Johanna Schaible

Johanna Schaible is an artist whose work moves along the borders of illustration, art, and design. She has a degree in Illustration and Visual Communication from the Lucerne School of Art and Design, and she was one of the first members of Bolo Klub, a collective supporting an emerging generation of picturebook makers in Switzerland.

In this post, Johanna talks about her incredible debut picturebook ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’. In the first dPICTUS Unpublished Picturebook Showcase in 2019, this project was voted for by 23 of the 30 publishers on the jury, acquired by Lilla Piratförlaget, and then published as a co-edition in nine languages.

Visit Johanna Schaible’s website

Johanna: I will tell you about my picturebook ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’. It takes us on a journey through time. The book begins in the distant past, catches up to the present halfway through, and then leads us with questions into the future.

Illustration from ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

Millions of years ago, dinosaurs lived on Earth.

Illustration from ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

One hundred years ago, a journey took a long time.

Illustration from ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

A month ago, it was still autumnn.

Illustration from ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

What will the weekend bring?

Illustration from ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

Will you have children one day?

The time is depicted in a special way. If you open the book in the middle it looks like this:

‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

The pages of the book become smaller as we draw closer to the present and grow larger again as we move into the future.

This is one of the first dummy books I made.

Dummy book for ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

Back then, it was hard to believe that this would turn into a real book one day. For a long time, I heard from the publishing world that it is very difficult to produce a book like this and it would be even harder, if not impossible, to find a publisher who would take the risk, effort and cost to produce it. It took some time, but here it is!

Swedish cover for ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

Foreign editions of ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

The book’s journey started with Bolo Klub, which was founded several years ago by the Swiss illustration duo It’s Raining Elephants. Bolo Klub supports illustrators in completing a picturebook, and provides networking opportunities with professionals from the publishing world. I had the chance to take part in the first edition from 2018–2019. We were a wonderful group of fifteen illustrators that came together once a month to push our book projects forward, and to benefit from each other’s feedback.

Photograph by E.Ettlin

Photograph by E.Ettlin.

I do a lot of projects moving between art and illustration. To make a picturebook sounded very challenging to me, especially because I rarely work on narrative.

I always keep a logbook where I write about the project I‘m working on, including the inspiration and input I receive. This is the logbook from the meetings with the Bolo Klub.

Logbook by Johanna Schaible

From the beginning, I was attracted by books with exciting formats, and I wasn’t up for creating a regular one. I didn’t want a main character, and my starting points were thematically very open and global. My keywords, for example, were ‘night’, ‘air’ and ‘time’.

Logbook by Johanna Schaible

With the aim to really make progress on our projects, we spent a working weekend together. Besides the working, it was so enriching to exchange thoughts and ideas. In a creative process, we all face similar challenges.

Photograph by E.Ettlin

Photograph by E.Ettlin.

I was working on two ideas: The first idea was a zoom, starting far away and coming in close to one child. The second idea was a dummy book with the topic ‘time’. Combining the two ideas was the turning point, and I had finally found the theme and concept I was looking for.

Photograph by E.Ettlin

Photograph by E.Ettlin.

Logbook by Johanna Schaible

I often work with collage and painting for my illustrations. I also do my sketches using this technique because I want to see the atmosphere of an image and idea straight away.

To start with, I made some little sketches the size of postcards. In this case I work more roughly, and I appreciate the liveliness that inhabits these sketches. I feel comfortable working quite fast. It helps me to develop the images intuitively.

Logbook by Johanna Schaible

Photograph by E.Ettlin.

I made a lot of little dummy books to observe what happened while turning the pages. I had to find simple sentences that gave the timeline and structure to the book.

Dummy books for ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

Alongside the development of a coherent journey through time, I had to think about the feasibility of my idea. When I did my little dummy books, they were very imprecise. It was only when I started to measure the pages and make examples of the real book size that I realised that my pages didn’t just get smaller, but their format changed completely.

Dummy books for ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

This became one of the most important pages for me in the logbook: the one with the measurements of each image.

