Sonja Danowski: I wish all tyranns could be defeted by books

Thank you for accepting our interviews request. First we would like to get the know you a bit. Could you introduce yourself? Where do you live? What kind of music and books do you like? What do you imagine?

Many thanks to you, it is my pleasure and honor to be introduced by çeto Magazine. My name is Sonja Danowski, I live as a picture book artist and author in Berlin. The rooms where I live and work are located on the 5th floor of an old backyard house with view on a large chestnut tree. When I draw it is mostly silent around me, but I really love the gentle sound of instruments. One of my favorite composers is Eric Satie. I wish I had more time to read, while I work on a new book it seems the unfinished book needs all my attention and doesn’t allow me to spend time with other books. In my book shelves I have some old and beautifully illustrated encyclopedias and books about nature, I think these are my favorites, there is something timeless inside that delights me and calms me down. My dream is to make more picture books in the future.
I wish to give children all around the globe a little joy, so I hope my stories will be translated and published in many languages.

When and how did you begin  to draw? If I were to describe your illustrations, I would say you are the Tarkovski of illustration. Each illustration of yours could be framed and hung on the wall. In what art ecole /tradition do you see yourself? Who are the illustrators like and influence you?

Like most children I always loved drawing, and later in school I already dreamed of becoming an artist. During my design degree course I took my dream very serious, and while drawing and illustration was only a little part of the studies, I invested every free minute to draw at home in order to improve my skills. I think sometimes it is really good to be on one’s own because in this way I could develop something really personal.
I know many great illustrators, whose artworks I admire a lot. For my own work it is not the artwork of other illustrators that influences me, but I am inspired and guided by my imagination in combination with real live, nature, things and creatures, that I see in front of my eyes. Then it seems these scenes are just waiting to be depicted, for me as an artist it is essential to have a unique picture language, in which I can interpret my very personal visions. Maybe my style could be called fictive realism. My goal is to make the sceneries look real even though they have never taken place like that in real life. I love to add many little details so that the viewer can discover something new with every sight. I discovered realism as my way of expression, especially to express emotions. When I read about my books, they are sometimes described as “fallen out of the time” because in today’s children books the illustrations are often designed in graphic or comic style, which can be also great, but since the reality is always present in our lives, realistic depiction will always be contemporary and timeless.
As you are both a writer and an illustrator. Which one makes you feel more free draw your own story or draw someone’s else story?

Writing and illustrating my own story leaves more freedom and I especially enjoy this way of working. If it is based on my own idea the storyline is more flexible, it can be still formed and modified in the process, which happens quite often, and it can be a real challenge to bring it to a conclusive ending. I like the surprises and also the ups and down during the process of creation. When I illustrate a story by another author I especially like that it brings me to ideas and settings that I would never have discovered on my own. The good thing is that if someone offers me a text for a new book I can decide whether it is a story I would like to deepen in or if it is not the right theme for me. It is always an important decision since illustrating a whole book takes several months, and if it is a touching story or a sad and serious theme it can be a sorrowful, moving and exhausting, but also a very enriching time.

There is something that touches the soul of your books. Especially in Little Night Cat. According to you can children’s literature save the World? Could children’s literature make the World a better place?

Thank you, I am so glad to hear that “Küçük Gece Kedisi” has a calming mood for the soul, this is exactly what I tried to express in my illustrations. I wanted to make a picture book with a peaceful message that children love to look at before going to sleep. Yes, I absolutely think that children’s literature can make the world a better place. Sadly there are borders and it is probably just an illusion and dream that it can save the world. I mean I wish all tyranns or armed fighters could be defeted by books! But still, if we provide the little humans of today with good literature they will see the world in a different way and encounter others open minded and with tolerance in the future. With help of books we can convey insights of other cultures and we can show those children that are lucky to live in a safe home with loving parents that there are other children that have to handle very serious situations, and moreover I wish we could reach also all those children that have not this privilig. I wish every child would have access to books, to peace and to freedom!  

There is a music composition composed by Toni at the end of Küçük Gece Kedisi. Three branches of art (writing, drawing, music) were intertwined with each other. What are the feelings or reflections you can awaken in children and you with these three art forms? 

Pictures and music do not need to be translated, since they speak a universal language. Music can express so much, it can even be funny or sad, and music is very intense. It is easy to get a proof of music’s impact: you can watch an animation once with music and once in silent and you will notice that something important is missing in the silent version. In comparison to films books are made of sentences and frozen pictures that you have to bring to life by your own, which works really well and it can have a long after effect. Once you read a book you will mostly not forget it as easily as many films that are most intense in the very short moment of watching them. I am glad that also music can be preserved like sentences and pictures. With help of music sheets you can forward and play a song again and again.
I often find myself humming a random melody while I draw. I have a piano in my working space, and thanks to my parents I learned to play and read sheet music already as a child, so I sat down at the piano and wrote the music for the song Little Night Cat, which I composed while working on the illustrations. 

If there is anything more meaningful than writing and drawing for children then what can it be?

As a picture book maker I am sometimes invited by schools or libraries to give a lecture and workshop for children. It is so great and joyful to work with children, to awaken their creative minds by drawing and painting, singing and dancing, playing and exploring nature, and by explaining and showing them the fascination of life. We should encourage children to keep up their playfulness and ease and to become thoughtful and understanding. A happy childhood is a base frame of life.

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