Artist interview: Christiane Engel

I’m a fan of Christiane Engel’s work for quite a while through her monthly desktop calendars that she produced, until she stopped in 2012. She’s back at it again for 2015 and I couldn’t be more thrilled! Read on about how her desktop calendars helped her shape her style and what happened in between in our interview:

Hi Christiane! Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

I’m an illustrator based in South East England by the sea and I mainly work for the kids’ publishing market. Recently I’ve done quite a few map illustrations for a variety of clients, which I enjoy a lot.
I also love creating hand lettering and patterns.

How would you describe your style and strengths? 

I like to stay flexible in the tools and techniques that I use so there are some variations to my style. Also, quite often I find that a certain look suits one book or project better and the next one might be needing less texture or more lines, for example. However I think all of my work has a childlike spirit to it.
My main style is a collagey cut out style that uses hand painted textures, but I also use linear ink drawings and colour these digitally.

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Oct ChEngel P

You’ve been creating these desktop wallpapers since way back! I’m a big fan of them, and was thrilled when you recently relaunched it again. Could you tell me a little bit more about them – what’s your process when you design them, what has made them popular, and why do you create them?

I’m happy you like them!
There’s something I really love about calendars, moving through the months and seasons. And I thought it would be a great way of sharing my art with people on a regular basis. Over time, a style that’s less crowded and more evocative than my usual picture book art has developed and I was looking forward to creating something seasonal each month.

The process is almost always like this: towards the end of a month, I think of an outdoor scene and setting that I would love to be in for the coming month. In most cases I even have a clear idea of the geographical location for this. (September 2015 is by the Mississippi Delta) I sketch it out on the back of an envelope or supermarket coupon and then create the final art on my computer, using Photoshop.

Some of my calendars were kindly featured on beautiful Poppytalk a few times and were therefore getting more popular. I was really thrilled about the fact that people around the globe were using my art on their desktops as well.

However all that came to a sudden halt in March 2012 when my first baby, Maya, was stillborn. The windy coastal road which was the March image stayed on my desktop for over a year I think. This was such a life changing event that time, days, seasons and calendars did not have any relevance to me… I delved into clients work and didn’t have much space for personal projects.

But of course life moves on fast and now I’m happy that I can squeeze in the calendars again. This time around they’re inspired by my nature loving toddler :) and feature scenes of an outdoorsy kind of childhood. I’m bringing together my two different directions now I guess.

You’ve been in the illustration world for quite some time now – what are your thoughts about the industry in general? Is there a big difference in the way things are done now, compared to before?

I think illustration has become a more recognized artform again and is used more widely across many areas plus amazing things can be done now with a computer.

Also it’s become easier to connect with people these days through linked in, twitter and so on. These things didn’t even exist when I was first starting out as an illustrator, even something as unspectacular as sending attachments and uploading final art digitally was still seen as something pretty amazing.

But now that I think of it, sending samples and book dummies in the post also had a straightforwardness and simplicity about it although it may seem too time consuming nowadays. The speed of things has definitely increased, and there are pros and cons to that.

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What was something you wish you’d known when you first started out? (aka what words of advice would you give to up and coming artists and illustrators?)

Never stop sketching and exploring different angles. When you’re stuck, think of something that’s part of you and your world as this will make you passionate and enthusiastic about your own work.
Thanks so much Christiane!

You can download October’s desktop wallpaper from Christiane’s website right here!

Frida Kahlo by Alba Editorial

Frida Kahlo

Hi folks,

I’m sorry about the radio silence over here on the blog – I’ve got good reason for that besides the Work/Art/Play workshop that I’m wrapping up this week! Long story cut short, I had oral surgery and I’m recuperating. It wasn’t fun at all. It essentially was one of my biggest nightmares come true (I’ll tell you about it later). But! It’s half-way done, and I’m going to have to sustain myself on soft-ish food for around 6 months. So here’s me saying yay to unexpected dieting (keeping it positive, peeps!) so I can move forward to more adventures.

As a result of me slacking away, some things have piled up. And not just about the guilt that I’m feeling. I’m talking about real, tangible stuff – things like books. Great people have been sending me books from all around the world and I feel terrible about not being well enough to show you the treats I’ve been getting (yes, my definition of a treat is books, books and more books – uh, book nerds unite?)

So to get things back on track, here’s one I received from the ever wonderful Gee Fan of Minifanfan  – it’s a story about Frida Kahlo, published by Alba Editorial, illustrated by Gee Fan and written by Mª Isabel Sanchez Vegara. (NOTE: The book is in Spanish!)

This title is part of a children’s books series that talks about some of the greatest achievements made by women from all over the world. Alba Editorial has 2 other titles out in the collection: Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel, illustrated by Amaia Arrazola and Ana Albero respectively.

I think it’s wonderful to have more titles like these that offer a glimpse of strong women figures in the arts scene (there’s so many!) With children’s books you can’t quite dive into their story so much, but it’s a great start to pique the curiosities of young minds! Now if only we can get these translated into English. Hmmmm.

Also, I made a flip through of the book which you can see below, and I’m so proud of Gee Fan’s work, especially since it’s her first children’s book!

You can order the book through Alba Editorial (where you can also see the rest of the book in the series).

Review: 100 Great Children’s Picture Books

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I’ve been doing some research into children’s picture books recently, and was thrilled to hear that Martin Salisbury wrote another book after Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling. Published in April this year by Laurence King Publishing, 100 Great Children’s Picturebooks is a visual feast, and offers a nostalgic look at 100 children’s books from the last 100 years.

With the many, many children’s books out there, the selection criteria for the book ultimately boiled down to good art and good design; and it doesn’t disappoint. I could imagine how difficult it was for Salisbury to whittle down the selection of books to the ones contained in this tome; and especially since most of the books within are mainly from UK/USA/Europe (although not all of them were in English) – I was sure that to have Asian children’s books added to the mix would have made the task even more of a challenge.

Each profile is arranged chronologically, with details of the book covers, inside pages, publisher, date of publication, commentaries, storyline, and the illustrator’s process and body of work. An impressive amount of research was done for the book and it shows. Some of the books were from the author’s own collection (as well as some who were in his own words “begged and borrowed” from friends, colleagues and students.)

It was hard to pick out a favourite spread from the book (there’s just too many!), but Babar’s story – of how Laurent de Brunthoff’s father Jean created the series, but died from tuberculosis at the height of the characters (and the books) fame when Laurent was 12 years old. He picked up where his father left off when he was 21, and has since created more than 30 additional Babar titles in the last 60 years.

More than just eye-catching covers and informative, beautiful page spreads, 100 Great Children’s Picturebooks presents a historical look at how illustrations and stories have entertained children and adult alike, and will continue to do so in generations to come. It would make a wonderful addition to any picture book lover’s library.

{Available via Amazon}