Jana Heidersdorf is an illustrator living and working in Germany. Her moody and surreal work is often inspired by nature, fairy tales and everything feral and fantastical. When she’s not drawing or crafting, you can find her dabbling in the dark arts of writing, photography and animation, or stalking the local squirrel population.
Tell us a little about the art scene near you. Is it a small community? Large? Are you engaged with other local artists or do you prefer to pursue your work alone?
The town I currently live in has no illustration art scene I’m aware of. On the other hand, I’ve moved here only recently, so I could be wrong. I know a few fellow illustrators living in cities that are reasonably close by, though, and we keep in touch or meet up once in a while. Still, most of the time I’m indulging myself in a hermit-like lifestyle, working on my own and using the internet to connect with the wider fantasy art community.
What is your favorite medium to work with and why?
Currently I’m working in a mix of acrylics, pencils and charcoal with a hint of digital. It’s awesome because I get to draw, paint, experiment and get my hands dirty, while having the control and safety of digital media on my side. It keeps me from worrying too much about making mistakes because I know I’ll be able to fix things later on. I’m a rather anxious person in general, so being able to be fearless in my work has been an important step in my development as an artist so far.
Plus, I really do work and think very differently during the stages of my process. The traditional part has me more focused on my technical skills, while the digital part has me acting more like an editor, bringing the best out of the raw material at hand.
The majority of the colors you use are very subtle and muted. What do you like about this kind of palette?
My work relies heavily on playing with contrasts, shapes and textures, so color usually plays a (not unimportant) supporting role, adding a warmth or coolness to the general atmosphere of the artwork. I love how subtle changes in hue can make a huge difference in the impact of a piece, how just a little bit of color can make an illustration come alive.
Your mermaids are simultaneously creepy and beautiful. What is it about mermaids that inspired you to create your series?
I grew up with a rather narrow idea of what a mermaid looks like, with Disney’s Ariel being a prime example, followed by a book of Andersen fairy tales depicting the little mermaid as a beautiful human girl with, well, a generic fish tail. It took me a long time to realize that mermaids can actually look different. That there might be a darker side to them, a more animalistic side.
I think there’s a lot of fascination for taking a concept everybody is familiar with, one that is heavily formed by similar pop cultural influences, and bringing something new to the table.
For one thing, people already have their own idea of this thing you’re drawing so they are more likely to see what you’ve added; they are more likely to be surprised by a concept or an idea.
It’s more fun to have a conversation when everybody has some common ground.
A lot of the animals in your art have a feral quality to them, with their dark forms and bright, wild eyes. What attracts you to this kind of imagery?
The not knowing. There is mystery in unpredictability and wildness. I have an undeniable romantic side that idealizes the rawness and chaos of nature, especially opposed to our need as humans to categorize and order everything.
One of the reasons I primarily like to draw animals, or at least non-humans such as mermaids, is that we cannot apply our set morals to them. They can be scary or dangerous, but never evil. That’s something that fascinates me a lot.
Who has been your greatest artistic inspiration?
When I was younger, I marveled at my family’s copy of Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s Fairies a lot, which I still find myself returning to once in a while. During my teens, which were not that long ago, really, I was fairly ignorant of fellow illustrators, but watched a lot of movies and read a lot of books. Both were highly influential in shaping my taste and visual language, with my favorite filmmaking people being Guillermo Del Toro and Peter Greenaway, while Neil Gaiman and Patrick Ness penned my favorite books.
For the last few years, I have at least tried my best to fill that illustration-shaped hole in my artistic knowledge, and very much fell in love with the works of the golden age illustrators John Bauer, Dulac and Arthur Rackham. I also deeply admire Shaun Tan and Rovina Cai, who are incredible. There are way more amazing people around, but that list would never end.
Is there a location you find particularly inspiring—perhaps a place you visit often, or a far off destination you hope to visit one day?
I’ve always wanted to visit Iceland one day, first because I wanted to ride the ponies, and later because of the unique landscapes and mythology. I’m not much of a traveling person, though, so the local forests have to do. It’s mostly just a matter of keeping your eyes open and really looking at your surroundings, taking in odd branches, dead trees, trees growing into and around each other.
I’m not completely familiar with the local forest area yet, so I can easily get lost and find new parts and paths. Even returning to the same spot again and again will always have its own magic, depending on the season and weather or your mood.
Lastly, I’d like to ask you a question in the spirit of Nightmare: What scares you the most?
Well, the last time a nightmare woke me up, terrified and in tears, it was about my bus ticket turning out not to be valid and having to wait for everybody else to enter the bus and pass me before I could buy a new one from the driver. It was horrible. They were all looking at me, knowing I had, unaware of it or not, tried to take the bus without a valid ticket.
Honestly, my greatest fears revolve around looking stupid, doing things wrong, being a bad person or letting people down.
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