Women in Fantasy Illustration: Kristina Gehrmann

Women in Fantasy Illustration: Kristina Gehrmann

Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing a selection of women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.

Today’s interview is with lovely German illustrator Kristina Gehrmann. I’ve been following her work for a while and was very excited when she agreed to do an interview and I can only say after the interview I admire her even more. Enjoy!


Northwest Passage © Kristina Gehrmann

Northwest Passage © Kristina Gehrmann

Photo of Illustrator Kristina Gehrmann

Kristina Gehrmann

1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work.
Hello, I’m Kristina, a full-time illustrator with a focus on historical and fantasy subjects. I mostly draw book covers for corporate and private clients, as well as illustrations for book interiors, children’s books and game cards for clients in Germany and outside.

I grew up in a medium-small German town near the Rhine river in a family where nobody is an artist except my grandfather who very occasionally paints a watercolor landscape. I’m also practically deaf since birth but it was detected early and thanks to my indefatigable parents’ efforts I learnt to speak like most other kids. I can hear somewhat well using two cochlear implants.

2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of illustrating?
I was told that a career as Indiana Jones was unrealistic so I settled for the second best alternative.

I was told that a career as Indiana Jones was unrealistic so I settled for the second best alternative.

Okay, there were several factors, such as having been drawing all my life, but as a teenager I attended some drawing and painting classes at the local education center and met other artists. There were several “professional” artists who couldn’t draw. One of them took me aside once to explain to me at length why wanting to be professional artist was a stupid, foolhardy idea (and I hardly understood any of it, in both acoustics and content).

(…) I also met an illustrator who could draw like a bad-ass, and I was very impressed with his work.

But I also met an illustrator who could draw like a bad-ass, and I was very impressed with his work. This was when I realized that my romantic idea of fine artists and art university was misled: you don’t learn to draw and paint “like the old masters” in German art schools anymore; artists’ work is judged by random standards that have nothing to do with their drawing skill; and the profession of illustrator seemed to be the only one where I could use these particular art skills I wanted to learn, and one where you simply had to make a good picture without learning the “artspeak”. I never liked the Kool-Aid.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey © Kristina Gehrmann

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey © Kristina Gehrmann

(…) you don’t learn to draw and paint “like the old masters” in German art schools anymore; artists’ work is judged by random standards that have nothing to do with their drawing skill.

3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional artist?
My transition was pretty smooth because I had started working part-time already in high school, simultaneously registering as freelance business and learning to do tax returns. (My mom helped me with those. She even telephoned with a client for me once – it makes me cringe when I remember it today). My parents were very supportive all the time, buying me all the art materials I wanted for birthdays and Christmas, and paying for rent and food when I was a student at Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy.

My parents were very supportive all the time, buying me all the art materials I wanted for birthdays and Christmas (…)

It’s tempting to say (and great if you can!) “I did ALL the hard work myself” but many careers can be credited to supportive relatives. I count myself lucky in that regard and there’s no shame in that.

It’s tempting to say (and great if you can!) “I did ALL the hard work myself” but many careers can be credited to supportive relatives.

Although I didn’t earn much with those occasional illustration jobs during high school and my studies in Florence, I still accumulated some decent savings over those years. These are now very helpful since I started illustrating full-time in summer of 2012. So I haven’t really faced any difficulties except having to learn the business side of illustration: invoicing, legal matters, copyright, good communciation, organisation, etc. With this, the IO (Illustratoren Organisation, the German equivalent of the GAG, AIGA or AOI) has helped me a lot and I found vast resources and valuable connections there. Today I serve as a board member of the IO and hope we can help more beginning illustrators to start their career!

Today I serve as a board member of the IO and hope we can help more beginning illustrators to start their career!

Vintage Self Portrait © Kristina Gehrmann

Vintage Self Portrait © Kristina Gehrmann

4. What do you like the most about illustrating?
To find a theme or subject I get so obsessed about that I feel like I could draw nothing else for the rest of my life! These are my “fan phases” which I had since I was about 11 years old.

(…) I get so obsessed about that I feel like I could draw nothing else for the rest of my life!

Right now, I have an obsession with the topic of Franklin’s Lost Expedition, and pull sixty-hour-weeks to work on a 3 volume comic series telling that story (volume 1 is finished, nothing is published yet) – and now I’m an expert on epaulettes, sideburns and icebergs, haha! (Sailships are a bit more complicated, but the research is a ton of fun.)

