Maria Bogade is an illustrator and author with an animation background specializing in the children’s market. After graduating 2007 from the University of Media in Stuttgart in Audiovisual Media, she started working as a freelance animation artist. Maria worked on award winning projects such as “Angel afoot”, “The Gruffalo” or “Princess’ Painting”.
Soon she wanted to create her own environments and characters and tell stories with them, be it her own or the ones of others. This led to going after her dream of being a children’s book illustrator with the start of 2011. Shortly after leaping into her illustration career she authored her first book “Schlafplatz gesucht!”, which was published beginning 2012 by Bohem press AG.
Maria loves creating illustrations with a strong narrative, colourful and beautifully composed, to entertain children and adults alike and let their imagination take them places, they might not have been before.
She has worked for a number of clients across the globe including Big Cat HarperCollins, Picture Kelpies an imprint of Floris Books , Kerle/Herder Verlag, Magination Press, American Greetings, Bohem press AG, Aladdin / Simon & Schuster, Clavis Books, HABA, Roth GmbH and is a member of SCBWI.
Maria lives with her two daughters and spouse in a tiny town in Germany.
Here is Maria’s process:
Every illustration I do starts with a sketch. If it is for a book the very start is a storyboard with tiny thumbnail sketches. Note: This uses the typical picture book format of 13 double page spreads for the book. Later I transfer into full size sketches.
Once the sketch is laid out, I transfer it with the help of a light table to the paper I want to work with.
In some cases I scan the sketch and work digitally from there on. It depends on the style the later illustration is to be in.
After transferring the illustration I start watercoloring, inking or working on a black and white foundation in pencil, as I did for my pieces for the Storybook Brushes calendar. This pencil layer will add nice textures to the later digitally colored illustration.
When taking the pencil stage into Photoshop I lay down the colors first, but also use colored paper sheets and watercolor washes to add some more depth and texture. Then I work on the details until I call the illustration final.
And here are a few of my favorite pages of the book.
Some more interior final art pages.
How long have you been illustrating?
Well I’ve been painting and scribbling for a long time, like many other artists, before going after my dream of being an illustrator with the beginning of 2011.
What types of classes did you take to get your diploma in Audiovisual Media at the University of Media in Stuttgart?
There are certain classes you have to take, when studying at a German University and making a choice for a degree. I think it is different then US Universities, at least as far as I know, as I never attended an University in the USA and therefore can only rely on things I learned through media. My courses were in fact very technical at the beginning as I was studying to become a 3d animation artist. Of course there were some drawing lessons too, but not a lot. I also took some courses in storyboarding and storytelling, but apart from that I was very much into making animated movies at that time.
What other types of classes did you take?
In 2010 I took a Character Design online course with Stephen Silver at schoolism.com. This course helped me a lot to understand my flaws better and also get a better understanding of creating and constructing characters. I can highly recommend taking Stephen’s class.
Do you think the classes you took in college influenced your style?
I don’t think any of the classes influenced my later style. I think influences came later on when working for animation studios and seeing the designers at work there and bringing their designs to life as 3d models. I learnt a lot during that time about composition, lighting of scenes and of course character poses, which all helped me a lot in my later illustration career.
Have you seen your style change since when you first started?
Yes, I’d totally say so. I have developed more styles and also my characters have changed in various way as I became more confident with the way I was drawing scenes and figures.
Did any of the contacts you made in college help you get your first job or any contract?
Actually, no. I was lucky to meet people just at the right time and worked for a small animation studio right after finishing University. All the contacts and commissions I got as an illustrator I made by sending out cards.
What was the first piece of art that you sold?
If we speak of an original it would have to be a watercolor painting I did for an illustrators exhibition at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2010 titled “My favorite book”. If it is books we are talking it would be the art for “Wee Granny’s Magic Bag”, published by Picture Kelpies an imprint of Floris Books.
Congratulation for Schlafplatz gesucht! I see that you wrote and illlustrated that book. Is this the first book you have written?
It is indeed the first book that I wrote and illustrated at the same time. A very exciting project I had lots of fun with creating. I hope to be able to author many more books, we will see.
Can you tell us about how you got the contract for Schlafplatz gesucht! with Bohem Press?
