Something's Fishy with Sakke Yrjölä

This week, Mr. Wolf caught up with Sakke Yrjölä, a sketchbook artist, graphic designer and fish enthusiast from Helsinki.

What was your introduction to art?
I grew up in Itä-Pakila, a residential district in northern Helsinki. I encountered illustration at an early age in the form of children’s books and animations. It was my parents and my grandparents that gave me my first inspiration. My grandfather taught me to draw and work with oil paints.
I studied graphic design at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki. I also went on exchange to the University of Salmanca, Spain, where I studied in the Faculty of Fine Arts. However, as an illustrator, I’m mostly self-taught.

What drew you to illustration over other mediums?
The main form or method of expression for me has always been sketchbook drawing. I’ve been teaching illustration at the University of Art and Design (Aalto) for 14 years. I have never preferred any other medium. I like to maintain my childlike way of looking at the world.
I also love the problem solving aspect of illustration, and decorating my message with an artistic touch. I get excited when I work with different styles and materials. It is always so rewarding to start with an abstract idea and finish with an illustration. If I manage to evoke emotions with the drawing, then I have succeeded.

Being an illustrator and a graphic designer, you have worked both commercially and creatively. How are these types of work different, if at all?
The most challenging aspect for me is the customer and their expectations. Normally people don’t question the work I do for them, but sometimes a new customer can have really tricky interpretations of the work I have done.
Commercial and free art are the two side of a bucket: one is concave and the other is convex. Same same, but different.

What is your favourite subject to draw?
I love people and their faces. It is really inspiring trying to get the person’s emotions captured in the picture. Actually, I like almost any object or subject from spaces and architecture, to flora and fauna in all formations.

How would you describe your style?
I really wouldn’t want to categorize my expression. The artist in me wants to vary his style. I know that in the modern media sensitive aesthetics just won’t work. I guess that explains the saturated visual energy of my work. I love colours because they affect me. The more colours, the merrier – I can’t help it!
Life is too short and valuable to be wasted. I would like to give people good laughs with deep thoughts.

Sakke is currently working on a book project in collaboration with the University of Helsinki. The final edition will contain over 100 naturalistic illustrations of all permanent fish species in Finland.
He also has two exhibitions scheduled for 2014.
For more of Sakke's work, visit:


Words: Annie Ferguson