Interview w/ Anna Katharina Jansen
Hi, Anna! Can you briefly introduce yourself? Like where are you from, how old are you, what’s your zodiac sign?
Hi – I am Anna. A freelancing illustrator with a little studio at the german seaside. I’m 28 years old, have a bachelor degree in Communication Design + a master degree in Illustration. My zodiac sign is twins and my sisters are too.
Are the people we see in your images people you know or have seen, are they types or made up?
It depends on the job. Sometimes I find myself drawing people I know. For example, when I’m asked to draw a very cool guy – I imagine what my coolest friend would wear. But I also have some favorite pattern or hairdos that I always use, when I’m not asked to draw something/someone special.
You have a very specific palette of soft colors, what inspires you to use specific colors? What is your favorite color combination?
My big, big enemy is the bright color combination of red + blue + yellow + green. I don’t know why – but I just don’t like it, when I color my illustrations “too colorful”. Maybe because they are so naive in style, so I want to give them more “seriousness” in the colors. To avoid this “too colorful” look, I normally use every color except for one. For example, I use every shade of blue, green, red (besides white + black) – but no yellow at all!
What is the role of patterns and textures in your works?
I think my drawings need the textures to avoid looking too clean and boring. And sometimes i just need to give a shirt or sweater a pattern, to explain a special gesture – cause I’m not using the effect of shadows or outlines. So without the pattern, you wouldn’t see what the arm of the person is doing, cause it looks like a big undefined body-arm-mass. (Hope you understand what I'm trying to explain :-D)
What materials/techniques do you feel most comfortable with? What do you not get along with?
Most of the time I paint with acrylic colors and use a super sharp pencil for certain details like the nose, mouth, fingers, toes, etc.
I know that you can imitate all the analog painting techniques with different photoshop brushes by now – but I still stick to my old school method. I still can’t imitate that “not-perfect-analog-looking”” effect with the computer. When I skip the analog part of my working process, the illustration always looks too flat and boring.
What does your work process look like? Do you work digitally or with pen and paper?
I always start with an analog painting – acrylic paint on cheap paper. After drawing all elements of the final illustration I scan every single drawing and arrange them in the final format and add some of my background structures in photoshop. Sometimes I need to draw some more elements or leave some of the originally planned elements out. I often change colors digitally or add some more pattern. And eventually, the illustration is finished. Sometimes it takes half an hour, sometimes several days till I’m happy with it.
What is freelance life like? What are the ups and downs?
As a freelance illustrator, you’re working a lot on your own. On the one hand that’s very productive, but on the other hand that could be very lonely and turns you into a strange person sometimes. In the first months after moving to our new seaside home, I often realized that I didn’t talk to any person except my boyfriend for several days. That was kind of scary (after living a student life for 8 years and normally having a lot of people around me). But luckily I made some friends here and teach at least one art class a week – So as there’s no more risk of social isolation for me, I really enjoy freelance life ;-) Of course there’re a lot of problems an employee hasn’t to worry about – but the freedom to plan your day on your own, to have a very diversified field of projects and to draw in your garden in summer and in front of the fireplace in winter is absolutely worth all the insurance and tax stuff you have to learn.
How does self-initiated work differ from commissions?
For commissions, I normally have to produce illustrations as data files. For that reason, I start with an analog drawing but end up with a photoshop file, where I arranged everything digitally and where I’m able to change colors or composition easily, in case the client wishes some rearrangement. But when I draw for exhibitions or self-initiated projects I often do analog collages or “full-page-paintings”. Producing files feels more like my job and creating analog artworks feels more like my hobby. But luckily I enjoy both techniques the same – Dream job!
Do you work from home or do you have an office/studio?
At the moment I’m working from home. I have a little studio room in our apartment – so I’m lucky enough to work in my pajamas ;-) But I’m still not sure whether working from home or working in a studio space outside our apartment is better for my workflow. So right now I’m starting to make plans to rent a little studio shop together with a friend here in our small town near the sea. In summer I could hopefully tell you that this was the best idea ever ;-)
Why did you move to the German seaside (instead of a big city)?
After living for nearly 10 years in (medium) big cities like Aix-La-Chapelle, Cologne and Hamburg, my boyfriend and I realised that we could also live in a place where you’re not spending all your money for rents, where you know and care for your neighbours and where you’re able to go for a walk on the beach – every day!
As your bachelor thesis, you designed, illustrated and wrote a book on the work as an illustrator. Can you explain what you wanted to convey in the book?
My intention was to tell everybody (especially my dad) that illustration is not just a hobby – it could also be a full-time job! I wanted to explain what illustrators do, how they work, what materials they need, how they get clients, what everyday challenges they have to fight… The first part of the book tells my personal story: How I decided to become an illustrator, what my studies were like, my fears and doubts, my first successes – And the second part explains the everyday life of a professional illustrator in general. I also included interviews of 29 other illustrators. Most of them older and wiser than me as a still-studying-illustration-beginner (at the time I wrote the book).
What are the similarities and differences between illustrators and artists? Or are illustrators artists?
For me, an illustrator is artist, craftsman, and service in one. You have to draw what your client is asking for. But you have to find your own way in style, colors, and composition. Sometimes your clients have a very precise image in mind, sometimes you have a lot of freedom. So sometimes you are more of an artist – sometimes more of a craftsman.
