Anja Sušanj, Illustrator

A London-based illustrator who creates whimsical worlds

Words on a page will create images in the reader's mind. For the most part, it's almost impossible to see what someone else is thinking or to perfectly communicate your own thoughts. When you're an illustrator, however, you have an advantage. You can draw your thoughts and communicate with imagery.

Anja Sušanj's work immediately catches your attention. For the most part, her work is bright, vibrant and complicated. It catches your eye and you find yourself looking for more details. And you begin to wonder how she interprets the same books and literature that you're reading. Perhaps more colorfully? 

This week we sat down with Anja and asked her about her journey as an illustrator. 

Just Like Grape: How did you start drawing?

Anja Sušanj To be honest, I’ve been drawing since I can remember. It wasn’t a conscious decision at first, but rather an outlet of a sort when I was young. It still is to some degree, though these things tend to change once your hobby becomes your profession.

Basically, in the beginning it was all about me creating these big worlds and characters in my head and finding a way to jot them down. I was always big on stories so this was the only thing that could really make me lose track of time. I wasn’t planning on it becoming something more until I was well into my late teens.

JLG: What was the first project that someone commissioned you to do?

Anja: I think it was a CD cover for children, or possibly a mural referencing Slavic myths. I can’t really remember which came first. One was a small project, the other a big one. The mural is still “going strong” in my home town!

JLG: Tell me about the moment when you realized that illustration would be more than a hobby.

Anja: Again, it wasn’t really a conscious decision – for me it all progressed naturally. I always drew in my spare time and then went to study applied arts, which really got me into documentary film and directing and I was even thinking of pursuing that for a while. But, drawing was always what I would go back to so I decided to go into animation instead. Illustration was a natural extension of what I had always been doing, but now I was able to give a name to it.

JLG: How do you stay original?

Anja: I think I get my inspiration the same way other illustrators do, by sketching, both from life and imagination. I also do research and look at what people have done in the past. I believe there is no such thing as being fully original. Inspiration is, after all, only a conglomerate of things we experience, see, hear and take in on a daily basis. Everyone has the ability to be creative--it’s what makes us human--but the trick is to hone that as one would hone any skill. Imagination is a different thing altogether, and things that really interest us influence us all. So yeah, one could argue it comes down to interest plus imagination  plus experience.

JLG: How do you choose projects?

Anja: I love choosing projects by “ticking off” two out of three main criteria I set for myself: salary, timetable and the quality of the job. If a project doesn’t pay well, for example, but the deadline is great and the project in itself satisfying, I tend to take it. Same in reverse.

JLG: Do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?

Anja: I think the trick is to work really hard. Be prepared to work 7 days a week as a norm, especially in the beginning. Develop a style that works and that you like, so people will recognize you and art directors will know what to expect. The rest is just a combination of being in the right place at the right time and blind luck. Knowing how to negotiate and when to say no is also an important issue in my book. To be honest, there are so many things one could say and they all stem from different experiences. I’m still learning how to navigate these waters myself and I’m not sure the self-teaching ever really stops. 

You can find more of Anja's work on her website