Learning lessons from Marieke Nelissen

And on the road again! From seeing her artworks on Instagram to holding some originals in her home studio. I got to meet the friendly Marieke Nelissen in Den Bosch, where I learned more about the world of children’s book illustrations.

I arrived in Den Bosch feeling all good, because I was about to visit Marieke at her home. To me visiting someone’s home or art studio, gives the meet up a more personal touch. One of the things that caught my eye in her house is the shelve with the wonderful children’s books. ‘I have to alternate the books since I have to many.’ Marieke said while looking proud at her books. I saw books from Jon Klassen and Shaun Tan, the illustrators of the books that I discovered back in Australia.

Illustration made by Marieke Nelissen that made it to the  shortlist of the World Illustrations Awards 2015 with close up. Source: Marieke Nelissen


Marieke used to study illustrative design and after that she started working as a cook, not realizing that a job in illustration was also possible. After a while she started working in graphic design and continued working for children’s books, since she really liked that. In 2015 she won the illustration price from Lemniscaat. Now she is doing very well and illustrated different kids’ books for Dutch publishers like Gottmer, Luitingh-Sijthoff and Lemniscaat.

Before Marieke started working her magic with paint and pencils in the Traveling Sketchbook, she showed me her studio. In a room in her house there was a desk with her paints and other materials. Numerous closets stored the originals of her works. Marieke illustrated around ten books up till now and I got to see the originals of ‘Rover Gezocht’ and ‘Het Monsterbonsterbuldelboek’. While I was slowly realizing how great it was to see and hold the originals of the works, Marieke would explain some cool facts. Marieke likes to play around with her materials and in the book ‘Rover gezocht’ she was searching for something that would create nice beards. Instead of using the ink and pencils, she used crayons for the raw texture. Another thing she explained was that the green of the monster for the monster book was really hard to print, for the printers of the book. The colors green and orange seem just a little more difficult to transfer. So she gave me the kind advice to not create green or orange monsters haha.

Look how nice the beards and dirt on the shoes and coats came out! Source: http://www.lepetitstudio.nl


With her impressive box of Fabercastel polychromos pencils and other materials, Marieke takes place on the wooden table her husband made. The table is covered with colored stripes and bits, created by her little kids, a little detail that I just adore. Marieke explains, after I share my thoughts about her pencils, that her daughter likes to draw with them too. Some colors in the box are more used than others. One of them is sepia. ‘Indispensable for creating shadows’, Marieke says. Also Sky Blue and Pale Lavender, colors from Derwent are pencils she cannot do without. ‘Why would I care?’, you might think. But what I believe is that getting to know these little habits and favorites from artists imply wonderful lessons to me to grow and learn in illustration.

Marieke with on the left the big box of pencils


Marieke also got taught things in illustration, she had a mentor. This was the very successful illustrator Sieb Postuma who got rewarded for his works multiple times. Marieke learned a very important lesson from Sieb, he told her to do whatever SHE wants and to only do that. So in case a publisher asks to first create hundreds of sketches and that is not how Marieke would like to work, she learned to say ‘No, that is not how I am used to work. Is it possible for me to just create the works and see how we go from there?’. Marieke couldn’t believe this would work, but it did. It also turns out that it is very important to do what you want, since you will do this work a lot and for a long period of time. Illustration is serious job, with a lot of workload, which comes with a lot of stress.

The illustration I made for Marieke


This stress management is something Marieke already learned to deal with by the way. As I wrote earlier, Marieke used to work as a cook. In this job position she learned to work with deadlines, planning, priorities, stress and she learned to be social. Marieke believes she wouldn’t be such a good illustrator a couple years ago, if she lived her life differently. While working as a cook she developed certain skills. But also the fact she got children, got her more interested in children’s books.

The lesson we can learn from this is, I believe, that it is good what you do. Don’t force yourself or anything, it will shape itself (with hard work though). Things that seem very irrelevant and distracting from your passion, can be ways to develop yourself towards that passion!

It was very nice to meet the special Marieke Nelissen, she got me very motivated to do whatever I like to do. 😉 She also got me a present, the book ‘De Waterwaack van Natterlande’ which she illustrated. Marieke, I would like to thank you for this gorgeous book again.

Marieke’s work, just like the other works in the Traveling Sketchbook, will not be shown completely. But here you can see a part. You will be able to see the full creation during the Traveling Sketchbook exhibition. But that will take place after I had some more travels in the search for more of these inspiring stories.


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