Again the initial contact was made by sending them a promo mailer. I send a mailer with three cards, one of the cards showed a boy cuddling on top of a huge teddybear in the moonlight. The art director contacted me and asked whether there was a story to that picture, which she adored. I said yes, but I have to write it down first. I had two weeks to come up with a first draft. After that it was a short time of waiting and they let me know, they loved the story and wanted to do the book with me. Of course there were still many rounds of editing until I could start illustrating the book. But being able to create both sides of the book, text and illustrations, was a very exciting experience.
I do not know much about Bohem Press. Could you share what you know about them?
Bohem Press is a tiny publishing house based in Switzerland. They focus on high quality products, not only books but also non book products. The team is made up of three wonderful ladies. I very much enjoyed working with them.
Can you take a minute to explain a little about how you proceed when you work digitally?
As “Schlafplatz gesucht!” is a digitally illustrated book I scanned in the roughs, opened them in Photoshop and started painting away. Well, not exactly. I actually made a little pallete of all the colors I wanted to use. This way I made sure I would be using the same colors in all illustrations and it would be consistent throughout the book. I also have a custom made brush I use most of the time, which looks a bit painterly. And I scanned in lots of textures and watercolor backgrounds to make the illustrations look less digital.
I usually end up having lots and lots of layers, as you can kind of see in the little video below.
All those layers give me the freedom to alter an illustration any time without having too much trouble.
Again as with the roughs I did not do the illustrations in chronological order, as they appear in the book, but did them randomly. One of the first illustrations I finished was the cover. Most of the time I have to do the cover before all other illustrations because the publisher needs it for their marketing and catalogue. This wasn’t the case with this book, but I ended up doing it nonetheless as one of the first.
It is hard to describe how I work when drawing digitally. Usually I do the shapes in their plain color first and then start rendering the different parts. I also really like working from the background of an illustration to the foreground. It’s nice to watch how the image builds up while working.
Do you still do work for American Greetings?
No, although I would love to.
Could you tell us about “Angel afoot”, “Princess’ Painting” or “The Gruffalo” that you worked on at Studio SOI. Are they game and animated books?
“Angel afoot”, “Princess’ Painting” and “The Gruffalo” are all animated short movies for children. The first two were for a German TV series. “The Gruffalo” is the actual animated movie of the picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.
How many picture books have you published?
I have 8 books published with 4 more in line to be released this year and hopefully many more to come.
What book was your first? When was that?
That is tricky. My very first commissioned book was “Wee Granny’s Magic Bag”, published by Picture Kelpies, a small Scottish publisher, but I finished my second commission first, which was a tiny educational book titled “Getting Dressed” published by Big Cat /HarperCollins . Both books were created in Spring 2011 and released shortly after one another in September the same year. So it is in a way both of them and it was very exciting as they are in different styles.
How did the contract come about?
The picture book for Picture Kelpies came about by sending them promo cards. One day I had an email in my inbox, letting me know they liked a style, which I had in my sketchbook section at that time and would love for me to do a sample. I did the sample and got the commission. I don’t know how Big Cat came about my art at that time, I forgot to ask, but I suspect twitter was helpful in this case.
It looks like 2012 was a very good year with six picture books coming out. Did that take up your whole year trying to do the illustrations for them?
Almost but not completely. But being a mother I probably wouldn’t have been able to take on too many more commissions in addition.
Two of your books were published by Clavis Books. Are they located in Germany? How did those book find their way to you?
Clavis is a publisher from Belgium. I came across them when attending the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2010. As with all the publishers I get to work with, I send them cards and promo mailers. After sending out the first mailer it took a whole year until I heard back from them but with a very happy message. They offered me to illustrate the first two books for a series they were doing. The best part though was not only the books, but that the characters were baby animals. I was thrilled as I never had done anything like this before.
Are most of your book published with German Publishers?
Actually, no. I work a lot in the English speaking market but also in the Dutch market. I really like this about being an illustrator. It is wonderful to work with people around the globe, as stories vary from country to country and also what clients like. This led me to have more than one style, which not only is lovely to have as a little variety to my working process but also to be able to illustrate for a various number of clients, who might not have commissioned me otherwise.
What is the German children’s book market like?
That is a question I can barely answer. So far I have only worked with one German publisher. I guess the greatest difference is we don’t have real art directors here. Most of the houses work with editors, who also oversee the art and work with the illustrators. I think the illustration styles are also very different to the ones I see in American or British books. Other than that it is just as every where else, you have to fit the style to get commissioned.
I see that some of your books are in English. Do you speak several languages?
