APEX MAGAZINE: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself as an illustrator?
NELIESE JUERGENSEN: I grew up in the suburbs of Connecticut, where I drew pictures on every sheet of paper and homework I could find. I went to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, and earned a B.A. in Studio Art with a minor in English, and then went to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and finished my post–baccalaureate degree in Illustration. I love working in watercolor, ink, digital, and acrylic. You can find more of my work at my website, as well as my Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook!
AM: Your piece “Stars” has a very dreamlike, magical quality about it. What was your inspiration behind this artwork? Is there a story to the little girl featured in the image?
AJ: This piece was actually a kind of an experiment! I scanned a drawing I liked from my little sketchbook and played around with color and lighting digitally to create a dreamy feel. The little girl doesn’t have a specific story right now, but maybe she will in the future! When I make work for myself, I love making images that could be an illustration from part of a story. It’s often a lot of fun finding out what other people, especially kids, think what that story may be. I showed this to a group of kids when I was a visiting artist at an after–school art program in New York City called Free Arts NYC last year. The kids came up with a lot of amazing ideas about this little girl! I’ve noticed that most of the adults try to rotate the image so the girl is right–side–up. Kids never really seem to have a problem with her being upside–down!
AM: Looking through your website I saw you had two sections — one for art geared to children and the other for art geared to ‘big people’. What sorts of thought processes go into creating art for a younger audience versus an older one?
AJ: It’s mostly the subject matter. The work I create for younger audiences mainly focuses on the experiences of being a child, while the work I make for adults deal with subject matter that many children might be less interested in. As far as style and approach, though, there’s a lot of overlap. Sometimes I come across people that believe that children’s illustration and literature is just a diluted version of grown–up literature and entertainment, but I don’t believe that. Children deserve the best, and books with even the simplest artistic styles and words have tons of thought behind them. Likewise, a little while ago, when I was asked to make illustrations for a series of informational posters for a medical group, my client and I decided to use a soft and whimsical approach. Adults, especially in stressful situations, also long for something comforting!
AM: One of your other illustrations — the old mermaid and her whale friend — is extremely popular on Tumblr! I see it all the time on my tumblr dash, and I love the sentiment behind it. How did you come up with the idea?
AJ: Thanks! The picture was inspired by a conversation my friend and I had, where we wondered what an old mermaid would look like. Whales fascinate me, I devoured books about them as a girl and still love learning about them and going on whale watches whenever I can. The whale in the drawing is a California Gray Whale, a species that is known for being very curious and friendly, sometimes even going right up to small boats to be petted by people! I thought that such a creature would make a great best friend for a mermaid!
I’m still very excited to see this picture get so much attention on Tumblr! I love reading the tags and comments and seeing how people are reacting to it and thinking about it. I’ve always wanted to connect with people through my art, and seeing people enjoy it so much is wonderful and a little overwhelming, in a good way!
I am now writing and illustrating a picture book based on this drawing! I spent the last few months working on and editing a book dummy, and workshopping it with my SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) groups. I’m currently in the process of finding an editor or agent for it!
AM: You have a range of people and subject matter in your art that I think engages and speaks to many different communities. What sorts of artistic and conceptual goals do you set for yourself when you illustrate professionally?
AJ: I want my work, even when dealing with fantasy settings or subject matter, to reflect the world around me and be inclusive and welcoming to a variety of different people. I’ve been reading a lot about the lack of diversity in the media, and even as a kid I longed for more stories featuring interesting girls. I want to do right by my audience, and also grow as an illustrator by exploring different characters who don’t all look the same!
When working on an illustration, I try to find the right feel of the piece and the emotion of the character. I try to make my artwork so the viewer will want to connect with the characters in it.
AM: What do you love about creating artwork in the genres of fantasy and science fiction? What do you love about creating art for children to enjoy?
AJ: I love being able to tell stories within my work, and how science fiction and fantasy are unlimited in what you can tell. There is so much possibility: you can create work about what you may find in the future in the farthest part of space, or what divine, tiny thing is hiding right now in the corner of the room. Sometimes it’s like being able to step away for a little bit from day–to–day life, so that you can come back refreshed and understanding your world a little better.
I love making art for children because it gives me a chance to play like a child. Kids use play and imagination not just for fun, it’s a tool to help them figure out their surroundings and the other people and creatures that inhabit the world with them. I love making art that’s not just for myself, but invites people to come along and play with me.
AM: Anneliese, thank you once again for letting us feature your art, and good luck in all of your future artistic ventures!
AJ: Thank you for having me for this interview!
Loraine Sammy’s involvement in the online creative world has taken her across the United States, attending conventions and conferences for multiple fandoms and cultural media events. As co–founder of racebending.com, she has done various presentations and panels on equal representation in modern entertainment, encouraging active participation from media consumers. However, her one true passion is rooted in the world of art and artists. As a professional and freelance illustrator, Loraine is endlessly fascinated by the wide impact that visual creativity has on our society, and vice versa. Ultimately, it is artistic diversity that keeps Loraine enthralled by the wonder of our collective human imagination.
She currently lives in Vancouver, BC — but this particular Canadian is neither mild nor apologetic, eh. Her website: lorainesammy.com.