"Zoës Welt - Das war ich nicht, das war schon so" - working with words!

Artwork by Cathy Ionescu
A couple of days ago a new book hit the book shelves. And this one is a first and very very special to me, as it is the first chapter book I've written and published and NOT illustrated! Yes, no colours involved, just words!
The book is titled "Zoës Welt - Das war ich nicht, das war schon so" and is a fun story about a girl who wants to have a pet and has some funny and also sad moments on the way to her perfect pet. I am not going to give away too much here :-).

I wrote the first draft of this book ages ago. And I literally mean ages. I sent it to two publishers back then, who rejected it. As one of the rejections was rather harsh I believed that maybe I must have had a crazy moment to assume I was capable of telling stories with Words! But it was in a folder on my desktop and I never quite brought myself to abandoned it fully. So when I had finished illustrating a project with my later to be editor, I was very brave and sent her my manuscript. I told myself not to expect too much, but was sure even her "no" would sound nice. Which was the reason for being brave in the first place. No one likes to have your heart ripped out twice. But how surprised and over the moon I was, when receiving a "Yes"! Of course it needed some work, but I was more than happy to give it a go and edit my story. Not knowing this side of the book project was excitingly new and refreshing and with an enthusiastic and encouraging editor working with me, it was simply wonderful!

Of course initially I also wanted to illustrate my story and was a bit sad when learning this was not the plan my publisher cbj RandomHouse had in mind. A look at my already full schedule actually made it easy to pass. It was even easier after I learned, who was to illustrate my book - Catherine Gabrielle Ionescu, a very talented artist, who has the gift to create the lively illustrations I had envisioned for the book. I told my editor that I did not want to see any illustrations before they were done. I trusted the two of them to do just the right thing and not wanted to have any say in the creative process of the illustrations. Being an illustrator myself I know how freeing it can be if one is given the trust to simply do ones magic. And it totally payed off! Cathy created her vision that adds wonderfully to my words, just as it is supposed to be. The book is in German, of course, as this is my native tongue and such a long text was easier and naturally coming to me in my first language. So maybe this blog post should have been in German also.

Ich hoffe, dass "
Zoës Welt - Das war ich nicht, das war schon so", vielen kleinen Lesern gefällt und, dass ich das ein oder andere Lachen aus euch heraus kitzele :-)!

A very special coloring book - "Blütenzauber"

I did something just for the fun of it - a coloring book. Another one, I hear you say - well, that was my thought too, to be honest. When the idea grew I was pondering just the same question, why do yet another coloring book?

And then the next question popped up, what could I do to make my coloring book stand out from the crowd? It is a question basically every creative bumps into when developing a product. What is it that I have that no one else has?

Well, it took me a lot of pondering and pulling my hair until I had an idea. And I believe this idea is great, without wanting to sound too big headed, but after months of pacing the floor in the spare minutes between commissioned projects and running a family of five, this is what I came up with - a coloring book you can piece together to a big full artwork. Something you can frame and hang on the wall and even make more unique with additional elements to glue to. So we are talking approximately 30.5inches x 30 inches final art here (76cmx74cm) even the book measures only 5.25inches x 8inches. Isn't that great?

This project has been very dear to me for many reasons, but one of them being, and maybe this is even the most important one, this is something I did just by myself and for myself. No restrictions other than the ones I gave myself due to the mere idea and concept of the coloring book. This is so very exiting, believe me. So when I had uploaded all my files to Amazon and received my proof copies, the natural thing to do ,was call my spouse and squeal this very excitement into his ear. Yes, I know, poor guy, but he knew it had to be good and I needed to share, otherwise I do not squeal at him, I promise. (And be glad you could not hear it also!)

So here it is, my special take on a coloring book titled "Blütenzauber" (German edition). It really is a small book with a big surprise. I've tested the gluing part right after calling my spouse and you know what it is like to be over excited and do something that needs calm hands and concentration. You kind of cannot piece it together quick enough. Take it from me, better take your time and calm down. I managed it and it works nicely, so I could hit the publish button, knowing I did all my homework and hopefully get a few of you squealing too, when you have colored the pages and cut them from the book and pieced all of them together. Make sure to send me pictures so I can squeal with you :-)!


let's explore style together - Part 1

I've been wanting to write a blog post about style for a long time. The very topic and it's sheer endless way of answering and approaching it somehow felt a bit intimidating, though. But here I am giving it a go and adding my two cents to the style issue.

