Bodil Jane is one of those illustrators whose style is instantly recognisable. The Amsterdam-based artist draws on women who catch her eye on the streets of the Dutch capital and colours them in vivid and vibrant colours to create bold work that has won her a throng of fans.
Having just launched her debut Papier collection of notebooks and diaries we chatted with her about her career path, her inspiration and living in Amsterdam.
Bodil at home. Photo by Aline Bouma
How would you describe your illustration style?
My illustration style is maximalist and colourful. I always try to put a lot of elements in my illustrations. I like it when people can look at it for a while and discover new things. My illustrations are kind of collages of everything that I’m inspired by at that moment. Interior objects, fashion, people, hairdos, art... They are full of colour and have a lot going on. But still in an organised way I think. I put a lot of time in placing everything in the right spot.
When did you first realise that you wanted to be an illustrator?
I grew up in a very creative family. My mum is a ceramic artist (painting on ceramics) and my dad worked as a storyboard illustrator in advertising. Besides that he is an artist as well. My parents had a lot of creative friends and basically we were always creating things. We had a regular craft day with the neighbours. My dad brought us to his atelier to do some charcoal drawings when he was working on a sculpture. My mum brought old tiles back home so that we could make a mosaic mirror. We all had sketchbooks that we drew in when we were on holiday (when we were not visiting museums).
It was not really like there was this one moment where I knew that I wanted to do something creative. It was just a very natural thing to me. The word “illustrator” came to me when I visited art schools when I was still in high school. I did a weekend pre-course at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam during my high school graduation time. That’s when I really decided that illustration was what I wanted to do. Later on I realised that actually both my mum and my dad are illustrators as well. My sister studied fashion but became a print designer, so we’re all illustrators in the end!
What inspires you?
I think that inspiration can be found anywhere. When you’ve been creating things from a very young age you just kind of learn to see beautiful and inspiring things anywhere. I feel like I’m always kind of screening my surroundings for inspiration in a way. Very tiring! My parents already had this very maximalist style. The home where I grew up had walls in so many different colours – peach, teal, mango, aubergine, olive green. My parents collected objects from all over the world and visited flea markets.
I’m obsessed with beautiful objects and collecting things. I love busy environments like markets and botanical gardens that are full of things to see. But also when I’m biking I can see a beautiful sign or a funny dog in a backpack. My sister has an amazing fashion style, wearing so many layers and patterns and jewellery. Her clothing style inspired me to use different patterns in my illustrations for example.
“Women are a never-ending source of inspiration to me”
What do you like best about living in Amsterdam?
The most amazing thing about Amsterdam is the quality of life here. The city is small, safe and cosy. We don’t need a car to live our life here. Everything you need can be reached within 30 minutes of biking. You are outside a lot and you can enjoy the greens in the city. You can go out at night and come home safely by bike. It also means that you need a raincoat and have to bike in the rain and snow. But you get used to it.
I also love London but when I’m in a tube for 30 minutes, I miss my hometown. Amsterdam is small but still an amazing blend of cultures and very diverse. It has more rich and design-y areas, but also more rough and industrial areas. There are so many creative people here and the ambience is very tolerant. People are very open and progressive.
A lot of your work focuses on women. Are these real women you're drawing or fictional? How do you decide who to draw and the type of woman you want to represent?
The women I draw are fictional but based on a blend of women I see around me and women that I want to be. The city inspires me to draw these very diverse women. Women are a never-ending source of inspiration to me. How they behave, their energy, their looks. I’m always inspired by women who are themselves and who are special to me because of their looks. I have to draw them of course, so the looks are important.
Sometimes I bike around and I see a girl with amazing hair or an amazing attitude. I take a brain picture and illustrate a girl who looks like her. I’m not very interested in portraying model-like women. I don’t want my work to be an extension of the women we see in the media all the time. The “perfect” woman. I’m more interested in quirky, interesting and sweet than sexy and smooth. I want them to be approachable, not intimidating.
Can you tell us about the designs in your Papier collection? Which is your favourite?
The patterns are selected by the Papier team and myself. I think it’s a really fun, colourful and light collection. Which is perfect for a notebook or diary that you carry with you everyday. I love how it focuses on my women illustrations. The Faces design is inspired by Henri Matisse’s portraits. I love those so much, so simple but emotional. The Fit Girls and Women are patterns that show a lot of diverse women. My favourite is the Nudes & Flowers design. I love how soft it is with the light yellow and it’s a bit cheeky, but very sweet again.
What do you want people to feel when they pick up one of your Papier designs?
Happy and light! It’s just really nice when you pick up your diary at work and it makes you feel positive and maybe also says something like: You are beautiful!
If that sounds like a wonderful feeling to have, then what are you waiting for? Pick one of Bodil's notebooks or diaries...