Illustrator Spotlight: Lisa Brandenburg

© Lisa Brandenburg

April 27, 2018

We are pleased to feature Lisa Brandenburg in the Illustrator Spotlight and her new book, IF YOU WANT TO FALL ASLEEP, written by Jackie Azúa Kramer (Clavis, May 1, 2018).  Enter to win a copy!



Tell us about yourself and how you came to illustrate for children.

I live and work in Amstelveen, a suburb of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. I studied applied arts with a specialization in illustration at the Willem the Kooning Academy of Arts in Rotterdam and have been working as an independent illustrator ever since. 

I have illustrated picture books for Clavis Publishing since 2012. I have worked on different kinds books for children, roughly ranging from 4 to 8 years. Most of these titles have been published in different languages, including Dutch, Danish, German, Chinese, Italian and Russian. After my graduation and before joining Clavis Publishing, I worked on many different projects, including books for primary education in the Netherlands and children’s books for other publishing houses (see www.lisabrandenburg.nl). 

Illustrating picture books is a long cherished dream come true: Children are not easy to please, yet they are a very grateful audience to work for; one we should all take very seriously! 

Congratulations on your new book IF YOU WANT TO FALL ASLEEP, by Jackie Kramer. Tell us about it and how you approached illustrating it.

Thank you so much! Yes, I am pleased with and proud of our new book. It was great working on it. Jackie wrote a lyrical and imaginative bedtime story with a strong sweet and clear message: beautiful, valuable things in life come out of true attention, endless patience and unconditional love. This ‘dialogue’ sounded so familiar; in fact, I received this manuscript from Jackie while we were still struggling with our own sleepless ‘Little Mouse’ at home. Our daughter had difficulties going to bed and staying in there for a good and uninterrupted sleep. I was living this story night after night. 

Fortunately, after three years, it turned out this was also ‘just’ a phase. Things have changed for the better. I like to think this striking title arrived just at the right time; more than enough inspiring ‘live material’ at my disposal! 

The Dutch version of this title – ‘Een knuffel voor het slapengaan’ – was published in August 2017. I am excited that the book will be out now in the US as well. 



Although every picture book-project stands on its own, in general it demands more or less the same approach: lots of reading, breeding, sketching and drawing. 

What I find both important and challenging, is to find an original way to tell the authors story, yet through my images. In the beginning everything is possible, which sounds nice of course; a blank sheet. But eventually I know I will have to deliver a coherent message. Therefore it is nice to find or create a ‘common thread’: One which defines the main character(s) and the setting of this particular story and which gives it a strong and unique look. It could be some sort of ‘prop’ which appears throughout the book (like for example Little Mouse’s blue plaid blanket) or it could appear through the chosen color palette in combination with the compositions.

Moreover, I like to draw between the lines and add to the story. I like to give children something to think about, to chew on or to look at just it little bit closer; something to laugh about (whenever its appropriate, story wise); something that makes children smile. I find humor very important, in life as well as in my artwork. And children are full of humor. Humor and smiles makes the world go round!

© Lisa Brandenburg
In addition to children’s illustration, you do commercial and editorial work. Does that other work influence your illustration in any way?

Indeed before I came to illustrate picture books, I used to work in different fields of illustration, on all sorts of assignments (educational, commercial, institutional as well as private assignments). I still love the broad diversity that comes with practicing applied arts. Different illustration-projects demand different solutions. It all contributes to the development of my technical skills and makes me an allround illustrator. 

Currently, illustrating picture books is taking all of my time, which works well for me. I strongly believe that focus and dedication is needed to create a beautiful, original and lasting picture book for children.

What projects are you working on now?

Right now I am working on a new picture book called THAT'S FOR BABIES!, also written by Jackie Azúa Kramer, to be published by Clavis Publishing later this year – again first in Belgium and the Netherlands, followed by the US. Here is a sneak peak of its main character(s): preschooler Prunella and her favorite doll Sally. 

After that I will work on a fifth picture book in the series about the enchanted little witch ELLA, written by Guy Daniëls also for Clavis Publishing.

Drawing of Prunella © Lisa Brandenburg
Tell us about your illustration process. 

It all starts by reading the author’s manuscript. First time quickly, from the beginning to the end, to get an overall impression of the story, theme and (main) character(s). Then I read the text again, this time more slowly, thoroughly. It sometimes happens that images pop-up immediately, if so I try to make a small sketch on the side next to the storyline, just as a reminder. Some of these early sketches will make it to the end, but more often they have to make room for other, less obvious, more original ones. 
Furthermore, I make small remarks and notes to highlight important elements and signs, for example with regard to the ‘looks’ and characterization of the main character(s). Sometimes the author provides a small art note as well. I always do my best to accommodate these remarks and connect these to my own ideas.

 An overview of different stages of the process of illustrating a picture book. In the center, you can see parts of the manuscript of ‘If You Want to Fall Asleep’, written by Jackie Azúa Kramer and illustrated by Lisa Brandenburg, to be published May 2018 by Clavis Publishing, New York.

As a third step, I leave the story to ‘rest’ for a while. In fact, having read a manuscript, it gets stuck in my head. This means that I am entering the next phase, which I call ‘breeding-time’. Whatever I do the following days and weeks, I am constantly working on the project, both consciously and unconsciously. It requires some time before I can actually start sketching. Depending on the theme or subject, I may do some research; gathering documentation, collecting inspiring images, etc. Creating an interesting, credible and authentic character is not an easy thing to do. At the same time, it’s great to be able to design a whole new character from scratch. Lots of re-reading and (rough) sketching are needed, before I can actually start to work out my final drawings. 
  
