Karien’s Creative Cache

We first interviewed children’s illustrator Karien Naude of South Africa back in May 2009. Back then she was just starting, completely self-taught as an artist and working as a paralegal at a law firm in downtown Johannesburg.

By Karien Naude

Art by Karien Naude

She was among the first students to sign up for Make Your Splashes Make Your MarksSomehow we were friends from the start — because Karien is — well — that sort of person.  Even my mother wants to adopt her.  (Unofficially she has, with Karien’s bemused consent — though I should say Karien has loving parents and family in South Africa.) Still, she’s h a citizen of the world, with a network of artist friends that extends to the Austin, Texas SCBWI illustrators’ community,  New York,  the UK and New Zealand.

Karien's telling of a Sherlock Holmes tale

A lot has happened since 2009. She’s gone full time as a free-lancer. She’s learned — taught herself, tons about the craft and business of illustration.  So it really is time for another visit.

She’s a huge Tolkien and Terry Pratchett fan.  She’s been on safaris. She loves to cook and loves music so much so that you’ll rarely catch her drawing or painting without her earphones on.

Remember as you read her responses to my interrogation that English is not her first language. Her native language is the Afrikaans of her ancestors, Dutch Protestants who settled in southwestern South Africa in the 17thcentury.

In 1979 she agreed to serve as a bit of a guinea pig for the ongoing experiment of my online course.  She’s actually been ready for us to check in with her.

Mark:  Karien, when we last talked with you in 2009, you were working with South African comics group Comicworx Studios and you worked full-time for a Johannesburg law firm. You had not published yet, not yet hooked up with the South African SCBWI chapter.  All you knew was that you wanted to try to illustrate some children’s books. Can you bring us up to date on yourself since then?  

Karien: Since I started your course in 2009, my life changed dramatically. I’ve switched my mind from comics to children books and I know more what children like and in the procces I’ve rediscovered my inner child again.

Now I hang out more in the children’s section at the book stores or at the library than in the fiction and comics department. I’ve also done a lot of research and now I know more about the market and have a good understanding of how publishers work. My dream was always to do illustrations full time. It was very hard work, but this year it came true.

I’m now a full time freelancer doing work for four major publishers in South Africa. I also joined SCBWI in South Africa and I’m learning so much from the other members. I’m always inspired after meetings.

Karien Naude in "Artists Alley" at the RAGE Convention

Mark: You’ve been doing illustration for several Macmillan academic titles and some education presses, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Maskew Miller Longman.

Can you tell us about some of these assignments, how you got them, what it’s been like doing them and how you met those deadlines?

Karien: I’m part of a professional webpage for South African illustrators and we usually get work through them. They sent out an email one day stating that Macmillan Educational needed an  illustrator and that if anyone was interested, they should forward their portfolios directly to the art director.

Karien's blog banner

I never worked for publishers, but I took the chance and forwarded my portfolio. I was leaving for the UK the next day for a holiday and that afternoon the art director, Mandi Laign phoned me and gave me my first brief.

I had to do 30 illustrations in 2 weeks! I never had a holiday as planned. I was working 24/7 on the illustrations. But it was my big break.  Since then a lot of publishers have seen my work on my blog and online portfolio and have contacted me directly.

Educational illustrations are very hard work and the deadlines are very tight, so I actually go into my “Zombie” mode where I don’t sleep and sometimes don’t even eat, cause time is so precious.

PostPigeon by Karien Naude

By Karien Naude

In the beginning it was very hard because I was working full time at the law firm. I worked until 5 and when I got home I started working on the illustrations. I got used to sleeping three or four hours  a night.  A lot of illustrators don’t want to do educational because it’s very hectic. But I learned to draw faster and to trust in my ability to push and work hard.  At the end this gave me the change to become a full-time illustrator.

"Shadows" by Karien Naude

Can you talk about the transition you’ve made in the last couple of years from doing pencil sketches and some airbrushing to experimenting with watercolor and digital paint programs?  Which mediums have served you the best and do you prefer? How do you teach yourself to use these new art techniques and tools?

Watercolor was hard in the beginning because I wasn’t use to it.

It was messy.  My colors didn’t come out right and they looked muddy.  The paint ran over my lines and I was feeling like crying.

