Interview with Jenny Dolfen
Owl in Mixed Media
News for August
Interview with Jenny DolfenArtist Spotlight
by Constanza Ehrenhaus
Jenny Dolfen is a wonderful German artist that shows an incredible skill both in traditional and digital media. Her artwork is heavily based in medieval settings and it could probably be well defined as "Celt-nouveau".
Your artwork is stunning. Did you go to art school?
No, I don't have any formal education in art. I've been drawing on the side for all my life, and never really wanted to have a career in art.
So, if you did not go to art school. What did you study and what is your job?
I was really straightforward in my career. I started studying English and Latin in Cologne right after school, spent one year in England teaching German, and have been a teacher since 2001, with two breaks in 2005 and 2008, after the kids.
How did you become so good and who do you consider to be your best art teachers?
I suppose it's mainly practice, since I kept drawing for all my life. As for teachers – the ones who push me most and whose criticism has been most helpful over the years are the guys from comicforum.de. They've known me and my art for seven years and have often given me pushes in the right direction. That said, I've been stagnating for years, but right now, I'm pretty happy about what I do. You could say I've institutionalized my stagnation.
Are you a full time artist?
No, far from it, actually. My goal from a very young age was to become a teacher, and I concentrated on that career choice so much that I was rather surprised when I got the first art job offers, five years ago now. Two of them arrived in just one week, and that convinced me it might be worth a try. Today, I still get three to four offers a month, but I turn most of them down because I don't have the time. Some of it has been very high profile work, which I was very sad to turn down.
You have a very unique style, what were your influences?
I think the first influence were the book illustrations of Ilon Wikland, who illustrated most Astrid Lindgren books. (I was delighted to find that we share a birthday.) I'm also influenced by recent European comic book artists, Enrico Marini and Edvin Biukovic. The combination of line art and bright colors has always appealed to me strongly, so I never had much of an incentive to go into more realistic painting. I admire people who can do that, but the style doesn't give me as much of a heartthrob.
Since you bring it up... What are the main differences that you see between European and American comic styles?
With "American style", I mostly think of the main Marvel style, which I don't like a lot. Any drawing style I like has to have people I find attractive, and Marvel men are too angular and women too sex-bomby for my tastes. The artists I quoted above do more simple-looking people, who just look as if you could meet them in the street and exchange more than three words with them. (Of course, if you met them in the street, you'd still think "wow".) In general, I really like French comic artists – Floch and Marini being examples of these; or ~Bobbaji or *VyrL on deviantART. Still stylized and idealized, but not as tough-looking.
Many of your scenes remind me of a graphic novel that I used to read when I was a child: The Prince Valiant. Do you think it has influenced your work?
Actually, I think it has! I discovered Hal Foster's comics when I was around twenty, during a phase when my style became a lot more defined than it had been previously. There was an animated series on TV at that time, which was much more reduced in style, but it influenced me as well.
How did you get into doing medieval Celtic drawings?
The subject matter dictates the decoration. I've always been fascinated by the Middle Ages, and I got into English (or most notably Welsh) history when I was nineteen, when I discovered the historical novels by Sharon Penman. The resourceful yet hopeless struggle of Wales against an all-powerful England appealed to me deeply and has never really let me go.
You seem to perform as wonderfully in digital as in traditional media. Which one do you prefer?
These days, I prefer digital. As much as people will be surprised to hear it, watercolor was no more than a crutch initially. I got into using it because I wanted to achieve a clean, bright comic look to my pictures. I had never heard of digital art (it was the mid-nineties) and I assumed that was what proper comic colorists used!
How do you achieve that traditional feel in many of your digital art pieces?
By cheating, and doing it well, I guess. I often put a layer of painted watercolor paper on top of everything, which adds structure and takes away the too-clean, plastic feel that digital coloring sometimes has. I take comfort in the fact that I painted the piece of paper myself.
Do you have a favorite piece?
"The Old Ways", I think. It captures everything I want to convey in my novel. An adventurous spirit, a very Welsh-looking countryside, and the fact that I avoided the cliche that all winter scenes need snow. Rhyddion doesn't get that much of it.
Tell us something about your novel. How did you come up with the idea of it?
The character (Aidan Cameron) came first; he actually started life as a D&D character of mine. He then acquired a family and a setting, and I was already heavily into Welsh history at the time, so the country of Rhyddion was born, with its infighting princes and mighty "English" neighbor. The historical aspect was weaker in the first draft; the rewrite I'm currently planning features heavily on the actual Welsh-English struggle of the thirteenth century, but adds the existence of magic, and the social and religious implications, because magic is used on the Welsh side (if sparingly), and the church doesn't look on that kindly.
I guess you do a lot of research to write your novel and draw your characters in a convincing setting. What books would you recommend to the history enthusiasts out there?
What is most important to me is to get over the "generic medieval" look you see on medieval fairs, which mixes everything from the Celts to Renaissance, and only use costumes and architecture you would have found in the British Isles in the second half of the thirteenth century.
The most helpful I found is "Medieval Costume in England and France: The 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries", by Mary G. Houston.
Then there are two huge compilations of costumes throughout history, by Auguste Racinet and Douglas W. Gorsline, respectively. The Osprey books and, not a joke, Dover coloring books are great too, chiefest among them "Medieval Fashions Coloring Book", by Tom Tierney, and "The Scottish and Welsh Wars", 1200-1400 (Men-At-Arms / Osprey), by Chris Roth and Christopher Rothero. I also take lots of photos in medieval castles and churches whenever I can.
You are a mother of two, one of them a being recently born. How do you manage to raise two young kids, work, do personal artwork, write your own novel and watch TV!
The honest answer would be that I don't! The kids have taken priority last year, since my daughter is only ten months old now, and I didn't do much artwork during that time, almost no professional work. I'll start teaching again next month, so drawing time will remain limited. My novel is mostly on ice, even if it still results in drawings. But it's been in the works since 2001, so I'm not worried that I'll ever lose interest. With the second child comes a relaxation and utter faith in the knowledge that there's a time for everything, even if this is not it.
What's with all the love to Heroes?
Heroes is a great show, with a wonderful cast of interesting characters and great plot twists. It mostly appealed to the comic book lover in me; one of the main characters in the first season was a comic book artist who can paint the future, and the plot revolves heavily around his paintings, also featuring some great artwork by Tim Sale.
And well, it has Milo Ventimiglia as Peter Petrelli, one of the cutest guys on television. *blush*
Jenny by other artists:
Uneide: Jenny is someone that, despite her skill and talent hasn't let it go to her head. She is not only amazingly gifted - she is one of the most generous and humble people I have met in the art world. She gives critiques when asked, explains techniques, gives pointers and encouragement -- whether she knows you or not.
I find her art mesmerizing. Beyond the technical skill, she has a way of putting such emotion and heart into her illustrations that every time I'm drawn into the story, into her characters. She has a storyteller's mind and brush, and she's truly a delight to know.
Rita: Jenny is a wonderful artist and person. She has such an unique and great style, I recognise her artwork even before I know she did them. One of her great abilities is to catch the mood of a scene in a book. I think I would get the whole meaning of a book, only by seeing her artwork, no words needed.
She is also supporting and helping. I am still sad, that I couldn't join her work shop she did once. I am sure, everybody learned a lot and enjoyed it.
Recently she discovered, that her screen colors are different from others and she changed the settings - now her artwork is EVEN MORE BEAUTIFUL.
It is just a joy to look at her work.
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