These pencil-illustrations together with the text (32 pages in total; including cover, endpapers and title page) are brought together in my storyboard. From here, I work out the illustrations in full color. 

Please have a look at the images below, the compilation shows the whole process, from sketches to final illustration. For me illustrating a picture book, requires a step-by-step process, from rough sketches, to pencil drawings, to creating the final illustrations on a primed piece of cardboard. And of course, a lot of thinking and breeding along the way. 

© Lisa Brandenburg

© Lisa Brandenburg

© Lisa Brandenburg

© Lisa Brandenburg

© Lisa Brandenburg

I usually work with mixed media; pencil, ink, acrylics and crayons. Although I do use digital techniques, I prefer hand craft, analog type of techniques. I like the smell and texture of my paint (and the dirty hands that come along with it). The contact of a pencil or crayon with a blank piece of paper or cardboard remains a magical and exciting process. Creating something entirely new and exploring the best possibilities of sharing a story through my images; all these different aspects make my work interesting. Over the years I have learned to embrace ‘the unexpected’; sometimes (not always of course) something beautiful comes out of what seemed to be a complete disaster – like when my brush slips out of my hand. 

When I am on full speed working on a project my atelier slowly transforms from a pretty tidy studio into an ordered chaos: my drawing board (as well as the floor beneath it) shows an overload of different materials; pots filled with paint, brushes, water, pencils, crayons, pieces of paper and eraser, a towel and hair dryer (to speed up the process) on the side. When illustrating, I like to listen to the radio. It gives me comfort, keeps me well informed and offers some sort of companionship, which is nice when practicing a fairly solitary profession. 

Here I am working on an illustration for my latest title, MAYBE DYING IS LIKE BECOMING A BUTTERFLY, by Pimm van Hest, published January 2018 in the original Dutch language by Clavis Publishing. 


© Lisa Brandenburg



You live in the Netherlands. How has it been working with an author from the U.S.? Do you work internationally with any other publisher or authors?

It was a great pleasure working with Jackie and it also happened to be my first collaboration with an author from the US. This indeed was a milestone, but nevertheless in the process it didn’t make much difference compared to a collaboration with for example a Dutch or Flemish author. Please let me explain why. 
In general I find it nice and exciting to work with and for different people (authors, publishers, clients) on various projects, albeit it remotely. I like to operate autonomously, but always within a broader collaboration in which everyone works towards that same goal, that is: creating an inspiring picture book for children. That is why, part from the obvious nice (cultural) variety and new valuable acquaintances, one’s nationality actually doesn’t really matter to me. I mean practically. Of course it is very interesting and instructive to meet and work with different people from all over the world!

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

Learn from others, but stay true to yourself. Keep faith and never ever stop drawing. 

One of the most valuable tips I received in my early career was to try and work for educational purposes; for example illustrating schoolbooks for primary school. It surely enabled me, and at points even forced me to draw things I would normally avoid; like for instance ‘bicycles’ (still not my favorite object to illustrate, but at least I tried dozens). It really contributed to my technical skills and helped me find a personal handwriting. 

True, it can be quite challenging making a living as an artist; it requires lots of hard work, dedication and patience, but in the end you will find it will be worth all efforts!

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

As the youngest daughter of a Dutch father and a mother of Chinese Indonesian origin, I grew up in a mixed and therefore to my opinion ‘rich’, cultural environment. It contributed to my awareness that we can benefit and learn from our differences, in many ways.

It surely enriched my early childhood and even today I feel privileged to be part of a bigger ‘community’; both European and Asian. To value our differences, share commonalities and embrace racial and cultural diversity is something every child should be able to enjoy and experience in life. So whenever possible I try to include tiny messages of love, tolerance and understanding in my artwork. If only grown-up people could maintain some of children’s open-mindedness, honesty and purity, we would almost certainly live in a better, more peaceful world today.

Where can people find you online?

Please, feel free to take a look at my online portfolio on my website: www.lisabrandenburg.nl

Lisa Brandenburg is a Dutch illustrator who graduated from the Willem de Kooning Academy of Arts, Rotterdam, the Netherlands in 2000. Lisa has a wide range of artistic interests and she seizes the chances and challenges that come along with a new project. She generally uses a mix of techniques and plays with colors and composition. Her work can be slightly melancholic, is both child- & adult-friendly and has a touch of humor. 
So far International Rights of her picture book titles have been sold to China, Germany, Denmark, Italy and Russia. Furthermore, Lisa organizes workshops and lectures for young children in bookstores and at primary schools. She lives with her husband, son and daughter in Amstelveen, the Netherlands. Lisa does not work for an agency; she represents herself.

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14 comments:

  1. I love that mouse! So adorable!

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  2. These illustrations are exceptionally delightful!

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  3. Congrats on the new book. Thanks for sharing the process!

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  4. Loved seeing her progress come to life!

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  5. Thank you for sharing your illustrations from idea to finished piece. I've never seen a storyboard before so thank you for sharing this too.

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  6. What a cute style and awesome interview. Thanks Lisa and Kidlit411!

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  7. very cute drawings. I love them. I must mention that I met Willem de Kooning at his home in Springs, Long Is. the summer of 1984 and actually sat in his studio chair.

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  8. Beautiful artwork! The artwork is worth the price of the book! I imagine the story is just as delightful.

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  9. What a wonderful interview. Congrats to Lisa on her new book. Love the illustrations shown here. I love that Lisa tries to incluide tiny messages of love, tolerancxe and understanding in her artwork.

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  10. What an informative interview! It's always interesting to see how different artists and authors work together. Thanks for sharing!

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  11. Thanks for sharing about your process.

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  12. Beautiful book! Loved seeing your studio and process! Thanks!

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  13. Love your illustrations and learning about your process. Thank you for sharing.

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