My digital style when I first started out as an illustrator

It is not really an issue, if you ask me, but something every artists struggles with from time to time. I think especially artists starting out and making their first leaps into the business feel heavily intimidated by the style question.
What style am I and do I have a style?
The good thing is - everyone has a style. Style is like your unique handwriting. The moment you start drawing you start creating your style.
Too simple you say?
Not in my humble opinion. But like learning how to write and developing your own unique handwriting, style develops over time too. When you draw your first pieces, be it fine art or illustration or pattern design, you mostly do not know the direction your creativity will lead you. You might have an idea or a passion towards a certain art form and of course with this the masters you look up too. Here is the point were you start out, your style but a tiny dot in the many great pieces you study that will influence you quite a bit at the very beginning. And as long as you don't copy, but really just let those masters inspire you and explore your own "artistic handwriting" you are fine.
And I guess, this is the point when it gets a bit spooky or intimidating. Copying is a big thing among artists  and looked very badly upon and let me tell you, it is bad. Simple as that! If you are a copy cat word will get out and it will eventually lead to you not being able to even start a career in arts. But if you stay true to yourself, your style will evolve!

This was one of the first postcards I sent to publishers
Let me tell you how I started out and maybe this will make the point I am trying to get across a bit clearer. When I first started to build a portfolio I felt heavily insecure. Especially when having to draw traditionally. Hence, I decided to go the digital route first. By picking a medium I set the first step for the art style I was to develop. The second decision I had to make was the market I wanted my art to appeal too. That was a simple choice - kids books :-)!

I then experimented with environments. How detailed and realistic did I want to go? How reduced and graphic maybe even? I came up with a background design approach I felt comfortable with and this is what I took as the next step for my style, the third step, in the equation of creating, or maybe rather getting to know, my own style.

Next I tackled characters, number four if you want to put it in extra into the whole picture I am trying to conjure up. As I was aiming for the children's market it was of course kids I needed to practice and study. I needed to come up with a kind of scheme my characters would follow. Publishers need to see you can draw a figure more than just one time and in different angles, so studying figures and breaking down your characters into head size, body size, limp size and looking at how each works in proportion to the other does really help. The size of the head to the body plays a big role. The way you do your eyes and noses plays another big part. You can stand out and have those elements be part of your style! Eventually, after almost a years time I had a portfolio with 12 pieces in one style I called digital style. But this very style of course evolved over time. Today I do not even call the style digital any more but mixed media, as I am mixing lots of traditionally painted textures into the paintings to give them a more hand-made feel.

My mixed media style
This is of course just my approach and one of the styles I have. Some illustrators are fine with just one style. However, I think I am more the exploring kind of artist, so it didn't take long before I tripped over a technique that led to having more than one style. But this I would like to go into in my next post on style and also into why I think having more than one style is a very good idea.

I look forward to your questions and feedback and hope you enjoy my ramblings!

My mixed media style today

Time is but the flap of a butterfly's wing

I know, it has been again a long time, longer than any time before, that I had a chance to update this blog. The good news is, I have been busy. Busy with many books and other projects. One of them being my own illustration agency, which I founded in early 2014. The agency is called Wundergarden, and to me it is truly a garden of wonderful art!
Taking the step to form an agency and support artists with that very step, has been very exciting. I traveled to New York to exhibit at SURTEX and also of course attended Bologna and will be at Frankfurt Book Fair again in a few weeks, also showing the beautiful Wundergarden portfolio to publishers. All the while I have also been illustrating my own projects, so yes, you get the picture, it has been a very busy but amazing time. And time flew by.

But this blog shall remain about my own artwork and my own projects. If you want to have a look at the magical artwork of Wundergarden's artists, you are cordially invited to step inside our illustrated garden and enjoy the wonderful world each artist creates in their unique voice.

