This month, Ellie Day catches up with award-winning blogger, influencer, YouTuber, singer, painter and all-round creative spirit Jonna Jinton. Here she talks to us about the challenges and joys of country life, singing to cows (you have to check out the video further down in the article) and her secret to taking the perfect Instagram photo.
Hi Jonna! How is snowy northern Sweden looking today?
It's beautiful – very cold, it's currently -30! But it's sunny and snowy and picturesque, just like you'd imagine.
About five years ago you left a big city (Gothenburg) to move to a rural community in northern Sweden with just nine inhabitants – what made you decide to make the move?
You're right, it's a tiny town! My mum was born here – in fact we can trace our link to the area 12 generations back, so while I grew up in Gothenburg, I feel a real affinity with the area. I knew I wanted to move here since I was five years old but didn't find the opportunity until I was 21 and I was here on holiday for four weeks while studying in Gothenburg. It was while out walking in the fields one June evening, I suddenly had a strong feeling that I needed to live here. So, I took the plunge and made the move. I had no money, no job; all I had was a little cottage with no warm water and no shower! But everything worked out: I got a little job on a farm nearby – and that's when I started the blog.
It's because of my way of life that my blog isn't around fashion and luxury. Instead I want to show people my way of life, one that's in tune with the nature around us and really embraces it.
Jonna Jinton regularly posts images of her life in rural Northern Sweden. Photo: Jonna Jinton
That sounds like a big change in pace – how was it adapting to being in a small community?
It's so different to living in a big city – I lived in the middle of Gothenburg, so when I came here it was noticeably quiet. But I felt more alone living in a big city than I do in a small Swedish village with nine residents; in cities, there are so many people but nobody looks you in the eyes. Here everyone greets you; I felt so welcomed immediately, even though there were so few people. In the city I always felt stressed, but life is much slower here and you take time to do everything with care and love.
Also, it has to be said that the novelty of being able to open your front door and see deer, birds flying and forests all around you never wears off.
Life on your blog looks idyllic – have you found there to be any misconceptions about what people think of rural Swedish living?
Probably that people think it's more exotic than it is. Swedish people definitely have misconceptions – particularly people who live in cities and who have summer cottages in the countryside: they think that if you live like this you're on holiday all the time. Everything takes much longer here, because you have to drive huge distances to buy groceries, you have to work to get heat in the house, your water supply might be sporadic. Nothing is as accessible as it is in big cities and everything is a challenge – but it's so rewarding.
You're involved in lots of different creative projects, from singing, to blogging, photography, to painting. Where do you find your inspiration?
Without a doubt, I get all of my creative ideas from the nature around me. When I go to visit my brother in Stockholm I get totally disconnected – I need to be in nature otherwise I genuinely can't write or paint.
If I'm stuck for ideas, I go for a walk in the forest – it's a source of creative energy for me. If I had stayed in Gothenburg I wouldn't have the blog or social presence I have today – I would have no urge to share what was around me.
The Northern Lights are notoriously hard to capture with a camera, yet you have lots of great photos of them on your blog – what's your advice for getting the best shot?
It's interesting, because I'm not a good photographer technically! It's a real 'trial-and-error' approach, particularly with the Northern Lights. I don't really know what I'm doing, and the Lights are always changing, so you can't plan a set-up. The most successful shots always come when you just go with the feeling.
For my shots generally, I put up the camera on a tripod and just see what works. The secret to my photos – on Instagram and my blog – is the lighting; it's crucial. I never take photos in the daylight, and I always shoot really late or really early in the day. The daytime light is much too stark. It's all about the soft light.
There has been much interest in your cow-herding videos using the ancient Swedish herding call of 'kulning' – where did you learn to sing to cows?
I actually learned with a book I ordered online. I'd heard 'kulning' first when I was 12 and ever since I couldn't get it out of my head. The book I used had a CD with warming up sounds and I listened to it when I drove, which I do quite a lot here. It took a few months to learn, then I went out one January day and just went for it… it sounded amazing, I was hooked. A couple of days later I did my first video on Facebook and it got a couple of million views. It sounds strange, but I love it – the cows are so curious when they approach you. But you've got to be careful – though they're don't want to hurt you, they can be clumsy. I'm always conscious of that!
Watch and listen to one of Jonna Jinton's 'kulning' videos:
You've amassed a massive international following – what do your international readers tend to like to read about Sweden?
It's definitely all of the typical 'Nordic' activities – the cow herding and the shots of nature, of snow and deer in the forests. My readers from outside of Sweden are so loving – my favourite thing is hearing international followers tell me that they've been inspired to come on holiday to Sweden after seeing my photos.
READ ALSO: The Local's ultimate Sweden travel guide
You've recently written about the negative connotations which can exist around the world 'influencer' – why do you think this attitude exists?
It's such a thorny subject at the moment. I think people have a very strong image of what the word 'influencer' means; it's luxury bloggers who have lots of money and promote brands indiscriminately, that it's easy to be an influencer and doesn't take any time. They can be suspicious of hidden collaborations – there have been a few of those accusations thrown around recently in Sweden.
The truth for me is that it's so much work – it took five years before I could make a 'normal' living on what I did. Some people might think that just because you have lots of followers it's going well for you, but there's a lot going on behind the scenes. Making a blog post can sometimes take me eight hours and I don't make any money from the blog. I do it for the love and I would never want to do anything else, but a lot of work goes into it.
Finally, do you have any tips for your readers who want to set up their own blog but don't know where to start?
Make sure that the goal is not to be popular or rich – do it because you enjoy it. Find out what you really love to do and share it with people. Then the goal is within your reach and you have more energy to keep going when it feels like an impossible task. Recognize that there will be good days and bad days – just don't give up. If I look back, there were so many times I thought 'this is never going to work, I'm going to die alone and poor' – but I pushed through and it's opened up the door to so many amazing experiences.