Meet Akke Saari, The Brilliant Artist Behind That Viral Patrik Laine Portrait

It’s been a big week for Winnipeg Jets fans.

Since clinching a playoff spot with a thrilling shootout win over the Nashville Predators on Sunday night, the team finished its most recent home stand 6-0, Tyler Myers was nominated for the Bill Masterton trophy and rookie Kyle Connor was named the NHL’s third star of the week.

Then there’s that viral Patrik Laine portrait everyone and their dog have been talking about.

Posted to Instagram by Finnish artist Akke Saari on March 26, the drawing quickly racked up thousands of views, likes and shares, eventually getting the attention of local media outlets, the Winnipeg Jets and even the NHL.

As it turns out, Saari is quite the talent. In addition to the Laine portrait, the graphic design student’s impressive portfolio includes spitting-image pieces depicting athletes, musicians and celebrities like The Weeknd, Game of Thrones’ Macie Williams and others. And he’s only 23.

Wondering what inspired him to draw Laine, we recently reached out to Akke. Here’s what he had to say about living in Finland, his favourite NHL team and more.

We haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Finland (yet!). What’s it like there? Tell us a bit about your hometown. 

I think Finland is basically the mini-me version of Canada. We have the four seasons here and ice hockey is the biggest sport, just like in Canada. Finnish people are a bit reserved and perhaps socially awkward, but that goes away after a few beers. Sauna is a huge part of Finnish culture, so be sure to try it if you come here sometime. My hometown, Vantaa, is right next to Helsinki, the capital of Finland. There is not much to say about Vantaa; people live here if they don’t have enough money to live in Helsinki.

Have you ever been to Winnipeg? Or anywhere in Canada?

I’ve never been to Canada but I’d love to visit your beautiful country sometime. I’ve heard only positive things about the Canadian people and the nature.

How did you get into drawing? Why portraits? And why colored pencils as opposed to other art forms?

I’ve been interested in drawing since I was a little kid. Drawing portraits is my passion because it’s so challenging and there is always something new to learn. I used to paint large acrylic portraits before, but after I found wax-based coloured pencils and photorealism, there was no coming back. I think coloured pencils are the best option for what I do.

Akke Saari

What do you do when you’re not drawing?

Portrait art is a very serious hobby for me, but I don’t make that much money from it. My other hobbies are working out, skateboarding, singing and playing PS4 with my friends.

The Patrik Laine portrait took you 29 hours, which seems like a pretty huge investment of time. Why Patrik?

It’s totally normal for one portrait to take that long. Patrik Laine and Pekka Rinne are my favourite (hockey) players at the moment. I just wanted to make sure the drawing looks good enough. It’s a funny coincidence that Patrik has the same jersey number (29).

Akke’s Laine portrait in the early stages.

You mentioned Laine and Rinne as your favourite NHL players. Do you have a favourite NHL team?

I’d say the Anaheim Ducks and the Winnipeg Jets are my favourite teams. It’s hard to decide which team I like the most.

I imagine with the time difference it might be difficult, but do you ever watch Jets games on TV or online? 

I usually watch the highlights afterwards. The time difference makes it hard for me to watch the games live, but I’m definitely a fan of the team. Jets have been strong this season.

Speaking of the Jets, you’ve also done a Teemu Selanne portrait. Tell us a bit about that one.

I drew that digital portrait three years ago. It must’ve taken about six hours. Digital painting is a lot easier and faster thing to do.

Akke’s Teemu Selanne digital portrait, circa 2015

As you probably noticed from the response on social media, Winnipeg is a major hockey city and we love our Jets. Describe the feedback and attention you got for your Laine portrait.

I didn’t expect to get so much attention. I’m so glad Jets and the NHL noticed my work. The positive feedback has given me so much more energy and great opportunities.

Do you have plans for any other Jets portraits? If so, who would be next?

Actually, Patrik Laine wants me to draw a new portrait of him. His mother is supposed to give me more information about the commission. Patrik’s agent contacted me and told me about this.

That’s awesome! Is there anything you’d like to add?

I love Winnipeg and Canada so much. Thank you for all the positive feedback. You have been so kind to me.

To check out Akke’s other portraits, follow him on Instagram.

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