Interview about Vrolijk\Happy\Heute bin ich

By Silke Schnettler for an article in 'Die Zeit'.

How did you develop the idea for this book – and has there been a connection to your former book "Oh, oh Oktopus"?

It's funny that you ask that. I was giving a workshop 'drawing fishes' for children which was connected to Oh, oh, octopus.
The children where drawing fishes with oil pastels on black paper. On black paper the results look more special than on white paper.
At home I had made some examples (in 5 minutes) for the children, so they could see what the possibilities are with the material.
My editor was at the workshop. She saw the examples and said they were very nice.
I had already planned to ask my editorfor an evaluation about my work and at that moment I said without thinking: 'I would really like to make a book in a direct style like this!'
The publisher was also enthusiastic. And my editor and I started thinking about a book about fishes or birds. Maybe with feelings.
In a very short time the base of the plan was there.
I wish it would always go like this. Mostly there is more struggle to find out what to do.
At that moment I had a strong wish to develop my style. My style of illustrating has always based on a lot of securities. Illustrations with a lot of characters have to be planned. I make storyboards and sketches.
More than 25 years ago I had an education to become drawing-teacher. We learned there to draw without planning.

In fact he plan of the book came accidentally. But it happened at exactly the right moment.

Why fishes? Are they for example less steretype than other animals?

There are two important reasons. A fish is in fact a face with a tale. That makes is easy to give it a feeling.
A Fish is also an neutral animal. You don't associate them with feelings. That makes it very suitable. For exemple: an very angry fish is no problem. A very angry rabbit can be traumatic.

Has it made you nervous in the beginning to follow a well used and simple idea: expressing emotions with symbol-pictures? Do you have an explanation why it nevertheless works so well in your book?

No I was not nervous. I was just very pleased with the idea. And I really enjoyed working in this different way. I also needed the challenge. It gave me more confidence in myself.
I have a friend who works with children with problems. I knew she sometimes uses pictures of feelings. So I knew there would be possibility's to use the book.
The main reason to make it though was the challenge to make something with more depth.
I knew the way of drawing was more 'me' than what I did before.
What helped very much was the enthusiasm of the publisher and my editor.

Which different techniques did your use while creating the pictures? And why did you choose these techniques?

I used oil-pastels. I didn't try other techniques for this book. It was perfect for it.
It is an very expressive material. Which is convenient when you have to draw feelings.
And the drawings were made directly. Sometimes I made little sketches on an other paper. But when I began to draw, I just let the drawing being achieved. You can't correct them. It had to be right at once. When it wasn't right I had to make a new one. And sometime the new one became very different.
I drew hundreds of fishes for this book.

How would you describe the color spectrum you used an why did you choose it this way?

For me colors are very important. But I choose them intuitively.
I just chose the color that I thought the drawing needed

Sometimes your choice surprised me at first view (for example not red but orange for fallen in love, green for amazed). How did you come to these colors?

I just took the color that came up to me. I didn't make the choices cognitively. I just took what I thought the drawing needed.
So that is why the jealous fish is not green, for example.(in Holland you can get green of jealousy)

Why is light blue a good color for really different moods: jolly/happy and nervous? How did you differentiate them?

I took colors that I thought that fitted at the feeling. For some feelings the choice came naturally. For 'gelangweilt' I took boring colors and for 'vergnügt' fresh happy colors. For some I just took what came up to me.
And I also tried to make a balance of colors for the whole book. So that I didn't end with too many blue fish for example.

How have you been able to achieve such a significant expression with bold pencil strokes?

I drew hundreds of fishes. For a fish like 'verblüft' it is very important that the line of the face and the eye are at the right place.
When they are not, the drawing is not right. So sometimes I had to draw the fish a lot of times. You need a bit of luck. I was always looking for that bit of luck.

How did you find the correct mimik-expression for your fishes? Did you copy them from human faces? How did you avoid stereotypes?

I just tried to feel the way I wanted them to be feeling. I never tried to copy anything.

It is very difficult especially with strong feelings not to overdo them. When did you know that you found the right point?
When you overdo it, it doesn't work.

