Learning A New Visual Language

A Look Into My Illustration Process

Nya Loves The Four Seasons and Her Black Fur

Poems by Brian Hoeppner | Pictures by Angela Meijer

For about a year now, I've been learning a new visual language.  Developing techniques skills as an illustrator has been a wonderful, rich and amazing experience. 

ILlustration assistant.

When I told my mom that this was the first book I've illustrated, she quickly replied, "No it isn't, what about Carla Myers books?"  I wondered why I didn't think of myself as the illustrator of Carla's books.  She had referred to me as the illustrator.  With what I've learned in the process of illustrating Nya Loves,  I would now say that Carla authored the illustrations in her books. I assisted her in putting the illustrations together.

Carla Myers self published the books titled Celebrating Me, Singing Me and Recording Me, in 2009 and kindly gave me credit for helping her.  Carla had already developed sketches and conceptualized her illustrations.  I brought some collaging techniques to the table, and we put together the artwork for her three books in an intensive, color filled week.

Teaching mixed media.

In 2011, Beth Powell asked me to illustrate a book she was working on.  During our time together talking about her project, I knew that she desired to illustrate her book herself but didn't know where to start.  Beth is brave creative soul and was eager to dive in to her project.  Beth hired me as an artist coach.  I helped Beth identify, develop and express her own visual language to tell her story visually.  You can find Beth Powell's book titled Momma, here

 Working on Nya Loves The Four Seasons and Her Black Fur while singing songs from my childhood.

Working on Nya Loves The Four Seasons and Her Black Fur while singing songs from my childhood.

Illustrating Nya Loves

Brian Hoeppner wrote a book of poems for his granddaughter Nya, and as soon as I heard the story I wanted to illustrate it.

I met Brian and his wife Martha on a trip to Wisconsin with Katherine Rody.  I have been collaborating with Katherine in painting since 2012.  She has known Brian and Martha for over forty years.  Brian is a true creative.  He makes instruments, wooden mobiles, carves wooden spoons and writes stories. 

When I heard the story of Nya Mouse, I offered to illustrate the story.  I drew up sketches, and we decided to collaborate on making the story a book.  Katherine and I took another road trip to Wisconsin, where Brian showed me the garden and told me all about that he envisioned with Nya Mouse.  It was wonderful to see Nya Mouse through his eyes.

What do you see?

Brian asked me to bring all of my ideas and vision to the project as well.  We collaborated on some of the core visual elements that would thread throughout the entire book, and I was able to take photos of Brian and Martha's beautiful home and garden, which is the setting of the book.  When Katherine and I drove back to Iowa, I had a box of garden treasures, daffodil bulbs and notes on the plants that are native to that region.

Digital Painting.

My art school experience was not a digital one.  I majored in photography before digital cameras were even considered interesting.  Over the years, I had self taught myself to use graphic software for graphic design projects, but the imagery I made was always created with traditional tools.  For this project, I dived into learning how to paint digitally.

This wasn't smooth sailing.  I had no idea what I was doing.

a few things I learned.

Learning a new language can be all consuming. Blocking time to give the illustrations my undivided attention was key.  I also couldn't fully see what I was doing on the screen.  I felt as if I didn't have a compass and I didn't have a map.  This was all new territory for me, and at times I couldn't see the forest through the trees.  Sometimes, I wouldn't feel like I had made any progress because I felt like I had nothing to show for it.  When I started printing out the pages at the end of each painting session, I started to see how the pages related to each other and see where I was at in the process.

 Computer print outs of the pages as I was digitally painting them.

Computer print outs of the pages as I was digitally painting them.

Creativity is Contagious.

My three daughters would watch me, and wanted to create their own books.  My husband and I invested in iPad minis for them, and I started watching them explore imagery in a way that opened my eyes to new ways of approaching the illustration process.  I began to give myself permission to play, have more fun, take risks.  The pictures started coming to life.   It's been about a year and a half since I emailed the first sketches of Nya Mouse to Brian and Martha, and I can not wait until Nya Loves The Four Seasons and Her Black Fur is ready to share with the world.  We are so incredibly close to publishing it.

New Blog.

Welcome to my new website and blog. Please, feel free to sign up for the book launch.  If you have a friend who might be interested in the book or the creative process, please feel free to share it with them.