Chat With Greece’s Talented Illustrator Little Miss Grumpy

Greek illustrator Maria Pagkalou, otherwise known as Little Miss Grumpy, has created an instantly recognisable style with her unique aesthetics and whimsical characters. 

Her work has been featured in numerous kids’ books and her client list is as impressive as her creations – including Italian brand Moleskine, the Iris Apfel x H&M collection, plus Politeia bookstore.  

Based in the centre of Athens, Little Miss Grumpy has built a huge following thanks to her colourful characters and cool quotes designed to inspire and evoke emotions.  

Having achieved national recognition, Little Miss Grumpy’s beautiful creations, including illustrations of Fredy Mercury and Maria Callas, adorn walls of homes not only in Greece but around the world.

From limited edition prints and witty bookmarks to amusing cards and chic notebooks, Pagkalou’s designs are trending as some of the coolest gifts in town – that can be found online as well as in her gorgeous flagship store in Athens’ Kolonaki neighbourhood. 

“I feel so much joy and satisfaction when a person hangs one of my pieces in their home and I hope that every time they look at it, they feel something and that something inspires them,” says Maria.  

We sat and chatted with Little Miss Grumpy in her bright and inviting store about her captivating illustrations, what inspires her designs, and more. 

When did your passion for illustrations begin?

My passion for this kind of art started from a very young age. It was always my outlet and a hobby that I loved. I studied acting but at the age of 28, I decided to make my hobby a profession. 

What’s the design process like? 

Firstly, I create the character in my mind and then on paper. I combine my research and knowledge and then wait to see each character develop over time. When I watch movies and TV series, I can see a character grow, then I form them in my mind before my version of that character comes to life on paper.  

How would you describe your work? 

I constantly meet new people who ask me what I do for a living and when I say I’m an illustrator they stare at me wondering what that means. I understand that some may think it’s not a normal job, or that it’s more of a hobby. I don’t think it’s something you can describe, it’s a form of art and my creations speak for themselves. 

What do you love most about what you do? 

I get a lot of satisfaction from creating a design that I like, and then seeing other people like it and appreciate it too.

What do you want people to feel when they see your creations?

Everything we look at leaves a mark on us. It stays inside and is externalised at a later stage. I think it’s important to look at creations and images that fill us with joy and beautiful emotions.

What does an average day look like for you?

There is no typical day, there is no routine, and there is no schedule. Luckily, I have my mum and my sister who try to put a list in place to help me with the business. I wake up late because I sleep late, and after I get up, I’ll walk my dog, and make something to eat, then I start planning my day and responding to emails and calls. Later on, I walk around the city until I find myself out with friends at night. 


Tell us about some of your career highlights.

The first collaboration I ever did was with the Moleskine company from Milan. We designed limited-edition notebooks together, which was very special to me.  

Another unforgettable moment in my career was a collaboration with H&M x Iris Apfel, which was amazing.

Each of my collaborations excites me – from the smallest to the largest, but one of my all-time favourites is with Athens’ famous bookstore Politeia. I took it upon myself to create 30 bookmarks (it’s now reached 100) featuring famous authors to be given away for free with every book purchase. I feel that I’ve managed to enter so many homes and I’m happy people have embraced them. I feel they have connected my work to something as beautiful as reading a book.

Do you find it easy to switch off from work?

I can never entirely disconnect from work. I have never been able to do it even on vacation and I don’t listen when people tell me to stop working for a while; I just can’t. Fortunately, I always have my mother and my sister by my side. They help me significantly, as they support me and help solve any issues that arise.

How do you spend your weekends? 

I’m very fortunate that I spend every day like it’s the weekend! I don’t work specific hours, so I walk around the centre of Athens every day like it’s a small celebration, which ends with a late-night drink at a bar. However, my ideal Saturday would be to get home from the shop, paint, and then arrange a gathering with friends on my balcony late in the afternoon, to drink, eat, play Monopoly and laugh!

And on a Sunday?

Sundays are for sleeping, snuggling and dreaming. 

One of your favourite spots in Athens to grab a drink with friends?

I must say I am a homebody, as I love the feeling of warmth and I like to drink for hours on the terrace and talk until the early hours of the morning. But now that I moved from Kifissia to the centre of Athens, I also enjoy being out. Most of the evenings you will find me at the Sousourada cocktail bar on Mavromichali in Exarcheia. And of course, the most entertaining evenings full of fun and dancing are spent at Agios Bar on Didotou and Ippokratous.  

Any new restaurant you’ve recently tried and want to go back to again?

I would choose Sousourada again and again – mainly for the delicious sea bass!

Have you booked your summer holiday yet? 

Of course, not – I am always last minute. So much so that I often can’t find accommodation and end up staying with friends. I spend most of my summers with family in Karystos, on the island of Evia and this year I also hope to get to the Amalfi. 

