Gerda Dendooven is a multidisciplinary artist who graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KASK) in Ghent. As well as writing and illustrating books for children, she also writes plays, novels and newspaper columns, does various live performances, and teaches graphic design and illustration at the Saint-Luc Institute in Ghent.
In this post, Gerda talks about her creative process and shares illustrations from four of her books: ‘Stella, ster van de Zee’ (Stella, Star of the Sea), ‘Takkenkind’ (Branch-child), ‘Wintervuur’ (Winter Fire), and ‘De Gans en zijn broer’ (The Goose and his Brother).
Gerda Dendooven’s Wikipedia page
Gerda: I don’t like the word illustration. I prefer picture-maker.
I make pictures, images, a new world. Mostly on paper.
Illustrations from ‘Stella, ster van de Zee / Stella, Star of the Sea’. Published by Querido, Netherlands, 2016.
When I make a picture, I jump into another existence, one that I created myself. The people in my pictures are sometimes people I met. I hear them talk, I hear what they say, how they speak, with what voice, what relationship they have with each other.
I am a kind of vampire: I steal with my eyes and with my ears.
What I hear inspires me more for pictures than what I see. What I see inspires me often for writing.
Illustrations from ‘Takkenkind / Branch-child’. Published by Querido, Netherlands, 2012.
I make books for children and adults, but in all my work there are three parameters:
1. I think of my audience: mostly children.
2. I think of the ones who buy and read the books to children: parents, teachers…
3. I think of myself: the artist. I have to be happy with what I make!
If I miss one of these, I fail. It has to be in balance.
Illustrations from ‘Wintervuur / Winter Fire’. Written by Carl Norac and published by Lannoo, Belgium, 2017.
I always start with an idea: what would I like to write about and draw? I have to feel the need to make the book. Just making a book is not enough; it has to be urgent for me.
So I talk about parents, the relationship between children and parents, between man and wife. In nearly all of my books, I question myself: what is a good mother? I am a mother, so I question myself about that issue.
Anxiety is also a prominent theme in my work. Anxiety is a motor and a brake. It brings you further and it stops you. It is a strong power.
Illustrations from ‘De Gans en zijn broer / The Goose and his Brother’. Written by Bart Moeyaert and published by Querido, Netherlands, 2014.
I believe in the strength of children. I believe in the flexibility of children to solve a problem. Everything is already in the child; we just have to wait for the right moment for it to come out. So don’t hurry.
Humour and fantasy are also important in my books and pictures. Fantasy is wonderful, but it can create anxiety as well.
In my pictures I exaggerate some specific characteristics – the morphology of the body – because it fascinates me and makes me laugh! So sometimes I work in an expressionistic style because that shows better what I want to say in a picture.
I work with ink, pencil and collage because collage gives me the freedom to change a picture till the end. I have less stress.
Illustrations © Gerda Dendooven. Post edited by dPICTUS.
Stella, ster van de Zee /
Stella, Star of the Sea
Querido, Netherlands, 2016
“Oh look, there’s a foot. And there’s a hand. With fingers. And another foot.”
“Man, this is not fish; this is a human being!”
A fisherman and his wife find a little girl in their net one day. Who is she and where did she come from? They decide that they will keep the little girl and call her Stella, Star of the Sea.
After a while, Stella’s new parents will discover that she is different from the other children.
Querido, Netherlands, 2012
In the middle of the night, a woman tells her husband that she wants a child. Now! So the man starts looking. But none of the children who cross his path will be able to meet the strict demands of his wife. So he puts a branch in the cradle instead.
At first, the woman doesn’t want to know. But slowly, the branch-child teaches the woman how to love. And her love helps the child to grow.
Carl Norac & Gerda Dendooven
Lannoo, Belgium, 2017
Carl Norac and Gerda Dendooven give a voice and a face to the winter. They make it sound and look like never before.
A sparkling book of poems and short stories about the coldest season.
De Gans en zijn broer /
The Goose and his Brother
Bart Moeyaert & Gerda Dendooven
Querido, Netherlands, 2014
The goose and his brother are doing well on their farm, together with the turkeys, the sheep, a dog, and of course, the farmer’s wife. Life is rather carefree.
But sometimes, the goose and his brother are quite overwhelmed by their thoughts… like: Why is the world constantly changing? When exactly does night begin? And how can you hold on to happiness?
- Dutch: Querido
- French: La Joie de lire