But I took out some library books and learned the tricks and tips working with watercolor and now it’s the medium I prefer above the others. I got Corel Painter and I played around with it. With my first brief with Macmillan Education I used Corel Painterbecause I didn’t have time to wait for paint to dry and it was easier to make changes they needed.

I still learn a lot about Painter and I do enjoy doing digital illustrations, but you will always find me in the garden painting with watercolors.

A jaunty Alice by Karien Naude

What went into your decision to try free-lance illustration full time? What was it like for you prior to that,  doing illustrations for clients on a part time, moonlighting basis?  

In the beginning,  it was great working part time for clients because I was still an amateur and the briefs or projects were little.  So I worked at night and weekends.

But becoming professional it started to get harder to work at night. The briefs got bigger and I didn’t have enough time to finish things up. As I mentioned before I didn’t sleep much. I had to turn down a lot of work from publishers because I knew I couldn’t make the deadline and it was very hard on me. But all the payments I received for my work,  I saved up and when I had enough, I made the decision to beccome a full time illustrator.

Bookmark by Karien Naude

Karien crafts her own "wicked" (her word) bookmarks, which she sends out as promotional mailers, along with postcards and other items. This one netted an immediate phone call from an editor.

What are you thinking about when you start an illustration? What about when you get to the middle of the process and what about when you decide your about to finish a picture? Can you walk us through your process a little?

Well usually I start with “day-dreaming” about the picture. I draw and paint in my head so that when I actually start with the illustration I know exactly how it will look and what I must do.

When I start I usually put the radio on and then my thoughts are put in a cage and I work with a clear mind and in this state I can work for hours and hours not realizing that I’ve worked the whole day.

I can’t work in silence. I was also told by a teacher that some students study with music on and they get great results.

Can you walk us through some of these images and share with us how you got the ideas, who were the pieces for and how you executed your final versions of them?

I usually get my ideas by what I’m doing at that moment. I get ideas from listening to music, watching movies or reading books. I was reading Alice in Wonderland when I did Alice and the White Rabbit. The mouse and the Lizard I did a few years ago as part of a commission to do pictures for a baby’s room and I fell in love with the characters and started playing around with them, adding background or dressing them up.

Now that you’ve got some real experience as an illustrator for hire, what are your goals now as an illustrator for children’s books? Have your goals changed? What activities, education, training and/or networking do you see yourself doing in the next six months to a year to help you achieve some of your important held goals?

My first goal is to have my own picture book published in South Africa and the UK which I’m still working very hard on.

I always dream that I would walk into a book store and see my own picture book with my name on it on the shelf.

On the educational side,  I want to try and do work for all the educational publishers in South Africa.

The next phase begins next month and I’ll be busy for 2 or 3 months again. In October, I will promote and sell my work at a very big convention in Johannesburg , called Rage. It’s a technology convention where they show the latest technology in the computer industry, as well as the latest games.

Karien Naude

Karien Naude sports elfin ears at the Rage Expo, a technology conference in Johannesburg. Photo by Kay Carmichael

Our comics / illustrators / designer group have an “artists alley” every year and a lot of game developers walk around the alley seeking illustrators to do work for them.

Hopefully, I’ll learn more about ebooks and how they will change children books. I’m also busy putting up my work for online prints at RedBubble. By this I’m hoping to get my illustrations to the public to enjoy and to get my name out in the world.

Art by Karien Naude

How is that Zulu folktale picture book you’ve been working on coming along?

It’s been two years since I started with the Tokoloshe but I can gladly say that I’m finished tweaking the writing. Going from 1000 words to 500 words is very had to do. But I’m happy with the final result. I’ve started thinking about the illustrations and it’s almost planned out in my head, but the next stage for me is actually doing the dummy book. This will hopefully be done before the end of the year.

Karien, what advice and practical tips would you give an aspiring illustrator , say someone who is in the shoes you were in two years ago?

Do lots of research, be passionate about what you do and work hard. Don’t let your dream fade away.

Be annoying. I know it sounds funny, but send your portfolio out a hundred times to publishers. You’ll fade out of their minds if you don’t, but if you send them postcards, bookmarks or portfolios regularly, they will start remembering you and you will get work.

Don’t be upset if you get rejections. At first it bothered me a lot. but its part of our illustration world. You get use to it and sometimes you see the funny side of it and will laugh out loud when you get them.

In the end it’s worth it and you’ll be a happy illustrator living your dream. If you need help, I’m always there.

