My name’s Marija (they call me Marjanca). I’m an academic painter, illustrator and graphic designer. I’m from Slovenia and I live in it’s capital city Ljubljana.
I come from a working-class family. My father was a worker in an agricultural collective and was very good at tinkering jobs, and my mother was a cleaning lady. They brought me up alongside my two brothers and two sisters.
Living outside the city my childhood and youth were full of working in the fields or in the garden and taking care of livestock. They were also full of playing in the woods, hiking, adventuring, reading books and comics, and also drawing.
Spending youth in nature and it’s seasons left a mark on me, shaped me, and can be found in more or less all of my work throughout the years. It’s still a daily fountain of ideas for me; it relaxes my thoughts and brings me small joys.
After completing the curriculum for painting at the ALUO (Academy of Graphical Arts and Design) I stayed in Ljubljana, the capital of a small and then young country Slovenia, and started a family. I have two sons.
I got a full time job as a designer in a graphic design studio, and later as graphic design editor in a major publishing house. For the past 25 years I’ve been working as a freelance artist for various big, small or private publishers, most of them Slovenian. Along side it I was always doing something for myself – painting, drawing, illustrating…
I’ve illustrated numerous textbooks, manuals, picture books, poetry collections, monographs… I’ve also graphically designed most of them.
I exhibit my works regularly, either on my own, or on group, selective, or bi-annual exhibitions at home and abroad. I participate at art colonies, I hold art workshops for children and adults on botanical drawings and creating animals from paper.
I like illustrating educational topics from everyday life, and – depending on their purpose – try to bring some humor into them, usually by introducing animals with tiny human characteristics. I believe that with a thoughtful choice of a plant or an animal one can easily make a visual anchor for a time and place of a story.
Here is Marija on how illustrations are made on her workbench.
I make numerous sketches of chosen protagonist, animal or plant – study sketches, true-to-life sketches and caricatures. I have to feel the animal’s motions, see the plant grow… Then I “seek” for the right pose, the way the characters can behave differently in a given composition.
Some of the sketches I colour with colour pencils.
By under-laying sketches I compose and fill in the “clean” drawing onto the watercolour paper.
I lay several layers of watercolours, so that the characters come to life.
With a wider brush and with watered down colours I meticulously draw in the shadows. I sprinkle the colours a bit. The illustration is now finished!
And is printed in the book.
With the help of study sketches I can shape 3D animals.
The sketches can also be reused for other projects.
From the paper figurines I can make an installation, or pop-out cards, supplement an exhibition, use it for a workshop…
Could you tell us a little bit about where you live? Is Oblikovalka and town in Slikarka? Do you know other illustrators there?
I live in Ljubljana, the capital of a small and new European country by the name of Slovenia. The city is so small that all of my errands can be done by bicycle :). We have many great illustrators, I know quite a few of them. Many of them live in the city center (Andreja Peklar being one of them), but the distances to neighboring towns aren’t that great either.
We have Slovenian Bienale of Illustrations, illustrating section at the union of Slovenian graphical artist, a sizable number of publishing houses – most of them small, but they publish lots of picture books…
Have you ever visited the US?
I’ve never been to US, but the dream is always there somewhere…
How long have you been illustrating?
For over 30 years.
What was the first art related work where someone paid you for your work?
The last year of study at the academy; it was a great big red painting with young green beech tree. I don’t have a picture, just an image in my head. 🙂
Did you study art in University in Slikarka?
Yes, I studied painting at the Academy of Graphical Arts and Design of Ljubljana. I enjoyed drawing, but also learning the graphical techniques…
What type of classes did you enjoy the most?
Study of drawing, perspective, small nudes, graphics…
Do you think college helped to develop your style?
I believe that every pursuit of knowledge, diving into work, dedicating the life to what You do – makes Your style. You don’t have to seek it consciously. When You’ll look back, You’ll see that You’ve already “caught” it, that Your “signature” shaped itself.
What type of work did you do right after you graduated?
As a graphic designer (6 years) I’ve learned how to work with photos, design monographs, corporate logos and whole images, even faire venues…
As a graphical editor (4 years) I’ve designed numerous textbooks, manuals, posters, book-fair stands…
How did you develop an interest in illustrating plants?
I’ve been drawing plants since I’ve been little, especially the wild growing ones… They’re the most grateful models, they come back every year, springing to life. When I need a break from a commissioned work I’ll “reward” myself with one. 🙂
A few years back I’ve added the birds to this – those birds that come and visit me in my canopy in front of my workbench.
What made you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
The work came all by itself. The Publisher was looking for an illustrator for a new series of musical textbooks. I made some rough illustrations to accommodate the design of master pages, and they thought they were different and fresh enough to commission me… for the next 22 years. 🙂 I’ve attached a photo of a first few illustrations.
Have illustrated a picture book, yet?
