August 25, 2020

Let's Talk Illustrators #154: Linda Schwalbe

I am so excited to share my interview with debut Geman picture book creator Linda Schwalbe today! Linda talks about the inspiration for Ida and the World Beyond Mount Kaiserzipf and why she chose to explore the contributions of lesser-known female adventurer Ida Pfieffer. I hope you enjoy our conversation and the stunning process photos she includes!
About the book: 
Ida Pfeiffer has a mind of her own.

Although she lives at a time when girls are expected to be mothers and housewives, Ida dreams of being an explorer and going on expeditions. She bravely sets off on her first trip around the world, an adventurous journey over land and sea, discovering faraway lands and meeting friendly people along the way.

Let's talk Linda Schwalbe!

LTPB: How did you discover Ida Pfeiffer? Can you talk about why you chose to tell her story with
Ida and the World Beyond Mount Kaiserzipf

LS: As a child I was crazy about reading exciting adventure books. I liked stories with female protagonists the most because I could identify with them. I wanted to live in an old castle ruin with my friends exploring some secrets or sail across the sea just as they did. Unfortunately, there were not that many stories, and almost 20 years later I still noticed that there aren't a significant number of female adventurers in children literature. Even when there are so many historical stories about female pirates, scientists, artists… 

I discovered Ida Pfeiffer during my research. She was the most famous German-language travel book author in the 19th century and nobody knows her - how could that be? I started to read her original literature and fell in love immediately. She was not the adventurer and freethinker in a classic way but so inspiring when it comes to curiosity and courage. 
LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of the book? What challenges did you encounter in your research?

LS: Ida's travels were about discovering places she'd never been before, and I used this concept for evolving the illustrations. I wanted the viewers to discover Ida's world in a formal way, too. A cosmos of abstracted forms and bold colors developed. The process started with sketching and digging around Ida's character. The historical person was actually 50 years old, but I wanted to create a character without real age so that kids as well as grown-ups could identify with her. 
The biggest challenge in the beginning was developing the story. The historical adventures of Ida were so complex and numerous, there were loads of stories I wanted to tell -- way too much for one picture book! So I started to compress, to figure out the timing and to edit the storyboard like about 10 times ;). Since the book was my bachelor project at Art University I had the chance to focus on the process and got support and feedback.
LTPB: What kind of research did you do (factually and visually) to get the images right? How did you mix in the realities of your research with your own unique art style? 

LS: In the beginning of researching I tried to understand the historical context and started to collect pictures, stories and fragments in a mood board or mind map. I keep sketching around and exploring. For example I discovered the romantic and sumptuous Biedermeier furniture and reduced it to simpler and slacker forms. 

By the way: I didn’t want to paint so many fingers -- I really was a bit lazy about that ;) -- and decided to draw little pellets instead. I used abstraction as an important tool for me to feel free with creating my own sight on the story while referring on the historical background. 

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? 

LS: For this book (which is my first picture book ever!) I chose a complete analog realization. I painted everything with acrylic on cardboard. I like the haptic experience of mixing colors, using the paint application and playing with nuances. Having painty fingers and holding some physical pictures at the end of the day really makes me happy.

At the same time the technique limits me. Retouching or correcting mistakes is much more effort than with digital. I have five versions of some of the picture. On the other hand, I have to give up control about every stroke and deal with imperfections, which is exciting and liberating. 
LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

LS: At the moment I'm working on my next book for NorthSouth. It's about insects and friendship. And my last project was a collection of historical women orchestras in Europe.
LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

LS: I love the work of Eva Natus-Salamoun! She would have created some weird and surreal fairy tale. I really like her stratified, collage-like and unattached way of telling stories.

A huge thanks to Linda for talking to me about her debut book! Ida and the World Beyond Mount Kaiserzipf publishes one week from today, September 1,  from NorthSouth Books!

Special thanks to Linda and NorthSouth for use of these images!

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