I featured the author of THE GREEN UMBRELLA, Jackie Kramer, a while back on my blog
. Well, she has a new book out, this one with illustrator Lisa Brandenburg
for Clavis Publishing
, New York. Lisa stopped by to talk about her process for IF YOU WANT TO FALL ASLEEP.
Hi Elizabeth, thank you so much for inviting me on your wonderful Blog and also for your interesting questions! I am happy to share some thoughts and figures regarding my work.
e: Great! Here we go! What is your creative process, can you walk us through it?
It all starts by reading the author’s manuscript. First time quickly, from the beginning to the end, to get an overall impression of the story, theme and (main) character(s). Then I read the text again, this time more slowly, thoroughly. It sometimes happens that images pop-up immediately, if so I try to make a small sketch on the side next to the storyline of the particular scene, just as a reminder. Some of these early sketches will make it to the end, but more often they have to make room for other, less obvious, more original ones. Furthermore, I make small remarks and notes to highlight important elements and signs, for example with regard to the ‘looks’ and characterization of the main character(s). Sometimes the author provides a small art note as well. I always do my best to accommodate these remarks and connect these to my own ideas.
As a third step, I leave the story to ‘rest’ for a while. In fact, having read a manuscript, it gets stuck in my head. This means that I am entering the next phase, which I call ‘breeding-time’. Whatever I do the following days and weeks, I am constantly working on the project, both consciously and unconsciously. It needs to take some time before I can actually start sketching. Depending on the theme or subject, I may do some research; gathering documentation, collecting inspiring images, etc. Creating an interesting, credible and authentic character is not an easy thing to do. At the same time, it’s great to be able to design a whole new character from scratch. Lots of re-reading and (rough) sketching are needed, before I can actually start to work out my final drawings. These pencil-illustrations together with the text (32 pages in total; including cover, endpapers and title page) are brought together in my storyboard. From here, I work out the illustrations in full color. Please have a look at the images below, the compilation shows the whole process, from sketches to final illustration. For me illustrating a picture book, requires a step-by-step process, from rough sketches, to pencil drawings, to creating the final illustrations on a primed piece of cardboard. And of course, a lot of thinking and breeding along the way.
e: What is your medium?
I usually work with mixed media; pencil, ink, acrylics and crayons. Although I do use digital techniques, I prefer hand craft, analog type of techniques. I like the smell and texture of my paint (and the dirty hands that come along with it). The contact of a pencil or crayon with a blank piece of paper or cardboard remains a magical and exciting process. Creating something entirely new and exploring the best possibilities of sharing a story through my images; all these different aspects make my work interesting. Over the years I have learned to embrace ‘the unexpected’; sometimes (not always of course) something beautiful comes out of what seemed to be a complete disaster – like when my brush slips out of my hand. When I am on full speed working on a project my atelier slowly transforms from a pretty tidy studio into an ordered chaos: my drawing board (as well as the floor beneath it) shows an overload of different materials; pots filled with paint, brushes, water, pencils, crayons, pieces of paper and eraser, a towel and hair dryer (to speed up the process) on the side. When illustrating, I like to listen to the radio. It gives me comfort, keeps me well informed and offers some sort of companionship, which is nice when practicing a fairly solitary profession.
Work in progress; here I am working on an illustration for my latest title ‘Maybe dying is like changing into a butterfly’, written by Pimm van Hest, published January 2018 in the original Dutch language by Clavis Publishing.
e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call “Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
I guess for me this would be artwork that ‘stands the test of time’. It has been a while ago but I clearly remember the moment when I realized that some of my former favorite picture books, the ones I adored during my early childhood, had partly or even completely lost their magic. Not all of them but still this was a rather disappointing experience, to be honest.
For me, one title will never loose its magic, no matter how old I am, and is therefore my most magical picture book: ‘Where the wild things are’ from the great American writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak (1928-2012). An ode to imagination; brilliant!
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
I started this project while we were still struggling with our own sleepless ‘Little Mouse’ at home. Our daughter had difficulties going to bed and staying in there for a good and uninterrupted sleep. When I received this manuscript from Jackie, it all sounded so familiar; in fact, I was living this story night after night. Fortunately, after three years, it turned out this was also ‘just’ a phase. Things have changed for the better. I like to think this striking title arrived just at the right time!
e: What was your path to publication?