Logbook by Johanna Schaible

The format changes from a more common picturebook size…

Illustration from ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

… to a wide panorama format, and then back again.

Illustration from ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

To be sure about the size, it helped me to use frames that I put over my collages, to be able to change and move elements until the end.

Work in progress for ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

With the Bolo Klub and my dummy book, I travelled to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2019.

Photograph by E.Ettlin

Photograph by E.Ettlin.

In Bologna, some publishers told me they were interested. But I never heard from them again. One publisher seemed particularly interested, but didn’t propose me a contract at that time.

It was another call that boosted this project. I sent my dummy book to the first edition of the dPICTUS Unpublished Picturebook Showcase in 2019, and was thrilled when I heard that 23 of the 30 publishers on the jury voted independently for my project. It made me very happy because it showed me that, even if that didn’t mean that they would publish it, my book was touching them in some way.

dPICTUS and The Unpublished Picturebook Showcase at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2019 (photograph by Theodore Bauthier)

dPICTUS and The Unpublished Picturebook Showcase at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2019 (photograph by Theodore Bauthier)

dPICTUS and The Unpublished Picturebook Showcase at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2019 (photograph by Theodore Bauthier)

Frankfurt Book Fair 2019 photographs by Theodore Bauthier (@b.c.theodore).

It was also through The Unpublished Picturebook Showcase that my book project found the publisher that accepted the big challenge of making it a reality. I was very lucky with my Swedish editor Erik Titusson from Lilla Piratförlaget, and Sam McCullen from dPICTUS / Picturebook Makers on the graphic design. In our collaboration, I felt a big trust in me and my work.

Johanna Schaible’s studio

My creative process for this project was similar to how it very often is for me: Some pictures came easily and stayed very close to the original sketch…

Development work for ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

Illustration from ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

But for some of the other pictures, I had to do them over and over again until they felt right to me.

Development work for ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

Illustration from ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

With my technique of mixing painting and cutouts, I really like to develop sceneries and creating atmospheres. To show humans inhabiting these scenes was a challenge in the beginning. It became easier after I decided to paint the figures at a larger size. For some images I made the whole setting first. Then I cut out the figures and inserted them digitally.

Work in progress for ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

Work in progress for ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

Illustration from ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

Whenever I got stuck, it helped to go outside and take photos of the daily life around me.

Photograph taken in Bern by Johanna Schaible

This, for example, is a house in the old part of Bern, which inspired me for the following image.

Illustration from ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

To make this book was a precious experience to me. The companionship and support from the Bolo Klub was very helpful and enriching. On this journey, I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of inspiring people who shared their knowledge and offered me their help. I‘m so thankful to all of them, and especially to my closest allies and friends who support me in all of my projects.

Illustration from ‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

I hope that this book will offer to people of all ages the possibility to talk about what kind of future we imagine and want to build together.

‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

Illustrations © Johanna Schaible. Post edited by dPICTUS.

‘Once upon a time there was and will be so much more’ by Johanna Schaible

Buy this picturebook

Det var en gång och blir så mycket mer / Once upon a time there was and will be so much more

Johanna Schaible
Lilla Piratförlaget, Sweden, 2021

Billions of years ago, land took shape. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, people built some very large things. A month ago, it was still autumn. Where will you be in an hour? How will you celebrate your birthday next year? What will impress you forever? What do you wish for the future?

This book takes us on a journey through time. It begins in the distant past, catches up to the present halfway through, and then leads us with its questions into the future. Both the fleeting present and the enormity of time are depicted in a truly unique way: the pages of the book become smaller as we draw closer to the present, only to grow larger again as we move into the future.

  • Swedish: Lilla Piratförlaget
  • English: Candlewick Press (late 2021)
  • Italian: Orecchio Acerbo
  • German: Carl Hanser Verlag
  • Portuguese: Planeta Tangerina
  • Spanish: Leetra (Mexico)
  • Danish: Turbine
  • Greek: Martis
  • Korean: LOGpress

Sign up for the Picturebook Makers Gallery