You’re an illustration graduate, when and how did you decide that’s what you wanted to study? Also, what’s studying a creative subject at uni like?
After school I planned a big career in Marketing and Advertising Design– so I studied Communication Design as a bachelor degree. I wanted to get very cool and very rich. But I realized very soon that I don’t really like this field of design. Too many mean people and too many competitive thoughts. Instead, I decided to become a (very poor but very happy) illustrator (which I didn’t know is an existing job before I began my studies.)
To study a creative subject is like a big playground where you’re allowed to try everything you like. It’s not like someone tells you how to use a pencil right or which colors you should use, even the computer programs are not really explained to the students. Sometimes I think creative studies are more like “an excuse” to do nothing more than practice, practice, practice. The freedom to try everything without necessarily producing something.
How did your work evolve or change during your studies at uni? How did it change since you graduated?
I think my work and style is changing all the time. And I guess it will forever. In the beginning of my studies, I didn’t have something like a style. I just tried every technique, experimented with different materials, and tried to find my own way by looking at a lot of other illustrators, by copying their style and trying to combine it with my own elements. But that could be very frustrating, cause their style is never your own style and you need to find the right path between what you really like and what “comes easy” to you. Cause that’s not always the same. But I guess by now I found my way and I really like what I’m doing now. Sometimes before I go to bed I look at one of my drawings of the day and I’m surprised that I (!) did this cool illustration. I guess that’s the best thing you could achieve as an illustrator. And my plan is to generate that feeling more often with every year of practice.
In your M.A. you focused on book illustration, what inspired you to do so?
To be honest: It depended on the professor! At the uni where I did my master you have to choose one main subject (editorial illustration, scientific illustration, comic or book illustration) and I just liked the professor and the student group of book illustration most. But you’re able to visit all the other courses too, so I did a lot of editorial design as well as printing workshops and start-up-trainings. And as I wrote before, it’s like a big playground, where you can try everything and there are no strict rules, like “you’re just allowed to do books in my course”. You just choose one main professor to discuss all your work from your studies, side projects or real freelance jobs.
What is your favorite book that you would like to design a cover for?
I guess right now it would be something like an encyclopedia or dictionary. Something that normally is not illustrated very well and fits my newfound love for illustrated letters.
How do you think the Internet influences young artists and the way you can distribute and sell (your) art? Also, how does it influence ideas, intellectual property, and copyrights?
The internet, of course, has a big, big influence on young artists. I think there are good and bad aspects to it. Copyrights are often a problem for sure. There’re so many illustrators copying from other illustrators. Sometimes they’re so shameless that I just can’t, can’t, can’t understand why they are doing it. But I guess it was the same in the times before internet was everywhere. I guess there were thousands of artist copying Van Gogh or Matisse before they found their own style. But Van Gogh or Matisse just never found these copies in their Instagram feed. And I hope that every illustrator who stole another illustrators image or idea will be caught and will have SO bad feelings, that they’ll never ever do it again.
But on the other hand you can get so much inspiration from all over the world via internet, you can connect with other illustrators you would have never met without the internet, you can distribute your art so much easier and cheaper and you’ve so much more opportunities to procrastinate (which is the worst time killer on the one hand, but so much fun (and inspiration) on the other hand ;-) ) And when I had the first intern in my studio last summer, I realized that young people today have access to so much more inspiration and illustrated work than I had, when I was the same age. I guess that makes it a lot easier to start and develop your style, but also very hard to create something that really feels like your own stuff.
Where or when do you feel most inspired? Or where do you turn to for inspiration and how do you channel it?
It’s such a cliché, but I often have the best ideas while showering. As a freelancer working from home I can start working right after getting up in the morning. I don’t need to shower, dress up or style myself before heading to my desk. So I can use this “shower-break” whenever I need it. I often use it to gain some distance to the project or idea I’m working on, to start completely new, when I’m too focused on one idea, or to brainstorm on a given topic.
Which other artists inspire you? Do you have any idols?
To be honest, I’m not really the person looking at old art classics to find inspiration – but I have a lot of contemporary illustrators I adore. Some of them are old stagers, but most of them are just beginners like me: Agnes Hostache, Klara Persson, Hanna Konola, Sue Doeksen, Leena Kisonen, Nastia Sleptsova, Beatrice Cerocchi, Tanja Esch, Mieke Scheier, Kate Pugsley, Léa Maupetit, Jake Hollings, Violetta Lopez, Anna Kövecses, Lieke Vanderhorst, Marcus Oakley, Mark Conlan, Rick Hedof …
What music do you listen to when you’re working? Or do you need silence to concentrate?
It depends on my mood and on what part of a project I’m working on. When I need to find new ideas, think about a concept, need to write something or do research – I need silence. But when these thoughts are done and it comes to the fun part of drawing, coloring and composing my illustrations I love listening to music. My playlists mainly contain very girly indie folk + pop and not very girly hip hop. To name some artist: Cayucas, Junip, Black Oak, Jack Garratt, The xx, Bodi Bill, BOY, Patrick Watson, Drapht, Dendemann, Kollegah, Jedi Mind Tricks …