StudyAdvantage Magazine

Alumni Stories: Kiki Ljung, Digital Illustrator Setting Her Own Pace

Published: March 9, 2017

In the StudyAdvantage “Alumni Stories” interview series, we meet former international students now passionately embarking on global careers in business, politics, media, arts, technology and science. We ask them how their international educational journeys have shaped their outlook…and what they would do in an unconstrained version of life.




A Swedish/Italian illustrator who grew up in Brussels, studied at University of the Arts London (UAL) and now works in Paris, the 24 year-old Kiki Ljung is a true inspiration and living proof that success in the arts is possible. We sat down with Kiki to find out more about her time as a student at the European School in Brussels and at Central St Martins (UAL). Kiki also shared the secret to her creative success and whether there are challenges to a career in the arts.


Tell us a bit about your childhood. What was it like growing up in Brussels, as a Swedish/Italian kid?Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 09.39.12

I feel extremely grateful for my childhood and the environment I grew up in. Having a double nationality and growing up in such a multilingual and multinational context has made me feel like a European citizen, rather than any distinct
nationality, and has enriched me culturally.


You went to a European school in Brussels, so your education was international from an early age. What was it like?

The European school experience is a quite unique one with its own pros and cons. I spoke four languages at school and I was exposed to many European cultures and languages; I know how to curse in Finnish, read Fernando Pessoa in Portuguese and sing football chants in Dutch. While I recognise the limited diversity in a Eurocentric, predominantly white, elite school, I do believe that my upbringing has contributed to giving me a fairly open-minded, inclusive view of the world. The teaching program however is quite narrow and doesn’t allow for different types of students and interests, the Arts were far from encouraged. 


Drawn to London’s multicultural and bustling creative environment, Kiki left Brussels to pursue a degree at one of the most prestigious arts colleges in Europe, Central St Martins. This proved a great choice, as the school’s independent working environment was perfect preparation for a freelance artist.


What motivated you to apply to a university in London? Why Central St Martins in particular?

London felt like a natural choice, as it’s a melting pot society. I applied to several UAL schools and the Foundation program at CSM felt the most wide-ranging and experimental, which suited me as I was unsure of what creative direction to take.  
Did you enjoy your time at Central St Martins? Apart from an impressive degree, what did you take away from your time at Central St Martins?

Again, I loved Saint Martins for its multicultural student body! While mostly bonding with Francophones, I felt at ease in an international context. The teaching at Saint Martins is quite particular, in that you are basically taught to teach yourself. It was very autonomous and we were given a lot of freedom to explore and experiment, which could be frustrating, but ultimately prompted problem-solving skills and independent thinking. 


After graduating, Kiki moved to Paris to be a freelance illustrator. Her career requires hard work and determination.  There are also challenges like difficulty of finding your own artistic voice and the dangers of artists’ block.


You graduated in 2014, which is not that long ago, but you are already a professionally accomplished artist. Could you tell us a bit about how you dit it? Was it difficult to find your own voice/style?

Why thank you! That’s quite flattering to hear as it doesn’t really feel as though I have ‘made it’. Freelancing is a gig-to-gig job and always a struggle! Being scouted out by my agency Folio (I work with them now) has made things a lot easier and took off most of the pressure, where self-promotion, client hunting, contract dealing and fee-bargaining are concerned. Finding a style is an ongoing process and can only be brought about through consuming a lot of visual material and putting pen to paper and practice! 

What is it like being a freelancer? Are there any challenges?

Freelancing is both very challenging and rewarding. I was never keen on the prospect of a 9-to-5 (09:00 t0 17:00) job and I love the freedom of being my own boss and owning my own business. On the other hand, it is quite isolating and the jobs can be quite irregular, which means I have to embrace both all-nighters and dead stretches. 


At the same time, Kiki feels that becoming an illustrator was her true vacation. She never considered other options and can find inspiration in most things.


How do you find inspiration for your work – through research or maybe visiting exhibitions? Do you ever get creative block and how do you get back on track?

I find inspiration in lots of things! Books, exhibitions, other artists’ blogs and social media feeds, taking walks, watching movies, etc…

Many consider your work awe-inspiring. What’s been the driving force behind your ambition, and ultimately your success?

I’m not sure, I have never considered other options this far, so I simply set my mind to trying it out and worked at it very hard.

Final question: if your life was unconstrained, if you had no financial limitations and no immediate responsibilities, how would you choose spend your next year?

If I could construct my own perfect future I would own houses across the globe and rotate living in different countries throughout the year. I’d have dogs as company and would carry my laptop with me to continue freelancing. 

Want to know more about Kiki and her work?

Be sure to check out her website


We’ve also got plenty more inspiring content at StudyAdvantage:

Alumni Stories: Louise Körner, International Fashion Designer

The 6 Hottest Student Parties on the Planet

A Fashionable Introduction From A London Based Fashion Student



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