Some of the more memorable children’s book illustrations aren’t the ones that tell the story, but the ones that encourage the child’s imagination. Wrapped up warm at night, they can stare at the large, filled page, while someone reads the words over their shoulder. The more detail and scale, the stranger and more alien, the more building blocks they have to run with.
Even as adults, illustrations with the same depth and grandeur, have a similar effect. Where is this world and who lives there? Erik Berndt’s work prompts these questions in us. We see a city with a lone man looking on— where is he going? Where did he come from? (Can I ride his awesome bike?)
However, the epic scenery wouldn’t be such a spectacle if it weren’t for the delicate touch it is rendered in. Erik diligently spends countless hours on his work, often scrapping large areas to be started from scratch. Fine hatching in pencil is used as well as erasers for contrast and atmospheric lighting.
We asked Erik a few questions to get a better idea about what it takes to create such detailed work. He talks about getting a later start in art and the impressive amount of time that goes into each image.
Have you always enjoyed doing large, architectural drawings of imagined worlds?
I started relatively late to draw at all, aged 25 or so, (thought it would be a good idea to develop ones ‘talents’, uh!) and it took some years until I learned how to handle trees and leaves and dared to add light to the sceneries.
On the one hand, I think I have enough technical skills to bring all my ideas adequately on paper (though with pencil only), otherwise I admittedly published things on my website in the past, which due to poor graphical quality had to be deleted later. In general, I tend to work things over and over, only few of my older drawings survived the years untouched.
Earlier in life, I didn’t draw more than any other average child. Though we had to illustrate stories like ‘Esau, Selling his Birthright for a Plate of Lentils’, I don’t think that school can be blamed for this.
Do you find inspiration in real buildings and cities?
The complexity of the many chemical plants in my neighbourhood drives me crazy. I can’t look at them without reflecting on how to put them on paper. Regretfully, there are no steel mills around here, so for them I solely have to rely on photos.
The ‘Tokyo’ picture is an aftermath of a movie, seen on TV (lost in translation), the scary ferry was inspired by a story in the local paper: a motorist, alredy on the ferry, got nervous, moved back and sunk his car into the river; and the ‘gas station’ was inspired by a real building, though not drawn on site but from memory.
Generally, all these buildings (except the ‘gas station’) are fictitious. (For some of my older buildings, I used an eclectic postbaroque, with whom I am not so happy any longer.)
You include an imaginative backstory to some of your drawings, is this important to you when working on one of these pieces?
These ideas mostly come during work, which in fact is a very lonely activity; so the mind is always busy, when not distracted by Youtube or TV.
Can you think of any particular children’s stories that caught your attention while you were growing up?
The work of H. C. Andersen left a deep and lasting impression … which might explain the mermaids occuring here and there in my work.
Can you describe the specific pencils you use and how you use erasers to create shades of light and negative spaces in your work?
The eraser is indeed an important tool, as I have only vague ideas when beginning. Especially ideas for illumination usually come during work with the result that often large parts of the drawing have to be wiped out again.
Do you have any upcoming plans for your work?
Next week, I have a meeting at the Frankfurt Book Fair with a publisher. In fact, with a very small publisher who probably is even poorer than I am. Nevertheless, I haven’t ceased to hope for some money for my pictures … somehow … someday.
Also, one should focus on the fields of etching and printmaking, which is probably a good way to publish these kinds of illustrations; but this is a time and money consuming project.
© Erik Berndt, 2012