Finally, can you share any exciting new projects you are working on?

I’ve undertaken a project with Brainfood Publications about women in mythology and ancient tragedy. I found it challenging because mythological characters like Electra and Medea are not imprinted as people in our minds but as ideas and meanings. I tried to spread my fantasy and integrate my knowledge from my theatre studies to create a wonderful and inspirational journey for them.

I’m also excited to start my collaboration with well-known Greek songwriter Pan Pan. We both aim to create a visual expression of his top hit song of the year “Anisopedi Disco”. I’m thrilled with this as I always need to work with people who have a passion for what they do. My wish is to always surround myself with people who inspire me and fill my soul.

Shop: Ιppokratous 40, Kolonaki 

Featured Image by Yanis Angel | @yanisangelaph


Exhibition Honouring Greece’s Much-Loved Melina Mercouri Opening in Athens

The City of Athens in collaboration with the Culture Ministry is honouring Greece’s much-loved actress, activist, and politician Melina Mercouri, with a special exhibition at Technopolis in Gazi, which is set to open its doors on Tuesday, the 18th of January 2022.

The life and work of Melina Mercouri will be on display- through rich photographic and audiovisual material. Visitors will also have the chance to view some of her personal items, many of which will be exhibited for the first time.

Titled “Remember and Love Me”, the exhibition is to mark the occasion of Melina’s 100th anniversary of her birth, with visitors taken on a journey through three sections- based on Melina’s career in films, theatre as well as her political life. The aim of the event is to highlight the passionate artist who rose to international fame; as well as Melina’s love of her homeland and what she offered not only to Greece but to Greeks and Philhellenes worldwide.  

“Melina – as we all call her – with her inexhaustible vitality and rare charm, with her intense dynamism and international radiance, the actress, the politician, the woman who was much loved, as she loved with passion, who defended to the end her ideas and beliefs, the “last Greek goddess,” comes to life again in Technopolis,” announced the organisers of the exhibition.

Mercouri was passionate about everything she did. From gracing the screen (she was most famous for her role as Ilya, on “Never on Sunday”) and stage in the early part of her life, to fighting the fascist junta that took control of Greece in 1967, to campaigning for the protection and promotion of culture in Europe, she became Greece’s most famous Minister for Culture; where she strongly advocated the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece.

Items on display will include film and theatre costumes worn by Melina; vintage posters from her cinema career; photos of Mercouri with local Greek and international personalities such as Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth, Salvador Dali, Indira Gandhi, Arthur Miller, Rudolf Nureyev, Omar Sharif, Ava Gardner, and Catherine Deneuve; original scripts with handwritten notes; letters; her dressing room; memorabilia, documents, and items she carried with her during her last trip to New York.

Address: Technopolis of Athens, Pireos Street 100, Athens  

Dates: January 18 to March 11, 2022

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 11 am to 8 pm

Admission: Free entry

Images Courtesy of the Melina Mercouri Foundation 

Honouring the Revolutionary Masterpieces of Theodoros Vryzakis

I felt little interest when at the age of 12, my mother showed me some paintings depicting scenes from the Greek War of Independence made by her great uncle Theodoros Vryzakis.

At that age, I was more interested in Madonna, my dramatic poetry about unrequited love, and whether I’d pass my maths test. Several years later I found myself standing in front of one of my relative’s masterpieces; a giant canvas presenting a complex battle scene. This time I was a little more impressed, and let my eyes dance across the painting to observe the eyes, costumes, and actions of those depicted. But even then, to me, it was just a painting that left me with a delicate twinge of pride that it had been created by someone in my family. It took around 20 years more for me to truly and deeply value the incredible works of Theodoros Vryzakis, whose works are now on show in a permanent exhibition in the New National Gallery, and who through his striking historical depictions have immortalized the valiant and triumphant battle of Greeks against the tyrannical Ottoman Occupation of hundreds of years. 

Insights Greece - Honouring the Revolutionary Masterpieces of Theodoros Vryzakis

Instead of presenting the Greeks as victims, Vryzakis conceived of a heroic alternative, centering on the valour and vision of his people, from leaders such as Karaïskakis and Makriyannis to the common men and women who gave their life for their country. Also noted in his art was the nostalgic realism with which he presented his figures – with no facial contortions or exaggerated movements. Within many of his works, one can note the bond between the ancient Greek heritage of the nation, such as in ‘The Encampment of Karaïskakis’ (1855), in which the heroes of the revolution are looking towards Acropolis. The omnipotent presence of God, protecting, guiding, and waiting to receive the Greeks in their struggle for freedom can also be seen in some of his paintings, such as The Exodus from Missolonghi (1853). 

