Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Interview with illustrator Johanna Fritz and Giveaway of her "Stuttgart Wimmelbuch"

After our author interview with Kate Westerlund (there is still time to enter Kate's giveaway by the way ;-)!) we have a new interview with one of our illustrators to share with you. Today it is the lovely and joyful work of Johanna Fritz we would like to introduce to you. So cuppa-time it is once again! (Information on how to enter the giveaway to win Johanna's latest wordless picture book is right at the end of this interview!)

Johanna, could you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get started in illustration or what made you want to become an illustrator in the first place?

I'm a freelance illustrator since 2006 and live in Stuttgart in southern Germany with my husband and daughter.
I've been drawing since I can remember. From 2003-06 I studied communication design in Berlin. And that's when it all started. We had several illustration- and computer software courses. Before that I used my computer to check my emails ;). This totally changed after learning Photoshop and Illustrator.
My first drawings were published by a weekly TV-magazine in Germany while I was in my last year of studying. That was quite exciting and a first step in the right direction.

Your work does not only brighten picture books but you also have a lot of commissions in other markets. How do you go about promoting your work and get commissioned with these kind of projects?

The fun thing is: I have no idea. I mean, for real. Whenever I send some promotion material (and that is really really rare, like… I did that twice during the last four years), I send it to book publishers.
All those other market contacts appear out of the blue. They call me or write a short email. I guess they find me via my Website or my Facebook page. The social network is sort of my one and only promotional tool. I try to post something on Facebook and Twitter every day. And if it's just a little sketch or something that is somehow related to my art or just inspiring me. I use Pinterest and instagram too. And my own blog and Website of course.
Oh, and it's great to have friends that are illustrators too. Sometimes they just don't have the time to handle all the projects and pass inquires on to you. In return you do the same when you have no more time to spare. That's a nice win win situation.

You have a very unique style! Can you tell us how this style evolved and what changes you can observe in your own work looking back to where you started?

I have a unique style?? Hurray! I really don't see that one. Haha. I deleted a lot of illustrations from my page that showed work in different styles. But that's what is shown online on my website now, is what I like to do. Otherwise I'll get commissions in a style I actually don't like (anymore) ;)
My illustrations are colorful and I love to draw fun characters. But I think I'm still looking for "the" style. I guess I'll be looking for the one style (if there is something like that) for the rest of my life.
When I look back I'm happy to see that there is a huge improvement in my work. Sometimes I'm asking myself "Why did they publish this? It looks so horrible!" :) But I'm happy that they did and that there actually is an (ongoing) improvement. When I started, I illustrated with acrylic and watercolor. And frankly, I wasn't really good at it.

You also published a book titled “Schon wieder zu Oma” with Baumhaus Verlag a few years ago you authored and illustrated. Are there more books to come in the future? And what is it like for you to not only be the illustrator but also the author of a story compared to getting to illustrate a story written by someone else?

Yes I did the writing for the book. But that was more of a coincidence. I illustrated a cover and 2 scenes. I didn't even have a story on my mind.
I walked the Frankfurt book fair and met an editor from Baumhaus Verlag who asked me to think of a story, because he liked the illustrations. So this is what I did.
But I have to admit I feel more comfortable in illustrating than writing. I am not a writer and I am not ambitious to become one. There are so many writers that are way better than I am. I always say "Everyone should do what they are best at and leave the rest to the others".
Of course it was nice to illustrate my own story. But it actually didn't make such a huge difference to me. I have a text and then I illustrate it. It doesn't matter to me if I am the writer or someone else, as long as the story is good and we have a nice book as an outcome.

Most of your work seems to be created digitally. What are the advantages for you to working digitally and do you also work traditionally at times?

99% of my work is digital. From the first rough sketches to the final illustration. As I said before: I was never really good in using Acrylic or other materials. And I always did a mess. Color everywhere.
Nowadays I work with a Wacom Cintiq + Photoshop (or Illustrator) and since using it I am way faster. If the client wants me to change something, I don't have to mess around with my originals. I just choose the right layer in my file and change it. And if I want to get a look that is more hand drawn e.g. I can use textures or brushes with textures. And if it is well done, most people (well, illustrators not included) don't even see the difference.

Your latest book is a so called “Wimmelbuch” published by Willegoos about the town you live in, Stuttgart. Can you share with us how you got commissioned with this beautiful book and what the challenge of doing a “Wimmelbuch” is?

That was a really great project. I loved the subject to illustrate the town I live in and I never did a "Wimmelbuch" before. It was a lot of work. But that's what a Wimmelbuch is about. Lot's to discover in one single illustration and that means lot's to draw.
The publisher Willegoos Verlag sent me an email one day and asked me if I could think about doing such a book. We met and the rest is history :)
As I said before it was my first Wimmelbuch at all and I wasn't aware of how much time (a lot!) I'd finally need to illustrate one. The first challenge was the research in the beginning. Like "which corner of the park would be the most interesting for the (young) readers?" And you have to think of many many little scenes that create one big image, so the reader can discover a lot on every spread.

