INTERVIEW FOR

"THE TABLE" MAGAZINE

What is your background and where did you learn to illustrate?

I am a completely self-taught artist. I draw from life, I draw the things that inspire me, things that have a story. Since I was a child I have been passionate about literature and the arts. I’ve been painting, drawing and writing poetry as long as I can remember. It was my love of literature that brought me over to Europe in the first place. I am a small town American girl. After completing my Bachelor’s Degrees in the States, I decided to move to Germany to study literature. Which was kind of a crazy decision at the time, because I did not yet speak German. However, many of the writers I admired most (like Rilke, Heine, Kafka and Mann) all wrote in German and I wanted to study their works in their own language. I moved to Heidelberg in 2005, the academic epicentre of German literary history. After completing my Grundstudium I transferred to the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich where I continued to study philology and comparative literature. I graduated in 2014. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to study at these Universities and to be able to experience higher education in two languages and two countries because my time in Germany had a huge impact on my life. After nearly nine years in Germany I moved to the UK with my husband, where I began to take art seriously. It is truly through serendipity that what started as my hobby and my passion has turned into my career. 

What made you interested in illustrating?

I suppose I have always wanted to find a way to combine my love of literature and passion for art into something that was meaningful. When I found out I was pregnant with my son I decided to work from home. I wanted to create a business that would allow me to be at home with him and build something he could be proud of. A big part of my University studies was focused on folklore and fairy tales. I was intrigued by the myths like that of the Lorelei, the saga of the Niebelungen and the various fairy stories of the Brothers Grimm. When I realised I was expecting a child I remembered a book I had read during University days that really made an impression on me. It was called: “The Uses of Enchantment” by Bruno Bettelheim and it focuses on the significance of fairy stories and the impact they have on child development. Bettelheim argued that fairy stories impacted a child’s psyche and worked on a subconscious level to help them deal with fears and develop an understanding of the world. I pulled that book of my shelf and read it again for the first time. When I was done, I knew I wanted my son to grow up surrounded by these incredible fairy tales, every character, lesson and story that had such an impact on my life. So,I began drawing and painting like crazy, fairy tale after fairy tale and hanging them up in my son’s nursery. I imagined him to waking up every day surrounded by those images like Little Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan & The Ugly Duckling. On each piece of artwork, I wrote a quote or powerful message, trying to sum up in one line the moral from the story that I wanted him to be aware of (for example “Don’t let others define who you are” – from the Ugly Duckling or “No act of kindness no matter how small is ever wasted.” – from Aesops Fables). My hope was that if he grew up surrounded by these characters it would make him curious about the stories. It would give me an excuse to pull those stories off of the shelf and read them with him. Our friends and family started commenting about how much they loved his nursery and the art I had created and they encouragedme to do something with it. That is when I started my art company, Fairytale & Fable. Everything just snowballed from there. Eventually word got out and I started getting commissions for private illustration jobs and other projects. I began expanding what I created and building fairy doors for small children and I began to receive private commissions for other custom illustration and calligraphy projects as well. 

How do you approach a project like illustrating Kevin Fehling's most memorable moments in life?

For this project, I spoke with Kevin on the phone and he told me about various stories from his past. It was really nice to hear it from him in his own words, because I could see that these moments were genuinely things that had inspired, challenged or shaped him to become what he is today. I am always inspired by the story. I saw it as a great challenge to take someone’s life and try illustrate those moments that had been so instrumental for them. This is the third issue of the magazine that I have worked on, so I have spent a lot of time in the past few years doing research, getting to know all about his life, where he comes from, his work and his achievements. Added to that I also have gotten to listen to the stories from him directly about the things that impacted him so much. So, it is strange, I feel like I know him very well, even though we have never met. The more I understand where he comes from they better I feel I can illustrate his stories. I approach Kevin’s paintings the same way I would approach illustrating a fairy tale. He is the main character and there is there is a lesson, an experience or a magical moment that he wants to get across. I try to tell his story in an image, with colours, lines and shapes in a collage of a moment that can explain without words the things that were important to him.  Its people like Kevin Fehling who inspire people like me when they are doing a start-up business. He has so much dedication, he has worked so hard to get to where he is and I truly see him as a sort of artist as well. The dishes are the story, the ingredients are the characters and the plot is the method he uses to mix them all together to come up with something memorable. I think that is why he has succeeded in creating something completely unique and perhaps why he has been so successful.

What is the most challenging aspect of it?

I think in the most challenging aspect is getting in someone else’s head and understanding what they really want to achieve. When you are painting moments or experiences from somebody’s life, these are not just stories, they are events that someone has actually lived. That means they have a clear view of how it was in their own mind’s eye and they know why they want to tell the world about it. I really want the magic of the moment to come across in the artwork, so the biggest challenge for me is to really understand not only the story but who is telling it and howthey want it to be told. I need to understand what is important to them. The most important person is the client himself. 