I speak English and German, and a ridiculous tiny bit of Russian. I wish I had learned more languages when I had the chance to in either school or college, it would come in very handy to work for even more publishers.
Have you ever visited the USA?
I did, but only once. I went to New York for just a week, which was completely mind blowing. I wish I could come back some time to maybe attend an SCWBI conference either in New York or in LA.
Have you published any of your illustrations in magazines?
Kind of. I published a few illustrations in two independent magazines. That was in the very beginning when I started out as an illustrator and was still building my portfolio for the picture book market.
How did you get involved with the illustrator at Storybook Brushes? Did you all know each other?
I knew the other members Juana Martinz-Neal, Angela Matteson and Katriona Chapman via twitter. Only Katriona had I met in person once last year at the Bologna Book Fair. I had the idea to form a group of illustrators who’s styles would go well together when creating promotional products without catering the same styles and projects. I asked Katriona if she was interested and gladly she said yes. I then contacted Angela and Juana, who both were excited to be part of the group too. After that it was a lot of back and forth emailing until we had our first promo finished – The Storybook Brushes calendar 2013. I am very happy to know those talented ladies and to not only call them my colleagues but also my friends. It amazes me again and again how well you can get to know someone by just talking online, although I hope we can all meet in person one day. It would be to good to be true.
I see that you have an Etsy shop. Have effective is that for selling your illustrations?
As I do not promote it much and rarely put new stuff up it is not very effective. I always think I should do more with it, but to be honest, it takes up a lot of time which I do not seem to have.
Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?
Yes, I use Photoshop for my illustrations. Although many parts of them are created traditionally depending on the style.
Do you own a graphic tablet?
I own two tablets, a Wacom Cintiq and an Intuos. When starting out as an illustrator I only had the Intuos. Since having the Cintiq I can almost work at double the speed, which has changed my working life much to the benefit.
Did you set up a studio in your house?
Do you try to stick to a schedule to get your illustrations done?
Yes I do. Sometimes life interferes though and the schedule vanishes into thin air. But usually I have the mornings all to myself and work as much as I can. Then I paint again a bit in the afternoons and in the evenings when my kids are in bed and the house is again quiet.
Have you gone to any of the big conferences for Children’s Illustrators and Writers?
Unfortunately not. I wish I could go but it is a huge journey for me as I would have to fly from Germany. I hope to make it one day though.
What are your career goals?
I would like to publish more of my own stories. So I am writing as much as I can in my spare time. Apart from that I simply want to illustrate many books that children will enjoy while reading in bed or any time during the day. To make kids and adults happy with my art would probably sum it up best.
What are you working on now?
At the moment I am working on a picture book for Magination Press. Another book with Clavis and one with OUP are waiting for me to get illustrated right after. I am also working on own picture book ideas and write and do samples for them . As I am also preparing for the Bologna Book Fair in March I need to get my portfolio up to date and print a new promo card to hand out to publishers there.
Are there any painting tips (materials,paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?
Of course every artist has something he likes best. If I had to recommend a paper I would go for a mixed media paper made of bamboo by Hahnemuehle Fineart. This paper might not be available anywhere but I like its subtle texture. It is great to use for pencil and watercolor paintings. I use it to do my layer of pencil drawing, which I use to add texture to my mixed media illustrations. Textures is a very important thing when it comes to mixed media or digital illustrations. I use a lot of scanned watercolor and acrylic plain color sheets to achieve a look of more depth to my illustrations. Usually I put them on a layer with a layer mask, and either multiply or overlay them to add them on top of the part of the illustration I want them to show through.
Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?
Never give up, it sounds a lot simpler than it is, as we all sometimes think our art isn’t good enough or no one will like it. Work hard on your craft and always try to get better. Get a good website up with all the information you need to provide so potential clients can find and contact you. Run a blog and get on Twitter and Facebook. People will find you there. I actually got commissioned by a publisher who found me on twitter, so do care about social media. Other than that sharpen your pencils and draw, draw, draw – and enjoy what you do!
Maria, thank you for sharing your wonderful illustrations and process with us. I am sure that besides the pure aesthetic beauty of viewing it all, it will help other authors and illustrators understand what goes into creating a picture book.
Please take a minute to leave Maria a comment. I am sure she would love to hear from you. If you would like to see more of Maria’s work you can find her at: www.mariabogade.com – www.mariabogade.blogspot.com – www.facebook.com/MariaBogadeIllustration?sk=wall