Introducing one of Europe’s finest children’s illustrators – Gordana Ivkovic

We sat down for a chat with one of Europe’s finest children’s illustrators (and the agencies latest addition) – the effervescent Miss Gordana Ivkovic.

1. How long have you been a professional illustrator and when did you first realise that that was you wanted to be?

A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… no, wait, that*s somebody else*s story, mine goes something like this:

I guess it all started with the obligatory drawing on the walls of my living room as a kid, but since my mother surprisingly didn*t mind it and actually encouraged it, I stopped very soon. It*s just not challenging enough to draw on the wall when you get the permission :). So, I had to turn to drawing on a paper.
Now that I think of it, it seems that I*ve been always drawing and painting, but never thinking about it as a potential profession, actually never really thinking about it all. I just needed to draw from time to time, to tell in a drawing something that I didn*t know how to put into words. Almost every homework that I did, no matter if it was to write a story or to do a math assignment, it had to have a little drawing somewhere aside. It seems that it wasn*t me at the very beginning who realized illustration was something that I wanted to do, somebody else did it for me. Six years ago that certain somebody saw my old drawings, and found them interesting. It just happend that he needed an illustrator, so he asked me if i would try it… I said YES without thinking or rethinking. Since I graduated primarly from the University of Dental Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia, and afterwards continued to work in that field, it was a big surprise, to everyone knowing me, when I soon quit that way of life (suddenly and easily) and dedicated the rest of my life to that something that people call Art :). I had no prior experience in illustrating whatsoever, and there I was in the middle of a big project all of a sudden. I stumbled a little upon a choice of the technique and a definition of my handwriting, but it grew and developed on its own very quickly, it is actually still defining and redefining itself without me making an active decision. So… I started six years ago, and haven*t stopped since.

2. Are you self-taught or did you go to college/university to study?
I began as self-taught, continued to self-teach for a while, but then I felt a need to see if I*ve been missing on something. So I entered the School of Fine Arts Agora in Zagreb, Croatia, and graduated in 2008. It helped me to reveal some of the techniques that I didn*t know about, or maybe it helped me to let myself be more free… it*s when I became more aware of the so-called rules that I started to break them more actively… After graduating, the self-teaching continued, hopefully it will never stop. It*s that joy of nonexpected and surprises, and even mistakes, that come along and make you even more eager to proceed.

3. What was your first commission and for whom?
It was a series of the school books for the primary school (from the 1st to 4th grade) for the croatian publisher Profil International from Zagreb.

4. Do you work traditionally, on the computer or a combination of both?
I*ve been working purely in a traditional way for a long time, in gouache and acrylics with an interruption of a good old ordinary pencil from time to time, or with gluing some small random object from my surroundings just to get a little 3D effect. I have a need for thicker layers of paint, that make the surface more alive and vibrant, producing a paralel and supporting story to the subject of an illustration. Not so long ago, I started to add a small digital touch here and there. Now, sometimes, I do my work completely in Photoshop and Illustrator. Actually, it seems that I*ve had some kind of a prejudice towards the digital illustration, thinking that it just wouldn*t be the same joy without getting dirty and messy with the paint and brush. But… a new playground was discovered, and now I*m looking forward to all those little tricks that digital world offers. Although, when I do digital, I still try to mess up it*s pureness of color and stroke, lately especially with the scans or photographs of some materials or textures that I find in my home, somebody else*s home, on the streets, even in the junk. Anywhere.

