May 25, 2020

Let's Talk Illustrators #145: Olaf Hajek

Olaf Hajek's illustrations in Flower Power: The Magic of Nature's Healers, written by Christine Paxmann, are downright magical. There is such a strong feeling of magic embedded in the floral portraits that the border between reality and fantasy becomes delightfully blurred and open to imagination. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Olaf!

About the book: 
Olaf Hajek's fantastical and mesmerizing art is familiar to many adults. Now young readers can enjoy his work while learning about the fascinating health benefits of flowers they encounter every day. Hajek's paintings spring to life, populated by insects, birds, fruit, and fairytales that illustrate the drama of the natural world. Accompanying each painting are engaging texts that explore various cultural and medicinal aspects of the flowers as well as their importance to artists, writers, and healers. As they learn how iris roots were used to alleviate teething pain in babies and how poppy plants led to the invention of the salt shaker, kids will also get to know a garden's worth of blooms--from wild roses to carnations and peonies to marigolds. Kids will look at flowers in a whole new light and will delight in this beautiful keepsake of botanical illustrations by a celebrated artist.

Let's talk Olaf Hajek!

LTPB: What kind of research did you do (factually and visually) to match Christine Paxmann’s text in Flower Power: The Magic of Nature's Healers? How did you mix in the realities of your research with your own unique art style? 

OH: The idea of illustrating medical plants came from me, actually, so I created the art first, and then Christine Paxmann wrote the text. I wanted to create something fun and mystical but with realistic portraits of flowers. Flowers are strong symbols of birth, death, and evanescence, and medicinal plants are only processed into medicine by humans. So I created some fun and mystical stories around each of the flowers.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations? What inspires your work?

OH: I work with acrylic paint on wood. I love to create a special patina, and I love to combine different elements –– abstract forms together with realistic presentations to create an exciting interaction. I believe in the imperfection of beauty and the power of simplicity. I am inspired by old botanical illustrations and folk art, and I like to let these influences flow into my work, but I add in a kind of sophistication. I don't work on a lot of picture books, so for me artistic freedom is necessary to create a beautiful book that is fun for kids and adults, too.

LTPB: It looks like you do a lot of commissioned work and side projects! Can you tell me what else you do in addition to writing and illustrating children’s books?

OH: My main focus is always illustration, so I work for clients worldwide –– I like the international approach. I love to combine different cultures and ideas to create my own universal language. That's maybe the reason to work for clients in Europe, the US, South America or Africa. I have a lot of gallery shows, so I try to find a balance between art for galleries and book illustrations. But I don't think I could live without both.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

OH: At the moment I am working on my upcoming book with Prestel called Veggie Power –– a companion book to Flower Power –– wherein I will illustrate vegetables.

I am in the process of creating limited edition artwork for the famous German porcelain manufacturer Meissen. I did a beautiful and big collection of diptych candles in Paris and I am creating new work for an upcoming gallery show.

My illustrations and artwork will also be exhibited from June on at Museum Haus Löwenberg in the south of Germany.

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?

OH: My biggest hero in art and illustration is Jockum Nordström. I love his combination of naive but artistic drawings and collages which are influenced by outsider art and Scandinavian folk art. 

A big thank you to Olaf for talking to me about his book! Flower Power: The Magic of Nature's Healers published from Prestel earlier this year!

Special thanks to Olaf and Prestel for use of these images!

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