Getting to be creative. What I love about this project is the freedom of creativity. Kevin is a joy to work with because even though he has certain ideas and specific memories or scenes he wants me to illustrate, he gives me the creative freedom to interpret his stories with my own artistic strengths. I love the process of taking someone’s life and making it a work of art. My favourite part of the project is actually the creation stage. When I have studied the story enough and I can finally sit down and I sketch five or six different versions of how I think I could lay it out. I love to play around with perspective and colour, forms and figures and see what works best in my mind’s eye. I always know when I have the one I want to paint.   

What is the most enjoyable aspect of it?

What is the important aspect of illustrating a certain scene?

It has to draw you in. It has to tell a story. There is a reason that Kevin chose to illustrate his memories with paintings and not with photographs. There is a value you get from art that photography cannot match.  Art should move you. It should make you feel something. I love using vibrant colours and mixing surrealistic and symbolistic elements with figuratism to create something that is different, that stops you. That is the most important goal: art is always meant to stop you.

At what time of day do you like working and in what setting? 

I love to get up early and start the day. I am most creative in the morning and I love the soft bright light it brings with it. I light candles when I paint and I always listen to music. It puts me in a zone where my creativity is at its best and sometimes I get lost in it and I will sit there for hours like I am in a trance. I often put a lot of small details into my work and sometimes I am bent over my page so focused on painting these little strokes, that I am not aware I have been working so long without even noticing the sun is going down. My husband will come home and switch on the lights and all the sudden I will snap out of it and realise my eyes have been straining and it is time to stop. It sounds a bit crazy but I love days like that. 

What do you find most inspiring?

Well, I already mentioned I love literature, soul-moving, thought-inspiring, life-shaping literature. I especially love the classics and poetry. I enjoy painting stories inspired by literature, but I think there are also great stories out there in real life as well. Sometimes I watch the news and I am so moved by something that has happened I feel I have to paint it as well. Kevin’s project really opened my eyes to that fact that each of us have stories we want to tell.  

Another big obsession of mine is folk art. I am intrigued by the designs that come from all parts of the globe and how our minds associate cultural heritage with certain patterns. From the Rosemaling of Norway to the typical Bavarian designs, from the vibrant patterns of Morrocco, to the traditional florals of Italy. Every culture has their own designs and colour palettes. Though there are many similarities there are also distinct differences. A rose can be depicted in so many different ways. In fact, I was really inspired by the varying types of folk art when I created the cover for the magazine. I wanted to show not only different ingredients and landmarks from across the globe but also different design elements that when you see them together you realise they are so region and culture specific.

Which mediums do you use for your illustrations? 

I use a wide mix of media, even within a single painting, to give it a unique and vibrant texture and depth of colours. I often mix Acrylics with Gouache and sometimes dip pen inks, colouring pencils and even markers, fine gold or metallic paints. I have some secret stuff I throw in there too. I look for what a painting needs in order to express a certain feeling and I give it that. Sometimes I like to stick with one media. I love to paint with acrylics and oils for more large-scale paintings. It really depends on the piece.

Which mediums do you use for your other projects? 

The same goes for my other art prints. I also use a variety of media. However, the fairy doors I create are special. In addition to my art prints I build these miniature fairy doors which are wonderful presents for small children. They are more than just tiny works of art, they are an experience. Each door is unique and made specifically for the child who will receive it. I design them and hand-paint them with very small details. I source the fixtures and miniature pieces from all over the world to decorate and adorn the doors. Every item on the door from the knockers to the crystal door knob, the letter box or the statues on top, from the mountings to the adornments are hand-picked and sourced from all over the world. The door is lovingly decorated and delicately hand-painted with a colour scheme picked by the client. I create what I can in my workshop and I use a lot of different materials to come up with one-of-a-kind pieces that can stay in a family forever.

Please tell us about your other current projects and offers.

Right now, I am working hard for the Christmas rush with fairy doors and art prints that need to arrive in homes before Christmas Eve. I have a few exciting illustration projects I am working on for private clients and I am gearing up for next year. The fairy doors I create are so special. There are only a limited number of fairy doors I can create at one time, so there is a bit of a waiting list for those wishing to commission one. My art prints are available at www.fairytaleandfable.comand you can find examples of my work by following me on Instagram as well @fairytaleandfable

Well, I hope to continue to expand my portfolio and keep creating unique pieces of art. Someday my big dream is to write and illustrate a children’s book if I can find someone who will give me the chance. I am open to enquiries and other custom illustration commissions as well. I love to create stories and illustrations based on people’s lives and would love to find other channels to do so. 

What are your plans for the future?

© 2019 by Sonja Christoph