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Q&A with Viviane Schwarz

Games, comic books, children book illustration

I am Viv Schwarz. I am best known for my picture books.

I make other things as well, by myself and in collaboration: games, comics, craft books, toys… I work to encourage creativity and thought.

How did you get started as artist? What is your background?

I always wanted to be an artist, writer and inventor. My parents were very supportive, helping me to make a wide range of projects from an early age: Electronics, craft, writing… I researched in the local library, they let me have materials and helped out. The first letter I remember writing was to a newspaper, and I kept writing them, hoping to be published. I got my first regular comic strip gig at a national children’s magazine when I was thirteen.

I studied linguistics and literature in Germany, then I emigrated to the UK to study illustration. I’ve been working as a children’s book author and artist for fifteen years now.

What are you working on now?

Most of my picture books are either written by me or by my friend Alexis Deacon. Our latest one, “I am Henry Finch”, has just come out and I am about to start work on the next one which is about a family of toads.

I am also writing a series of picture books about a girl and a crocodile. The first book is called “How to Find Gold” and will be out later this year.

Then I am collaborating on a book about boardgames, and I am drawing an autobiographical comic series about anxiety disorder. That’s the full-time projects.

I keep doing sideline projects as they arise. Every major project I’ve done had its roots in many smaller ones.

Right now I am crocheting some toys to sell at a fair, they might turn into characters for a story or not, and I’m tinkering with 3D vision goggles.

What tools and software do you use for your work?

I carry a bundle of sketchbooks and mostly draw with Blackwing pencils, and with a fountain pen. When I am in the studio I use Manga drawing nibs and nibs cut from cans, and I paint with brushes that I make myself.

I always carry a small watercolour set for observational drawings, and I take photos with toy cameras.

I use Photoshop and a big old Cintiq for the digital part of my work - some of it is just scanned and tidied, some is drawn entirely digitally and most is somewhere in-between.

I am building my perfect digital work table - so far I have embedded the graphics tablet into it, next I’ll build a custom keyboard.

What is your ideal work environment?

It depends on the project. I haven’t always had a studio, for years I worked from a box room or a bedroom. I have learned to put together a portable studio so I can work in public places or at friends’ houses when needed, and sometimes that is ideal.

I like to be in a lively cafe when drawing harrowing comics because it’s better than being alone. At the moment I have a great studio space in a shipping container by Waterloo Station, just off the rails, and it’s just the right balance of peace and noise. I do all my digital work and my painting there, but when I write I need to be somewhere else, either in my own bed which is surrounded by bookshelves and curtains or in a cafe where people keep bringing me pots of tea.

Where are your favorite places for art? 

I love Tate Modern, I wish I could bottle the smell for sad days. Modern art museums feel like home.

But really, I like art to be everywhere.

Who are the designers, artists you admire most?

The ones that I get to see at work. There’s so much skill in people, and we mostly just see the surface and the end result of a fraction of it all. I admire people who keep creating even when there’s no one watching.