I have been illustrating picture books for Clavis Publishing since 2012. I have worked on different kinds of picture books for children, roughly ranging from 4 to 8 years. Most of these books have been published in different languages, including Dutch, Danish, German, Chinese and Russian. After graduating at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam and before joining Clavis Publishing, I have worked on many different projects, including books for primary education in the Netherlands and children’s books for other publishing houses (see e.g. www.lisabrandenburg.nl). This book with Jackie was my first collaboration with an author from the US. The match was made with assistance of our shared publisher from Clavis. The Dutch version of this title – ‘Een knuffel voor het slapengaan’ – was published in 2017. I am excited that the book will be available in the US as well.
Dutch cover ‘Een knuffel voor het slapengaan’, published by Clavis Publishing 2017.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
It’s nice and exciting to work with and for different people (authors, publishers, clients) on various projects, albeit it remotely. I like to operate autonomously, but always within a broader collaboration in which everyone works towards that same goal, that is: creating an inspiring picture book for children.
Before I came to illustrate picture books, I used to work in different fields of illustration, working on all sorts of assignments (educational, commercial, institutional as well as private assignments). I still love the broad diversity that comes with practicing applied arts. Nevertheless, currently illustrating picture books is taking all of my time, which works well for me. I strongly believe that focus and dedication is needed to create a beautiful, original and lasting picture book for children. Children are not easy to please, but they are a very grateful audience to work for; one we should all take very seriously!
Furthermore, I like to draw between the lines and add to the story. I would like to give children something to think about, to chew on or to look at just it little bit closer; something to laugh about; something that makes children smile. I find humor very important, in life as well as in my artwork. And children are full of humor. Humor and smiles makes the world go round!
Most challenging: Although, it may not show, I often work for days and days and days, without any tangible results. I must admit, this can be quite frustrating, especially in the early stages of a new picture book-project. Deep down I know and feel that there’s something going on (so does my family…). But it might take a while before this comes to the surface. In the beginning of a new project, when I am in the process of searching and endless sketching, I may be afraid that I won’t be able tot deliver the job. It’s a part of my work I find particularly challenging. However, I know that it all contributes to the illustrations I am looking for. It took me some years to figure it out, and I know it will never become easy, but at least I now realize that I need to go through this process, with lots of patience and positive thinking, and that there is always that sheer joy when eventually all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
The sweet and clear message that lies beneath these lyrical lines: beautiful, valuable things in life come out of true attention, endless patience and unconditional love.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Currently I am working on a new picture book ‘That‘s for Babies!’, also written by Jackie Azúa Kramer, to be published by Clavis Publishing later this year – again first in Belgium and the Netherlands, followed by the US. Here is a sneak peak of its main character(s): preschooler Prunella and her favorite doll Sally. After that I will work on a fifth picture book in the series about the enchanted little witch ‘Ella’, also for Clavis Publishing.
Drawing of ‘Prunella’ by Lisa Brandenburg
Every single project is precious to me. I always try to give it my best and can’t easily settle for less. Until the task is completed, it has my full and exclusive attention; every book inevitably becomes a part of me. That is why each title is and remains so dear to me.
Lisa Brandenburg is a Dutch illustrator who graduated from the Willem de Kooning Academy/School of Arts, Rotterdam, the Netherlands in 2000. Lisa has a wide range of artistic interests and she seizes the chances and challenges that come along with a new project. She generally uses a mix of techniques and plays with colors and composition. Her work can be slightly melancholic, is both child- & adult-friendly and has a touch of humor.
So far International Rights of her picture book titles have been sold to China, Germany, Denmark and Russia. Furthermore, Lisa organizes workshops and lectures for young children in bookstores and at primary schools. She lives with her husband, son and daughter in Amstelveen, the Netherlands. Lisa does not work for an agency; she represents herself.
For more information: www.lisabrandenburg.nl
Title Page illustration of ‘If you want to fall asleep’,
written by Jackie Azúa Kramer and illustrated by Lisa Brandenburg.