Andrea, could you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get started in illustration or what made you want to become an illustrator in the first place?
I grew up close to Cologne, Germany, in an old horse stable that had been converted to a house, surrounded by a big garden. I have always loved reading, and my favorites were illustrated books and stories, and of course comic books. I was fascinated with the many ways to tell a story through images and I loved that the art could touch readers on a different level than the text did.
Art had always been an important part of my life, but I was hesitant to make it my profession, so first I studied medicine for a few years. But ultimately I realized that it was what I wanted to do, and when I got accepted at Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, I moved there and got my BFA in illustration.
Earlier this year you won the Portfolio Grand Prize at the SCBWI NY Conference 2013(Congrats!). In what way has this influenced your career and would you share some insights in organizing your portfolio?
Thank you, that was such an amazing honor! It was very rewarding to receive this nod from professionals in the field, and at a time when I was seriously reviewing my career path and options, and had made some great cuts in my portfolio.
Before this conference I completely reorganized my portfolio, which left me very nervous on presentation day. I already wrote a little bit about this here. (http://kidlitartists.blogspot.de/2013/07/a-few-thoughts-on-editing-your-portfolio.html#comment-form) Basically I decided to treat the portfolio like a book, and take a very close and disciplined look at what I would show and where I would show it in the book. I first made sure that I only laid out my best work, meaning the work I felt I absolutely HAD to show, for consideration.
Then, I placed the pages on a large table like a story board, moved them around and tried to find an order that would work, almost like a story arc.
Working like this meant that I didn’t include some of the work that I had wanted to include, because it didn’t feel right in the book, but I felt that I had a consistent round presentation of what I did and - also a little bit - who I was, which is really what it’s all about right? You don’t have to show all your great work at once, but you want to make an impression, introduce yourself and your work. When I showed this book to an art director before the conference, she went through it and at the end she said “I want to see more”. I felt that I had got it right. And then winning the portfolio showcase at the New York conference on top of that really confirmed for me that I had moved in the right direction.
Living in Germany and working for US publishers, what are the main differences you encountered between the two markets?
Well, one of the obvious differences is the size of the market, which dictates a lot of the parameters of fees, negotiation, rights etc. Also, illustration seems to be more important, have a higher standing in the US. I wonder if this has grown through history.
How did you get commissioned with „Der Eisdrache“ written by Troon Harrison and published by Residenz Verlag?
The editor actually saw one of my fine art pieces, depicting two dragons, in the online portfolio of the German illustration organization (http://www.io-home.org/portfolios/o/showBild?k_User=396&k_BildDB=9781 ). She called me right away and told me about the book.
What were your first impressions and ideas when reading the manuscript of „Der Eisdrache“ for the very first time and what made you want to illustrate this book?
I felt that it was a unique fairy tale, poetic in style with a very true and sometimes harsh edge to it, I loved that contradiction and the heartfelt relationship that develops between the girl and the frost flyer. The girl fascinated me, she is such a strong character, I wanted to show her struggle, determination and love.
Can you share with us your process of illustrating this book? How did you design the characters and the surroundings?
When designing the characters I focused on their descriptions, their actions and their world in the book. The frost flyer directs the weather in some sort of way, he brings the winter, so I wanted him to seem like he was made of wind, clouds and icicles. When designing him, I literally started with cloud shapes, then researched ice and snow.
Then, his character in the story determined his face and expressions, he is big and a bit scary looking, but his character is really sweet and a bit timid. I drew him again and again until he seemed to have a voice, seemed to be that character in the book.
I did the same for the girl. I wanted her to show a lot of strength and fierceness, but also how fragile and caring she is.
For the surroundings I researched a lot of very cold places and the people that live there, their habits and clothes, I looked at Scandinavia, Alaska, the clothes, patterns and designs of the Inuit and the Laplanders.
When working on the story, I started with dividing the text into sections and trying to determine where I wanted to have a page turn, which part of the text I wanted to combine with which image. The author had planned with 12 spreads for the text, but from the beginning the editor and I had agreed that we would need more pages, so I had to go back and figure out different possibilities to divide the text up for the spreads.
