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Loes Riphagen | Interview – visiting her Amsterdam studio!

Loes Riphagen | Interview – visiting her Amsterdam studio!

My advice? Don’t listen to everyone – there will always be people who advise against what you do, but it’s ultimately your choice!

Loes Riphagen is the author ‘Coco kan het!’ (Coco Can do it!). This book is a true gem, which has been translated into several languages. It even became Picture Book of the Year 2021! But besides this wonderful book, Loes has a whole lot more in her collection such as ‘Come along Kees’! Her books are all largely hand-designed – that’s what makes them so unique. We thought it was high time to have a coffee with this wonderfully artistic person!

Where does this love for children’s books come from?

When I was young, I didn’t really read much at all, except comics. But my grandmother Truus gave us a book every year. That’s 10 books that I read completely inside out and back to front. She really did instil that love for children’s books in me.

…Sketches for the cover of Come along, Kees

Do you also get a lot of inspiration from this?

Yes, actually I do! Especially for Come along, Kees, my last book, I took inspiration from those books. The colour palette of this book is very similar to one of those books. The big pages with all those shades of green in gouache, you can find the similarities there. I personally really like these big, full-page pictures that are very narrative. There are also a lot of little jokes in my books. Many characters reappear in another book as well. I make it my own universe, to make it fun for the children, but also for the readers. You can also see this clearly in Kees, where Coco comes along.

You also write your own stories?

Yes, that has to do with the fact that I like to be in control. I used to make picture books without text, because I felt that the drawings spoke for themselves, but then I noticed that it was more difficult to get the story across. It is also more convenient for children and readers with text. Now I write very short texts to support the images.

What materials do you mainly use?

I mainly use a lot of Ecoline®. It is not without reason that I have all the colours of it! In addition, since my last books I often use gouache, for the beautiful, opaque effect.

…It is not without reason that I have all the colours of Ecoline®

Why specifically these materials?

My use of materials has changed a lot over the years. I used to use a lot of watercolours, ink and pencil. After this, I quickly moved on to Ecoline®. But working with Ecoline® and watercolour at the same time was challenging because they are both so fluid. Now I mostly use gouache and Ecoline®.

But Coco, on the other hand, I made with papercraft. While the backgrounds are made with Ecoline®, the animals themselves are all cut. I first draw a sketch of the character with pencil. Then I put the sheet the other way around on my light pad, so you can see the lines through it. And then I start drawing out each part separately. Then I turn that sheet over again. I then see the lines through it and then I’m going to colour them in with Ecoline®. you can go over the lines because you’re cutting it out again anyway. Once it’s coloured, the work has to dry for a while. When it has dried, you can cut out the pieces. This doesn’t have to be perfectly neat, because you want people to see that it has been cut. Then, once you have all the pieces, you can start gluing them together. I mostly use COLLALL® glue, but you can also use Pritt. As a final step, I draw the mouth, the edges in the wings, the pupils and the legs with a black pencil and then you have a Coco!

This is a really nice technique because you really have a 3D effect. I then scan in the background and characters and then digitally paste them over each other and then you can see what it really looks like. I think it’s a really great technique! I wanted to do it with Kees too, but it didn’t fit, so then I started doing it again differently. And so, with each book and each story I look at which technique suits it.

Picture book of the year 2021 – Coco can do it!

How did it make you feel when Coco was so well received?

Yes! It was fantastic! Winning picture book of the year was a dream come true. Because when you win that prize, you know that there are a lot of schools and institutions that will do fun activities with it. More than 100,000 copies were sold, something I never expected beforehand. And the fact that Coco has also been published in several countries is of course something to remember. I wrote this book for my daughter, whose name is also Coco. I very much looked at what she liked and what made her laugh and Coco can do it was born out of that! This made the book totally different from my previous books. That this book in particular does so well makes it extra special. I am now working on Coco 2, but it will look totally different again!

So the next part of Coco will look completely different?

Yes, it will be completely different again, but I’m still at the stage where I’m thinking about exactly what it will look like. On the one hand, I want to go back to cutting like Coco itself, but on the other hand, Kees’s gouache has really appealed to me. I’m going to think about it some more before making a decision.

…He who keeps something has something

In this digital age, why work in analogue?

That has to do with my personal taste. I personally find that you recognize handwork very quickly and that it often gives a story an extra dimension. Even in the book store I quickly see the difference between handwork and digital. And I myself tend to pick up the book that is handmade, because that attracts me more. I like the craftsmanship that goes into it. I like to be amazed at how something is made.

I used to work only analog and then have someone else make a digital version of it. Unfortunately, it often happened that the digitally printed version looked completely different in terms of colours than how I had intended. That’s why I decided to start working partly in digital myself. I will continue to work in analogue form, but the final editing will be done digitally. That way I know exactly what I had in mind will look like that.

