Illustrator Interview: Donna Grethen

Illustrator Interview: Donna Grethen

Ikon Images

How did you get started in illustration? Did you always want to be an artist?

Yes, I always, always wanted to be an artist. I drew all over my bedroom walls when I was a kid, it drove my mother nuts. I didn’t quite know how to get into illustration until I applied to FIT, (the Fashion Institute of Technology) in NY for fashion design, I thought that I wanted to become a costume designer. They had a great illustration program that I became interested in, so I switched majors. But after graduating I started working as a graphic designer, I got sidetracked hiring illustrators.

How do you approach a new illustration, where do you start?

I’ll read the brief over a few times, then start doodling while thinking through what the story or article means. What’s the viewpoint? What is an easy way to convey that? Then I’ll try some twists on the concept that start feeling like mine. I like using pen & ink or brush & ink for my sketches.

Illustration of woman with wind up mechanism in back

What inspires you?

So much! Everything is inspiring and visual. Sometimes I’ll pull out a book of a favorite artist, like Ben Shahn, to see how he handled his posters and illustrations before I begin a project.

Illustration of woman's profile with abstract shapes

What’s your favourite topic to illustrate & why?

I like different topics for different reasons. I’ll do political things and I like those because I can add to the voice of dissent or support. I like doing illustrations on women’s health because I’ll learn a lot about new health updates and the science behind it.

What’s been your most challenging commission?

Many years ago, when my son was only two months old I got a huge job illustrating a couple of books with something like a hundred illustrations. I thought he’d sleep during the entire project and it was going to be so easy! Not the case.

What’s your favorite medium to work in and why?

I love ink for it’s rough line and working digitally for it’s efficiency.

What does your work space say about you?

That I’m messy.

What can’t I live with out for work?

My computer and Spotify.

Donna Grethen's Office

Favorite artists that inspire me?

Alexander Calder, Ben Shahn, the children’s book illustrators Alice & Martin Provensen, Saul Bass.

Donna's 2 Minute Self-Portrait

Donna Grethen Self-Portait

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