A picture speaks a thousand words. This is definitely so when presented with the strikingly detailed illustrations in My Grandma is Like the Sea. Behind the works of such illustrations is Sanja Kolenko, a talented illustrator from Croatia.
10 Questions with Sanja Kolenko captures some insight into her background, creative eye, work, and collaboration on My Grandma is Like the Sea children’s picture book.
- Sanja, tell us a bit more about yourself and where you are from…
I was born in 1992 in the small town of Varaždin, in Northern Croatia. I received my Master’s Degree from the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Teacher Education in 2017. My hobbies include playing the guitar, taking long walks in nature and reading books. I’m enjoying the slow life in my charming countryside home, finding beauty and magic in all the little everyday things.
2. What were you like as a child?
I was a fairly quiet and introverted child. A bit skittish, I never really enjoyed huge adventures nor big gatherings, all of that was very confusing and stressful for me. I started drawing as it always brought me joy and was my safe space. I also had a huge collection of audio fairy tales which I listened to religiously (and knew most of them by heart). Daydreaming was a big part of my life too, and I must admit it still is.
‘Daydreaming was a big part of my life too, and I must admit it still is.’
3. What led you to become an illustrator?
As mentioned before, I have always enjoyed drawing so it actually was a natural course of events. It took me 27 years to finally realise this, but I’m glad I gathered the courage and faith in myself to take that big step and become a full time freelance illustrator.
I worked as a teacher for a few years. At the same time I was working on my portfolio and lots of fun illustration projects. In time, my work in the illustration field increased, and when I finally landed a few children’s book illustration jobs, I decided to make illustration my career. Since October of 2020 I’ve been a small business owner and I’m currently a full-time freelance illustrator.
4. Can you please share some of the projects you have you worked on?
I illustrated two children’s books by the publisher Šumek, their titles being ‘Kako je Danko postao Stablo’ (How Danko became a Tree) and ‘Saškine Čokoladne Pustolovine’ (Sasha’s Chocolate Adventures).
I also illustrated and designed a children’s ‘treasure hunt’ guide around one of the most beautiful Croatian castles – Castle Trakošćan. For another project I illustrated a fun children’s book called ‘Štefekovi Jadi’ (Stefek’s Woes). Croatian publishing house Ljevak published Štefekovi Jadi.
Currently, I am working on a set of posters for Forest school. I’m also an educator for a fun online project centred around making a virtual picture book. These are some of my bigger projects, there are also countless small projects and private commissions. I must say I really love my job!
5. What are your favourite children’s books? Are there any from your childhood?
My all time favourite children’s book is ‘Ježeva Kućica’ (Hedgehog’s Home). It holds a special place in my heart and it reminds me of my childhood. I just love that vintage style illustration with vibrant colors and lots of details. And the message the story holds is just priceless – there is no place like home. I still know the whole story by heart! It’s also a great source of inspiration for me and I think it shows in my illustration style.
6. What was the creative process like for you as the illustrator of My Grandma is Like the Sea?
It was a combination of the author’s input and expectations with my usual style, really. The way it works is that I get myself acquainted with all the materials that has been provided to me, and then through trial and error work on sketches and prep-items. After a back-and-forth with the author (yourself), we settled on the desired visual style, and I was off to the races.
7. Sanja, can you describe to our readers the style of the illustrations in My Grandma is Like the Sea?
The two most important pillars of this book are vibrancy and richness of detail: these are what I wanted to convey the most prominently. As per the author’s requests, the goal was to properly convey the astounding wealth and vividity of colour that’s present in the Croatian seaside, and the various details peppered throughout the work help ground it into reality.
‘…the goal was to properly convey the astounding wealth and vividity of colour that’s present in the Croatian seaside.’
8. Do you have a favourite illustration in My Grandma is Like the Sea?
I cannot decide between the kitchen spread and the garden spread. I feel that they’re remarkably accurate when it comes to conveying the connection between the grandmother and the grandchild, and the way in which they teach valuable life lessons to one another – both directly and indirectly.
9. What do you hope young readers will gain from the story and illustrations in My Grandma is Like the Sea?
I believe that the book has the potential to speak to most children who end up reading it. There are bits and pieces that are very specific to the author’s experience, yes, but it’s the sense of belonging and discovery that lie at the core of the book. This is ultimately universal, and I believe that there’s plenty of potential here for most readers to reflect on their own childhood experiences.
‘…it’s the sense of belonging and discovery that lie at the core of the book. This is ultimately universal.’
10. Is there any message that you feel will particularly resonate with an adult audience?
In my opinion, most adults feel nostalgic about certain elements of their childhood. If they, too, find that their experience with their own grandparents is somehow reflected in this book, then the message might be that they should treasure their memories even more than they otherwise would’ve.
‘…the message might be that they should treasure their memories even more than they otherwise would’ve.’
Check out My Grandma is Like the Sea children’s picture book, here.
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