Anna Kövecses is a self taught Hungarian born graphic artist that currently lives in Cyprus in a small seaside village with her family. Her striking and simple illustrations are a delight to what seems to be, everyone! All charmed by Anna's confident use of colour, shape and intriguing characters that sit within joyful compositions. Since working on an array of personal projects from her Colorodore poster collection to the Hungarian Alphabet book, Anna's clients now range from the The New York Times to the BBC. I am thrilled to welcome Anna to The Plucky Ones who's thoughtfully shared her story and adventures to us all.
Please tell us about your background and what inspired your journey into Illustration?
My career started about 6 years ago but actually I've been deeply involved with creating stuff my whole life. I spent a lot of time alone as a kid since my parents were working all the time and we moved a lot from one town to the other. As there was often no one to play with I soon submerged in this "parallel universe" of making things. I just up-cycled pretty much everything I found and turned them into looms/toys/mobiles/artworks etc. For a really short period of time I had the ambition to go to a proper art school but shortly after graduating from high school and spending a year on a Greek island at the age of 20 (I sold my cheesy drawings of the small town and donkeys to tourists on the street) I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter so university was immediately out of my plans.
I started reading a lot of books on art and design instead and learned how to use my laptop for drawing things. At first I started out as a logo designer but found out pretty soon that corporate branding was not my piece of cake and turned to illustration instead. I did a lot of self initiated projects that gave me total freedom to explore myself and find my own style. In the meantime we had to leave Hungary as my boyfriend is actually a diver and Hungary did not have many possibilities on offer. First we moved to Egypt (right after the revolution there) which was quite an adventurous short period of time and then to Cyprus. Here we live in a small village by the sea and our daughter is already speaking Greek fluently in the local kindergarten.
You’re a self taught illustrator & designer, yet have you had a mentor along the way?
No, not really. But of course there are a lot of people whom I'm incredibly thankful to: magazine editors, bloggers, clients, agencies and design lovers who just simply saw something in what I do and encouraged me to keep on doing it. And, well actually the only other creative person in my family is my grandma, who first "explored" my talents and encouraged me to become an artist. She was a very enthusiastic forest landscape painter when she was young but never really took it further than a hobby. Anyway I think she always pictured me as a potter or a traditional painter working on elaborate still lifes in oil.
Can you share what a typical Anna Kövecses day looks like?
On an ordinary weekday, after my boyfriend and our daughter leave for work/kindergarten I usually spend the first 30 minutes doing nothing in particular holding a cup of tea in my hands as an excuse (this is the 30 minutes I always regret later at some point of the day). Then if I'm not in a hurry with work and I decide to be a good girl, I do 20-30 minutes of Pilates, which actually makes me feel 10 times better afterwards. So after an hour of warming-up and a quick shower I sit down to my tiny desk (the only way to prevent a mess is to have a tiny desk) and write a list of things to do into my notebook.
When I start working on a new project I always try to summarize key points first and take a lot of notes and sketches on paper. I also do research on the internet or select books and magazines from my shelf that are inspiring me. I usually have all my ideas ready in my head and my sketchbook by the time I turn on Adobe Illustrator, which is actually the only software I use. Then I try to realize these ideas on the screen. What I learned throughout the years is to try to really stick to and capture that first picture I had in my head when I started to think about the project. That first picture is usually a million times better than any of the ones later. I usually work until 1 pm when my daughter comes home from kindergarten, then we have a light lunch together and she goes to have a nap (luckily she's a good sleeper) so I have an extra 2-3 hours to finish my work.
For those looking to leap into Illustration, could you share your top 3 lessons learnt?
1. The only way to learn and evolve is to look at the world with open eyes and really be interested in what other artists and thinkers have come up with. You have to be tolerant and pay attention to new ideas even if at first you have some stereotype against them. You need to let others inspire you but you should never copy them. You'll only be successful anyway if you can translate these impressions and use them to create something new, something that's yours and not somebody else's.
2. Always make some time for yourself to get away from commissioned projects and indulge in some self initiated ones. Turn off your computer, grab a box of crayons or a pair of scissors and some colored paper and experiment! These little rituals can have an unbelievably refreshing effect on your work. You can even try stuff like open a new tumblr blog and publish your analog experiments (this is something I'm actually planning to do) or start a new project like you do a new poster every day for a given period of time (this is something I've already done).
3. Learn to say yes and learn to say no.
Learn to say yes to situations that might not look beneficial for you at first. Like let's say a magazine approaches you because they need some illustrations but they have absolutely no budget for the project. So this means you do the work for free, but:
a: this can be a fabulous opportunity for you to try something new as they probably won't restrict your ideas too much.
b: your work can reach many potential readers and bring new and unexpected opportunities plus it looks good in your portfolio. The same thing applies to competitions and projects for a good cause.
And you definitely have to learn to say no (it's working very hard for me) if you're overbooked and see little chance to deliver quality artworks in such a short time or you feel that the client and you have very very distant notions of the project and the end result will be a compromise you will hate.
Can you tell us what projects you’re working on currently?
Well, there are a couple of illustration projects for large brands that are a secret. But something I can talk about is for example that I've been illustrating the Diagnosis column in the New York Times Magazine for a while now that comes out every 3 weeks I guess, so you might be able to see my works there for some time. I'm also working on a book cover for Syle Press for their newest novel, The Bride for Bedivere. You'll see a couple of my illustrations in the upcoming issue of Monocle too. And I'm trying very hard to make some time to work on my own projects that includes painting, drawing and many different handmade media.
You’ve worked on some fantastic projects with clients from The New York Times to the BBC. Of all the projects, which one are you most proud of?
I'm really proud of all of them but honestly the kindest to my heart are the projects that I've done for myself or my daughter, for example the Hungarian Alphabet book. These were the projects that brought the most appreciation for me from the art world.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would this be and what impact would you hope to make?
It'd be fun to collaborate with a clothing brand to create prints for their garments. I don't really picture t-shirts here, rather something more abstract like scarves or fabrics.
And what plans or dreams do you have for 2014?
Well, my biggest dreams for this year are definitely revolving around the arrival of our baby son who is due to be born in early November. So far I haven't had any time to prepare for his welcoming so I'm definitely planning to go for maternity leave as soon as October begins and immerse in the lovely act of blanket knitting and crib assembling. I'm also planning to do a small series of artworks during this period of time and after his arrival that would be dedicated to him / us and preserve the memory of these incredible times.
When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?
I spend all of my free time with my small family. My boyfriend works a lot too so we really treasure every hour we can spend together. In Cyprus summer lasts practically 9 months a year so we usually go down to the sea every evening after we finish work. There's a small secret beach close to our home that lies at the bottom of a beautiful huge cliff wall. It's covered with fine sand and huge flat rocks and absolutely no one visits it apart from us. We watch the sun turning red and the three of us swim out to the open sea together. It feels so great to be this close to nature and this is why I couldn't imagine us living in a big city. I'm happy to see my daughter as she's immersed in playing with driftwood and pebbles instead of watching tv or playing on an iPad. At other nights we either go out to have dinner at the local communist cafe or drive to Nicosia, the island's capital to enjoy an open air film screening or concert.