The illustrator Julia Friese
Aesthetically ingenious, entertainingly duck-filled

Illustration from the children’s book “Alle seine Entlein”
Illustration from the children’s book “Alle seine Entlein” | Photo (detail): © 2007 Beltz & Gelberg in der Verlagsgruppe Beltz ∙ Weinheim Basel

Economical line drawing, muted watercolour techniques and expressive colouration – Julia Friese has mastered the entire spectrum of the illustrator’s art. With great love of detail she illustrates children’s books, some of which are successful worldwide. 

The children’s book illustrator Julia Friese The children’s book illustrator Julia Friese | Photo (detail): © Gundula Friese
The world is turned on its head in this tale of a fox who decides to make some scrambled eggs for himself using a duck egg. But just at that moment a little duckling hatches from the egg. The new arrival mistakes the fox for its mother – and the fox is immediately smitten. He adopts the duckling and thinks less and less about roast duck. In the end, the fox finds himself playing mum to a whole family of ducklings – a good example of natural enemies becoming friends.
“Aesthetically ingenious and entertainingly duck-filled, this off-beat story tells the tale of a fox who becomes a father despite himself. What starts off with a very hungry fox ends to the reader’s amazement with a cohort of quacking ducklings. Through her pictures, the illustrator Julia Friese creates moments of powerful tension”, explains the jury of the German Children’s Literature Award 2008, for which Alle seine Entlein (i.e. All his ducklings) was nominated.
Julia Friese has been illustrating books by Christian Duda since 2007 – a happy synthesis of two talented producers of German children’s literature. In Alle seine Entlein, their first joint children’s book, the illustrator uses composition and comic sequences to create a fast-paced narrative with plenty of tension. With his angular lines, the fox appears in stark contrast to the quaintly pastel shades used for the ducklings. In the opinion of the jury of the German Children’s Literature Award, Julia Friese juggles brilliantly with optical illusions and comic elements. “In so doing, she breaks with the conventions of page layout and viewpoints, while the author Christian Duda skilfully plays with the reader’s expectations. Duda’s writing seems as light and playful as the ducklings are downy. An ingenious story about fathers, sons and different generations, right in the middle of the dark forest.”
Julia Friese is not afraid to take risks in her work. She is part of a generation of German children’s book illustrators who experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and German reunification in 1990 as children, who trained at a renowned academy in the former East Germany and at the same time take advantage of every opportunity for the global transfer of illustration and design.

Gifted in many areas of art

Born in Leipzig in 1979, Friese left school in Potsdam in 2000 and has worked as an illustrator and designer ever since. In 2006 she completed her formal training, which also took her to the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and to the Faculdad de Bellas Artes in Bilbao, with a diploma from the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig. Talent, her studies, experimentation and periods working in design studios in Barcelona and Dublin gave her the skills she needed for both book art and utility design. As such Julia Friese was able to acquire traditional and IT-based techniques that she nowadays blends seamlessly and without any loss of quality in several different areas of art.
Spending time abroad also opened up publishing opportunities for the illustrator in the children’s book world. She brought out three picture books in France between 2001 and 2003, taking advantage of the country’s willingness to embrace experimental picture book art. This was followed by original publications for Spain and South America. Translated versions of books she later published in Germany have meanwhile appeared in several different languages. At the same time, she designed posters, notices, company logos and information and advertising material for cultural events, non-profit projects and companies. She continues to actively maintain her links to the Leipzig art scene.
Her 2004 picture book Das Mohrrübensuppen-Abenteuer (i.e. The Carrot Soup Adventure) was Julia Friese’s first work to be published by a German-language publishing house. Dedicated to her grandmother, the book is about how nursery school children react when an unpopular dish is served at lunch – perhaps a memory of the nursery she attended as a child. With a powerfully expressive use of black and carrot orange, she presents the children’s reveries, creativity, wishful thinking, fears, aggression and enjoyment when faced with the soup. 

Taking pleasure in fantastical but authentic worlds

The illustrator, who lives in Berlin these days, particularly likes doing the drawings for Christian Duda’s books, however. The two of them have already travelled halfway around the world with their joint projects. If one were to search for artistic similarities in Duda’s writing and Julia Fries’ illustrations, these would doubtless be found in the pleasure they both take in fantastical but authentic worlds that are beyond and yet right in the middle of the everyday world we experience: human insight provided in the guise of an animal fable (Alle meine Entlein), an escape from the oppressive coldness of family life (Schnipselgestrüpp), wild associations in the bathtub (Papierschiff ahoi!) and images of a greedy hunger for something sweet before bedtime (Bonbon). The imagination of the writing inspires the illustrator’s imagination and vice versa. Duda’s style of writing – its sensitiveness characterized by his multicultural background and experience of dialect – opens up spaces in which the illustrator can add stories in pictures alongside those in writing. In terms of style and technique, Julia Friese’s illustrative spectrum ranges from economical line drawing and muted watercolour techniques to the opulence of expressive oil pastel and computer colouration.