Interview and portrait by Judith Carnaby
I met Anna Katharina Jansen as she was recovering from a week of long nights in the studio as she got her first children’s book finished and printed for the ILLU14 vernissage. It is a charming tale of two people with temperature control problems, whose stories start at opposite ends of the book and meet in a large illustration in the middle. From one side you read the story of Fräulein Vielzuwarm (Miss Much-Too-Warm), and turning the book upside-down and back-to-front you begin the story of Herr von Vielzukalt (Mister Much-Too-Cold). Anna delightfully explained how people reading the book at the vernissage would start reading from one side, politely continuing to read the book upside down until they sheepishly realised they were reading a different story and flipped it around.
Anna is originally from Aachen, a small city near to the border of Belgium. Following her studies in communication design she moved to Cologne where she is now based. She is just starting her career as an illustrator and creates works with a charming hand-drawn quality, full of painterly textures, pencil shadings and restricted colour palettes.
Illustration by Anna Jansen
Judith Carnaby: You have been working as a freelance illustrator for the last year following your studies. How has your work developed over the last year? Have you been intentional about the style that you are developing, or is it more what feels natural to you when you are creating images?
Anna Katharina Jansen: Sometimes it’s this way and sometimes it’s different. I think my style will come by itself. When I start an illustration I don’t intend to draw a face just like the face I drew last time, I’m always trying to experiment, with the techniques and materials.
You seem to have a variety of techniques you use in creating your work, different ways of creating marks and textures including painting, watercolours, ink and printing. What is your process in creating your work?
I always start with a sketch in pencil, and most of the time I know before I start which technique I want to use. At the moment I am mostly drawing with acrylics. Since I started illustrating I have been arranging everything with the computer, but now I want to do more whole paintings on paper. Maybe I will change the colours digitally, but not creating a collage on the computer.
I really enjoy the soft colour palettes of your illustrations. Why do you choose those colours and do you have favourite combinations that you use?
I have a problem with colourful paintings so I always draw with all colours, except one. For example I would use all colours except for green. I like the paintings more if there isn’t every colour in the painting, I don’t know why. In the last few years I never drew with green or with violet because I didn’t like the colours but now I am slowly liking green more. I’m starting with turquoise and might develop more in that way.
You have just finished your first children’s book. Is children’s illustration an area you have worked in before and is that something you want to develop more?
I had never wanted to make a children’s book before. When I was a little girl my mother said that when I was old I would make children’s books, and that I would be an illustrator, and I said, yeah, I don’t think so… I studied communication design and I wanted to work in an agency doing something with advertising. Now I am where she always told me I would be.
Illustration by Anna Katharina Jansen
Herr von Vielzukalt and Fräulein Vielzuwarm are delightful and fun characters. Their style is reflected in your other illustration work, with the geometric noses, cheeks and faces. What is it about drawing people that you find the most interesting?
I mostly draw people – I am very interested in faces, gestures, and proportions. A major project during my studies was a dictionary about lost words, and I illustrated 100 old German words that are no longer used. I made 100 drawings in one semester and this was a very experimental time for me because I had to do so many. I guess this was the time that I started to draw the faces like this and the nose always in the same way.
Breaking people down into geometry is an interesting exercise. That is where illustration is really strong, when you can break down complex ideas into simple symbols, but then perhaps you lose something when you try and communicate something so simply as well. Drawing peoples’ faces like you do and trying to communicate an emotion definitely seems a challenge!
Sometimes it is hard when you want to show a special feeling and you are using geometric shapes – it’s not so easy. I find it difficult to draw people, with the right proportions, and also the expression. Now I am training myself to do it better!
How have you found moving to Cologne? What is it like working in this city for you and do you feel connected to the wider illustration scene here?
There is way more than in Aachen so everything is great! Aachen is small, especially after studying there for 5 years. I know some people here that have been professional illustrators for years, and that is something you don’t have in Aachen. Everything here is bigger and more.
As someone just starting out in illustration how do you hope your practice will develop? What are you looking forward to in the future?
I want to train myself to get faster at drawing and I am hoping to do a Masters in Hamburg. I studied communication design and there were no real illustration courses so in doing a Masters I hope to get tips from other students and teachers. I am looking forward to meeting people that are also just starting to be an illustrator like me, to share workspaces and to build a network. And maybe I will do another children’s book!
Illustration by Anna Katharina Jansen
Thanks Anna! To see more of Anna’s work see her website.