Random Illustrator Feature: Viviane Schwarz

h1 January 21st, 2009 by jules

It’s been a while since I’ve done a totally random illustrator feature (as in, the Illustration Junkie just sometimes can’t wait ’til the usual Sunday illustrator feature), but here I am today with German (but London-based) author and illustrator Viviane Schwarz, whose books I’ve never even seen. But I stumbled across her site (thanks to Canadian illustrator Eric Orchard), liked what I saw, and asked her to stop by. (This is the way I roll sometimes, for good or bad. Emily Gravett has sung Viviane’s praises before as well, as I see here, so hey, I’m in very good company in liking what I see.)

The above image is from one of Viviane’s titles, last year’s There Are Cats in This Book, published by Candlewick (cover pictured to the left here). That image is Viviane’s “favourite one, part of a whole page of cats in boxes,” she told me. “I went to the local discount supermarket and raided their cardboard bin to get collage materials. I think I remember going home with a huge bundle on a windy day, trying not to get blown into the street.”

Viviane was born in Germany but, once finished with school, “considered that more people in the world read English than German, and that English sentences are on average a quarter shorter than German ones, and decided that it would be much preferable to write in English.” So, she studied English in college and eventually moved to Cornwall, England; got an Illustration degree at Falmouth College of Arts (now University College Falmouth); and even got her first picture book deal (which she authored but didn’t illustrate) while still a student. She then moved to London and started writing and illustrating. Viviane’s worked on three picture books thus far (the other two are here and here) and plans to make lots more. Her next big project, however, is a graphic novel: “I’m looking forward to that, especially because I have no idea what it will look like when it’s finished, but so far I have enjoyed every part of it that I’ve seen come out of my pencil. And I know the story…”

{Will it be this book and have to do with foxes? Based on the below sketches, I hope so.}

Here is Viviane, running off and in haste. Glad she’s able to stop by for a second today.

Since she’s currently working on another book about cats at the moment—her second one—“there’s a lot of cat painting and drawing going on here,” she said. The ones here are “from a sketchbook full of cat character studies.”



“This is a different sort of cat. I’m not sure what happened there. I think I might have drawn this one with both hands at once — I used to do that sometimes, with a brush in my right hand and a dip-pen in my left.”

Here’s another, created in crayons and vegetable oil:

And the cat which opens this post? Here’s the knitted version of him. “Sometimes I can’t sleep, because I am thinking about stories too much –- and sometimes I just can’t quite concentrate on what I should be drawing right that minute,” Viviane said. “Then I like to make things. Knitting creatures is especially useful, I find; I like to knit characters from my stories.”

“Here’s a monkey-type animal,” Viviane told me. “They are also nice to draw, I find.”

Even more random-ness. Fun.

You like the random-ness and want even more, you say? Well, I asked Viviane to say whatever she’d like to say about her work. Here is some of what she has on her mind. Think of it as a sort of in-her-own-words illustrator spotlight, won’t you?

“I think a lot of illustrators see very clear pictures in their mind when they work -– I don’t. I just see movement. So I pick a colour I like and try and capture that movement, and then I work out the line drawing from that.

I sometimes have a bit of trouble drawing inanimate things –- that’s the part of my job that feels most like work: looking at inanimate objects and trying to work out how exactly they DON’T move. How they would be moving if they could. And how they relate emotionally to things that do move. Are they jealous? Or tickled? Or do they not care at all?

Sometimes this works; sometimes it just makes me feel a bit mad. It’s not a good state of mind to be in constantly, wondering what houses think of people and if a particular tree likes birds or just puts up with them. It’s great fun when the drawing works, though.

I think if I knew more about what things actually look like, I wouldn’t have to think about what they feel like to draw them -– but I find it very hard to visualise things. I think it is a bit odd that I can draw at all, seeing that I can’t quite imagine pictures. I don’t recognise people’s faces easily…if someone changes their hairstyle, I often don’t quite know if it’s really them before they start talking.

That’s one reason I like drawing — it’s like the part of my brain that imagines things visually is in my hands, and I can only see my thoughts properly if I draw them.

The first time I talked to a real-life illustrator—as a teenager––he got cross with me and said I should leave illustration to other people who cared about what things actually look like. Since then, I do observational drawing now and then. I think it looks nothing like the stuff I am observing, and it makes me cross, but after an hour or two of that, I actually seem to draw better…

People say artists should put their emotions into their work -– I think I do, but I seem to put all the negative stuff into writing. I sometimes write ghost stories that scare me, but I can’t help drawing funny pictures. Although some people find all my pictures scary. I wonder what the world looks like to them. It would probably terrify me if I could see it their way.”