I pasted al the fishes om my wall. When I could feel the feeling of the fish in my stomach it could be right.
But sometimes I was enthusiastic about a drawing and after a week still threw it away.
When I had doubts I began to make a new one. Sometimes the new one became very different.
When I didn't get doubts after weeks, I knew the fish was alright. Then he could stay.

How did you know that a picture does function? Do you do it intuitive or do you have certain criteria?

I just didn't want to have doubts anymore.

What is the reason for drawing so reduced, for example without surrounding, two-dimensional, with few strokes?

When you draw very directly and the feeling is right, it gets back to you also very directly.
So the technique helps to feel the feelings.

How is it possible that the pictures have nevertheless such a strong expression that spectators feel zoomed into them?

What helps is the direct way of drawing combined with the expressive material. With oil-pastel you can draw very firmly and subtile if you like. Just what fits tot the feeling I want to express.

Which were your criteria for the order of the pictures?

I wanted to find a good balance. I am always looking for balances. The words for example are also drawn. Mostly I have to draw them several times to find the right balance.
The book in whole also has to have a balance. I had to take account to the colors. There had to be enough alternation and variation.
And also to the expression. I wanted to end and begin with a positive feeling. The most strong feelings are in the middle of the book. I shuffled a lot till I found this order.
I also skipped a few feelings, that did not really fit.

How did you create such a dynamic order, although each double page works with the same principle: Fish, regarded from the same perspective – name of the emotion?

I think the power of the book is the simplicity of the plan. When (for example) I would have been taken several animals, it would have been more boring.
Now all the attention can go to the feelings. The way of drawing, the colors, everything.

Why did you begin with "curious" and and end with "happy"?

I think it is logical to begin with curious, because you can be curious to the book. And I wanted to end with one of the most positive feelings. So it became happy.

Do you have a favorite fish? Is there a central picture, without which the book would not work?

My favorites are 'betrübt', neugierig, gelangweilt, böse and vergnügt and the fish on the cover.
When you make a book about feelings you really need to have: vergnügt, böse, ängstlich and betrübt.
Because that are the most basic feelings.

What was your main target while creating the book? Does it have a statement? What do you intend that children learn from it?

The main target was just the book itself. I did not want to fill in what you can do with it. I hoped though that it would be useful and helpful for children to talk about there feelings.
I have had a lot of reactions on the book from schoolteachers and people who work with children with problems.
They use the book to talk with children about feelings. They told me that children talk more easily about there feelings with this book. It helps them. It is a bit scary to talk about your own feeling. Appointing a picture is easyer.
I think it is amazing that my book can help children.

While reading the book with children, how do you work with them? How do children react to your book?

I visite a lot of schools. I start a conversation with the children about feelings. Who is angry sometimes? What did happen? Can you tell me?
Who was once brave? What did you do? How did you feel afterwards?
This fish is very sad. What do you think has happened to this fish? Can you tell about it?
After the conversation I mostly give a workshop. I learn children to draw a fish with a feeling. I give them the same oilpastels I work with. The results are amazing. I will send some examples with this e-mail. In fact I get inspired myself by the drawings of the children.
Children are very enthousiastic about the book. Even difficult children. They feel at once that it is about something fundamental, namely themselves.
They tell me a lot of story's when I talk about them with the book.

Do you think the book invites readers to create their own story? Why?

Yes, because it doesn't fill it in, you can make up your own story.
You can also make your own feeling-story about something that has happened tot you.
At first I was afraid. Than I got angry at myself. Bravely I got to it. I am amazed that I can do it. So now I am proud on myself. That makes me sure and glad.

Somehow the book is also humorous. Why? Has that been your intention?

Sometimes it had. For example at 'verwirrt'. At first it wasn't humorous and it became creapy.
Now you can laugh about it, you can relativate it more.

Do you agree that your view on people is friendly/full of love?

Yes, I do!
I tried to make an honest book.
I think we all are sometimes angry and sad and glad and jealous and afraid and curious and happy.
When you know that about yourself, you can understand it better by other people.