5. Do you prefer to work on your own or in the company of others?
The first commission was actually a collaboration with a couple of more illustrators, since the project was too demanding for just one of us (and the deadline very short). It went pretty well, but I think I would consider myself more as a loner than a companion. Although, for some time now, another kind of collaboration is happening to me, with a very good friend of mine, a croatian children*s book writer Ivana Franciskovic. We recognized each other as similar “make-uppers and imaginationers”. Sometimes it seems to me that she writes exactly the way i draw, and vice versa. The collaboration comes very natural to us, everything happens spontaneously, but followed with a serious (playful) work atmosphere. Two of her books that I illustrated have been published during the past year. The last one is called “A Few Mellow Lies”, a novel with a made up town and made up people, who are very similar to us. They watch the meaningless television shows just like us, play the silly video games just like us, eat a lot of pizza just like us, they also sometimes lie (mellow lies) just like us. But there is a little difference between us and them: they learn much faster that those little lies could make a super gigantic humongous mess, so they never repeat the same mistake twice, never repeat, never repeat, never repeat…. It*s a story about a girl called Keka and a bucket of lies around her. Ivana has a simple, a little upside down way of telling a story, with the funny and sudden turns, avoiding to be literal or advisory. We both tend to create stories that leave enough room for a reader and observer to add their own little truths, lies, conclusions to it. Currently, I*m illustrating her new story for a children*s book called “Mr. Goodfreak”, that*s planned to be published in the fall. It*s a kind of a follow-up to the novel. The story introduces us to a legend about mr. Goodfreak that the town made up, a legend about a freaky mr. Goodfreak who lives in the tree holes, eats leaves, talks to the animals, but a little boy Mirko reveals the town*s mistery by meeting mr. (not so freaky) Goodfreak. The books are planned to be translated in english in the nearest future.

6. You obviously love what you do. How long does it take to produce one of your busy scenes form concept sketch to final artwork?
It depends, of course, on a project. If the deadline is short, I press the pause button on everyday*s life and it*s all about drawing then. Sometimes (especially if I work digitally) it could take me literally couple of minutes to realize the itching idea, but other times if there is no strict deadline it could take me days for one illustration (combined with loooong walks, researching, observing…)

7. If you hadn’t been an illustrator, what other career might you have chosen?
I*ve tried the Other, but then I discoverd the This, and the This is where I*m planning to stay :).
(except… maybe owning a small bakery somewhere in idontknow Paris maybe downtown, with the bell on a door that makes a funny sound when the door is being opened… where people come more for a chat than a bun with raisins.)

8. What would be the ‘perfect’ commission for you?
A children-ish story, a little bizzare, also warm and funny but not banal… and if it would be for a good cause, helping somebody somewhere… that would be a perfection!

9. Do you prefer clients to give you a detailed brief or a ‘blank’ sheet?
Both. I guess it depends on a project also, on a purpose of the project… I like to be given the complete freedom in creating my own ideas, of course. But making the client (or the author) happy with the results is a bonus.

10. What are your interests outside illustration?
My biggest and first love was literature, books, reading, words… it still is. Besides, I love the smell of a book :), especially the old very old yellow ones. It seems the certain books have always inspired me more to paint than other painter*s paintings. For a while I*ve been trying to write myself, but it appeared that it just wasn*t the right media for me. It seems that drawing gives me more freedom to leave the thought undefined, more relative (plus to leave it more naive and even clumsy when drawing for children).
The second biggest inspiration are travellings, without travelling agencies, without a plan or a guide, but with the conversations to the random somebody*s grandpa on the way.
Then the nature itself (hey, you are talking to a serious not-knowing-a-lot part-time gardener over here!).
Horseback riding has been my passion for a long time.
I love the animals, the simpleness they remind me of. I have two dogs on my own, very doggy dogs and very much non-pedigree dogs… (or they are having me, I*m not sure).
And so on and so on…

11. Are there any other illustrators you admire and why?
Of course, there are some illustrators that I really admire, with a completely different illustrating approach to mine (and among themselves). Sometimes it*s just humor that attracts me, sometimes the technique, the idea, sometimes the subject, the emotion, the atmosphere or those little things left to be assumed…

12. The Desert Island Discs question! You’re stuck on a desert island. There’s a plentiful supply of food and water, but what other three items couldn’t you live without? (no husbands, boyfriends or pets included I’m afraid)
So, if you say I would have a regular supply of water and food (hope the gummy bears are included), and if it would be a sandy island (so I could draw in the sand)… my biggest couldn*t-live-without needs are satisfied. But can I please get stuck on a desert island after I finish illustrating mr. Goodfreak… :).

Categories: General illustration news