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Mending-Lucille-making-a-picture-book Write Realities - about writing and illustrating and children's books and poetry and photography
1. Bernhard Oberdieck - Leading German illustrator, creator of children’s classics

Bernhard Oberdieck

Bernhard Oberdieck

The Art of Illustrating for Children and Some Survival Initiatives for Illustrators! - An Interview with Bernhard Oberdieck - storyteller with paint and pen

Jennifer: Bernhard you have already covered in detail the extraordinary processes and techniques you utilise to create your wonderful images. [Readers - I highly recommend a visit to http://www.bernhard-oberdieck.com/en/technik.php to gain an insight into the workings behind Bernhard’s creations.] You have an astounding output – around 200 books by my estimation! What I want to cover in this interview is the background to all this amazing creativity.

You talked about developing ideas in the studio and doing variations of an idea until it is ‘right’ especially in relation to the layout of text. Do you also carry an artist’s notebook with you when you travel in case a solution occurs to you for a particular illustrative problem or an inspiration comes? Could you share one of your more challenging projects with us?

BERNARD: No, I don’t take an artist’s notebook with me if I travel. Previously, as a professional illustrator and as a student, I have drawn and painted a lot from nature and I have visited a lot of museums to study the old masters. Today I draw almost everything freely from my head or I look at photos or old illustrations from old books which I use as stimulus and inspiration. Some I utilise their basic layout in changed form in my illustrations. A good example of this is the circus illustration. Here I took an old photo, I made several years before in the South of France. I deleted some houses in the middle and placed the circus tent in their place. Because I illustrate daily about 8-12 hours, I take no drawing materials in hand in my free time.

Circus illustration - using his photographs-ic art to inform his illustrations

Jennifer: Yes I see the very varied sources of inspiration coming through. This particular picture reminds me of some of the works of Japanese hanga woodcuts.

Maustitel - Mouse & Berries - reminiscent of Hanga woodcuts

Maustitel - Mouse & Berries - reminiscent of Hanga woodcuts

Do you ever develop pictures purely because you want to as an artist and not for an illustrative project? Are there particular themes you enjoy painting more than others and why?

BERNARD: Yes, I also sometimes paint as purely an ‘artist’. But these pictures are abstract, very different from my illustrations and, up to now, only for myself.( http://www.bernhard-oberdieck.com/art.php) As an illustrator, I always try to interpret the text to so that children will get the most from the book. Maintaining the highest quality in my illustrative work is important to me. I illustrate many themes but I prefer illustrations with animals, I don’t know why.

Jennifer: Some of the stunning wildlife and landscape photographs on you website show you to be a skilled photographic artist [see http://www.bernhard-oberdieck.com/en/galerie2.php] .

Are your photographs a source of inspiration or more a reference tool in the studio, especially during winter months? Or are they another form of your art you exhibit&/ or utilise in cards and calendars?

BERNARD: I illustrate a lot from my imagination and my recollection. Only if I must draw something exactly, do I refer to photos and older illustrations.

Jennifer: You have a very strong sense of place. The atmosphere in your landscapes and streetscapes is humming with story.

Storm by Berhard Oberdieck

Storm by Berhard Oberdieck

What I mean by that is you have captured the feel of the moment, the storm is almost audible rolling across the sky.

You can feel the ripple of the waters.

Ripples, Mouse and Owl by Bernhard Oberdieck

Ripples, Mouse and Owl by Bernhard Oberdieck

The reader/viewer is able to step into your pictures and observe the story first hand. Have you always had such a strong connection with nature and your surroundings? What are your fondest memories of the outdoors? How has where you live/have lived shaped your art?

BERNARD: Yes, this is exactly right. I have very strong recollections of my childhood. This was lived on the land and amongst the beauties of nature. I grew up in a very small town and also live now in a small village with only 300 inhabitants. This has very much stamped me and my work. And, of course, I was influenced by the books which I read as a child. This is an image of my native landscape, where I was born. ( http://www.bernhard-oberdieck.com/image/Illustration_32.php )

Jennifer: Sense of place also includes interiors. In Germany, you have so much history in your buildings, so much atmosphere built up over centuries that the buildings have character of their own.

Floating bed and stairs by Bernhard Oberdieck

Floating bed and stairs by Bernhard Oberdieck

Would you share with us your source of inspiration and how and why you chose the particular perspectives for such wonderful creations as the following pictures ?

BERNARD: I don’t believe that here, in my Illustrative work, German history plays any special role. I always try, to make my illustrations a little more interesting for the viewer by using special perspectives. Of course I try to lure the children to explore the pictures more closely by adding in a lot of interesting, curious and imaginative little things. It is certainly more interesting for them to discover a treasure trove of unexpected details.

Jennifer: Your love of nature and keen observation come out strongly in the botanical detail of the plants and trees in your pictures. Do you draw plants and animals from life or memory or from field sketches?

BERNARD: Photos, old books, magazines and also the Internet - these are all things I use.

Jennifer: The ability to give distinctive characterisation to animals/toys is another feature of your work.

Bear & pillow by Bernhard Oberdieck

Bear & pillow by Bernhard Oberdieck

As a guide to up and coming illustrators and art students, can you describe to us how you achieve the strength of feeling, the humour and the drama in animal faces or is it something that comes instinctively?

BERNARD: I think it comes instinctively. In addition, the publishing company and the children expect figures (animals) that they can identify with from fiction and their own memories and experience with their soft animal toys. pets and zoo or farm animals. And, in addition, one must sometimes humanize them.