5. What do you like the least about it?
While painting, sometimes I’m a little scared how easily I can go from “yeah, man, this is going to be an AWESOME picture” to “What the hell am I doing there, this looks awful!” Sometimes I feel incapable of judging my own work. Trying to examine the drawing as objectively as possible in composition, values, etc. helps a bit but is still really hard.

Sometimes I feel incapable of judging my own work.

Catherine Parr © Kristina Gehrmann

Catherine Parr © Kristina Gehrmann

6. Please tell a little about your process and your choice of medium.
I have been digitally painting with a graphics tablet since I was 13 years old and it is my favorite medium because it allows for easy changes and corrections. For a digital painting in Photoshop I often use my own references, make sketches, then a detailed drawing which ideally is as solid as possible, then work in color from big shapes to detail, like most other artists.

I don’t feel there is anything special or unusual about my process, I simply try to find out the most effective and efficient way to get the picture I want. Recently I learned to use SketchUp which is very useful for setting up scenarios in perspective. I use MangaStudio to draw my comic, which may become a real alternative to Photoshop.

7. Your live in Germany – how is the illustration market for you in Europe? What are some of the benefits and challenges?
From what I gather the illustration market in the USA is much larger for realistic fantasy illustration (and for realistic, academic fine art too), and I’m pretty sure this isn’t just a case of presuming the grass to be greener on the other side.

In Germany it may be easier to work as an illustrator for editorial and advertising. Anyway, I don’t feel drawn so strongly to fantasy subjects anymore as I once did, and will focus more on historical illustration because I enjoy the research very much too.

Tintin fan art by Kristina Gehrmann

Fardeau Agreable© Kristina Gehrmann

8. Your work has a strong sense of realism to it but also a playful touch that makes it easy to connect with the characters. How did you come to find your artistic voice? Was it a natural development or something you struggled with?
Regarding style, I’ve been told that my work is influenced by “the old masters”. This is probably because they were among the first people I discovered who could paint really well, so they became my first idols to follow and I regularly plundered the library shelves for art books. This was before my English was good enough to participate in artist communities online, and I hadn’t found many artists to learn from yet.

It was all circumstances. Other than that, I have always been drawing and painting exactly what I wanted to, this hasn’t changed since I was a child; even at the expense of serious studies as I got older. In other words, I always painted my picture and enjoyed the process, even when I lacked the necessary fundamentals, knowledge and tools to make the picture work. In that regard I was totally foolish and fearless, and still am. Yes, a lack of solid drawing skills limits you severely in executing your vision, but if the resulting failures never dampen your enthusiasm you may be onto something!

(…) if the resulting failures never dampen your enthusiasm you may be onto something!

Eventually I did start doing studies for the sake of practice, though, and to this day I have spent a few thousand hours on studies solely for exercise, like most other artists. If I have an “artistic voice” it automatically developed through 1) refining skills and practicing fundamentals 2) obsessing about whatever subject made me want to draw at any time, 3) remembering why I draw: because it’s fun! Someone once said that you can’t find style, style finds you.

Someone once said that you can’t find style, style finds you.

9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
That’s a difficult one! I have received similar advice like the other artists in your interviews, but one that helps me every day is “take care of yourself”. I don’t remember who said it, but caring for yourself physically and mentally is important to stay stable and keep up your work.

I eat 3 big, balanced meals every day (never more because it would interfere with drawing), walk to the studio and store to buy fresh food daily, and there’s always someone around who I can talk to. Although an introvert I can’t handle loneliness for long, and need some human contact at least every two days, which can be challenging for any freelancer.

(…) one that helps me every day is “take care of yourself”.

10. What are your hopes for the future of your career?
That I can support myself with my work as long as possible and push through difficult spots, that every client will be happy, AND that I still have time and money left to follow my own obsessions.

Ibriya © Kristina Gehrmann

Ibriya © Kristina Gehrmann


Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Kristina Gehrmann, if you did please share it with your friends!

Links:
Kristina Gehrmann’s Website
See all Women in Fantasy Illustration Interviews

Kiri Østergaard Leonard
kiri@kirileonard.com

Kiri Østergaard Leonard is an award winning illustrator and artist from Denmark, currently living in Austin, Texas. She enjoys working on projects within the fantasy and children's illustration genre.

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