Below are some of Viviane’s brush drawings: “I’m not sure if I used Chinese or Indian ink. I have a big box of inks on a shelf above my desk, and even though I can’t really fit any more in, I like to buy more. I also like to go to the Chinese art shop in town and buy brushes. I already have a big jar of them… other sorts of brushes, too. And drawing nibs. Anything to spread ink around with. I don’t have complete control over my pictures. Some people say they look dirty. I don’t mind -– sometimes you need to make a mess to work something out.”


“That sheep is digitally-coloured, which I don’t like doing as much as using real colour. Useful for some jobs, though, because it means I don’t have to re-do pictures from scratch quite so often… I used to draw sheep all the time. I like drawing sheep. All animals make good shapes, but sheep seem to be the shape of serenity. Even when they are running around like mad, they are just transporting their serenity from one place to another at some speed. Drawing sheep is a bit like yoga, except it gives you neck-cramps and RSI like any other drawing.”

And a random looking-back at what Viviane’s previous work was like? “When I was in college, most of my artwork was done in pen and ink, and it was small and fiddly. I was very pleased with that… here are a couple of examples. However, I got ill, and suffered from pain in my drawing arm and my tailbone, so basically I had to work standing up and develop a new style… that’s when I started drawing with brushes. I’m glad I did. Now that I can sit again (in a special chair with the back cut out), I’m still using brushes. I’m thinking about going back to pens though, just now and then…”


Many thanks to Viviane for stopping by, sharing her art today, and giving us a bit of insight into her own process — especially since, in her own words, she finds everything impossible before breakfast (“actually, the thought of only seven of them coming around before I get my hands on coffee is really cheering”). Despite the title of our blog, I’d have to agree.

Since it’s still so freakin’ cold for so many of us, we’ll close with a Winter image. Thanks again, Viviane!





12 comments to “Random Illustrator Feature: Viviane Schwarz”

  1. Eeee! Eeeee! Fox book fox book!

    There’s something very cosmic/psychic going on here. Did you see the compeesho on the cover of her strong pajamas book?

    LOVE her bio picture that turns at smiles at you after a few seconds. Brilliant! Doesn’t she remind you a little of Fuse 8?

    Thanks for the Viviane picture fest. There’s something very endearing and life affirming about cats in boxes saying “Thank you.”


  2. I love all those cats. I feel like they should come live in my house.


  3. For someone who says (and I honestly do believe her) that she has a hard time picturing what things look like, based on the above she sure has (a) a terrific visual sense of what’s important about a scene, and (b) a terrific way of describing things in words which summon up just the right picture.

    All that about trying to imagine the feelings/responses of inanimate objects: very cosmic/psychic, as jama says.

    The sheep with the ball of yarn made me laugh. I imagined the sheep bleating softly, like, “My precious… my preeeecccious…!”

    And “Even when [sheep] are running around like mad, they are just transporting their serenity from one place to another” has the ring of genius.

    Thanks so much for the random feature, Jules!


  4. Must. Have. Cat Book.
    Must. Find. Cat Book.


  5. Wow, Viviane seems so quirky and interesting and gifted. I love her cute bio picture!


  6. Wow! That chunk of “Vivianne in-her-own-words” section was amazing! What a wonderful brain, what wonderful words. I want to memorize that passage, or set it to music. Good stuff.
    Z-Dad


  7. She is one of of those rare talents out there- completelely original and charming. Amazingingly, she is completely unconcerned about what anyone else thinks about her work….I get the sense that it (the work) is really just for her own pleasure and discovery. Her work always surprises me and makes me smile.


  8. There are Cats in this Book finally came in at the library. Oh my goodness, it is ADORABLE. Absolutely, positively love it.


  9. How do i contact Viviane Schwarz??


  10. p.s. her official website contact mail doesn’t work :(
    I think she is truly fabulous!


  11. [...] I haven’t run into any from Great Britain. A pub session with Quentin Blake, Emily Gravett, and Viviane Schwarz sounds like [...]


  12. [...] released a handful of outstanding picture books and comics. (Pictured left is an illustration from Viviane Schwarz’s Welcome to Your Awesome [...]


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