Jennifer: I love the drama and the humour in some of your eye-catching perspectives. Did pictures such as these come to mind spontaneously or did you work through a number

Fall by Bernhard Oberdieck

Fall by Bernhard Oberdieck

of experimental stages? Do you consciously look for extraordinary angles?

BERNARD: These pictures come to mind spontaneously. If I begin, I generally already have a picture in my head. Not always, but very often.

Jennifer: Many illustrators end up writing some of their own stories, e.g., Ian Beck and Mick Inkpen. Have you ever written any stories of your own, is that something you hope to do at some future stage? What are your plans for 2009?

BERNARD: No, I don’t write books. I simply have no time for this, because, for example, in 2009 I must illustrate 4 new picture books and certainly also other small works.

Jennifer: Time! Yes, I think you speak for all of us. I know I wish I had 24 more hours in each day! We all look forward to seeing your new projects out on the shelves. To have a peak at Bernhard’s stunning latest project go to : http://kibook.blogspot.com/

Jennifer: Finally, do you have a question that I and other interviewers have failed to ask and which you would love answer? Now is your opportunity!

BERNARD: I would only like to say that, unfortunately, the financial conditions of the professional illustrators is becoming worse and worse. Here in Germany, even more than in England or the USA, this is the sad case. Thank you for this interview.

Jennifer: My pleasure Bernhard and, yes, I hear what you are saying. Out in Australia it is a similar situation. We have a small population and competition is tight and money is tight. Most authors and illustrators out here have to hold down day time jobs as well. I have been thinking about ways in which creators might make some more out of their work. Here is what I have come up with so far…..

Become an Associate -

Most of us have websites and blogs and membership of organisations like SCWBI or State/National Writers’ Centres or Illustrator’s Guilds. But there are opportunities to become an associate of a site like Amazon. Place a link on your site to Amazon. [I can give more instructions re this if you would like.] If anyone buys a book via the link to Amazon on your site, you get a percentage of resulting sales; I believe it is 15%. Now there’s a way to advertise and get more from the sale of your own published works!

Join networking sites -

JacketFlap is just AMAZING - free and THE best networking site around for anyone working in any aspect of children’s literature or just interested in children’s books! There is also Published Authors, free to join and growing daily. It has a branch devoted to networking for the smaller publishers which is also free to join via Published Authors [site moderator is Shelagh Watkins].

Marketing blogs -

Carol Denbow’s blog is well worth a visit - she regularly puts up all sorts of useful tips and tricks - even a ‘How to do it yourself free’ virtual book tour.

Cards, Calendars and MySoti

Kuchen - Cake Capers by Bernhard Oberdieck

Kuchen - Cake Capers by Bernhard Oberdieck

There is the ability to ‘ merchandise’ art with spin offs as posters, cards and calendars [ as Bernhard already does] and there is MySoti and other sites like it that allow artists to add their original artwork to T-shirts that MySoti then markets for them, paying them a monthly commission on sales.

Poster Poems/Micro Stories

This is an initiative I have developed in liaison with Pierre Lapointe and Marcus Riedner of Sharing Books (http://www.sharing-books.com/).

Many of you very talented illustrators have pictures or sketches which -

· you have done for your own enjoyment or

· you have the beginnings of picture books that did not get to publication for whatever reason, or

· illustrations that were not used in a particular project.

These works can be sold at online art auctions, sales sites. [I have noted that many of your do this.] But this need not be the end of their money spinning days!

Form a liaison with a writer [there are a wide variety on JacketFlap] and develop these unpublished illustrations/pictures into a Poem Poster or Micro Story Poster. The writer takes your work as the stimulus and creates something that works with it - something that can then be formatted and uploaded to Sharing Books as a downloadable poster. Your copyright is protected - it remains with you. One third of the proceeds from the poster are split between you and the writer. Check the site out. Marcus is readily available to answer any technical queries [he and Pierre are on JacketFlap].

The advantages are -

· Extra international exposure

· Some $$$s potential for a work that was not generating any income previously.

· A chance to show off a wider range of your skills [if you have concentrated on more serious topics, a humorous text will show the potential for your work to be used with this type of material.]

· You are also helping an extremely worthy cause - Room to Read (http://www.roomtoread.org/holidays.html) - an international not-for-profit organisation that provides literacy tuition and books to children in third world countries.

I have done this with numbers of illustrators in my Wacky Wordages on my WordPress blog (http://jrpoulter.wordpress.com/) . In liaison with the illustrators, I am now about to turn some of these into posters.

I’ll keep you ‘postered’ as to how it goes!!!!!!!!!


We all know that governments and commercial organisations sponsor arts festivals and writing communities in various ways, but how about sponsoring a specific arts project e.g., a picture book. Many ‘iconic’ artists like Norman Rockwell did commercial projects to bring in regular income. The Jim Carrey classic “The Truman Show” had sponsor’s products prominently displayed in the ‘live’ sets of a life lived in public. It is only one step further to feature a commercial product in a picture book, e.g., a character riding a particular brand of motorbike, or drinking Coca Cola. I know publishers and artists are often wary of commercial control of their product but let’s explore this potential!

Mentors and Patrons

Mentors are a more modern phenomenon whereby established artists/writers take an emerging talent under their wing. This works well. Let’s expand it!

How about revisiting the much older concept of “Patron“, not for ‘the arts’ broad spectrum, but for individual artists. This was the survival mode for many artists and writers of bygone centuries [see pp 156-157 in "Literature, Culture and Society" by Andre Milner]. Some folk are already doing just this. It would be interesting to know how successfully! Let’s explore a revival!

Comments welcome- let’s explore options!


10 Comments on Bernhard Oberdieck - Leading German illustrator, creator of children’s classics, last added: 12/26/2008
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