Karien Naude

Karien Draws Dragons In Tolkien’s Original Land

Karien's dragon

Karien Naude taught herself to draw, paint and airbrush.

Her native language is the Afrikaans of the Dutch Protestants who settled in southwestern South Africa in the 17th century.

“The wildlife and nature are breathtaking and I love to go camping and take all this splendor in,” she wrote me in an e-mail back in September.

“It’s good for the soul!  There are so many different cultures and the people are fantastic.  The only thing is we are behind in everything.  South Africa is still viewing art as a hobby. But it is changing. There are a lot of different animation programs now available. I’m part of a South African comics group Comicworx Studios, where we try to get the country involved with  comics. It’ s very hard work, but every year we can see some progress.

“We have become friends with a few Marvel (Comics) artists and that has given us a huge boost.  But my passion is still illustration.”

Fantasy artist Karien Naude of Johannesburg

Fantasy artist Karen Naude of Johannesburg

She has far too many interests to mention in this small space.  But I will  say  they include the fairies,  trolls and wizards of the novels of Terry Pratchett and J.R.R. Tolkien (who also was born in South Africa, but moved to England when he was three.)

She also reads Anne Rice and Stephen King, Dean Koontz and J.K.Rowling.

She likes  horror movies, Tim Burton movies  and Harry Potter movies.
She’s crazy about music.  Her tastes range from Counting Crows to Jimi Hendrix to the operas of Richard Wagner.

To the Screeching Weasels.

She answered an online survey question back in the fall and landed in this online course on how to illustrate a children’s book. Originally spurred by a publisher’s contest, she’s been crafting a picture book based on a Zulu folk tale about a supernatural creature, the  Tokoloshe. The Tokoloshe

She’s completed the manuscript and has revised her thumbnail storyboard.  She’s now at the stage of transferring drawings to her watercolor paper. Dismayed by the retail prices of lightboxes in the art supply stores,  she built her own.

I’ll stop here, because Karien does a great job of speaking for herself — in her second language, English.

Karien, what sort of art study have you done?

I’m a self-taught artist with God given talents, and proud of it.  Ever since I can remember I have been drawing. Since kindergarten I’ve made the cutest drawings in my school books and always gotten a golden star from the teachers and I think that was when I realized I wanted to become an artist.   When I got older I started studying every book I could find about Renaissance artists and bought every art book that showed techniques on how to draw and paint.  I started out with pencil drawings and got pretty good in it, later I started experimenting with pastels and paints. I sold a few drawings and got praised by an Art Gallery in Melville but decided that it’s not for me and that I would rather do fantasy drawings and illustration work.  I have had no formal training or studies.

Can you describe a little about your life in South Africa? Have you ever lived anywhere else?  What is school and work like there?

I have been living in South Africa all my life and have not lived anywhere else.  I am planning to visit a friend, hopefully this year, in England, but I will always return to my roots.  South Africa is a beautiful country, the land and people.  I am currently living in a middle class suburban area and the schools in my area are very respectable and up to standard.  I am currently working in the central of Johannesburg town.  I work for a big law firm and we mainly work with properties.  South Africa has 11 official languages and the most difficult system when selling and buying houses. It is stressful and hard work, and because it’s hard to speak all of the languages, we use English to communicate. So Afrikaans people talk, read and use English, although we are very proud of our language. Afrikaans music is big here and even English people listen to it.

Are there any art museums around?

Yes there are two art museums that I know of in Pretoria and Cape Town but sadly non in Johannesburg where I live.  There are however thousand of art galleries that you can visit.  The well known Goodman Gallery is also in Rosebank, Johannesburg, and sometimes a real treat to visit as they have a variety of art exhibitions.

What other  artistic and/or literary interests do you have? (I know you really keep up with all kinds of music!)

I’m very passionate about air brushing and some have even told me I am very good.  I love reading (thanks to my mom) and got my own little library of books that I’ve bought over the years, mostly fiction.

Yes,  music plays a big role in my life.  I play the piano and I’m always listening to all kind of music on my MP3. You will always find me with my earphones on, on my way to work, and I can never draw or paint without music.  It inspires me and I get most of my ideas while listening to it.


What has brought you to the world of children’s stories and books?

