In the Studio: Bodil Jane

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Bodil Jane has become internationally known for her quirky style. She loves to illustrate food, recipes, animals, fashion, interiors, plants, packages and maps. You name it, Bodil can illustrate whatever you’ve got your mind set to. All of her illustrations are created by hand, using mostly ink and watercolours.

How did you get into illustration?

I was raised in a very creative family with a lot of creative people around. Growing up, I was always making things. My parents are both freelance designers. They had a studio space at home and we would do a lot of drawing together with my sister. When we went on vacation I always brought along journals and sketchbooks. Through my youth, art was just everywhere. Most of my parent’s friends were creatives. I’ve seen a crazy amount of museums when I was a child. I always knew that I was going to work in the creative field too. During the last year of high school, I did a preparation course at Willem the Kooning Academy in Rotterdam and decided to study illustration there.

Already from the second year I started to show my work ‘to the world’. I started a blog and made a very crappy website. I really wanted to be an illustrator, just couldn’t wait! From the third year my illustration style started to look more like my style now. I did an exchange program at the School of Design in Copenhagen. While I was there, I had a lot of time on my hands. This made me contact Dutch magazines and trying to get small illustration jobs. And it worked! I’ve been doing freelance jobs since then. By the time I graduated, I already had some regular clients.

What skills or techniques have informed your working methods?

Since I was a little kid I’ve been working a lot with water colors and Indian ink. I’ve been doing that since such a young age that I feel like I can really control this medium now. I know how to reach certain effects with it even though it’s so watery and easy to make mistakes with. It’s still the medium that I love most and I use it everyday. I like how it’s never perfect.

Because my mum has a ceramics studio, I’ve always been painting on ceramic table top and tiles. I still love this medium and it really suits my style. Since a while I’ve been doing it more and sell some ceramics in my online shop as well.

I also love keeping sketchbooks. I think it’s very important to draw a lot, it’s the only way to really develop your drawing skills. Also making ugly drawings and making mistakes and just stupid sketches. I feel like I’ve learned most from ‘observational drawings’. It’s very hard to come up with something completely new from scratch. I’ve learned a lot from drawing people at the beach, sketching objects in museums and doing still lives in holiday homes. It’s also very valuable to be forced to work directly on the paper and not be able to change anything digitally.

Do you ever work or experiment in other mediums?

Lately I haven’t had much time to experiment. I do try to make time for it, because I think it’s very important to keep developing my illustration style. Even though maybe I use the same kind of techniques for my commissioned work, I want to feel challenged also in my personal work. It’s so great when you discover something new that you can integrate in commissioned work too.

During my time at Willem de Kooning Academy I’ve experimented with a lot of different mediums. For example, I took courses for screen printing, linoleum printing, mono printing, etching, embroidery and collage. I love screen printing, but I haven’t done it for a long time. Along with riso printing it’s on my list of things to make time for.

Since I was young, I’ve been making (abstract) collages. I still love to use this technique to loosen up or to just have fun when I have a creative block. But this feels like a separate thing, it’s hard to integrate it in my illustration work.

How would you convey your illustrations in five words?

Playful, feminine, colorful, handmade, cute.

Pick three things that are most valuable to you in your studio and explain to us why you have chosen those and what story there is behind them.

My studio is full of things, books and objects because I’m a collector. I share my studio with 6 others though, who all have very clean and minimal desks. It’s so hard to only pick three things…

Someone’s personal photo album from 1958. I bought this album in a thrift store. It’s stuffed with scraps, old entrance tickets, postcards, photo’s and even money. It’s from a man who went on a trip to Paris with his father. They are both on photo’s in the album. I like to think about the story behind this album. Who dumped it in a thrift shop?

A fluorescent pink and orange box with eight porcelain horses in it. The box is called ‘Eight Horses’ and is probably a Chinese gift or something. I found it at a flea market in Rotterdam.

Silver box in the shape of an apple: I’ve bought this apple at an antique market in Florence. Along with a beautiful glass ink pot that I just also want to add to this list.

You have a growing social media following, have you ever found the power of sharing to have either a positive or negative effect on your work?

For me the effects are mostly positive. It’s very nice to get likes and nice comments every day. It motivates me to work and to make beautiful things. Also a lot of editors and art directors follow me. My Instagram account works like a news letter. I think it’s good to keep people up to date and show what you are working on. Also I get a lot of jobs through my social media accounts, especially international ones. That’s great! I also become friends with other illustrators through Instagram. After following an other illustrator for a while, I feel like I almost know him or her. When I visit an other city, I always try to meet other illustrators who live there.

A negative effect is people copying each other. Besides that, all the attention from social media can be distracting and also costs quite a lot of time. It’s kind of surreal and scary that so many people are watching me.

If you could pick any artist/illustrator to make a collaborative piece with, who would it be?

I love Atelier Bingo! I love there playful and abstract style. And they have amazing screen printing skills. I could learn a lot. And it would be so interesting to combine their abstract shapes with my figurative style. Also maybe it would be a way to learn how I could integrate my secret love for abstract collages into my work.

What advice do you give yourself when you’ve got creative block?

Stop being a perfectionist and just make things. You don’t need to show anyone. Just loosen up and have fun. Doesn’t really matter what comes out.

How do you feel being part of an agency represented as a freelance illustrator has helped with your work to date?

Before I was part of an agency, I already did a lot of commissioned work. I love doing my own marketing and keeping my social media up to date. I like networking and have always had enough jobs since graduating, but I don’t like negotiating on prices or making contracts. It makes me very stressed out. Also, keeping up with all the e-mails and agreements; it takes a lot of time and distracts me from making illustrations. It all makes me feel very insecure.

I like that being part of an agency feels like you are not completely solo, but part of team. It’s so cool to have real ‘colleagues’. This makes me feel stronger, happier and less alone in my work. Also it’s nice to sometimes talk to somebody about my illustrations or which jobs to do or not do. I also feel like I would never reach certain clients without an agent. It makes you look very professional. I feel more secure having an agent.

If you weren’t working as a freelance illustrator, what would you be doing?

I can’t imagine not being an illustrator. But I would probably do another creative job and maybe be a part time yoga teacher or cook.