Speaking of voice or maybe let's call it style, as this appeals nicer to the illustration business, brings me to a topic I wanted to write about for a long time. I had the pleasure of working on some really lovely projects over the course of the last year in quite a variety of styles. So this big topic I would love to dig into in my next blog post, and add my two cents to the never ending question about style :-), has been on my mind frequently. I also see it pop up in forums again and again. It is a topic that never seems to seize interest and troubles many of us artists over the course of our creative busniess. So stay tuned. I am writing the blog post as you read. Promised. Just a couple of days to go. Oh, and if you have any questions regarding this topic, please do prompt them here in the comments section. I'll do my best to answer them in the upcoming post!

From "Das Meer hat keinen Rand" published 2015 by Annette Betz Verlag

Announcing the Winner of the Party Paper "School Start" Giveaway

Thanks to everyone who entered! The giveaway of the "Leni & Paul" paper goods is now closed and I am ready to reveal the randomly chosen winners. So here we go!
One set will go to Marcy (boy set?) and the second one will go to Mayken (girl set?)! Please get in touch with your snail mail addresses so I can send you your parcels as soon as possible!

Some party paper products for a cute school start - giveaway

From time to time I get to work on some lovely commissions not related to books at all. And sometimes they happen to become beautiful products. So it happened almost two years ago, when I was approached by a German company producing paper goods mainly aimed at all things school related, or to be more precise school start related.

The other day I received a big parcel with my samples! It felt like Christmas in spring :-)! Well, it actually alway does, when I receive samples, as somehow this feeling never seems to fade away, when receiving those wonderful parcels from clients!

I am also extremely happy with the quality of the products, which you can purchase right here ;-)!
It is a series of party paper goods to celebrate the start of school.

In Germany we have a tradition that is not necessarily common all around the globe (let me know, if I am wrong about this :-)!). The first day of school children in Germany go to school with their families and, which is the important part to all the kids here :-), a huge "Schultüte", which is a large cornet of cardboard filled with lots of sweets and tiny presents. I still remember my first day of school and how heavy my "Schultüte" was. I almost couldn't carry it, tiny as I was :-)! And I was so eager to open it and see what was inside. But you have to wait until the end of school until you can peek inside or simply rip the cone open and spill all the goodies on the floor :-).

The "Leni & Paul" party paper series has a girl and boy set and is for the party to go with a school start. There is a card, napkins, a garland, paper bag and some more fun things like an activity book, book sign etc. As I haven't done a giveaway in ages and feel it is about time to hold one again, I am giving away one girl set and one boy set!

All you have to do to have a chance of being one of the two randomly chosen winners is leave a comment on this blog! The giveaway ends 1st June 2014!

Good luck!
The giveaway is now closed!

Happy Easter - a little coloring, cut and glue bunny page

Oh my, have I neglected this blog! I have a thousand reasons to give you, but well, it is still a pity and believe me, I do feel awful about it! I will take up blogging again and write about books and art and all the things illustration related more frequently. That's a promise!

To make up for my bad blogging I have a tiny coloring page for you! You can print this out, cut out the elements and glue them together to a nice little Easter scenery :-)!
So in case your kids are getting bored this long weekend, you now have something to keep them busy :-D!
Happy Easter everyone!!!

This time of year - Wishes and More

It is just a little less than a week before Christmas and well, a little over two weeks before 2013 ends and a new year starts with new adventures and things to tackle.

This has been a wonderful year for me, business and most of all family-vise. I am grateful for what I have and where I am in my life. I've met many wonderful people that inspired me and also helped shape ideas of new ventures to dive into, if on purpose or mere accident.
I wish many things for the next year, but just wishing for them won't make them true. So I am ready and motivated to go after those dreams of mine and make them come true. Maybe not right tomorrow or the day after. I will take one step at a time and make it a steady journey. Because a journey it is and an exciting one each and everyday too. But what is a journey without a map? I wouldn't know where I am going if I didn't take the time to at least dream up where I want to be. And wouldn't it maybe even be better to have a teeny tiny plan? Not saying you can plan life in all it's details, but surely the milestones you want to reach.

