I met the talented Liesl van der Hoven at a children’s expo and absolutely fell in love with beautiful little characters she creates for children’s stories and handmade toys. As we got to talking about our work, we recognized many similarities in our underlying philosophy and we started collaborating on projects, one of which is our first children’s book. “What if worries weren’t wild?” will be hitting the shelves soon! Despite all the hard work, it has been so much fun working with Liesl and I hope this is the first of many books we produce together! Since our first book will be available soon, I thought this would be the perfect time to introduce you to Liesl – artist, children’s book writer and illustrator, and good friend of mine! A recent interview with Liesl sheds light on her philosophy, artistic techniques, book and products. Here follows the first part of the two-part interview.
Liesl, you’ve been working on the beautiful Fairy Caravan stories, characters and products for a few years now. What inspired you to create this magical world?
Thank you so much Lenka, I’m so happy that you find them beautiful!
Looking back over the last 6 years of working on this business, I can say that it has been more of an ever-developing process than a question of waking up one morning with a completed idea for a magical world in my head!
There are so many things that inspired me along the way though! I was blessed to have a magical childhood myself. I grew up with stories of fairies and magical worlds, so it seemed very natural to create my own.
I am constantly inspired by nature and how beautiful even the smallest, most insignificant things in nature are if you pay attention to them.
Ever since I was very young, I’ve dreamed about living in a cottage in the woods surrounded by every tame animal imaginable. In reality I am getting there – I have two dogs and a tame dove. In my Fairy Caravan world I also have 8 talking animals, 4 fairies and a handful of fairy babies to keep me company!
Where do you find inspiration for your beautiful stories and characters?
I absolutely adore Beatrix Potter and have always been inspired by her “little books”. As a matter of fact, I can still remember the first book I loaned from the library, I think it was before I even went to school! It was Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle – to this day my favourite book by her.
Back in 2014 I wanted to give each of my first 4 characters a different personality and discovered the 4 temperaments theory – an ancient Greek system. I found it useful because it didn’t involve an overwhelming amount of different personality types. Later I discovered that these theories also form part of Waldorf educational philosophies.
By now I feel as though I know each of my characters well enough that I can predict how they will react in different situations.
Sometimes it almost feels as though my stories write themselves – all I have to do is come up with a situation to expose a character to – and then I know how that specific character will react!
Working with you and taking a therapeutic approach to my stories, provides so much inspiration. Often you will provide inspiration for the kind of situations children struggle with, and I then think about which character’s personality would be the most affected by the situation, and I already have the beginning of a new story!
I find the idea of helping children with my stories and illustrations incredibly inspiring and rewarding.
You have a background in philosophy and a particular interest in mindfulness – how does this add depth and meaning to your multi-layered art, stories and characters?
To me, mindfulness is all about paying attention. I think we miss so much in our busy day to day lives because we are blindly rushing from one task to the next. Even though I try to be mindful I can be just as guilty of this as the next person!
Young children are naturally mindful – they are inquisitive and explore the world around them with their full attention. Even if they don’t sustain this attention on one idea or object for very long, I still think that it may be a better way of being in the world than not being aware of our surroundings at all because we are all caught up in our own thoughts.
In reading about mindfulness, I have come across many techniques that have improved my own life and how I approach creativity. By talking to you and other play therapists I have discovered that these techniques (such as meditation, breathing exercises and yoga) can be extremely beneficial to young children too.
I really do think that there is tremendous value in teaching young children about mindfulness. I also think parents and adult caregivers can benefit from an awareness of mindfulness techniques.
We can all learn a lot from approaching the world in the same way that children do: Playful, inquisitive and completely focussed on only one thing at a time. By paying attention we are able to notice the depth and meaning in everything.
Sometimes the meaning is in an experience – for example sharing a lovely picture book with a child. Even if the child is too young to fully grasp the message in the story, the experience of being comfortable and loved while sharing the story is meaningful.
To read more about Liesl and her artistic process, as well as the therapeutic book about anxiety we’ve written together, read my next blog where the interview continues!