Featuring Tanja Bauerle
Picture book writer and illustrator
Tanja Bauerle is an award-winning children’s book illustrator who escaped from many years in the corporate arena of design to pursue her love for children’s book illustration.
Originally from Germany, she grew up outside Melbourne, Australia. As a native German speaker, Tanja did not speak English when she first arrived in Australia. To this day, she speaks with a jumbled German Australian accent which many find difficult to place.
Tanja now lives near Phoenix, Arizona, with her family and menagerie of animals. Her backyard exudes happiness, love and inspiration and is a constant source of inspiration. In her free time, Tanja loves reading, kayaking and camping with her family.
We’re so glad to have you with us!
What was it that started you on the road of illustrator?
I guess it’s not very original to say that as an artist I have drawn my whole life, but at the risk of sounding cliché that is actually the truth. I have always wanted to be an illustrator. Unfortunately, I never really knew how to go about it. I wanted a career in the arts and the closest thing that I knew to be a creative vocation was to become a graphic designer. That is how I began my professional life.
I worked for many years in the corporate arena as a graphic designer. Working full time I eventually finished my degree when I was a lot older. That degree actually ended up being a degree in Computer Animation. It is rather ironic, that with a degree designed to make things move, I found my passion in background design, which is generally the static element of animation. At this point I was considering looking for a job in background design but I went a different route. I left my job to start my own freelance business in design. This allowed me to take on freelance design projects while developing my illustration skills and building a portfolio.
My first book contract came shortly after. It was a book about a little coqui frog in Puerto Rico, published by ChiChi Rodriguez Books. I have been illustrating ever since. J
Tell us what media do you create with? Pencil, computer, watercolor?
Most of my illustrations are painted in acrylic gouache. Lately, I have been playing with some mixed media treatments that I am enjoying a great deal. The final artwork has a different feel from what I usually create which I find very rewarding. My favorite way of working will most likely always be traditionally. There is something about the tactile feel of having the paint glide across the canvas below your brush. Digital tools, though very versatile, lack that aspect of the creative process for me.
I also enjoy pencil renderings as well as pen and ink illustrations, especially for black and white work like middle grade interiors.
When you are working on a book, how do arrive at the picture? Do you strive to fill in where the words aren’t---like pb books?
It’s quite a process. There is the standard thumb nailing that everything begins with. Thumbnails are tiny sketches that show what the basic elements that will make up an illustration will be. At this point you are dealing with the big picture and composition of the image, rather than the details.
After several rounds of this, the illustration rough begins to take shape. The sketches become more refined and gradually more details are added. When I design an illustration I use Photoshop as a compositing tool. This allows me to work on different sections of the illustration and place the various elements on separate layers. It’s effectively the same technique as working with tracing paper to refine an illustration. The tracing paper technique never really worked for me, though. I guess I’m too messy because I always smudged my sketches so I like scanning the pieces into Photoshop and move things about that way.
I like to research a lot what I work on an illustration. Pinterest is great for this and it is also a great tool to draw inspiration from. As an illustrator I always want to add more than what the words indicate. Even if the illustration is only of one character, I want to make sure that the reader learns more about the character, his like, dislikes, habits, nuances, etc. than the words indicate. That is a huge part of the magic that is illustration. J
Where do you get ideas when writing your own stories?
I find my ideas absolutely everywhere. True, a lot of them come from my own experiences. I am originally from Germany but grew up in Australia. Several of my stories draw from that heritage.
My back yard, which is filled with a horse, two alpacas, a tortoise, seven chickens, two dogs and three cats, is a constant fount of inspiration. A number of my characters were born from watching and enjoying my lovely zoo. They surely keep life interesting for us.
My two daughters are another great source of inspiration. Anyone that is in need of character fodder needs to simply watch and listen to kids for a little time. The way they think, talk and behave is unique to each child and hilarious material has sprouted from it.
However, one of my favorite ways to get inspired is to simply observe and be aware of your surroundings. You’d be amazed at the splendid story ideas that have infiltrated my brain by just looking at the colors, shapes and textures that are around you. Have you ever looked at the cracks in concrete? Stories galore…
You are so successful! How long has it taken to get where you are today?
Oh, my! In my eyes success is a matter of perspective. I have been working as an illustrator for over ten years and feel that I am only just beginning my career. Yes, there are a few books that I have illustrated, but I have many writing and illustration goals that I have not yet attained. My focus right now is to find a publishing home for stories that I have both written and illustrated.
Tell us your favorite book that you’ve written/illustrated.
When looking at the books that I have illustrated, I am quite fond of “The Park Our Town Built,” written by Raven Tree Press a few years back. When creating the artwork I incorporated several interactive activities that draw the reader to closely look at the artwork. There is a search and find game and a “find the worm” game. When I read this book to children during story times it warms my heart when the kids want to literally crawl into the book and explore the artwork.
What are you working on now?
Currently, I am focusing on several of my own stories. There are several that I have in progress but I am particularity excited about a wordless picture book that falls into the historical fiction category. It draws from my heritage so it is something I connect with on a very personal level.
I know author Heather Gale has written a picture book for PBS and you are the illustrator!
Yes, it’s very exciting. I’m creating artwork for a story version of a PBS documentary that will be available as a teaching resource on the PBS website.
This is fabulous! When can we see it?
Do you have an agent and, if so, do you want to name her/him?
I do not currently have an agent, but I am in the process of pulling together a submission packet to send to someone that I would love to represent me. It’s important to me to learn as much as possible about an agent before sending a submission to them and I have found that meeting agents in person is very helpful in determining whether or not they are a good match for you and your career goals. I have not submitted for a while, because I am currently working on a project that I want to polish to a sparkle before I begin submitting again.
I believe there is an agent out there looking at your fabulous illustrations and will snatch you up in no time!
How can someone contact you? Website, twitter etc.
Website: http://www. tanjabauerle.com/
Facebook Illustration Page: http://www.facebook.com/Tanja.Bauerle.Illustration
Thanks for sharing, Tanja! We’ve all enjoyed learning about you. Now look below to view some of her illustrations :>)