So my homework over the festive days will be to sit down and make a plan or map of that journey. Where do I want to be in a month, five months, a years time from now? What are the things I can go after easily and which are the long term goals, which require more time and maybe even learning new skills? How do I want to grow and support others around me making their dreams come true too?
I am the captain of this ship called "my life" and I'd like to at least know where I am headed, a little bit, if you don't mind. And I will look forward to all the surprises and obstacles that might come into my way. It will be exciting and fun to master them and see what else life holds ready to experience, learn and enjoy.

I wish you all a wonderful festive season and a wonderful start to the new year! Maybe you are ready to plan out your journey too! Ahoi, fellow "life-traveler"! See you next year!

A new Promotional Postcard

The year is almost over and before finalizing all the projects I am currently working on, I wanted to get out a last promotional postcard. The lovely Dana Carey just happened to interview me about this very postcard that will hit desks of Editors and Art Directors over the next couple of days (or weeks, depending on how quick they arrive ;-)!). However, my card will not arrive on it's own, but be mailed as a group mailer along with some of my very talented SCBWI gals here in our tiny SCBWI Germany +  Austria region.

If you would like to learn more about this card or promotional postcards in general, make sure to read not only my interview, but also those of the other illustrators, who have to share some good insights and information!

Sketch and original art

printed postcard :-)

A Fairytale Illustrator's Retreat with Lisbeth Zwerger ...

Last weekend we had our very first SCBWI illustrator's retreat here in the Germany + Austria region. Many of you will know SCBWI, if not check it out!
Our region here is really small so we never had as big an event for illustrators solely as this retreat. It took place at Lake Constance, which was so lovely, although we did not see too much of the surroundings due to being just too busy painting :-).
On Friday I drove down to lake Constance and as soon as the other participants had all arrived we took our one and only real stroll at the lake together with Lisbeth. It was lovely to chat and get to know each other and I think it made everyone feel more at ease. I was so nervous as not being good enough and looking like a don't know how to paint right before the workshop. So meeting everyone and talking to all other attendees and Lisbeth helped getting over my initial fears.

After breakfast on Saturday Lisbeth started the workshop with a discussion about our favourite picture books. She had already send us a handout with questions on how to analyze the books in advance. You can see us here with Elisa Vavouri just talking about the book she had to analyze with her group.

After that we went to fetch our art supplies and get cracking. Lisbeth took time to talk to everyone and give feedback and tips on how to improve the sketch and painting and also technical tips on how to achieve certain effects. She discussed colour palettes and composition with us and warned us of things we might run into, but also encouraged us to simply try and not be afraid to have to start all over again. Believe it or not she confessed that this still happens to her too!

Before I started painting Lisbeth talked about my sketch and colour choices with me. This was kind of an eye opener to me. The fairy tale I chose to illustrate was "The Nightingale" and the scene I chose to go with for my illustration was the emperor's garden. Initially I planned to go for a blue sky and greens in the garden. Well, Lisbeth helped me to come up with something far more interesting that also resulted in a tighter palette and a very lovely mood in the final piece.

I was again so nervous to lay the first layer of paint. I did a quick test in my watercolour sketchbook and then just went with it. I had certain areas masked out to keep them white. I lay a first layer as an overall wash of sienna and light yellow ocher and mixed some olive green in on the bottom. After that first layer had dried I quickly watered the paper again, to not mess with the parts I was already happy with, and darkened the bottom slightly more with a mix of sienna and olive green. I kept the parts in the distance very soft and worked with lots of water. (process pics follow a bit further down the post ;-))

In the tiny breaks I had to take when waiting for the colours to dry I so much enjoyed seeing what all the other artists were up to. It was also nice to sit in on the feedback they received from Lisbeth and learn with them.

On Sunday morning Lisbeth took a look at our portfolios or any other art we had brought to share and discuss with her.

Unfortunately the weekend past by far too quickly and I did not finish my illustration in time. But with the last tips and feedback from Lisbeth in mind I finalized it at home. I did not take any process pictures during the workshop but happened to remember doing so at home :-). So here is a little recap in pictures on how this painting evolved and the final illustration. I really enjoyed working on this piece and trying out new things, materials and technique!

A huge thank you to Lisbeth, it was an amazing experience meeting and learning from you! And thank you to everyone who took part in this lovely retreat with Lisbeth Zwerger! It has been fantastic getting to know you and growing with you as artists!

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