What does a day at your studio look like?

First, coffee. Otherwise, I won’t get through my day. After that, I get to work nicely. I always plan my day very carefully, so I never have nothing to do at any given time. Of course, I’ve been doing this for a while, so I know a little bit about how it works now. I always have sketchbooks with ideas, from which I then pick one that I will work out. I start by making sketches first. If I have chosen a main character, I can spend a week just making sketches of that character until I know it inside out. At that point, I focus mainly on creating a storyboard. Based on that, I will sketch the story more extensively.

…the prototype of Coco 2

For Coco 2, I made a prototype because the cut-outs in the pages will be layered over each other. That’s how I keep working until I have all the spreads complete and can start working with colour.

How did you experience your time at the Willem de Kooning Academy?

I enjoyed it very much. I learned a lot. Also, how to make a lot of work in a short time. And I also noticed that the more I made, the more I created my own style.

I did try to focus mainly on traditional art during my studies. The focus was often on digital art, but that was not for me at that time. At times I did get stuck with that. Still, I’m glad I did this course. I did my first year in Groningen, but I could not really connect with the people around me and the classes were much freer than I had expected. Besides, the illustration course was just a bit too general for my taste. When I then went to Rotterdam, I noticed that I liked it more. I got along better with my classmates and the lessons were much more focused on applying your art. That had more value for me personally. To a subject like idea development at the WDKA, I still benefit a lot from that now.

…Loes, of course, is not just Coco

Did you always want to illustrate picture books?

No, actually I didn’t. When I was young, I always wanted to be a ballerina. Not that I had taken a class at all, but I thought the movements were so beautiful. And that’s why I wanted to become one! When I got older, on the other hand, I became very interested in archaeology. I still have that, by the way. I like collecting beautiful stones and fossils. But slowly I got more and more interested in crafts. I really enjoyed making little dollhouses in boxes. When I discovered my love for drawing in high school, I knew I wanted to go to art school. I actually knew from then on that I wanted to make picture books. I was already making a lot of big, colourful drawings in high school and that fit perfectly. When I went to WDKA, I got a lot of different assignments, including making magazines and newspapers. But I always tried to transform those into my love for picture books.

So did you make this your graduation project?

Yes, that’s right! We had to create our own project. For this I came up with the book Bedroom Nights Animals. I then sent part of it to many publishing houses in the Netherlands. I applied as widely as possible. I had a response from about half of them, but unfortunately nothing really came out. Until Fountain immediately indicated they wanted to publish my book. When Bedroom Nights Animals came out, my career actually took off in a bird’s-eye view. From that moment on I have always been able to create beautiful picture books.

That’s kind of unique, that you could get started right out of college.

Certainly, but it worked to my advantage that I sent everything in immediately after graduation, while others still had to start working on an idea or went on vacation. Moreover, others focused very specifically on one publisher, while I used my opportunities broadly. Had I not done that, my life might have looked very different.

But I also started teacher training, just to have that security of a job. It wasn’t for me, though, so I soon quit that. I was really lucky that Fountain was open to me, which allowed me to start doing what I really wanted right away.

…Loes at work

What advice would you give to a student just starting art school?

Focus mainly on developing yourself. I have many colleagues who haven’t even done any training for it, but just started drawing a lot. Above all, make a lot of things. Make copies as well, you will learn a lot from that. This can be a form, or a technique or colour palette. The more you master this, the more you can create.

It is very important that you start marketing yourself very soon. You are invisible for now, so change that. Present yourself both online and offline, but not too extensively. If you send your work to a publisher or company, don’t give them your complete work, but specifically choose a few works that really suit you.

Another tip I would pass along is: don’t listen to everyone! I had a teacher who said I would never become a picture book illustrator because it is such a competitive market. I myself wasn’t sensitive to that, but I think many are. Surround yourself with people who are also in the same world, so you can also spar on ideas together. Those are definitely tips that can be very helpful in the long run.

The last question, do you have any dreams you would like to make come true?

A lot of dreams I had have already came true. I get to do what I love for my work and I can actually make a living from it. Many children in different countries read my books. What I would like, though, is to be able to focus completely on one assignment again for a long time. That I could cancel all other assignments for a year and only focus on that. This is definitely on the horizon!

About Loes

Loes Riphagen (1983) grew up among the animals on a farm in Oene, a small village on the Veluwe. Together with her twin brother she left for Rotterdam to study at the Willem de Kooning Academy. Loes currently lives and works in Amsterdam.

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© 2021 – text: Loes Riphagen & editors Gerstaecker NL | © 2021 – image: Loes Riphagen & editors Gerstaecker NL


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