When I go out I love to stop at the nearest book shops and flipping through children books or any book about illustrations.  A few years back I started reading Terry Pratchet’s books about Discworld and always admired the art work on the book covers.  Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell books and illustration work always brings a giggle to me.  One day on my way to work I started thinking of how much I enjoyed the books and illustration work and that I can do it as well.  I started doing research on Children’s books which brought me to your course, Make Your Splashes; Make your Marks!

Your interest in fairies, trolls and elves — how far back in your life does that go? What do you think pulls you to them?

It started with The Hobbit when I was in school and later the Lord of the Rings because the elves where mystical, the hobbits lovable and wizard’s warriors.  I also love Terry Pratchett’s books where you read about trolls, witches, wizards and all kinds of fantasy beings (with a twist).  I will always have a soft spot for them.

Green Fairy What are you working on now in your illustration?

I’ve just finished my Green fairy but I want to do a humorous illustration about my children (dogs) and what they do at home when I’m at work.

How is it going, developing the Tokoloshe story? You’ve been developing your thumbnail storyboard. Have you run into any roadblocks?

The Tokoloshe is my first story that I’ve written and I guess that’s my first roadblock! But every step I take and roadblock I get I learn a lot.  The thumbnail storyboard helps a lot and after my first one (which I wasn’t happy with) I noticed that I was repeating scenes and so I’ve changed it.

I started a second storyboard but a bit bigger and it works like a dream. I can see how my book’s layout would be and if I repeat scenes or if a scene doesn’t fit.  I won’t work without it.

Are you starting to develop any of the full drawings? What difficulties are you finding in this process of working a thumbnail “scribble sketch” up to a complete detailed drawing?

I must say its hard work and long hours. Without the thumbnail and little scribble sketches it would’ve taken me a lifetime to complete but working with the thumbnail it’s much easier and faster.  I’ve noticed that my scribble sketches are really working for me and it’s basically just putting it over and improving the sketch into a detailed drawing.   But it can also bee frustrating to do the detailed drawing as they sometimes takes to long.


Can you describe how you work? What is your creative process like?

First I must put my earphones on for some music. hehe.  I first start with the layout of the drawing in H2 pencil and it involves lot of cappuccino and erasing.  When I’m done I always ask my sister to have a look at my drawing and comment on it (she is like my personal editor) and then I start going over it with Faber Castell Ecco Pigment marker and erasing the pencil.  I will then start painting and when Im done and happy with it I will go over some lines again with the Faber Castell Ecco Pigment marker for more effect.

How did you pull off that cool cover for The Tokoloshe?

When I was writing the story I wanted to look at a picture of the tokoloshe so that it would not slip from my mind and I created the picture. After doing it I decided to make it into a cover just for the fun of it.  I was experimenting with paints and colors and I was happy at the time.  Now I see mistakes that I didn’t notice before and the Tokoloshe looks very stiff so I’m planning on giving him a make-over.

What challenges do you find  yourself repeatedly facing in your paintings or renderings?

Sometimes my pencil drawings are really good but after starting painting them they don’t turn out as what I was hoping for and they don’t look good to me.  When I render a piece I sometime mess it up and after spending so much time on the painting I spoiled everything and I have to throw it away and start again, which is upsetting.


What questions do you have about the  whole endeavor of  children’s book illustration?

When my story and illustrations are done how will I know what publisher to choose and how do I submit it?  How will I know if my work is even good enough?  If my work is submitted what is the time frame?  If it is accepted, what must I look out for in the contract (pitfalls)?BEEULAH THE WITCH

What children’s book publishing opportunities have you uncovered in South  Africa or the Afrikaans language?

I’ve read a lot of Afrikaans and English books and I’ve jotted down a few South African publishing companies.  There are some famous ones like Random House and Penguin Books, which have branches in South Africa which I’m looking at as well.

Who are your artist muses? Any favorite children’s authors?

People who inspire me are John Howe, Alan Lee, Paul Kidby, Josh Kirby, Paul Stewart, Chris Riddell, Terry Pratchet, J.K .Rowling, Tolkien and Don Seegmiller.

Karien’s art blog, which is on our blogroll , is: http://kariennaude.blogspot.com

We’ll  check in with her from time to time to see how she’s progressing on her dummy for “The Tokoloshe.”

Mark Mitchell, who interviewed Karien, hosts the “How Be a Children’s Book Illustrator” blog.


Karien likes to listens to music while she draws.