Wednesday 23 September 2020

The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding and illustrated by Britta Teckentrup - Guest Illustrator Post

 It is a real treat to invite Britta Teckentrup onto the Picture Book Party blog to tell us all about the making of her new book, The House by the Lake, written by Thomas Harding. You can now read the full post below!

Guest Illustrator Post - Britta Teckentrup

How did you decide on the look of the book?

The House by the Lake tells the remarkable true story of a little wooden summer house built on the shores of a lake on the outskirts of Berlin throughout the course of a century.

The house played host to a loving Jewish family, a renowned Nazi composer, wartime refugees and a Stasi informant; in that time, a world war came and went, and the Berlin Wall was built through the garden of the house.

As the text is full of history I decided to reflect that in my illustrations.

The artwork has got a faded, old quality to it and I worked a lot from archive films and reference photography of the house and the people that lived there.

I was able to visit the house with the author Thomas Harding in the summer of 2018. It was just in the process of being restored as it had been derelict for many years.

It was very hard for me to imagine what the house had looked like. I tried to piece it all together by looking at Thomas Harding’s old photographs. It was quite difficult to understand at times as the house had changed quite a lot throughout the course of a century.

I only saw the fully renovated house after I had finished illustrating the book.

Here is some development work of the house and the people that lived there.

(I tried to give the people a likeness whenever possible to preserve their memory.)

(I also did a fair bit of research into uniforms, clothes, furniture, wallpaper, the cranes that were used to build the wall, Russian tanks, planes etc. as I wanted to be as accurate as possible)

Tell us a little bit more about your artistic process?

 I work from my studio in our flat in Berlin where I live with my husband (who is also an artist) and our son.

We live in a typical Berlin flat with high ceilings, tall windows and wooden floors.

I always thought that I was a morning person but I completely changed my working pattern when my son left school and I didn’t HAVE to get up early any longer. 

I now enjoy the luxury of getting up late and work into the night.

I especially enjoy the silence of the night during the warm summer month when everything is calm and quiet and I don’t get distracted by emails or phone calls.

 My work is a mix of hand-printed textures and digital collage. I always worked with collage and my first books many, many years ago (in 1993) were all hand-made collages. The process evolved and I now use a computer as well but the printed textures still come first. I love the messiness of creating the textures, the smell of the oil paint and the feel of paper.

Once I have scanned in the textures I play with them in Photoshop ... I cut them up, overlay them, move them around and still get many happy surprises and ‘accidents’.

I still use a mouse to create my illustrations and don’t really draw or paint in Photoshop – I mainly use the lasso tool - and am mainly lead by textures, shapes and colour...

 What was your favourite spread to illustrate?

I have got two favourite spreads...

I loved illustrating the darkest spread of the book where the planes fly over the house during the Second World War.

I also love the mood of the abandoned house taken over by nature.

Thomas Harding’s text beautifully combines lightness and dark, the beautiful and the harrowing and I tried to reflect that in my artwork.


What is your favourite thing to draw? 

I haven’t really got a favourite thing to ‘draw’.

I love illustrating people, nature and animals (apart from dogs and cows).

What was your favourite picture book when you were a child?

 I still have got my childhood copy of Tomi Ungerer’s ‘No Kiss for Mother’, which I treasure. I even coloured in the cover.

I am sure that I didn’t quite understand the book at the time but I always knew that it was different from most of the other books I had.

Maybe it is not really a picture book but I hope it counts anyway.

- Britta Teckentrup

A special thanks to our guest illustrator this week, Britta Teckentrup!

The House by the Lake is now available to buy from all good booksellers.