Yes, quite a few of them, about 40 in total. I don’t know the exact number, I always miscount.
Would you like to write and illustrate your own picture book?
I’m dedicated to drawing, illustrating, telling a story through associations in pictures, and I’m very meticulous and strict… I’m afraid that a picture book written by me would have very short sentences.
What types of things do you do to find illustration work?
Because I tend to do true-to-life illustrations and realistic drawings, the clients usually find me by themselves. The past works and word of mouth helps a lot too. By some strange key the work tangles itself around me, so sometimes there’s more of it, and sometimes less…
Do you have an agent that represents you? If so, how long you have been with them? If not would you like to find representation?
I’ve never thought about it, at least for the small Slovenian market. Maybe if I went abroad with my work. It would certainly be interesting, easier, helpful…
What materials do you use to paint your illustrations?
I enjoy myself with pencil and watercolours. Traditional and soft on paper. For sketches and some drawings I also use coloured pencils, sometimes also very fine markers (0,1)…
Have you done illustrations for any children’s magazines?
Yes, but just a couple of times. A few years back I’d been drawing a comic every week for two years for a catholic youth magazine “Sunday” that’s being published in Klagenfurt in Austria.
Have you worked with educational publishers? If so, which one’s?
Great many of them. But just Slovenian publishers, although they published my illustrations in other countries too.
How much time do you spend illustrating?
I spend a lot of time working. I like to submerge myself into work, into sketching actors, finding associations in the manuscripts. That kind of work can take a long time, or it can be very simple. I can’t put a time to it until I see the contents of the text, until I can feel the breadth of work.
Do you have a studio set up in your house?
I have a small studio that’s not in the apartment, and also my workbench at home, for which I’ve »occupied the« bright part of the living room.
Do you still do artwork other than for children?
My illustrative work can be very wide, especially my natural-scientific illustration. So I can always find something for grown-up illustrations.
Do you exhibit your artwork?
I do quite a bit of exhibitions, every year by myself at least one on certain theme. I participate on group and bi-annual exhibitions, I exhibited on Bibiana in Bratislava, and other palces… I’m always happy to get an invitation, and then I shape it the way i want to.
What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?
Daylight. At night I work with pencil, and during the day with watercolours. Watercolours shine differently at any other light, only in daylight are the colours clear and exact.
And without the scissors with which I cut-out and fold the animals while I’m thinking about drawings.
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
I must say I have the simple classic technique in my little finger, although during every work I come up with a certain procedure for layering colours. Usually this “studying” time happens in half-dream in the morning hours, where I dream over my technique… and then comes a relief when the work comes together smoothly.
Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?
I take a lot of photos, especially of plants. And I’m happy if I “catch” any birds. I do a lot of research, I try to find live plants, that’s why I know a lot about flora in my vicinity.
Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?
With internet everything became visible. Spreading and sharing Your work over the internet is certainly necessary. I got the work I’m just finishing because of it.
Would you be open to working with an author who want to self-publish a picture book?
I don’t have any reservations. If the contents were amusing, especially with animals, I’d gladly work on it…
Do you use Photoshop or Corel Painter with your illustrations?
I do, but only in graphic design. It’s nice to sometimes cut the illustration up a bit, and use only some fragments, to get a different view (and it can live its nice, normal and stable life on paper waiting for exhibitions…)
Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?
I haven’t… Maybe I will… For the time I’m enjoying this work, where the softness and the poetry of the pencil can be felt.
Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?
There are always wishes, yearnings, that drive the work-wagon. I’ve been compiling my great big book on drawing animals in my head. Something I’ve done on a much smaller scale in the past. And I’m dreaming up this great book of cu-out animals in verious poses and with instructions how to make them… of just birds I have over 20 prepared.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished a big project of natural-scientific illustrations for a board game for educational trail of Skocjan caves, that are protected by UNESCO. I feel a little lost every time work leaves my house, but I also feel glad.
Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.
For the sketches I use 80g/m2 thick A4 format paper, or even thinner if I can get it, because a lot of my work involves layering the paper over the sketches. The paper has to be such that te pencil can silentli and softly travel over it.
I use Schminke Horadam watercolours. They are very concentrated, the colours match nicely and they retain their vividness.
The Hahnemuhle paper for watercolours I order over the internet. Actually one can get everything over the internet… or if not, in the local Art store. I love to handle everything I buy, I value it. Maybe that’s where the relationship with work begins…
Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?
Drawing, lots of drawing, correct drawing, spatial drawing, it has to bring joy. It’s not always the first drawing that’s the right one, it might be the second, or the tenth, You have to feel it on the inside. Upgrade this by observing Your surroundings, follow the things that occupy Your head, “feed” of the works of others…
But also ease Yourself while waiting for the “big” things to come…
Thank you Marija for sharing your talent, process, and journey with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us.
To see more of Marija’s work, visit her Web site, http://www.marijaprelog.si
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Marija. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!