Insights Greece - Honouring the Revolutionary Masterpieces of Theodoros Vryzakis

Many of Theodoros Vryzakis’ works are rich with detailed side-scenes that offer profound supplementary messages to the viewer. His artworks led him to receive notable awards during his lifetime, like the First Prize at the International Exhibition of Vienna in 1853 for “The Sortie from Missolonghi,” and a Silver Prize at Olympia in 1870 for his lithograph “The Encampment of Karaiskakis.” His painting ‘I Hellas Evgnomonousa’ (1858) has become a symbol of the Greeks’ triumph over their oppressors, depicting a young woman in a white gown, wearing a wreath on her head, having broken the chains of slavery and rising over the fighters who bow at her feet or look adoringly up at her.

In 1861, Theodoros Vryzakis received a commission to paint icons for the Church of the Annunciation in Manchester, the first Greek-Orthodox church in the UK. A few years later he participated in a major exhibition at the Galerie Del Vecchio in Leipzig. In his final years his painting lessened as his eyesight deteriorated, until he passed away in 1878 due to heart disease, on the very same day as he was born, January first. 

Today, as Greece celebrates two hundred years of freedom from an Occupation that began in the mid 15th Century, I can’t feel anything more than pride for my people and for my relative, who immortalized their unity in overcoming terrible oppression. Sometimes it takes maturing a little to be able to see beyond the superficiality of daily life and feel an almost unsettlingly touching understanding of the big picture. 

 Juliano Kaglis- Out of the Ordinary

Juliano Kaglis is an artist whose work commands attention. It sets itself apart from other work with a sensuous grace and unique flair that can only come from a source of honest and sincere devotion.

Already a well-established and recognized artist, he has exhibited for many years Insights Greece -  Juliano Kaglis- Out of the Ordinary
with Ekfrasi Gallery and the Alpha CK Art Gallery in Cyprus with eleven solo exhibitions and various group exhibitions around the world. He was awarded a Fine Art Scholarship from the Greek State Foundation and in 2013 he was awarded the Distinguished Greek painter award by the Academy of Athens. His works are continually sought-after by collectors and included in numerous public and private collections.

There was a light beige curtain billowing in the September breeze in the doorway of Juliano’s atelier. Not sure if I’d made my way to the spot, so I decided it had to be correct since the smell of paint lingered in the air and I discerned the vague outline of the base of an easel. Juliano’s studio is like most, a warm haven of personal artifacts and items that inspire him as well as being a live and vibrant platform of creation.

It’s always endearing to see what artists place on their studio walls aside from their actual work. I smiled as I took in a strikingly well-made poster from a Rodin exhibition, a postcard of Picasso’s Don Quixote, a poster for a show by Philip Guston, a clipping of a painting by Lytras pinned up and many other little odds and ends that make a studio personal. Paintings were scattered all around the floors, against walls, stacked in corners and turned every which way, some of which were finished and some not.

Insights Greece -  Juliano Kaglis- Out of the Ordinary
Juliano is what I like to call “an artist’s artist”. He was clearly a warm, genuine and not out to consciously impress or particularly guide my impressions consciously. After settling into a chair to listen and watch, I was slowly able to hear more about his life as an artist and of course to see many of his mesmerizing works of art.

Juliano was trained classically at the Athens School of Fine Arts in the atelier of Pastakithis, Gavathas and Milios but he explains that his love of art began as a child rather innocently and coincidentally without anyone in his family steering him in such a direction. He noticed paintings in other people’s homes and then was particularly struck one day after a visit to the National Art Gallery by a painting by Gyzis. This painting provoked his devotion and long-lasting commitment to art. He was intrigued by old masters like Monet, Picasso, Rodin, Toulouse -Lautrec and also was significantly influenced by the work of Tetsis whom he met on several occasions. His work is gestural, deeply sentimental and evokes in the viewer a need to see more clearly. A need to understand….in the way that one seeks to solve a puzzle. The work is both abstract and sometimes figurative in a blurred out or other times choppier brushstroke, but the paint is layered and shows signs of multiple applications, corrections and build-ups. Juliano told me that it is often the case that his paintings go through many phases and evolve into their final state after numerous “attacks”.

Insights Greece -  Juliano Kaglis- Out of the Ordinary

He laughingly cites the words of Gustave Courbet who said, “Look at your art like it’s your worst enemy.” He normally spends time scraping off paint, re-applying and again applying, until the final work gets to a point where he feels it is ready. Usually many pieces (as many as 20 or 30) of art are underway at once and Juliano explains that it takes time with eyes away from a painting in order to go back and see it clearly again and again until the desired outcome is established.

The work varies and aside from the moody and deeply atmospheric works which to me are his very own “landscapes of abstraction”, there are also loosely portrayed figures in smokey, ethereal tones. His portraits are rendered (each in different ways) and certain paintings make reference to very specific themes that interest him such as magicians or acrobats.

