Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Interview - Koosje Koene

When I 'met' Koosje Koene through Stephanie Levy's Creative Courage e-course I immediately fell in love with her work. Her drawings are so assured and accomplished, they're full of fun and humour, and you just can't help but smile when you look at them. Hailing from Amsterdam, with a background in graphic design and photography, Koosje is relatively new to illustration but she's hit the ground running in her new career. She has just returned from New York City where she attended the opening of The Sketchbook Project with her 'tiny tale' Millie's Marvelous Adventures (she recorded this fantastic video on location which makes you feel like you're right there with her). She's an Illustration Friday and They Draw and Cook regular and was even featured in Dutch magazine topICS with a wonderful holiday illustration spread. She is a true talent and I know it won't be too long before she is commissioned for a cookbook or children's book...or both! (Publishers, take note!). Koosje, will you remember me when you're famous? Without futher ado, meet the amazing Koosje (for non-Dutch readers, pronounced phonetically 'Kosha'). Welcome, Koosje!

Koosje Koene

Tell us a bit about yourself, your work and achievements.

I was born and raised in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in a creative family. My dad used to be a food photographer, one of my grandfathers was an architect and the other one was an artist painter. I guess you could say creating is in my blood. I have a degree in graphic design and I studied photography in art school. I’ve worked as a freelance photographer for magazines and designers for about 10 years. Then I got itchy and rediscovered the love for drawing, painting and illustrating. At that time it sort of felt like my ‘well dried up’ in photography. Instead of doing what I loved, I was making images to live up to the expectations of art directors and publishers. So I took the tough decision of quitting the commissioned work and found myself a part time job to get the cash flow in. By working in ‘cubicle land’ I’m actually buying my freedom and creative time, which made my productivity level higher than ever.

Last year in May I started a blog as a stage for my artwork and discovered the endless online world of inspiring people, blogs and projects! To name just a few examples:

By participating in The Sketchbook Project I finally got to work on the children’s book story that was in my head for years. I was so happy with the result in my sketchbook, I decided to print a small run of booklets to sell them in my Etsy shop. The opening show of The Sketchbook Project World Tour was on April 14, and I booked a ticket to New York City to actually be there! (And of course this was the perfect excuse to finally visit New York City, that's been on my wishlist for a while.) It was so great to see all the Sketchbooks in The Art Library and to meet other participants, some of them I already 'met' online. I'm proud to say that Rob Jelenski put my name, amongst 25 others, on his 'read list' as a recommendation and even handed out copies at the show. Pretty cool!

Koosje Koene's children's book Millie's Marvelous Adventures available from her Etsy shop

Because I love cooking, a friend of mine told me about They Draw and Cook and I’ve submitted quite a few illustrated recipes for this website since. It has inspired me to work on my very own illustrated cookbook now. I haven’t found a publisher yet, but am determined to find one. Salli Swindell from They Draw And Cook invited me for a feature in the magazine Where Women Cook, which is in stores in the US right now!

Taking the e-course Creative Courage has opened my eyes as well and got me so many valuable contacts, it has really broadened my horizons. This year, I’ll be taking the class Making Your Mark and hope to find out more about my own creative voice and signature. I’m looking forward to this and to be classmates with you again, Jodi!

Illustration for They Draw and Cook by Koosje Koene [Source]

Did you always want to be an illustrator since childhood or did you come to it as an adult? What steps did you take to make it happen?

Yes, I took a bit of a detour, but looking back, I think deep down I’ve always wanted to be an illustrator. I’ve been drawing since I was very small and never stopped. As a photographer, you could say I was an illustrator as well, because images are often used as illustrations for interviews and stories. It’s just a different medium.

In high school the only things that really interested me were art class, art history and writing stories for Dutch class. Because I had (and still have) this thing for typography, after high school I went to get my degree for graphic design, then got very interested in photography and went on to art school for it. I already told you the rest.


Koosje's 'Fairy Girl' print available from her Etsy Shop

Could you describe a typical day? How do you balance art and a day job? Or if you freelance, how do you balance the creative side with the administration?

My part time job is three days a week, every other day. So two days a week are all mine, plus the weekends. I don’t really have typical day, but I can describe how I like my days the best.

I’m a morning person, so I like to rise early and enjoy the stillness of the early morning. I will check and reply to my email and comments on my blog while I sip a cup of tea. After an hour or so I shut the computer down (emails, facebook, blogs... they will distract me from working if I leave it all open) and sit down for breakfast, the morning news, a cup of coffee with my fiancĂ©e. Then I get back to my room/working space/home office (which is also my walk-in closet, I have to be honest; I live in Amsterdam, the houses are not that big) and start working on whatever is my project for that moment. For instance when I’m working on an illustrated recipe it takes at least one day to finish it. I’ll have a coffee break around 11 o’clock, stretch my legs and then get back to work refreshed, with ‘new eyes’ and a large pot of herbal tea. Around 1pm I’ll have lunch. Usually there’s a chore or some shopping that I do around this time. If not: I’m really happy to get right back to work. Sometimes I go out for a coffee or lunch with a friend, but I try to plan that not too often, because I tend to concentrate much better when I have the day stretched out before me, without having to keep track of time. It's better to keep those social dates for the weekends!

