Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Interview - Daniella Germain

I first encountered Daniella Germain's work through the Koko Black drawing prize, in which she was a self-confessed serial entrant. Her work always stood out as extremely sweet, with delicate details, and very accomplished. So it wasn't long before she was completing commissioned illustrations for the prestigious chocolate company for their packaging. Having changed careers after many years in an unrelated office job, Daniella has hit the ground running. Check out this impressive list of design and illustration work already! Daniella authored, designed and illustrated My Abuela's Table (a collection of her Mexican grandmother's recipes) which has been shortlisted for 'Best Designed Cookbook' in this year's APA Book Design Awards. Her most recent illustrated book is Sweetie! (check it out here). And she's only just getting started! Read on to hear the incredible story of how she got her break in illustration and design. Welcome, Daniella!

Daniella Germain

Tell us a bit about yourself, your work and achievements.
I’m a Melbourne based illustrator and graphic designer. I live with my fiancĂ© and 2 fur kids in the lovely, creative suburb of Northcote. I studied Communication Design at RMIT, finishing my degree around 18 months ago. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to be doing once I finished my studies, but I fortuitously fell into book design and illustration – luckily the two career choices I was tossing up between! Last June, my very first book, My Abuela’s Table was published by Hardie Grant Books. My Abuela’s Table was an end of year university assignment, completed for a publication elective. As I said, I was tossing up between being an illustrator and book designer before I finished uni, so what better way to marry these skills by completely illustrating a cookbook of my Mexican grandmother’s recipes! I was lucky enough to have my book noticed by the MD of Hardie Grant (Julie Pinkham) who had come to RMIT to judge our final folios. Less than two months later they offered me a book deal! The rest is history. Thanks to this lucky break I am now illustrating and designing full time. Hurrah!


When did you know you wanted to work creatively (from a young age or did you come to it later?) and what steps did you take to make it happen? I think I always wanted to work in a creative industry. I used to write and illustrate books when I was a kid, I was obsessed with fonts when computers started getting a bit more snazzy (yes, I am showing my age), and I drew, painted and made things…a lot! However, I was never all that confident I could make a career out of it. I ended up taking the ‘safe’ path and studied psychology straight out of school and spent years working in behaviour research. Just before I turned 30, I decided that it was ‘now or never’, took the plunge, and applied to study communication design. It is, without a doubt, the best decision I ever made.

Daniella's 'Nibble Feeder' commission for Koko Black (Source)

Could you describe a typical work day? How do you balance art and the administration side of freelancing? I don’t really have a typical work day…it really depends what work I have on! If I’m working on an illustrative-heavy job, I would probably set myself up on our kitchen bench (the best height for doing illustration work!) and throw myself into it…but giving myself lots of breaks to avoid RSI. Unfortunately, working from home means my ‘breaks’ involve putting loads of washing on, walking the dogs, replying to emails…etc! It’s great though. I wouldn’t swap it for anything. I’m not as disciplined with breaks when I am working on book design work though. Days like this, I am glued to my computer all day. I enjoy it so much I don’t feel the hours slip by but my wrists and back make me pay later on.
Administration? Um…well, I am not very good at that side of things. What creative person is!? I try to get any admin out of the way first thing in the morning. I should probably devote more time to admin, but it’s hard when the other stuff is so much fun!

Daniella Germain 'Daylesford Dreaming' - personal work. Image source.

Do you have any routines or rituals you perform before starting a day's work or before you start working on something new? Is there a difference to how you approach design work as opposed to illustration assignments? And how do you motivate yourself? When I first started freelancing, there were a few days there where I was working in my pyjamas…just because I could! (I worked 7 years 9am-5pm in an office, so I needed to enjoy for a while!) But now, I have my ritual of shower, coffee, breakfast and then I spend some time looking at wedding blogs (for the moment! I’m getting married in November). If I allow myself time in the mornings to do a bit of wedding swooning then I am much less likely to procrastinate during the day (it’s very distracting planning a wedding!).

Daniella Germain - personal work from An Illustrated Wedding Blog

I probably work a little differently with illustration jobs. I to give myself a lot of time to research ideas and sketch etc, while design jobs I generally jump on the computer and start playing with things straight away (probably a reflection of the work itself I guess). Motivation is sometimes difficult if I’m not feeling particularly creative. Deadlines always help push me into gear but it is challenging when the creativity just doesn’t seem to flow. Spending time looking at blogs, books and magazines tends to spark ideas and I can move from being completely unmotivated to being super excited about a project very quickly!

Daniella's home studio

What are your favourite tools/materials for creating? Drawing in lead pencil is my all time favourite. I think because that’s how I started drawing and I think there is something so lovely about a pencil sketch, even if it’s a bit rough. Watercolour is obviously another love of mine. I’ve only been painting in watercolour for a couple of years, so there is still so much to learn with watercolour. I love teaching myself new skills and seeing progress in my work.

What do you do when you have a creative block and need to 'refill the well'? Hmm…as mentioned, blogs, books, magazines etc. But sometimes these hinder rather than help if I am feeling particularly down about a job! When I am really stuck, I take my dogs down to the park and completely forget about deadlines and work (I try anyway!). If this break isn’t long enough, I resign myself to taking a day off work. It is usually a more productive thing to do rather than digging myself further into a creative rut. Retail therapy also works – especially buying new paints or paper ;-)

Thanks, Daniella. Your work is just beautiful and the story of how you changed careers to something that you love is inspiring. Thanks so much for your time today!

Check out more of Daniella's work at the links below:
Daniella Germain's website
Etsy shop
Daniella's regular blog
Daniella's An Illustrated Wedding blog

Every Wednesday I interview a creative individual (artists, illustrators, designers, crafters, writers and bloggers). If you'd like to be notified of new posts follow this blog through Facebook, Twitter or Google Friend Connect. If there's a creative individual you'd like to see in the Wednesday interview I'd love to hear your suggestion! artbywiley[at]