Finnish illustrator Santtu Mustonen has been living in New York for a couple of years. He works from his studio in Brooklyn where he creates installations, printed materials and moving image. Santtu’s clients include The New York Times, Wired and the Oscars.   FACC interviewed Santtu to find out what it takes to have an international breakthrough as a creative professional.

How did you end up in New York? 

I decided to move to New York after a couple of exciting visits as a tourist. Plus, I got hired for a few successful projects from American clients. I started working with my agent Hugo and Marie who are based in Brooklyn. New York is the home to so many inspiring subcultures and countercultures, so the city felt pretty tempting.

How does your typical workday look like?

I like to wake up early and read the news slowly. I ride my bike to studio everyday, all year long. I tend to do the trickiest creative work in the morning. I have my own studio, so usually after lunch I play some music and take a short nap in my hammock. Unfortunately, some work days are hard to stop, but I don’t like staying too late, so I tend to leave before it gets dark.

Is it essential to have an agent when you are working in a creative industry in NYC

My agent is my best companion over here. Working with bigger clients can be slightly tricky, especially with contracts and quick schedules. I feel pretty confident diving into the American business culture, but every now and then it is extremely helpful to have someone who knows the core inside out, like my agent.

What has been your most memorable work project in the US?

It was awesome to work with BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music). They were already on my list of dream clients before they contacted me. I appreciate their organization and I am very interested in their programs. And of course, they hired me to do what I do best and gave pretty much free will to create what I thought would work.

Are there any differences between Finland and America regarding legal issues related to creative work?

Luckily in the western world copyrights issues related to my profession are pretty well respected. Usually my designs are made for specific projects.

I read a lot about different issues online, but nothing is better than chatting with my friends in the same field or calling an American lawyer.

What does it take for a creative professional to break through internationally?

Simply being international and showing the ability to handle different projects on different continents helps. I think I could do all this from my rural Finnish cabin too, but for some people it seems to have a powerful impact if your geographical location is in the middle of the most strategic markets.

 Do you need personal branding in order to succeed?

For a one man company, everything I do is some kind of branding. Every now and then it feels a bit overwhelming. My work starts to tell a certain type of story as my portfolio grows and that of course steers the so-called brand, but I am not necessarily thinking about personal brand at all.

 What inspires you the most in NYC?

The weird histories of culture, odd consumerism, behaviors and constructed creations attract me. Every now and then I do a trip to the outskirts of New York. I have seen a lot abandoned parks, obscure buildings, hiking trails and landfills. It is always rising a questions what will be here after the next 50 years.

More about Santtu Mustonen:  www.santtumustonen.com and Twitter @SanttuMustonen  


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