Interview with Author / Illustrator Dorien Brouwers

Ever wondered where an Author gets their inspiration or how their career came to life? We are back today with another interview style post with one of our fantastic Author / Illustrators, Dorien Brouwers, to give you an insight into her life! Just like our interview with Manlu Tu, every day over on our Instagram page we have been sharing pictures and answers from Dorien herself.

Dorien grew up in the Netherlands and moved to the United Kingdom when she was 21, where she trained as a graphic designer. She has previously worked in London for clients like the Prado Museum (Madrid), Tate Modern and Pearson Education. She now lives in the countryside with her husband, son, cat and two chickens. Her book, 'The Remarkable Pigeon' was published in 2018 and is a story of finding your own strength and the beauty within yourself.

Image One: Dorien with her published book.
Image Two: Cover of 'The Remarkable Pigeon', published in 2018.

Question One: How did 'The Remarkable Pigeon' come to life? What inspired you and do you have a favourite illustration?

Dorien: "My son and I were admiring the beautiful birds in London Zoo. It suddenly struck me how although they are largely ignored and often regarded as a nuisance, the feral pigeons pecking the ground all were the lucky ones: unlike the rare and exotic creatures in the aviary, they get to fly free. I always knew there was a story in the irony of that, but it took me a couple of years to finally write it. A plain bird who compares himself to the most amazing birds in the world, but in the end finds his own strength. 

It was created as a gift for my son. Little did I know it would end up as a published work for others to enjoy. It's even being translated into my native language by a Dutch publisher. In terms of a favourite illustration I like the hummingbird spread. There’s lots to look at.”

Image One: Final illustration of the pigeon at the Zoo.
Image Two: Original Hummingbird spread, Dorien's favourite illustration.
Image Three: Final illustration of penguins.

Question Two: Did you always want to be an author / illustrator and how did this become your career?

Dorien: “I have always had a love for drawing. But for some reason never pictured myself illustrating professionally, I pursued a design career instead. Though, whenever the right project would emerge I’d illustrate (bookcovers, winelabels, corporate identities, etc). I see myself as an illustrator first and author second. I write in order to have something to draw. I’d like to say there was a master plan, but really my love for drawing, my background as a designer and experiences as a parent meant it all just clicked into place.

I don’t think anyone would just assume their stories and/or illustrations would be published straight away. The picture book industry is a hugely competitive one and many people have the desire to be published. I like this quote: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” I do believe we all have something to share with the world. And feel fortunate to have found my little gift.” 

Image One: Dorien painting some Hummingbirds.
Image Two: First practice Zoo cage sketches.
Image Three: Dorien reading her book to children.
Image Four: Final Toucan illustration.

Question Three: What is your process with writing / illustrating a new book? How do you get your ideas? What is the most challenging project you have worked on and why?

Dorien: “I believe inspiration surrounds us everywhere all the time, the key is to keep your eyes and mind open. It's important to create a space mentally and emotionally, so inspiration can find a way to drop in. When it does there’s this brief moment of magic and then... the hard work begins! ‘The Remarkable Pigeon’ came to me while on a visit to the zoo (pictured). My latest book ‘Sail’ (Hachette, Spring 2021) simply during a moment of stillness and my third book ‘The Wild Beings’ (Hachette, Autumn 2021) through observing children’s behaviour. 

The picture book I’m currently working on is the most challenging project I have worked on. It is called “Sail” and it’s about discovering beauty and meaning in challenging situations. To live a richer, more courageous and amplified life through saying: “What is this trying to teach me?”, rather than: “Why did this happen to me?” Much like ‘The Remarkable Pigeon’ it contains an important message. I feel a huge responsibility to turn it into the most beautiful picture book it can be. Creating this book has been a journey in itself.”

Image One: Final Heron illustration.
Image Two: Final Pigeon illustration.
Image Three: Final Parrot illustrations.
Image Four: Dorien's son admiring the Penguins at London Zoo.

Question Four: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? What's the best advice you've ever been given?

Dorien: “You are so much bigger than you think you are (and so is everyone else), don’t ever doubt it.” I’ve always done what feels right regardless of self-doubt, to be guided by curiosity rather than fear. Now that I’m a little older, and know myself a little better, I’ve come to realise that life is far too amazing and magical to ever play small.

Just before graduating as a designer, I worked in South Africa and met the MD of global advertising agency, Ogilvy. He wrote to me: “I have no doubt that you will do well in your life and career. You have a very good attitude to life and to me that makes up for 90% of a persons success. Success is a holistic thing, not just wealth, or career, or spirituality, or relationships. A well balanced perspective on life, in my opinion, is key to a lifetime of success.” Those words stuck with me and still ring true nearly 18 years later.”

Image One: Feather draft illustrations.
Image Two: 'The Remarkable Pigeon' out in the world!
Image Three: Dorien at Bologna Children's Book Fair.

Question Five: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors / illustrators?

Dorien: "Be inspired, but don't try to emulate other illustrators. 

There are definitely trends in design and illustration, if you want your artwork to be timeless, just 'do you'. It’s the only way to differentiate yourself from the rest. Get to know yourself and then put everything into creating what’s authentic to you. And relax, it has all been done before anyway. Immerse yourself. Go to the Bologna book fair if you can. Go to events, talk to fellow illustrators and authors.

Create, for the love of it, regardless of whether it brings you success or not. If it’s in you, let it out. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert in ‘Big Magic’: “Anyhow, what else are you going to do with your time here on earth-not make things? Not do interesting stuff? Not follow your love and curiosity?”

Do you have a favourite children's book?

From a story point of view definitely ‘Oh the places you’ll go’ by Dr. Seuss. Gets me every time. What a gem! It’s timeless. 

From an illustration point of view I love: Britta Teckentrup, Kenard Pak, Jon Klassen, Matthew Forsythe, Mark Janssen, Jenni Desmond, Jeffrey Alan Love, Manuel Marsol and... oh so many more!"

Image One: The Pigeon realises its beauty and flies free, final illustration.
Image Two: All of the featured birds in the book.

We would like to say a huge thank you to Dorien for taking the time to share an insight into her life. What you may not know about 'The Remarkable Pigeon' is that at the end of the book there is a 'Picture Glossary' which showcases all of the birds featured in the book with some information about them too! If you would like to purchase Dorien's book you can do so HERE!

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