Illustrator Spotlight: Mette Engell

© Mette Engell


Feb. 27, 2015

Today we feature the very talented illustrator Mette Engell.

Tell us about your background and how you came to children’s illustration?

I have a master degree in marine biology, but after becoming a mom, and therefor getting reintroduced to the world of picture books, I figured that the flutter in my tummy whenever I got my hands on a really good picture book, probably meant I should get back into drawing. 

I used to draw a lot as a child, but put the pencils away in favor of my academic endeavors. So it's actually pretty recent that I started drawing again...and it's only within the last 3 or 4 years that I got really serious about it, until then I mostly just doodled with my kids. 

You have a very distinctive and fun style. Can you tell us how this developed, and walk us through how you make an illustration?

Thank you - It's so funny, people tell me that all the time, but it's only recently that I started noticing that myself. For a very long time I kept thinking that I needed to find my own style - guess I did. 


© Mette Engell

I think my style is heavily influenced by the first illustrator I really noticed, Marie-Louise Gay. I remember buying her book, SUR MON ILE, and sitting down with my, then one year old, daughter. I opened the book and was blown away by her style. Her hand-lettering, the textures, and the illustrations, created a very dynamic and fun read. That book got me hooked on the idea of becoming a picture-book author / illustrator. 

A lot of people have since inspired me, but I think the next big leap for me was when I stumbled upon Will Terry and his online classes, at Folio Academy. Up until then, I had really struggled with getting the textures and shading right in my digital paintings. Taking his classes made me go back to sketching on paper, and it taught me how to build up my illustrations, with value studies, flat colors and then textures and lighting. 


© Mette Engell


My process today varies depending on the end product, but mostly I start out with lots of sketches on a piece of paper. 
If the final illustration is vector, I just scan the fairly rough sketches and take them straight to illustrator, where I hand trace them, and later add colors and textures. I sometimes take the vector drawing  into Photoshop or Procreate (iPad app) to add some final details and texture, and sometimes the entire process stays in Illustrator or iDraw (iPad app).  

If the end product doesn't  have to be vector, then oftentimes I'll  refine my sketches in  Procreate on my iPad, and either finish them there or take them to Photoshop. 


© Mette Engel

A lot of my illustrations use handmade / painted textures, which I create with crayons, watercolors, gouache, acrylics or ink, and then scan and add to the illustration at a later stage.

You recently signed with a licensing agent. Can you tell us about that process? How is it different than finding an agent in the children’s lit world? What kind of work do you plan to do?

After taking the first class with Lilla Rogers in April last year, I started making a list of agents I would love to work with, and began putting a portfolio together. I planned to submit to potential agents by the end of the summer, but I kept postponing it because I was afraid of the rejections. 

November came and the second class with Lilla Rogers started, and I got a lot of new ideas that I wanted to add to my portfolio, but then one morning in December, while I was browsing some  agent blogs, I noticed that the agent on top of my list were looking for new illustrators. 


© Mette Engell


Since I didn't feel that I was ready to submit, I posted about it in one of my design groups on Facebook because I thought that some of my friends there would want to give it a try. I got so many cheers to give it a try myself, that I said "why not" ? And send a hastily put together portfolio to them. 15 minutes after I hit send, I got offered a contract with them. So I guess the process of getting my agent were pretty strange and extremely lucky. 

As for how it differs from finding an agent in the picture book marked, I'm not sure what to say. You still need to show that you can tell a story, and carry a character through different scenes, but you don't have as many props and scenarios to help tell that story. Your work needs to be more simplified, but I guess it depends on what kind of agent you're looking for. There are some licensing agents that do licensing for surface design as well as book illustrations, wall art etc. 

My agent doesn't do editorial or book illustrations, which I why I'm still looking for an agent for that kind of work, and hopefully I'll find one this year, so I got both types of work covered. I love designing for kids apparel, which is what my agent do, but I miss doing picture book type of work, so hopefully that will change in my near future. 

What projects are you working on?

Aside from making art work for my wonderful agent, I'm currently working on a new portfolio for getting a picture books agent, something I hope to accomplish within this year. 

And of course improving my physical shape, hah, that seems to be an ongoing topic. I usually run at the beach everyday, but after having injured my Achilles' tendon, last year, I'm a bit out of shape at the moment. 


What are the one or two things you have done that have most helped your career recently?

I joined a group called Doodle Day in October 2013, and that got me out out my shell and made me join a lot of online groups, which in turn opened up a new world of illustrator friends and critique groups. 


© Mette Engell


I'm currently in a picture book critique group with 3 truly sweet and inspirational girls, and a critique group for surface design with some equally fabulous girls, that I met in an online class given by Lilla Rogers, another thing that had a huge impact on my career. So I guess the answer would be joining Doodle day and attending Lilla Rogers classes:  Make Art That Sells A & B

 Who or what inspires you?

There's just so many things and people. Watching animated movies with my kids, tend to make me want to  run off and find my pencils, not all of them but some. Everyday life, and reading blog post from fellow artists. 


© Mette Engell


Illustrators I admire in no particular order, Mary Blair, Alain Gree, Shinzi Katoh, Alice and Martin Provensen, Roger Duvoisin and so many others. I had a ton of picture books growing up, some of them where from my parents childhood, so I guess I'm heavily influenced by the way picture books used to be drawn. 


What is something most people don’t know about you?

I love old punk and rock music from the 70s. I usually listen to music and dance while working,  one reason why I'm glad I work from my studio in my home. 

Where can we find you on the internet?

My website: metteengell.com and Instagram (metteengell), I do have a Twitter account (@metteillu), but I tend to forget to use it. 





Mette Engell is an illustrator born and raised on Zealand, the largest island in Denmark, and the 96th largest island in the world.
She grew up in a small town north of Copenhagen, and later moved to an even smaller town by the ocean – where she enjoys life with her husband, 3 kids, and their 3 cats.

She studied marine biology at the University of Copenhagen, and after getting her Masters, she started working as a freelance webdesigner at night, while designing LANs and WANs for a major ISP in Denmark during the day.

After her first child was born, she went back to the art world, and if she is not drawing, she is either running by the ocean, cooking or playing with her kids – very often at the beach.

10 comments:

  1. I love Mette not only for her friendly spirit and lovely illustrations, but also for her fabulous hair and great beach photos! :D It was so much fun learning all about her art side (since I already know a bit about her science and mom side). Thanks for featuring her, Kidlit411!

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    1. Aww Thank you, Teresa - you're definitely one of the benefits of Doodle day :)

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  2. Excellent interview, Mette. I remember loving your posts in the Doodle Day group, and then later in Lilla's class. So great. Congratulations on your agent deal! Go, go, go!

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  3. Lovely to hear more about you, Mette! Your artwork is sublime.

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  4. Mette, congrats on landing your agent with a fastness! Love your artwork :D
    Best of luck on a PB agent who is surely close behind ;)

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  5. You are an inspiration with all that you have accomplished and your art is whimsically wonderful! Nice interview.

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  6. I love your fun and quirky characters!! Congratulations!

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  7. Wish Mette had told me about this interview while I was visiting her! So, sorry Iam late to gush over your work, but glad I can also gush over your spirit! You truly love the work you do, and we can all see it! Rock on, Mette!

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  8. Thank you - I'm so swamped, and really bad sometimes at remembering to check back on things. but it was a nice surprise to stop by here today, reading all your sweet and encouraging comments. - hugs and thank yous to you all :-)

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  9. Thank you - I'm so swamped, and really bad sometimes at remembering to check back on things. but it was a nice surprise to stop by here today, reading all your sweet and encouraging comments. - hugs and thank yous to you all :-)

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