We're glad Andrea Offermann dropped out of medical school. Otherwise we might never have seen her amazing drawings, depicting scenes of adventure in sepia with the sharpness of a scalpel. Mechanical elephant cities, despotic whales and dragons roam her world. We chatted to her about wordless stories and the moment Pi's boat sinks, amongst other things.
We hear your first artistic inclinations were born in an anatomy class - how does your aesthetic interrelate with science and what is your artistic background?
I was always interested in art but hesitant to make it my profession. I studied medicine for a few years and was fascinated especially by anatomy and histology (microscopic anatomy of cells and tissues); the intricate ways in which a body is put together and functions, the solutions nature comes up with to ensure certain processes, and the beauty within the patterns and networks that make everything happen surprised me. That fascination is still there. My love for the organic and an interest for evolutionary and scientific themes always play a part in my work.
Building on this, your illustrations are often very precise with emphasis on intricate details. How and why do you draw?
These days I draw with fineliners, pen and ink mostly. My love for drawing developed partly in a printmaking class where I studied etching and fell in love with the precision I could achieve by drawing with a needle point. This allowed me to go into further detail in my drawings and thus develop more and more depth. I love the surprising information you can find when you look at the drawings closely. However you can contrast and contradict this precision with the chaotic and haphazard. I love the tension that creates.
Another reason for my doing this may once again lie in those anatomy and histology classes. I loved the fact that by looking ever more closely at the body or a tissue new patterns and information would always present themselves. Little details contribute to the density until they form the real thing. I guess with my way of drawing I am trying to achieve a similar experience to what I felt then.
Your style has a very old-worldly, antiquated feel created partly through nostalgia inducing muted colours. Are you inspired by the past and are there any artists or eras that you draw particular influence from?
I am a great admirer of artists such as Durer for his drawing and painting style. A lot of medieval art fascinates me because of its inventiveness and imagination. I like to study the colors and light of Dutch painting, and am intrigued by surrealist painters such as Remedios Varo. Every day I find new artists whose work inspires and awes me.
Life of Pi is an intensely imaginative and rich tale. Tell us about the experience of translating it to paper for a competition [inwhich Andrea was shortlisted] to illustrate the book.
Life of Pi is definitely a book that it was both a great gift and a great challenge to create illustrations for. As you said its very imaginative and rich, the story is densely packed with many levels of meaning all conveyed in very descriptive beautifully imagined scenes.
With the illustrations I worked on for the competition I wanted to capture the atmosphere of the writing and, if possible, give a glimpse of what lay underneath it, the emotional current of the scene. For example, in the scene where the ship sinks I wanted to show both literally what was going on underneath the water and also the emotions that Pi is going through at this moment: his world is breaking away, everything he knows and loves is drowning. Working on illustrations for this book was an invaluable experience and let me grow immensely as an illustrator. I still reread the book and am discovering new points to interpret and think about every time.
As well as stand alone illustrations you have worked on dialogue-less comics Mate and 24hrs. Tell us about taking on the role of storyteller and the challenge of communicating a narrative without words.
Actually for me telling a story without words works better than trying to tell a story in writing and images. Both stories I have worked on so far for the comics convey an emotional experience that I wanted to be somewhat open for interpretation. Whenever I tried to put words to one of the stories the meaning of the story suddenly seemed fixed in one place whereas I wanted the stories to be experienced differently by the readers depending on their life experience and view of things. I am working on a new story now and once again it is not clear yet if there will be words, the form I tell the story in will have to fit the purpose.
Finally what projects have you got clocking over at the moment and what can we expect to see from you in the future?
Right now I am finishing up work on a new young adult novel called The Broken Lands by Kate Milford due out in September, and a painting for the Wild at Heart show at Thinkspace gallery in LA, opening May 26. There are more books and gallery work coming up, and as I mentioned above a new personal project is in progress. I am always interested to try new things, work in different media, if it seems to be the right medium to express what I want to communicate. So expect away!
For more from Andrea visit her site and blog.