find inspiration in researching a certain species and learning all about their behavior, habitat, etc. – there is so much diversity out there! Also, I recently did a history-based project and found inspiration in reading about the lives those people led, how passionate they were, and how they touched other people’s hearts. I’m excited to jump into some personal stuff, though, as I wrap up my current projects – and looking forward to finding some new inspirations to guide me.
Which of your artworks is your favorite and why?
My favorite pieces so far must be for a project (a picture book) that I worked on with an animal rights organization in Croatia. This project was also one the biggest challenges I faced so far. It was challenging to visually represent something as horrific as animal exploitation in a way that would be acceptable for younger readers to come in contact with. I believe I found the right balance, and hopefully we’ll manage to publish it soon.
What is the most important thing you have in your studio?
A cup of coffee, a planner, and a nice set of headphones with an inspiring podcast or an album on play!
How do you stay motivated to work as a freelancer?
To be honest I consider illustration to be just like any other job. There are both good and bad days, of course, but at the end of the day, I have deadlines to meet. I taught myself there is no such thing as staring at a blank sheet of paper since I work with people that have certain expectations from me and they themselves have deadlines to meet. I keep myself motivated during low-energy days by thinking of the lovely product we are all creating together and that’s what keeps me going.
Which artist would you like to grab a coffee with?
Definitely my artist friends over on Instagram – I’ve been in contact with some for years at this point, but never had an opportunity to meet in real life. We’re all from different parts of the world so we never actually organized anything. I bet it would be such a delightful meetup – we’d probably spend a lot of time chatting and illustrating together, which sounds like a dream come true!
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not creating art?
I love hiking and going on nature trips – anything adventurous in general is my jam! Since I recently got my own place, I’m really into interior design as of late. So when I get my hands on a vintage piece that would look great in my apartment, I give it a new shine and it’s so much fun! Lately, I’m also really into board games so if you have any suggestions let me know! But at the end of the day, give me and my cats some time to cuddle and I’m in heaven.
What are your plans for the future?
I would love to write a book – develop my own story and the characters, plus do the illustrations, of course. Wish me luck!