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Saimaa-ilmiö ❤ Trenčín / Artists Michal Rafaj and Katriina Kaija

In 2026 one city from Finland and one city from Slovakia will be nominated for the European Capital of culture. Because of the pandemic, we can’t meet each other face to face, but virtually we can make artist exchanges. Together with the Finnish candidate region Savonlinna, we decided to present one artist from us and one from them once a week and ask them 4 identical questions. Today we questioned for the Trenčín Region Michal Rafaj and for the Savonlinna painter Katriina Kaija.

Michal works as an independent graphic designer since 2000. He is from Nová Dubnica, town in Trenčín Region. He is founder of Popular brand & graphic studio which is well known in Slovak design community. As designer he tries to keep his recognizable art style. You can see Michal’s work worldwide in many respected vinyl shops, because he focuses on music records artworks and collaboration with musicians and club scene. He tries to work in various different design areas to keep his work evolving and fresh.

Katriina Kaija is an illustrator, a free visual artist and art educator. In her artistic work, she deals with relationship between human and nature, and the themes of disappearance. She belongs to the group ”Kolkkokollektiivi”, a community of seven women from different fields of arts. The presentation can be a sound, a picture, a sculpture or an installation, but the words are always present.

We asked artists 4 simple questions. Find out with us the similarity but also the differences in their view of the current situation, as well as their work itself.

1. What is the role of nature in your art?


As graphic designer I do various jobs from designing apparel to branding and printing jobs. I try to achieve maximum possible eco-friendly results. I use only quality textiles with natural bio cotton, print with ecologic colors and working under Gots certificate. I try to commit less unwanted garbage from packaging. In branding jobs, I also try to use as much possible eco-friendly printing methods and using bio degradable packaging(especially during covid crisis, more restaurants need take away branded packaging). Nature overall is very important to me, as I am sometimes too tired from digital rush, I try to get calm in nature where I spent lot of my time during month. It is very important to try to live as much ecologically as I can, nature deserves it.


Nature is important in my art but also in my life. Human is a part of nature. I get my inspiration for my work from thmes like of continuity, change and growth. Nature provides us security and joy.

Design Michal Rafaj

2. How has covid19 affected your work?


I’m workaholic type of person and over last 20 years I didn’t have any roper rest. So covid year toughed me a lot. How to calm down, how to use my time differently, how to change focus in many aspects of private life. I learned to use my time more effectively which resulted in more family time. Everything affects everything… so it was great year in work overall. Many interesting projects happened and while less stress and more time for them, I really enjoyed the whole process in my work and put even more love into it. I do lot of artworks for music records and I work with music labels worldwide, so I get quite a picture of situation not just in my country. I do also lot of poster jobs and situation in club scene… is totally sad and near end. Another huge part of my design job is doing my brand popular with my collection of design apparel. It was toughest season Iexperienced and I am glad that I just survived, as there were no live events and design markets, so I missed direct approach to my customers.


On the visual arts side, exhibitions and openings have been somewhat cancelled or moved on, but this has not caused any inconvenience to me.

Ilustrácie od Katriina Kaija

3. How would you like to develop your city in the next few years?


Well not just before the ECOC-year, I try to constantly shape city and surrounding with my quality design work and also organizing music and cultural events. I’m working as graphic designer on very nice design and cultural event called Trenčin na Korze, event supports young and vibrant culture in city from design shops to panel discussion. I would like to mention also nice cooperation with local art school students where I curatedwork on redesigning local magazine HMOTA for creative youth. It was very important for me to be involved also in nonprofit jobs that helps our young creative community. Events are affected with current crisis, so last year was not as we expected, hopefully I / we can do much more this year.


Savonlinna could stand out even further with its unique environment and strive to build a diverse cultural image for itself. In my own fantasies, Savonlinna is a mecca for well-being: it offers not only nature experiences, but also art in both the cityscape and its cultural offerings. Savonlinna has a history as a meeting place, so it could also be a meeting place for different artists in the future, for example as a residency city.

Vinyl design by Michal Rafaj

4. Why your city should be chosen for the European Capital of Culture in 2026?


Trenčín is very nice city to live and work. Its city center is surrounded by medieval castle and it have really magic atmosphere. I think there is lot of new stuff happening to city overall. Young generation is alive and present in Trenčín and I believe that it is perfect place for culture overall. Fingers crossed :)


Savonlinna has an enchantin location in the middle of Saimaa. Saimaa Phenomenon 2026 has already triggered something significant: the power and spirit of cooperation! It would be great to see how far we are able to go in 2026 as a Capital of Culture – we could have so many different kinds and insparing activities and discussions at this stage. Savonlinna is so unique that it deserves to become the capital of culture.

Maľby a ilustrácia od Katriina Kaija

In cooperation with Saimaa-ilmiö ❤ Trenčín, we decided to bring interesting articles and interviews about Trenčín2026 and Saimaa-ilmiö2026 every week, as well as presenting various artists, interesting tourist places and mutual conversations. We can't wait for more :)



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