As a prize-winning children's illustrator and writer, Effie has had her books published in Greece, Italy, Korea and Russia, amongst others. Here, she tells us how she merges reality and fantasy in order to create her compelling characters, how she got into the world of illustrating and her advice for aspiring artists.
I discovered drawing – as all children eventually do – in my early days of school.
As the years went by, I kept on filling endless notebooks with countless drawings, one after the other, always trying to convey my own interpretation of reality.
I began looking at the things around me more closely, more deeply – seeing and experiencing feelings, images and smells that still remain with me today.
It wasn’t until later in life that my studies in drawing and painting started. I was lucky enough to start at the workshop of a famous Greek painter.
By that point, I had already had my two wonderful daughters.
My daughters taught me a lot of things. Maybe more than I taught them. They constantly remind me how to operate with the purity of a child.
When they were younger & we were playing together, first we made up stories and then we drew them. This is how my journey in the world of illustration actually started. Today, my girls are grown-ups; I always share my ideas with them and take their advice.
I started working on children’s books in 1991, sometimes as an illustrator and sometimes, I acted as both a writer and an illustrator.
Up until now, I have illustrated over 65 books, for all kinds of all ages, many of which have been translated into various languages.
I have so many influences I only have time to tell you a few now.
Through studying the paintings of the great masters, Johannes Vermeer, Johannes de Eyck, Vincent Van Gogh, Rembrandt and many more, I learn from them. I borrow their use of colour, their shadings, even the folds of the fabrics draped around their subjects… I take everything I love in what I see in them, to inspire and compose my own pictures.
This type of work, my work, is characterized by loneliness, recollection and the pursuit of information.
When I first read a story, it is then that its characters gradually appear alive in my mind. At the beginning, their shape is undefined. I need to work out in my mind their characteristics, study their emotions, the era they live in, gather all sorts of information…and then set up my own scenery by filtering the final picture through my imagination.
I spend many hours with my imaginary characters. I am really interested in their clothing; this part of the drawing is of great importance to me (maybe because of my vivid memories of all sorts of fabrics I used to see and touch at my father’s retail shop). I feel that my childhood memories have been a constant and important companion in my drawing ventures.
The images always get caught in my mind and then they follow me everywhere. They can appear at any time…Anna, of my book “Anna & The Gift From The Moon” was visiting me night after night during sleep, demanding the rich, textured, colourful dresses I eventually drew her, a different one for every page.
There are times when images come in my mind unexpectedly, with no story or name… powerful images that require hard work from me in order to find them a place in a story, to make them real. It seems like the characters guide me in a world of their own, initially unfamiliar to me. Step by step, I discover their world in my effort to create a place for them, taking them out of their anonymity, giving them shape.
The difference with these pictures is that I make an effort to put them in a frame, making them part of a world fit for them, a world they can live in.
It’s a tiny world we inhabit and all the faces and characters in my stories seem so familiar. I feel closely related to them in one way or the other. They become real to me, as I give them shape and a life in the environment I choose for them.
There is a thin line between imagination and reality; I often find myself trying to balance the two. Neither myself or the army of images I create should cross that line. We have established a silent agreement between us.
In regards to what inspires me, I love my family, I love my job, my friends, I love books, nature, I love theatre, the movies, I love peach flavour tea, I love chocolate…
Despite my love for my work, and how long I’ve been doing it for, I can still say that I get really anxious in front of a blank piece of paper, holding my pencil in one hand and the eraser in the other.
I constantly feel like I’m learning something new and every time, I demand more of myself.
In my opinion, a book becomes a success when there is soul in it. All the tenderness and the sensitivity of the illustrator is reflected in their work.
An illustration is made of colours and lines – there are no words, so everything a picture says must be conveyed by the power of its presence.
After 22 years in the field, I still feel that I have plenty to learn.
I expect my next work to be my best...or, who knows, may be the one after the next!
If you found this article useful, you may want to take a look at our other Interviews With Artists.