Kawaii: How Viviane Valenta creates adorable illustrations in Sketch
Plus — her tips on finding your artistic style and getting inspired again after feeling stuck
When Viviane Valenta’s not designing websites and mobile apps, she’s feeding her passion for digital illustration and running her own web shop. Whether she’s making stickers or turning characters from famous paintings into cats, she’s on a mission to spread joy with her designs. We’re delighted to share her story with you.
How would you describe your profession?
It depends on what I am working on. Both product design and illustration fulfill different creative needs for me — although sometimes they neatly blend and complement each other. Like when I am bringing a web product to life with custom illustrations or when I think about how to make my artwork work well as physical products.
Tell us more about your background in design. Have you always been involved in both illustration and product design?
I come from a long lineage of Viennese artists. So it was always clear to me that I would end up working in a creative profession. I went to the same venerated art school that my family visited, which was rather traditional, so product design and web design weren’t really covered.
Afterwards I got a job as a graphic designer at Vienna’s largest movie theater, which inspired me to go further and move to Munich. There, I worked on illustrations for the famous German YouTube channel for science communication, Kurzgesagt. After soaking up all the knowledge and skills, I decided to move on to the fast-paced world of small startups where one gets to do and explore everything. I think founding a business based on my own designs fits well into this story.
How did you get into illustration? And how would you describe your style?
It has always been a huge part of my life. After school, I would sit down and sketch out logo and font ideas with my grandmother, who was a talented artist. I then got into the whole Japanese trend briefly — before it became mainstream — and was fascinated with manga and anime. I think it still shows! I combine this stylistic approach with clean vectors, abstract shapes, and a color palette that’s both vivid and pastel, all to help people connect with the ‘kawaii’ element of my art.
Do you find that your experience as a product designer informs your work as an illustrator? If so, how?
Yes, absolutely! As a product designer, I am constantly concerned with how my work reads and if it communicates well. When designing digital products, we accomplish this by giving users visual clues and reducing clutter in order to focus — not necessarily reduce — cognitive load. I think it’s no coincidence that I ended up with a very minimalistic style that eases its audience into the subject before revealing more nuance. Just like in product design, keeping illustrations simple is in fact quite a challenge and takes many iterations and feedback.
Just like in product design, keeping illustrations simple is in fact quite a challenge and takes many iterations and feedback.
You’ve recreated several famous paintings as adorable prints, like Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. What inspired this trend in your designs?
I love these paintings, especially The Kiss! And of course, they have been re-interpreted many times but most of them were either pop art collages or too realistic for my taste. I also wanted to add an element of ‘Entfremdung’ (English: alienation) that would work with my cute style — hence the cats. I am also experimenting with more educational content. I think art is the perfect vehicle for that because it helps our brain anchor the knowledge in a unique experience.
What are some of the challenges to recreating these famous artworks?
I try to distill the artwork into its essential features. In a sense, I end up having to reverse-engineer (or reverse-imagine) the guiding picture of the original creators, which is difficult. It often helps to read up on the artist’s biography and the circumstances of creation to get me in the mindset to see these things. But at the end of the day, I still have my own interpretation and I have to make that come through.
How would you describe the approach behind your art, sticker, and pin illustrations?
Unlike many artists, my process often starts directly in Sketch — no pen or paper. It’s so fast and fluid that I can get my thoughts out effortlessly. I typically end up with multiple versions in one Sketch document and then select the best. If I’m working with a theme like a holiday, season or current trend I also often come prepared with some ideas.
How does Sketch help you in your illustration process?
When working as a product designer for startups I grew disillusioned with Adobe Illustrator so I researched alternatives like Sketch, Adobe XD and Figma. Sketch immediately won me over with its intuitive UI and structure. I was able to quickly transfer all my designs and became an internal evangelist in my company.
Unlike many artists, my process often starts directly in Sketch — no pen or paper. It’s so fast and fluid that I can get my thoughts out effortlessly.
What are some of your favorite features in Sketch, and why?
That would have to be the Vector tool, which continues to amaze me. Being able to move and change shapes after you divide or merge them is quite the productivity booster. A close second would simply be the default shortcuts — very easy to get into. And this shortlist wouldn’t be complete of course without Symbols, which are surprisingly useful for illustrations, too.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give young illustrators and designers starting their careers today?
Many times fellow artists have asked me how I found my style – in reality it’s something that often develops over time. Patience and practice are the names of the game and as long as you stick with it and get to love the process, your style will come to you naturally. I also found it important to look outwards — so talk to other artists and try out different tools and art styles. Always pick the parts you most like and stay humble. If you feel stuck, you have three options: take a break, try something you’re not familiar with, or do some easy comfort drawing.
Many times fellow artists have asked me how I found my style – in reality it’s something that often develops over time […] As long as you stick with it and get to love the process, your style will come to you naturally.
Of all the illustrations you’ve made so far, which one is your favorite and why?
As a Viennese, The Kiss by Gustav Klimt is currently my favorite illustration. Its expression of passion and devotion captivated me and took a lot of time to get right. I learned that the woman in the painting is meant to be a carrier of love and beauty all covered in flowers. A theory that really intrigued me is that Klimt tried to capture the moment when the mythical Orpheus lost his love, Eurydice, forever.
To wrap up, are there any other famous works of art you’d love to recreate soon?
Yes, it’s an ongoing series and I am currently working on a few more like The Last Supper, The Birth Of Venus, and Ophelia. And there are also some works from Picasso’s Blue Period to look out for!
Want to keep up with Viviane’s designs? Follow her on Dribbble, Instagram and Twitter!