Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing prominent women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.
This week’s interview is with the lovely Ania Mohrbacher, who creates stunning watercolor pieces while balancing her growing career with motherhood.
I have been following Ania’s career with great interest for many year and have loved seeing how her work has developed. I am thrilled to share this terrific artist with you all. Enjoy!
1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work.
I’m a Polish born artist living in Chicago with my husband, two sons, and one sabotage cat. I worked freelance in game illustration for couple years, and transitioned to independent projects after my second child was born. My work is whimsical and often influenced by dreams and fairy tales.
2. You have in recent years really come into your own voice as an independent artist. Especially with your 82 Nights project. Can you tell us a little about how that developed and what led you to embrace it?
After the birth of my first child Kuba, I had very difficult time making art, and it took me about two years to get back to it. With a newborn I kept feeling torn between wanting to spend time with him, and feeling the need to create art. Being new to motherhood made it hard to manage my time well, even to take care of
my basic needs, so the art went on a back burner. When Sawyer was born 3 years later I was worried the situation would repeat, so I was looking for a way to stay connected with art.
“With a newborn I kept feeling torn between wanting to spend time with him, and feeling the need to create art. “
In October I picked up a small Moleskine journal, and since there was an Inktober challenge happening on the web I decided to give it a try, and draw a very simple ink illustration daily when Sawyer was sleeping. I bought myself few inking pens (brown, because I liked the color), and was excited to learn something new, since I haven’t really worked with ink in the past. The images started very simple, but by the 5th day I got inspired and that image set the standard for the rest of the month. Then I decided to continue until all the pages were filled, and encouraged by friends on Facebook to use Kickstarter and publish it as a book. All that line work made me miss color, and since I had a lot of images to pick from, I decided to turn some of them into paintings. That in turn lead to a coloring book, and greeting cards, and that’s how my current process got established.
3. What difficulties have you faced in becoming an artist?
I think self doubt was probably my biggest hurdle. I made choices that I thought were safe for a long time,
because I didn’t believe I could make money doing the type of work that I’d like. First I went to school for an animation design even though it wasn’t my passion, because the school convinced me that I’d be able to find a job in the field after I graduate. Later I abandoned my traditional art roots and looked for freelance work in game industry. Not because I wanted to work in games, but because that’s what my peers were doing, and it felt like a right way. Briefly I managed to convince myself that I would like to be a colorist in the comic industry, and “ghosted” for some friends of mine, or created “flats” for their work.
“I think self doubt was probably my biggest hurdle. I made choices that I thought were safe for a long time, because I didn’t believe I could make money doing the type of work that I’d like. “
4. What do you like the most about creating art?
I love how the watercolor paint pigment glimmers in the water and mixes with other pigments as it dries, the way the brush snaps to a perfect point when wet. I like the feel of the ink pen, or pencil on the surface of the paper. I get excited to try out new colors, and I always feel so lucky when I do, as if I get to experience something special. I love watching empty page turn into an image
that wasn’t there before, and the knowledge that it wouldn’t be there if I haven’t created it. Working on art makes me feel connected to myself, other artists, and people who just appreciate art for it’s beauty.
“I love watching empty page turn into an image that wasn’t there before, and the knowledge that it wouldn’t be there if I haven’t created it. “
5. What do you like the least about it?
I dislike feeling stuck, staring at the empty page and hoping I can will it into a drawing. Also the self doubt, and feelings of inadequacy that sometimes creep in.
6. You currently work in traditional media but you used to work digitally. What made you make the jump?
In fact I started out by working in color pencils, and experimented with watercolors and acrylics. I made a jump to digital while pursuing freelance work, but I missed the hands on feeling of traditional media.
7. You are married to Pete Mohrbacher who is also a full time artist, and together you are raising two beautiful boys. Can you speak a little about balancing full time art careers while raising a family?
It’s a bit complicated, as things always change with little kids. Their needs and schedules change as they
grow, and that affects when and how can I work. Pete always had a clear vision what he wanted as an artist, and he’s been able to achieve his goals so his income is primary to our household. That means that the bulk of responsibility when it comes to kids falls on me, and I need to be able to balance my work with childcare.
It’s difficult, but as they get bigger I’m able to carve out more time for my art. It requires a lot of self discipline, because that means a lot of times when I can paint are not ideal.
Many days I can’t start painting until 9 or 10pm. Many of these nights I’d rather relax with a game, or in front of TV. At the same rate most of administrative work related to our company falls on my husband. Many nights we both work late, and we rarely take weekends off. It is challenging, but it gives us freedom to create the type of art that we want to create.
“Many nights we both work late, and we rarely take weekends off. It is challenging, but it gives us freedom to create the type of art that we want to create.”
8. One thing I really love about your work is your beautiful use of color. Many artists struggle with color or are intimidated by it; did it come natural to you? And what would you suggest to someone who would like to venture more into the realm of color?
I don’t think I have any advice when it comes to color, and if anything in art does come to me naturally it may be that. As a child I really loved coloring books, probably way past the time that a lot of kids did. I enjoyed having lots of colors at my disposal and tried to use all of them.
9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
I met Omar Rayyan at Gen Con few years back, and immediately fell in love with his work. It was during the time when I was looking for work as a freelancer, so my portfolio featured only digital work. I showed it to him, and he asked why was I working digitally since I was clearly more passionate about watercolors.
This is one instance that I can remember, but what it comes down to, the best advice I got (some of it from Pete) was to make the type of art that made me happy, that felt right. I think people tend to connect most to the art when its creator is most invested in it.
“(…) the best advice I got was to make the type of art that made me happy, that felt right. I think people tend to connect most to the art when its creator is most invested in it.”
10. Do you have a philosophy behind your work? If not, then what are some of your goals for the future?
I would like people to feel something when they look at my work. The best compliment to me is when they tell me that my painting made them inspired to paint as well, and they show me what they created in turn, or that my work made them happy, or reminded them of something from their childhood. My immediate goal is to fulfill my 82 Nights Kickstarter, and then perhaps to make another book – this time in color. And maybe something for my two boys!
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this interview with Ania Mohrbacher, you can find links below to follow her future endeavors.
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View all Women in Fantasy Illustration interviews here.