“We chatted with talented children’s book illustrator Liesl van der Hoven about her online children’s décor shop, Fairy Caravan, and her adorable range of products…”
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself, your work and Fairy Caravan…
I am an illustrator who loves to draw for children. I believe in the magic of telling stories with pictures and also that stories need not be confined to books, but should be found everywhere they can be enjoyed.
For my business, Fairy Caravan, I have my illustrations printed on a range of high quality decor items for baby and toddler rooms, such as 100% cotton bed linen and pillows as well as matching wall art. These products enable parents and grandparents to add the charm of a children’s picture book to their nursery or toddler’s room.
Q: How did you get into the illustration business? Do you have an art or design background?
Education and work wise my background is very diverse: I started off studying Graphic Design, but then ended up doing my Master’s degree in Philosophy by accident!
I worked in a number of different fields, including for a large book retailer, as an editor, and in marketing.
The children’s illustration bug bit when I did my first short course in children’s book illustration with Marjorie van Heerden at the University of Stellenbosch in 2009. Children’s illustration suited my artistic style and I was inspired to pursue this field. Another, more intensive course in children’s book illustration followed in 2010. I also did a children’s book writing course with author Marianna Brandt.
Q: Why and when did you decide to take the scary step into retail?
After two courses to sharpen my skills as a children’s book illustrator, I felt ready to start freelancing for publishers. I completed a few illustrations for the educational market, but quickly became disillusioned with the opportunities available to children’s book illustrators in South Africa.
I started looking for ways in which I could create my own opportunities for drawing what I wanted to draw and getting paid for it, and that was how Fairy Caravan was born: My illustrations could be printed on a multitude of different surfaces where children could enjoy them!
My diverse background in terms of education and work experience has become an asset in starting up my creative business. I knew enough about retail and marketing to take the scary step towards starting up a product-based business.
Q: Where do you draw inspiration from when designing?
I have quite a collection of children’s books that I love to page through for inspiration. Often I just look at the pictures and these pictures inspire new stories and ideas for new characters. There is always some kind of story idea behind my illustrations – even if the story is very simple.
I love drawing animals more than anything else. I am a big animal lover so my own pets are a constant source of inspiration. I love that animal characters appeal to people of different cultures – something that is important to me in creating products for the South African market.
I also love observing the way in which children experience the world. I have a little nephew who has inspired many of my illustrations and I am fortunate that many of my friends have little ones that I get to play with.
Q: Is there a certain style you admire or aspire to?
I have loved Beatrix Potter’s books since my very first trip to the library before I even went to school. My favourite has always been Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle!
I love the style of classic children’s book illustrations, and artists whose work look hand drawn. Emily Gravett, Quentin Gréban, Rebecca Dautremer, Marjolein Bastin and Lisbeth Zwerger (to name a few) all do amazing work and I love looking at their illustrations for inspiration.
Q: Do you have a colour that you favour most and why?
I love all colours and my favourites are constantly changing.
Q: Could you share your Secret Indulgence with us?
A visit to The Deckle Edge in Woodstock with lots of time to browse is a huge treat for me. I have a weakness for expensive watercolour paper and tend to overspend on quality art materials because now I get to say that it’s “for work”!
Q: What is your favourite current décor trend?
I love that the woodland theme for nurseries and toddler’s rooms is not going away. It’s a classic theme and one that is open to a multitude of interpretations. Over the past few years we have seen rabbits, owls, hedgehogs and foxes have their moments, and I am loving the sweet little deer that have lately started showing up in nurseries and toddler rooms.
Q: Tell us five things on your Bucket List…
1. Visiting the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona with my husband once it is completed (in about 2026 – 2028) We visited in 2011 while on honeymoon and vowed that we would go back.
2. Spending at least a week in Paris visiting the Louvre as many times as I want.
3. Having one of my stories published – with my own illustrations.
4. I would love to have a garden big enough to keep as many pets as I like, I’m thinking a rabbit or two, a handful of chickens; I’d love to have another big dog and a giraffe!
5. Owning my dream car – a Jaguar.
Q: What do you have on your bedside table at the moment?
My Kindle with hundreds of stories, my smartphone and every morning my husband brings me a cup of tea – I am very lucky!
Q: Future plans? Can we expect to see more Fairy Caravan products?
I have already started planning my 2015 collection of illustrations, I’m not going to say anything about this just yet, but I can’t wait to get started on the drawings!
My plans in terms of products are to add more décor products to compliment the products that I already have, for example cot bumpers to go with my cot duvets and baby pillows.
I really enjoyed creating the animal pillow toys for toddlers this year, and they have also sold very well. I have a few ideas for adding more toy products to my range this year and am excited about where this may take me!