Interview with Johanna Koen
Johanna is a dutch illustrator who runs a nature inspired store with hand made stickers, nature journals, snail mail, and illustrations of mushrooms, insects and plants. Johanna is 18 years old and currently works in a botanical garden in Berlin. I personally find her work incredibly beautiful and it got a wonderful vintage touch that is hard to find. Therefore I asked her if she would like to do an interview so we could learn more about her and her artwork.
Would you like to introduce yourself?
Hello, I am Johanna and I am a rather ordinary human being living a human life. At the moment I am doing a voluntary ecological year in Berlin and I work at a botanical garden.
What’s your background?
I am originally from a dutch family and dutch is my first language. Actually I grew up in Germany but lived very close to the border of the Netherlands. Culturally I kind of grew up in Germany and the Netherlands at the same time but it is quite funny how I feel neither German or Dutch! As a child I was a strange little thing, always making stuff and singing songs. I loved building wooden huts and playing outside.
How did you get into illustrating?
I was always really into just sketching random things but I got into nature illustration when I was maybe 14 years old. I received a beautiful book with wonderful illustrations and was really inspired by it. I started copying the flower drawings and never stopped illustrating since then!
How do you work?
I work in a lot of ways. I have a job I need to attend to but personally I have a lot of hobbies that could be seen as work. When it comes to illustration I like to go for walks and collect things that catch my eye. Then I just spend hours painting and sketching. It only really feels good when I have unlimited time but because of my job my free time is basically non existent and I have not had the chance to really sit down and paint for a long time. So ideally I'd just have a free day or two and no responsibilities, I'd just paint all day! That way the paintings turn out best.
Professionally, what’s your goal?
I have a lot of goals and at the same time I don't really have any. I am very into lists and getting things done, so I might have a few very small goals. At the moment I am working on a book and I am enjoying the writing process. I'd like to finish it and create a story that actually is complete, a bundle of letters and words that create another world. Other than that I'd love to make a little poetry book, I already have one but I have not printed it yet because oh well life costs a lot of money! I just want to make myself happy with what I do, I wish to inspire and hope to help other fellow humans. I want to take care of myself and find the time to do what I love rather than working a full time job that requires nothing but robotic working.
What is the best part of painting nature?
Oh I am not sure at all! I think maybe it is how your way of seeing things changes. When you illustrate nature you have to look at it precisely to be able to document an accurate representation of it!
What work do you most enjoying doing?
I like doing a lot of things at the same time, I like being productive and am very fond of working quickly. It is not necessarily the best way of working but I can be really impatient. Painting actually is a way of teaching myself how to relax and concentrate one only one thing (instead of doing three things at once).
What is your dream job?
I don't really have one dream job, I have a lot of dreams though. I can imagine myself painting full time, traveling lots, working as a teacher for a while, owning a bookstore or a cafe, working in a natural history museum, doing biological research.. lots of small dreams.
Name something you love, and why?
Music and movies because they influence me very much, I love how much art can inspire and make me feel a lot of feelings!!
What's your favourite or most inspirational place?
Ahh there are many inspirational places. I can be inspired by lots of places. The forest, the city, botanical gardens, museums. I am very fond of Edinburgh, it inspired me greatly when I was there for the summer.
What’s the favourite thing you’ve created, and why?
I don't think I can answer that! I am constantly changing and my way of perceiving things changes very quickly. At the moment I am very happy with the fact that I've filled a nature journal over a whole year without skipping a month. I've never done that before and I think it is nice that I did not let my laziness and busy life get in the way of doing what I love!!
What is it like to be working in a botanical garden?
I don't really work in the garden. It is basically like an office job 70% of the time. Other than that I am illustrating a cute book, which is fun! I get a 30 minute break and sometimes see the garden in that time.
What tools and materials do you like to use?
When it comes to painting I love Schmincke and Winsor & Newton watercolours. I also like Muji pens for sketching!
How do you deal with art blocks?
Ahhhh I am not sure. I think it is best to look for places / things that used to inspire. I like re-reading favourite books for example. Or I try new things that I've never done before. Everybody kind of deals with it their own way I think. (I am so sorry my mind is a bit blank when it comes to that!!)