Monday, June 01, 2009

More notes from Hamburg

At the Kinderbuchhaus, contd: a short Q&A with the freelance illustrator Katrin Engelking, who has worked on more than 40 children’s books for publishers like Oetinger and Ravensburger. Engelking has illustrated the new editions of Astrid Lindgren’s famous Pippi Longstocking books.

What is your working routine like? Do you work on more than one picture-book at a time?

Normally I work on one big project at a time, but one has make adjustments. One thing that happens is that publishers typically want you to send a book cover in advance – for the catalogue and other promotional material – before you’ve even started working on the main body of the book. So there have been times when I’m doing the inside illustrations for a particular book but also simultaneously working on the cover illustration of my next project. And if the two books require different styles, it can be tricky to shift back and forth!

Once I made a cover and they used it for a promotional CD but later I ordered it back and added a few little elements, because by that time I had a clearer idea of what the rest of the book was going to be like.

How much time do you need to finish a picture-book?

Lots of time! I have two children so I can only work until 2, which is when they come home from school. Earlier, before I had started a family, it was possible to work all sorts of odd hours, but not now.

What are the main challenges for a freelance artist?

There are no contractual problems, except that obviously you can’t draw the same characters for different publishers. But you have to manage your time and your deadlines. In my case I’ve developed a good relationship with Oetinger and we fit together very well, so I mostly work for them now. Earlier I handled two or three publishers together, and it was sometimes dreadful! (Laughs) You have to be accountable to so many people.

You must have been very excited when you were asked to do the new editions of the Pippi Longstocking books?

I was very enthusiastic about it, sure, but it was scary too. I mean, I was reading these books when I was growing up, like nearly everyone else – Pippi is such a famous character in Germany, she’s been around for over six decades and generations of people have grown up with her. Everybody loves her and knows what she looks like, so it was daunting to do these new drawings. I had to do over 50 colour illustrations, but I enjoyed every bit of it.
When you illustrate stories written by other authors, what is the extent of collaboration?

It varies. Once I told an author – whom I knew very well – that I had looked at the moon one day and thought I saw a rabbit shape on it. So she developed that idea into a story and I illustrated it! But we worked separately: she wrote the story first and then I took over. You don’t want to start interfering with each other’s work.

When I’m doing both the text and the drawings for a book, I write the story first and then work out how much space there is for the illustrations.

Is it important for a children’s book illustrator to go through a professional course?

I don’t think so, although I did study at the College of Design in Hamburg. It depends on how good you are – if you come out of nowhere but your pictures are good enough to impress a publisher, that should be enough.

On the other hand, when you’re doing a professional course, there are many talented people working together and competing, which is a useful environment to be in. The option should certainly exist for budding artists.


I also exchanged a few quick words with Isabel Kreitz, who is very shy when she’s amidst a large of people but eloquent in a one-to-one conversation; she told me that her real area of interest is writing/drawing comic books for older readers, but that she earns money by doing children’s picture-books. “Picture-books require a different artistic approach,” she said. “You have to put everything into one picture, which could perhaps be a really big double-spread – it’s like an extract. You can’t use sequential art in a very creative way, like you do with comic-book panels – so the mindset has to be different.”

“I wish I could collaborate with authors when I’m working on picture-books, but most of them are dead,” she deadpanned (because she often works on new editions of books written a long time ago), “or the book is already made and I’m just expected to add something to it.”

Otherwise, our session with the illustrators involved several people talking at once, and a certain amount of translation going on too. Peter Schössow told us that when he does illustrations he sometimes get fed up drawing the same character again and again, and wants to create variety to make things more interesting. “Sometimes I do three illustrations featuring a particular character, then I think to myself, my god, how on earth am I going to do another 71 pages!” For this reason he finds it useful to switch between drawing characters and writing a story. “If you’re stuck with one you can move to the other, refresh your mind a little and then come back.” It reminded me of something Isaac Asimov once said about never being afflicted with writer’s block: he wrote so many different types of books (sci-fi, history, mystery stories, popular science) that if he ever got tired of one genre he could switch to a different kind of writing for a while. Needless to say, this doesn’t work for everyone!

Here’s the cover of an all-drawing Pixi book done by Peter:

And, much to the delight of the Indian contingent, the opening page of a book by Ole Konnecke, about a kid trying to learn to do magic:

(Ole’s uncle was a professional magician and had a large collection of posters – including this one of P C Sorkar)


  1. Sorry to post a comment that is not relevant to this post. I was waiting for a post on Rafa's loss even though it is not more than 12 hours since that. I like your views on rafa and tennis. By the way i am a hardcore Roger fan.Of course i like Rafa too. Hard to dislike him.

  2. Nadal was taken to the cleaners.

    Though, I'd have liked it better had he lost to Monfils. Andy Roddick will again see someone play the match of his life and Mofils will whoop his ass.

    Go Monfils!

  3. I really wonder how people do freelancing! That too managing the family by the side. Even if I have a full day, I sleep for half, eat for a quarter and do useful stuff only in the remaining quarter. So, I really admire such people who are successful freelancers!

    Destination Infinity

  4. Dude, that's a great picture, possibly the last place where one would expect PC Sorkar to show up - just magical!

  5. Roddick saves the 5 setter drama. Americans should not even be allowed to play Grand Slam.

    Go Monfils!