At one point, Juliano brought out a particularly moving piece in deep blues and greens and in the center of these forceful strokes was a delicate and fragile stone sculpture. I inquired about this piece and he responded by telling me that he holds a particular interest in old monuments and sculptures in parks. In that piece he captures the blend of strength and sensitivity which emanate from his artwork in general.

Coming from a restless spirit driven by passion and a thirst to understand both his own emotions as well as to open up a new window for viewers to revel in, his work is sure to continue to marvel.

Pantelis Melissinos, A 360-Degree Artist

Known as ‘The Poet Sandalmaker’, as was his father Stavros, whose sandal shops in Monastiraki drew the world’s celebrities to buy his designs, Pantelis has taken his art to another level.

From the moment I entered Pantelis Melissinos’ Art Gallery / Sandal Shop in Makryianni, where it opened two years ago, it was like diving into another world. First, I was hit by the bold colours and shapes from his artworks – sculptured chairs, paintings large and small, leather bags, and elaborate sandals hanging from the ceiling and stacked against walls.

As I stepped down into the shop/gallery Pantelis turned and smiled at me from the piano, where he was playing a piece in the living room-style space where masked clients sat patiently waiting to have their dream sandal design created to fit their foot to perfection. And then Poi Poi, a 10-year-old white griffon dog with the cheerful bounce of a puppy hopped and barked up to me delivering a giant donut toy we could play with.

Pantelis, looking fit and wiry from his passionate health regime and youthfully dressed in jeans and a waistcoat, escorted me to the corner where we sat at his desk to chat about his life and art.

Now Pantelis has taken the reins of a store with 100 years of history, once religiously visited by the likes of the Beatles and Liz Taylor, Onassis, Nureyev, Jackie O’ and Kallas, and still today receiving streams of visitors from around the world, who have heard of the famous sandals created by the Melissinos family.

“I bought this place, which is big and spacious and I use it as a gallery for my art because I studied painting for so many years and deep down I feel like an artist, not only like a sandal maker. That’s why my sandals are more on the artistic side. They’re functional but at the same time artistic, and they’re not mass-produced. I like to create different things and my customers love that – they come for that. Many times, they see them on Instagram or Facebook and change their travel plans to be able to stop off here. I couldn’t believe that at first! Often for them, the sky’s the limit; my clients, especially women, often suggest their own ideas and we work on them together.

Insights Greece - Pantelis Melissinos, A 360-Degree Artist

“I started creating when I was very young, as an escape from school, because I didn’t like it! I decided that this is what I wanted to do and I moved to New York and studied illustration at Parsons School of Design and then I got my Masters’ Degree in Painting. After I finished that I directed the Greek Cultural Centre in NY.

“I always loved walking around Manhattan and picking up objects like chairs from the street– things that were sort of dead and I wanted to give them a new life. I would strip them of their old upholstery and would create something new.

“I had a friend and we called ourselves ‘The Trashers’ because we used to collect trash together and turn it into art. I brought some of those pieces back with me when I returned to Athens. Here too I continued to collect stuff and create art with it. I also worked for the theatre here in Greece for tragedies mostly, doing the set design, costumes, and jewellery. These productions were very magical; they were in Evia on a mountain near Gymnou village. I also wrote plays and music.

“Discipline is a prerequisite in art. Some people think that being an artist is just carefree and being totally crazy. No, it’s not like that! It takes a lot of discipline to master an art, it’s more like science. For example, the old masters – Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Beethoven – studied like crazy – I think contemporary people don’t work so hard at evolving, they think it’ll happen by divine intervention or something!

“When it comes to art you have to always feel like you are 20. Not a day older. Like the Goddess Athena, who was not a Virgin goddess as people think in a sexual way – her mind was virginal. She was the goddess of wisdom and creativity because her mind was ever-fresh.

Insights Greece - Pantelis Melissinos, A 360-Degree Artist

“When I create sandals, I try to be ever-young and always find new ways, new designs to please myself and my customers. I focus on all my art in one day; I start the day playing the piano to relax, then I write something I have an idea about- a poem or something else – I’ve also been working on the idea for a novel for many years – then I take care of business, work on sandal designs, paint, all in one day.

“Currently I’m working on making a video portrait about my art with a cinematographer friend, that I am directing and have written music for. I want my art to talk about me through a video. Life is too short and being a businessman is not my greatest dream in life…Today everyone is so caught up in this high-speed living and we don’t enjoy life as our parents did.

“A lot of artists gathered at my father’s old shop – Tsarouchis, Argyrakis, and growing up in this environment made me think seriously about art – because all these people communicated with each other and exchanged ideas under the shadow of the Acropolis. I loved the Fauve artists like Picasso, Gaugin, and Matisse especially – both for their use of colour and for their freedom. I am always trying to discover my own freedom.”