Christiane Engel

Christiane Engel

Represented by Good Illustration
Christiane Engel Interview

Christiane Engel

Children's Illustrator

Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?

In Germany I went to art school and studied Visual Communication, then I specialised in Animation. I filmed my own animated stories and experimental clips in a variety of techniques, like paint on glass, clay stop motion, scratch on film, and hand drawn cell animation. When I moved to England for further studying, I discovered a huge range of interesting picture books in exciting styles and decided to write and illustrate some, too.

For my BA I had to write a dissertation, and I chose children’s art and spent time researching child development, kids’ drawings and art therapy. I then began to make my own bound books that included collections of dark fairy tales, until finally for my MA I wrote and illustrated a 3 book series aimed at the children’s market. One of these books was my first piece of published work, Louis+Bobo - We Are Moving (published by Chrysalis - now Anova Books).   

Where do you currently live and where did you grow up?

I lived in London for a long time but I now live by the sea in Kent. I grew up in Germany.

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Was creativity part of your childhood?

Yes, as a child I loved to create my own little worlds with plasticine, card board cut outs and little stapled booklets with my drawings. I couldn’t stop drawing and leaving marks everywhere. I changed the look of my Playmobil toys with marker pens and got told off a lot for defacing things. At my first school, creativity wasn’t encouraged and some teachers even mocked my art in front of class because it looked different than what they were expecting. I even ended up getting bad grades occasionally for having a too wild imagination in my essays and artworks! However, I kept being creative and educated myself by going to life drawing classes and exhibitions and was very determined to get into art school.

What is your favourite medium to work with and why?

For sketching, just any type of pencil on paper works great for me. When I work just for fun, I like using oil pastels and soft pencils. I create my backgrounds and textures for my work in acrylics or watercolour and then work on them digitally. 
Photoshop and the Wacom pad are essential for my work, I have recently started sketching with the pen as well. I’m amazed how much time it saves and also this means I can hand in colour sketches instead of black + white pencil sketches. Also, this way my sketches match my finished art better, which doesn’t have an outline like pencil drawings would have.

Do you keep a sketch book?

I’m a messy sketcher, I don’t keep sketchbooks in a neat, chronological manner, but I tear pages out or sketch on the reverse of receipts etc...

Often, when I get a manuscript for a new book, I print it out, bind it together with a book clip, and use it as a sketch and ideas book for the whole project. This gives me more flexibility than sketching a whole book spread out onto a double page of paper. I write or sketch down little details or draw thumbnail layouts of the spread on each page and use this when I create the actual sketches in Photoshop. 

The two sketches below are from my author/illustrated title, ABC Love.

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How many times do you tend to draw a character until you are happy with it?

Most of the time I already know how I’d like a character to look and picture them in my mind before drawing them. After a few minor adjustments, I’m usually happy with my characters. 

This can be different if it’s a collaboration between the publisher and me, which means we try a few different approaches and facial expressions or details like hair styles until it’s just right.

Talk us through the process of creating one of your latest illustrations or books.

I recently illustrated 2 cute board books - Play! Play! Play! and Bath! Bath! Bath! by Douglas Florian, and published by Little Bee Books.

First, I created some character samples and at this stage I think I only knew the title of the books. Incidentally I had just finished some character studies of some fun kids playing, skating, cycling, so I send some of those plus a character sketch of a kid in a bath tub.

When I was sent the manuscript I printed it out and made a simple dummy where I staple the spreads together and scribble on them. I thought the rhyming text was so funny and clever, really inspiring whilst creating the characters and their scenarios.

Once I had sketched through the whole book I scanned everything in and worked on those sketches and layouts in Photoshop. When the sketches were approved I created the colour art. For this, I used painted backgrounds and textures and brought everything together in my digital collage style. I sent off the colour art and shortly after that the final hi res files, and a few months later I received my copies of the printed books, which look amazing!

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What do you hope children take away from your drawings?

I hope that children can recognise themselves in my illustrations. My daughter is always looking for ‘herself' in my books, and then laughs hysterically when she finds a character who looks a bit like her and does something funny or adventurous. I try to be inclusive and show kids of different backgrounds and abilities in my art. Also, I like to draw things that might surprise kids, or make them see things in a different way. In 'Baby’s First Words' which I illustrated for Barefoot, the main character is a girl, but she looks quite unisex and some of her clothes could be ‘boys clothes’. This book also features same sex parents, which is a wonderful way to show kids how different families can look like.

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Where do you get the ideas for your characters?

A lot of my ideas are based on my own childhood experiences, and also on funny things I hear and see around me. For example the hide and seek spread in Play! Play! Play! - I once played hide and seek with my daughter in our garden when she was a toddler, and I turned around to find her lying face down in the grass with a bucket over her head! For me, this represents an important aspect of childhood and playfulness and this was the right book to use it in.

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Which area of children’s publishing excites you the most?

I like books that teach kids something about the important issues of today in an engaging, respectful way. Subjects that I find exciting and very necessary these days are climate change, the environment, and also kindness, mindfulness and the importance of understanding and welcoming different cultures.

I also find non-fiction for kids very interesting, from topics like dinosaurs and evolution to more practical science subjects. I just illustrated my first space book, it was First Explorers - Astronauts by Campbell Books! 

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Are you an author/illustrator?

Yes, I like to create my own characters and stories, and I also like to create concepts for non-fiction. My first book - Louis+Bobo - was a picture book story about moving house. More recent ones are my ABC For Me books with Quarto Kids. In these books, I use rhyme and each letter of the alphabet represents a concept of the book’s topic. This series is all about mind, body spirit and there are ABC Yoga, ABC Love, ABC Baby Signs and ABC Mindful Me. What I find special about them is that they’re instructional and practical on one hand, but poetic on the other. I hope that children can take away positive and encouraging messages from these books, whilst learning about Yoga, animals, sign language, mindfulness practices and much more.

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How do you overcome a creative block?

Usually doing something else that’s creative, like crafting with my daughter or baking can help me become unstuck. A long walk in nature or watching a movie is always good, too.

What are some of your favourite subjects to draw?

Anything, something I wouldn’t have thought of can turn out to be something awesome. For example, I just finished working on Dump Truck Disco with Barefoot Books. And whilst trucks, cranes and other construction vehicles are not part of my usual repertoire, it was really fun and challenging to create my version of those vehicles, and I’m very excited about the final product.

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