Sonja Stangl: Weaving illustrations with colors, textures, and stories and sprinkling animation to infuse life into her art
Sonja Stangl is an award-winning Illustrator and storyteller from Vienna, Austria. She is a graduate of Multimedia Art from the University of Applied Science in Salzburg. Since 2012, she has been working with clients in advertising, animation, and children’s education. Her work has been exhibited (Vienna, Brussels, London) and she has been awarded for her work at the World Illustration Awards in the professional advertising category.
Her specialties lie in creating editorial illustrations, product prints, pattern designs, and interesting animated illustrations. She also curates creative solutions for Brands.
What led to the birth of Illustration as a professional career for you?
Sonja Stangl: My art teacher in college once said: “the way you hold a pencil, you will never be able to draw properly!” After that, I started drawing every day just to prove her wrong and discovered that I can imagine myself drawing every day for the rest of my life.
Then there was Erik, the owner of a small graphic design studio in Ireland where I did an internship. He encouraged me that a career in illustration is possible and did let me work on all the illustrative projects coming in. I got to illustrate beer labels and maps and we had a “Painting Friday” every week. During that time I also met some established, full-time working illustrators and got a little glimpse into the world of professional illustration. My mind was set to give it the best try that I could and see where it goes.
Oh, and since then I have met a few great artists along the way who also hold their pencils in the same weird way I do!
After graduation where you studied Multi-media Art, what was the first professional project you worked on?
Sonja Stangl: While I was still studying I worked on some smaller projects with an organization that helps adults change their career paths and find further education. So straight after I graduated I already had my foot in the door and managed to get a bigger project from them.
I got to design a character as their mascot and made little comics and illustrated cards and posters as well. Specifically, witnessing my work all over town, in trains and buses, so soon in my career was extremely rewarding and motivating.
What does the process to turn a colored pencil illustration into digital art look like for your projects?
Sonja Stangl: I like to start all projects on paper. For ideas and sketching it just comes more naturally to me. While colored pencils are great because they help with picking a limited palette and I love the mark they make on paper. Finding three nicely fitting colors out of a pack of pencils is way less overwhelming than sitting in front of photoshop’s color wheel.
When I go digital I take the sketch and more or less start over. While digitally it’s a lot easier to refine the composition and balance out the contrast of sizes and shapes. Often I still use analog parts in my Illustrations like scanned pencil or ink marks. They do feel more real and alive.
Which software do you use to dabble in animated illustration?
Sonja Stangl: It depends on the project and where I am physical. Specifically for frame-by-frame animations, whenever I am in the studio, I use Photoshop. On the go, I use proCreate. Whereas for motion graphics and cutout animations, I go with After Effects and Spine. Every software has its pros and cons so it depends on what is needed.
What is the reason that the majority of your illustrations channel a childlike innocence in their perspective even with varied themes?
Sonja Stangl: Maybe because I am still quite a bit of a child myself.
For me, illustration was always something wondrous and magical. It can expand reality and show things how they could be different. Especially how I would have seen them as a kid or wanted them to be like them.
Why is children’s education so important to you and what do you hope to create next in this sphere?
Sonja Stangl: I can still remember most of the illustrations I saw as a child very clearly. They were quite important for me and I loved to add extra stories to what I saw in drawings. Even an old Bruegel painting we had in the living room and that I used to stare at for hours imagining worlds and stories in there. An illustration could make every mundane thing much more interesting.
So I kind of wants to pass that gift on. Inspire kids to visualize and to explore and imagine.
I am dabbling in some ideas for projects to come, but nothing concrete I could talk about yet. At the moment I am also fully submerged in a big project for a museum for alternative energy. A project dear to my heart, where I can playfully help people to understand complex topics and the need to take care of our environment.
How does the creative process differ when you create a character design as opposed to creating art prints to be featured on products?
Sonja Stangl: When it comes to character designs you need to fulfill a very clear purpose. They need to tell a story and are part of a specific world. That’s why most of this kind of work starts with writing, brainstorming, and setting rules to be followed. Then I can create within these rules.
When it comes to more decorative or playful projects there isn’t so much rule-making. I would sometimes just start by putting marks on paper and see where it goes. And or dip whatever I find in my studio or the yard or the forest into ink and see what that makes on paper. Then scan and go further, add more details and turn it into an illustration.
Where do you hope to showcase your work after exhibiting in Vienna, London, and Brussels?
Sonja Stangl: Well, the pandemic brought me a bit away from the exhibition phase and more into the creation phase again. We will see where it goes from here.
How many sketches do you create before feeding it to create a moving illustration?
Sonja Stangl: It depends on the project, the client, and also my mood that day. Sometimes things hit off straight away and I don’t need that many sketches and sometimes I need some more days to get to where I want.
I love the animation feature on proCreate to just flesh out stuff though. I can instantly try different things and have a rough idea about the motion and timing.