I then moved on to developing the flow of the story in tiny thumbnails, drawing different scenes over and over from different points of view, different angles, trying to find the right way to express what I wanted to show in connection to the text on each page.
I kept taking sketches down, replacing them, changing the sequence, redrawing them with more detail until I felt the story was moving along at the right pace, with the right impacts at the page turns. I sent this first rough to the editor and we discussed it. We went back and forth until everything was right. When I started working on the final images I put the spreads in a specific order, working from the moment the girl reaches the roof, because I wanted that spread to have the least color in it. In the story, at this moment all hope seems lost, but at the same time the relationship between the girl and the frost flyer changes. From there I moved out to the beginning and especially the end of the story, which is the most colorful spread, to make sure that the palette increased at the right pace. I also talk a little bit more about my painting process here, if you would like to know more: http://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/illustrator-saturday-andrea-offermann/#comment-26647
When I had finished painting, I sent the images to the editor. She got back to me with the layout of the book and we discussed font, color and placement of the type. Then I had to wait wait wait (yes, a bit impatiently), and one day I got a slim package with the first freshly printed copy of the frost flyer and a lovely card from the editor. It was like Christmas, I am so very happy with how the book came out!
In the book the frost flyer is hurt so he can’t leave the valley and take the winter away. This year we had the longest winter in Germany, and I couldn’t help suspecting at some point that it had to do with this book! I was working on the story until end of April, and the weather stayed freezing cold and it snowed up until right about then! It got to the point that I thought “I have to finish this book, otherwise the winter will not go away”. And really, once I had finished it, spring came.
Style is an ever present topic for illustrators, especially those just getting started. How did you discover and develop your style as we can now enjoy it in “Der Eisdrache”?
I discovered parts of the way I like to work in school, I took printmaking classes and fell in love with etching techniques, I loved working with the fine line of the needle.
In a different class we were experimenting with glazing techniques, another class got me interested in watercolor techniques. But only after school did I combine these ways to work in one piece for an art show. At the time, a few months out of school, I was still very much experimenting and trying to figure out how I wanted to work. I got the assignment to do a painting for a show entitled “Pink Elephants”, and while I worked on the image, all of a sudden everything fell into place.
What kind of books or stories do you most enjoy illustrating?
Oh, I don’t think I have a preference. The story and characters have to move me, I love stories with historical and/or fantasy aspects, that still have a connection to reality, and it has to be a story that rings true to me, and that - no matter how fantastic the story - shows true emotions and thoughts. I love to illustrate for all ages, and in all kinds of different formats, right now for example I am working on a graphic novel.
Is there any place or anything special you turn to for inspiration?
When working on a specific project I do try to have books and research material close that I feel is relevant to the project. That helps me to create the right mind set to work in the “world” of the book. The same goes for music that I listen to while I work. In terms of inspiration in general, clearing my mind helps a lot, going for a walk or a little run often helps. I definitely need to open my brain up to be able to invite ideas in. It’s such a cliché but for me it’s absolutely true that ideas will sometimes come in the most unlikely moments, while grocery shopping or stuck in traffic.
What are your plans and projects for the near future?
Right now I am finishing work on a beautiful and haunting YA book called “Thickety” by J.A.White, that will be published next spring. At the same time I have started working on a graphic novel that I am very excited about. I will share more news about that as soon as I can.
Now that you have been in the business of illustration for a while what advice would you give your younger self at the point when you were just starting out as an illustrator?
Oh my. There are so many things I would like to tell myself, most of all to give myself some time. I was so eager to get started, so nervous and so impatient. While I think it’s important to keep moving, and to have the determination to keep working, it’s also important to give yourself the time to grow and experiment. I would also tell myself to make sure I spend a lot of time with my friends, learn with them and from them. Most illustrators work alone in their studio at home, it’s so important to connect to other artists, inspire each other and share information. When I was still in LA I was lucky to be in a great critique group, I miss that very much and hope I will find another one soon.
THANK YOU! :-)
And finally a video of Andrea sharing her process with us of the beautiful illustration you can see below. Enjoy :-)!
Thank you so much, Andrea, for sharing all this information and behind the scenes bits with us!!!
To win a signed copy of Andrea's beautifully illustrated book "Der Eisdrache" you have to
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