For March’s Literati experience we’ve worked with the incredibly talented Anja Klauss, a German-born illustrator who spoke to us about how living in different countries has contributed to her style, her love of ancient artwork, and her unique take on classics like Sleeping Beauty.
Since graduating in visual communication from the Kassel School of Fine Arts in Germany and École supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in France, Anja has published numerous children’s books for Hachette Jeunesse, Editions des Idées et des Hommes, and Les Editions de l’Élan Vert. Klauss specializes in mixed media, usually acrylic, graphite, and gouache painting. She currently lives in France.
You’re from Germany, and you studied there as well as in England and in France. How (if at all) do all these different European countries influence your art?
I was able to observe different approaches to illustration and children’s book publishing during my studies, but most of all I enjoyed exchanging ideas and working together with my fellow students from all over the world.
You’ve illustrated classic stories like Sleeping Beauty, but you’ve made the characters your own. How difficult was it to tackle a story so famous but put your own slant on it?
I wanted to present a more modern version of the fairytale without losing the magic of the story. I therefore decided to use vibrant colors and intricate, dreamy compositions as well as keeping the characters fairly stylized.
The Little Hippo, the book Literati has chosen for this month’s Club Nova, features a picture toward the end of a ceramic hippo that dates back to 1640 B.C. Did this piece of art inspire the story? How did the book come about?
The book is part of a series of children’s books called “Pont des Arts” (the Bridge to Art) which tells stories inspired by pieces of artwork and artists. I have so far illustrated a book about Klimt, one about Camille Claudel and one about the architect Le Corbusier. Each new book is a real challenge.
Can you tell us a bit about your technique? You use acrylic, ink, and even collage – sometimes all three? Did you develop this yourself? What inspired you to go this route?
Every new book is a new adventure and inspires me to find a new approach and technique. I love experimenting. Using different materials and paints enables me to create transparent and opaque layers of colour and add vibrancy and structure to my artwork.
Who inspired/inspires you?
My main influences were illustrators like Eric Carle and Leo Lionni whose books I used to read when I was a child. I love their way of using paint and collage and their simplicity of composition. But I keep being influenced by other pieces of art and illustration and I hope that my own artwork will keep evolving.
Tell us a bit about Strasbourg and what it’s like living / working there as an artist?
Strasbourg is a medium-sized city and it has become an illustrators’ capital, since many illustrators stay after their studies in Strasbourg Arts college. This is great because it means that there are many exhibitions and events as well as fellow artists with whom you can exchange ideas.
What does your regular working day look like?
I work at home. Until the birth of my baby daughter I didn’t really structure my working day. I took a break whenever I needed one and sometimes worked until late at night. Now I have more regular working hours and need to keep track of time in order to pick up my little one from the creche on time.
What’s been your favorite interaction with a child about your work?
I enjoy meeting school classes and talking to them about my work a lot. I am often surprised by their interesting questions. My favourite memory is of a group of children who created a life-sized statue of one of my characters because they liked it so much. I was really touched.
With your book Mythologies of the World, how much were you influenced (in terms of palate and characters) by medieval Indian art? And do you draw on antique art as inspiration for your work more generally?
I love ancient artwork, especially Persian miniatures and Japanese art prints. I enjoy illustrating mythological stories and researching original material relating to these stories, all the while trying to keep my own style of illustration.
Your work Stories of Fairies is so intricate. Where did you get your ideas for the clothing, the hair, etc?
I always do a lot of research before I start a new book . But it needs a little pinch of magic to create a fairy…
Do you have a new book project you can tell us about?
I am currently working on a Christmas book for small children about a hedgehog family. For this book I gave myself the challenge of using a new technique combining traditional paint and computer graphics, trying to give the pictures a particularly festive feel.
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