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Bernhard Oberdieck – Leading German illustrator, creator of children’s classics
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.
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.
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%5D .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 like to say that the financial earning power of professional illustrators is something that needs exploration with a view to expanding opportunities to capitalise on output. It seems that everywhere we need to look at other ways of making our artistic output pay dividends. Thank you for this interview.
Jennifer: My pleasure Bernhard and, yes, I hear what you are saying, dialogue is needed. For those out there looking at other options to earn with their work, check the link below to see what Bernhard is already doing in the area of merchandising.
Cards, Calendars and More
Skillful ‘ merchandising’ of artistic output with spin offs as posters, cards and calendars, as Bernhard already does, is another feather in his cap! The illustration, above, is an example of creating merchandising opportunities.
Coming soon is Bernhard’s latest book, “Cat’s Concert” . I have seen a ‘peak preview’. It is STUNNING! This book is a further outgrowth of Bernhard’s efforts in innovation. The book will be released with an accompanying music CD collaboration with the writer.