Late afternoon, before rushing to the gym (yep, I’m a fanatic and go there at least twice a week) I want to wrap things up and upload my illustration to the website, my blog and facebook page. Sometimes I wait a bit and look at the work later on or the next day, just in case I missed something or I need to tweak things a bit. It can also happen that along the way I get distracted by a new idea and start working on that. Like the weekly Illustration Friday topic that I always try to squeeze in, my daily drawing journal, a new sketchbook project, building up a full portfolio of illustrated recipes, my blog that I try to update every other day...

Sometimes after dinner I get back to work to finish a project or to check to see if there’s any news in online groups I’m part of, but usually I keep the evenings for relaxing. I always have a sketchbook at hand for ideas, though.

Koosje's 'Return' for Illustration Friday [Source]

You live in beautiful Amsterdam. Could you give us a little insight into your city? What are the creative or inspiring places you like to visit?

Amsterdam is a wonderful city to live in! I live in an ‘upcoming’ neighbourhood (I must be a real trendsetter, because I’ve been living here for years). In the last few years we got some very cool new places close by for a nice cup of coffee, great lunch or dinner. You can often find me there with a cappuccino and my sketchbook. I love to work with the buzz around me and to sketch people or work on an idea or project.

Except when it’s raining cats and dogs, I’m always travelling by bicycle. Just cycling through the city (along the canals, through one of the parks, or anywhere actually) can be uplifting. For inspiration, I sometimes visit one of the many museums and galleries here in Amsterdam. But I don’t do that very often, it takes a lot of time that I could spend drawing. It can also be quite intimidating, seeing art in Museums. And I always wonder why certain art is shown in museums, and other creations aren’t. Actually looking around me - in the streets, public transport, in cafes etc. is most inspiring. A visit to my favourite art supply shop and buying a new pen, nice paper or just a pencil can help me start on some new idea or project.

Please list five blogs or websites you visit to feel inspired creatively.

Illustration Friday - brings you to lots of artists blogs and helps to make illustrations on all sorts of topics.
Art House Co-op  - great inspiring projects, anyone can participate.
Gemma Correll  - super funny, I’m a huge fan.
Ester Wilson's Daily Drawings  - beautiful sketchbook art.
Bill Jaynes: Drawing and Mind Wanderings  - inspiring artist.

A page from Koosje's New York sketchbook. See more pages here.

Where do you like to sketch and come up with new ideas (at your desk, in a cafe, in a busy place etc)? And what are your favourite tools/materials for creating?

I never really come up with a complete idea at once. Most of the time I just start sketching with half an idea and find out what I want to make along the way. Sitting at the kitchen bench with a sketchbook and/or a nice cup of coffee or a large pot of tea can really get me into a flow. Sometimes working there is even better than sitting at my drawing table. Put me in a cafe, on a terrace or in a public place or even public transport, I’ll be sitting there for hours, drawing. When I sketch people, that sometimes gives sudden ideas (part of a storyline or character). Cooking and eating (out or in) of course gives me ideas for new recipes.

Reading a book can put images in my head. Other people’s use of words and ways of telling stories are inspiring to me. I’m hooked on audiobooks, because this way I can combine reading with illustrating. And who doesn’t like to be read to?

A telephone call or meeting with a friend can boil up something that I hadn’t thought of myself... It happens very often that I come up with part of an idea when I‘m on the bicycle, too.

I love working with felt pens and bic-pens. And the good old pencil plus eraser are favourites too.

A while ago I discovered working on brown paper (nice to be recycling boxes and brown paper bags this way). I make a line drawing with felt pen and then use white color pencil to highlight details. Working on small details feels almost meditative. Bic-pen is nice for sketching, linework and cross hatching. A friend of mine gave me a four-color bic-pen a while ago - I was as happy as a child with a lollypop!

Koosje and her sketchbook at the Brooklyn Art Library


Thank you so much for your time, Koosje, and for this wonderful insight into your work. It was fascinating and inspiring to hear about all your achievements so far and the way you go about creating your wonderful drawings. I can't wait to see what you come up with next!

Please visit Koosje below at these links:

Koosje Koene's website
Check out Koosje's blog
Visit Koosje's Etsy shop
Koosje on Facebook


I interview creative people here every Wednesday. Click here to read more interviews. 'Like' the Art by Wiley Facebook page to get the latest updates!