I am always intrigued by the work process of artists. No one works alike so would you like to share with us how you went about creating the wonderful illustrations for “Stuttgart – Wimmelbuch”?

The first step was to take tons of pictures of very single place. I took pictures of playgrounds, benches, architecture, even trash cans. Cause no trash can is like another and kids tend to discover those little things ;).

Then I started with a really really rough sketch of every spread. To get the publishers feedback on if the angle of the scene is working for them.

Then comes the outline which I draw with my digital pencil ;)

And after that? Guess what? Outline again :D I decided to do the book with the Paintbucket of Photoshop as the base. So I needed closed lines. I'm thinking of how to go from step 2 (the rough drawing) to this step without having to do another round of outlines, because then I would only have to draw the outline once. But it would be a different drawing routine, if you think about the composition or just trace the drawn lines.

The the last step: color. As mentioned before I decided to go with the Paintbucket of Photoshop. Mainly for reason of rather little time for a project as huge as this, so I needed to color fast.
This it what it looks like with the flat color.

Then I add adjustment layers to create shades and lights.

Finally I added some textures. For the sky and the trees I used a different brush to give it more depth. Other parts like the sand get an extra texture layer with a mask. And this is it. The final illustration.

You must have done a lot of research for this book, did this change the way you see the town you live in and maybe also trigger finding new favourite spots?

I visited every spot to take photos. Most of the time together with my daughter. Sometimes my husband joined us at the weekends. Like this we had some fun trips. I have actually never been on the TV tower before. Although I live here since five years. And I was lucky to do so as the visitors platform got closed just a little after.

Do you have any “dream-projects” you would love to do in the future? And what are you working on right now (in case you can share ;-)!)?

Let me think about dream projects. I'm not sure if there is such a thing. I just love to illustrate and the more of me is out there the better :) I'd really like to do more for the stationary market and pattern for kids fabrics. 

Right now I'm working on different projects. One is a spread for a magazine, others are illustrations for new pacifiers or a calendar. This is what I love about the job: illustration is needed everywhere. It never gets boring.

We all have our good and our bad days. What do you do when having a bad drawing day? Do you have routines to overcome it or a special working routine anyway that prevents this from happening? 

I don't really have bad drawing days. Well, only if I work on a project that I don't like. But that doesn't happen too often *phew*. And then I say to myself "The sooner I finish, the sooner I can write the invoice ;P.”

I have some kind of routine since I have my daughter. She's visiting child care from 9am to 3pm now. So this gives me six hours to illustrate. And I'm not leaving my computer for a second unless I need some food or have to answer the phone. When my husband and girl leave the house, I make some coffee and go to my desk. Turn on the radio, have a short look at the social network and then start to work until 3pm.

Just before I go to sleep I need to clear my head. I have a notebook on my nightstand and write everything down - like what to illustrate the next day/ what to do the whole week/ cross out things that I already finished or I do a little sketch.

This is the final question I like to ask everyone, so here it goes. Now that you have been in the business of illustration for a while what advice would you give your younger self at the point when you were just starting out as an illustrator?

If you are in Germany, become a member of the "Illustratoren Organisation". They have so many tips to share and are just great people that are all doing the same thing as you. Or join SCBWI of course, if you are an illustrator for the kidslit ;)

Connect to other illustrators, become friends with them. Do LOTS of social network. It gets you work. Walk fairs like the Frankfurt book fair or Bologna to get in contact with publishers. Only use your best work for your portfolio. There's no need to show more than 10-15 illustrations.

Vielen lieben Dank, Johanna!

Thank YOU, Maria! So happy to be part of our German SCBWI :)

To win a copy of Johanna's wonderful wordless picture book "Stuttgart - Wimmelbuch", which would also make a great Christmas present ;-), you have to

1. leave a comment below this blog post and also

2. and please also tweet or share on Facebook the following to help spread the word:
'I just entered the giveaway of Johanna Fritz's book "Stuttgart - Wimmelbuch" over at ! #SCBWI'

One winner will be randomly chosen and announced on the 6th December 2013.

This giveaway is now closed! Thanks to all of you, who have entered! :-)


  1. I love your illustrations on Stuttgart! I'm writing a piece which is in part a tribute to a city I love: San Francisco. So, I'm inspired about the idea of going around to each little neighborhood and noticing the details - including the garbage cans. I think a city IS a character. Also, in this interview, I enjoyed your enthusiasm and good spirit about your work: never a bad drawing day? wow! I just had a terrible writing day, but I came out of it and had a good one today!

    1. San Francisco! I love San Francisco. It is SO beautiful. So much to discover. So much to draw! Wow. Have fun with that. I always want to draw a San Francisco poster. Didn't have the time yet… but one day ;)

  2. Being the mother of a little 'Schabe' I would love to win a Wimmelbuch about Stuttgart :)

    It was lovely to see each part of the process that you went through to complete each picture.

  3. Ganz spannendes und tolles Interview, vor allem der Entstehungsprozess der Zeichnungen ist toll. Und da wir quasi Stuttgarter sind und das Buch wunderschön ist, wollen wir gerne gewinnen :-)

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