The women in my life have always been the ones that set me back on track. When I’m feeling lost and scatter brained, to fired up and inspired – they have been the one constant force guiding me. My port in a storm. They’ve seen me through heartache of all flavours and been the first to celebrate my triumphs. They also happen to be some of the most emotionally and intellectually honest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and whenever I’m unsure of what to do it’s their voices that are in my head giving me direction on what to do next. In short, female friendships are awesome and I’m not entirely sure what I did to deserve mine. Illustrator Sonja Bajic wanted to celebrate the people in her life and all the advice/soundbites/truth bombs she’s been given over the years with her second book “What My Girlfriends Told Me.” The pocket sized book features 130 illustrations and words of wisdom. From late night phone conversations to funny titbits, “What My Girlfriends Told Me” is a tender, funny and often insightful celebration of female friendship – so of course in celebration Galentine’s Day I had to pick her brains about it.
Tell me a little about yourself – the abridged version of what you did before coming to what my girlfriends told me?
My name is Sonja and I ended up being an illustrator through my architectural studies – meaning that I have two master degrees in architecture – one that I obtained in my home town of Novi Sad, Serbia and the second one in Paris, France. I stayed in Paris after my school – worked and still work when needed as an architect but visual storytelling became my big love! It always has been – once you start you can’t stop. You walk down the street and see an elderly lady with her melon hair and the matching jacket or a guy in a ballerina costume or a happy yellow chair forgotten in a rain in front of some shop…and you want to have it in your memory forever. I keep it that way through my drawings – notebooks, doodles and words. I freeze those small serendipitous moments through ink and paper. And a bit of colour.
I love food, mescal cocktails, running and I have a cactus named Hunter that came on the plane from Texas. I believe in better tomorrows and walking around with no particular target to reach.
So you’ve self published previously, what led you to working with September publishing and going down a more traditional publisher for what my girlfriends told me?
When I was in the high school I did fanzines with a group of friends. A couple of years ago I did a small arty book in only 20 samples – signed and stamped – about pumpkins called “Pumpkins are Awesome”. You cannot not love a pumpkin! 🙂 I wouldn’t say that I passed through the real process of self publishing because I know it’s more complicated than what I did. Pumpkins were a good experiment in understanding the book and the magic of its creation as an object.
I am a very project orientated person. I had a few projects (still do) I really wanted to get published. September Publishing recognized the potential – and after going back and forth with some other ideas, we found something that would capture the magic that both me and them are chasing – a small girl power book for every day! I was lucky to have them on my side!
The book is coming out on the 2nd March to coincide for International Women’s Day – was this serendipitous or a conscious decision? How important was it to tie in the release to celebrating women?
For years and years I am buying small symbolic gifts (who said Kinder Bueno?!) for my female friends for the IWD. Two years ago me and another girl started a project called Kakva Zenska on the 8 March – that project celebrates women who changed something for us in Serbia and in Balkans. It’s an important and an inspiring date for me. It just made sense to celebrate it further with the publishing date of What My Girlfriends Told Me. I am very happy that we managed to do so!
How would you describe your creative process? What do you draw on for inspiration?
I get inspired in the streets or when walking or reading or doing something else than really drawing. I hear the quote – I write it down. I like what someone’s wearing – I take a photo. I try to keep everything online or on my mobile phone so I can give the space to my brain to develop that and other ideas. Many of my drawings you see on world wide web but I also have some projects that are just for myself where I practice different techniques. I really love working with the primary colours and creating new colours by only mixing them – that reaction is the definition of magic for me!
Right now I am working on patterns in gouache, two logos and a map of Milwaukee! I really like drawing maps!
I always have a few notebooks active – for different stuff – one for drawings, one for paintings, one for scribbles. Well, there you go – I think my creative process is all over the place 🙂
What helped you find your particular style? Was there a reason for water colours for this specific project?
Practice! I think my architectural background brought me to the black and white line drawings. From there, I started introducing colour -I really made a lot of experiments – both on the computer and with the brush. At the moment on my table I have a big palette of watercolours, a few tubes of gouache, some coloured pencils (gold <3) and the Photoshop is open on my computer.
In my opinion watercolours are elegant and expressive. Even thou the book is done, I still take out my watercolour notebook every now and then and I draw some faces and people and objects in the same technique. I started getting orders for the mini à la What My Girlfriends Told Me portraits lately.
As a “lifetime gatherer of phrases” was there ever a specific moment you remember starting to write down the things your friends told you?
When I was a teenager I had a huge white cardboard at the back of the door of my room on which I wrote all the phrases/quotes/maxims that I found when reading books, listening to the music or spending time online. You had there quotes from everyone from Confucius to Coco Chanel. Then I was writing down words of my professors and my parents and grandparents. And then finally me and my friends became confident and smart enough to give advices to each other and of course I wrote those down too!
This morning I woke up and got a whatsapp message from a friend in Melbourne with a quote somebody told her and she thought I would like it. I did!
How long did this project take? How do you keep motivated?
Before I pitched this book to the lovely ladies of the September Publishing, I had two piles – one with small paintings of different women I met along the road and the other pile with the quotes from conversations with different women that brought light to my life or that just sobered me up at the given moment. That initial period took long but for the book itself to see the light of the day it took some year and a half. As everything in life – that was a process, too.
Luckily if something interests me or rocks my world I have endless amounts of the enthusiasm for it and motivation is rarely a problem once I sit down and start working. I wake up at 7 (sometimes even on the weekends), make myself a tea and something to eat, sit down for 8, 9 hrs with shorter and longer breaks and get the things done.
Was there any pieces of advice that didn’t make it in to the book? Is it a piece of your own and if so, what is it?
I know it sounds funny to say that ” that and that quote changed my life” but I “stay” with the words. I rewind them constantly in my head and they can bring pure magic but they can be weapons, too. Some of the best advice I got were from…Dylan – “if you’re not busy being born you’re busy dying” and another one that I read in a book of a friend of mine: “When one thing happens, everything else is happening too”. I got them at the precise moment when I needed them! Fear is not an argument is something I repeat on and on to myself as a mantra!