used to reacquaint himself with his artistic side. He began experimenting with new techniques the result of which was his first non-commissioned picture book Nothing Happened. Since then, several have followed including Island for which he received the Prémio Andersen Award and the Dutch Children’s Bookstore Prize.
Since last year, Mark helps aspiring picture book illustrators get one step closer to achieving their dreams via his Masterclass Programme.
1. You essentially had a successful career from the get-go and yet there came a point when you felt that something was missing; that you had turned down the wrong path within your chosen field. What made you come to that conclusion and what happened next?
Imagine this image: I was sitting in the first class compartment of a fast train. I had a nice chair, enough space for my legs, a nice drink and no worries at all. But I wasn’t enjoying the view anymore. This is exactly the feeling I had. I was not exactly unhappy with all the things I did, but I knew the direction I was going in, and the results I got out of my work, were not satisfying anymore. I also noticed that colleagues had shown growth in their creativity in the past 10 or 15 years. They had developed a unique style of illustrating and as a result, they were seen! They were seen because they made personal work and they touched the reader or viewer because they were not solely creating for reasons that lay outside of themselves - writers, publishers, money… It appeared that they listened to their heart and had made the decision that following your intuition is more important than only drawing to earn a living. Today I know that listening to your heart is the best and most pleasant way of earning money, but at the time, there was a disconnection between these two elements in my life.
Well, what happened next? In 2015, I decided that I had to create beautiful things for joy and that meant starting to write and illustrate my own picture books. Nothing Happened came out of that decision and it was the start of a big change in my career and in my life.
Since then I have made seven of my own picture books (until now!) and my mantra in these past 5 years has been: never do the same thing twice! Always try to challenge yourself, to keep your work fresh and not let the audience get bored.
I have now found a good balance between doing my own picture book projects and cooperating with other writers on some beautiful books like the new releases of The Little Prince (Het wonderbaarlijke verhaal van de kleine Prins) and The Jungle Book (Het Jungleboek); both published by Volt.
2. What was your greatest challenge in regards to the pivot you made within your career and how did you overcome it?
It was the fear of losing my income. Because my wife (Suzanne Diederen) is also a full time children’s book illustrator, I was afraid we might get into financial trouble if I blocked six months of my schedule and rejected a lot of assignments just to have 'a bit of fun’! We have two children who go to college and university, we have a mortgage to pay, I have an expensive accident insurance because I like to ride my racing bike - that's a lot of grown-up obligations to fulfill. But luckily, she also felt that I had to do this. So, I set out on this new journey and it felt so good! I was extremely happy because I knew the illustrations I made during that time were something completely different and new to me and I was very proud to show them!
I had been prepared to lose some income, but what had seemed very frightening initially, turned out to be nothing in reality. There were even some unexpected payments that came through and everything turned out to be just fine! It almost felt like a message from the universe that I had made a good decision in life ;-)
3. Your career is now thriving in a way it didn’t while you were focused on productivity. You’ve shot to the top of your field and are receiving a lot of recognition for your work. Does it make you wish you’d taken the step sooner or are there valuable lessons you feel you needed to learn before you could make the change?
I strongly believe everything comes at the right time. That is, when you are ready for it and not a second sooner or later. Sure, I wish I had taken this step sooner, but I also know that I was not ready for it at that time. I really needed these 15 years of growth on every level; my drawings skills, my skills in technique, my skills in writing a picture book concept, but also my development as a person. It all had to boil in a big pot until it was ready to be served.
Okay, and what exactly do I think I needed to learn? Confidence in myself! To stop the rush of doing a lot or otherwise feeling as though it is not enough. Creating a unique style of illustrating - going for the best quality and not less. In the end though, happiness in the things you do is the most important. Everything else will follow for free.
4. You are very supportive of those who want to follow in your footsteps. You often give talks and workshops for aspiring illustrators and last year you ran a year-long programme for beginning children’s book illustrators – the Mark Janssen Masterclass - for the first time.
For a couple of years, you have also been an ambassador for a charity that promotes reading among Nepalese children and provides them with books. Why are these different ways of giving back important to you?
Because I believe everything you get for free from the universe (like talent, motivation, love, happiness, confidence, success) is given to you for one reason: to share it with others.
When you are very talented in a specific way, it is because you are the right person to fulfill the needs of others. When you stop sharing everything that is given to you, you are no longer a clear channel and I strongly believe the tap from the universe which delivers ideas and good thoughts, will close more and more. Because why would the universe keep on delivering? Just to please you? Mmm, I am not sure of that.
I like to coach aspiring illustrators to grow and get better and better. It makes me happy when I can be a sort of illustration doctor, that is: show them how to improve their work and how to take the next step. I strongly believe that there is enough room for everyone to succeed, because everybody is different; there is only one you, so why be afraid that somebody will take your place? It simply cannot be done. Impossible! That gives a lot of peace, right?
Also, you called it 'giving back', but I don't see it like that at all. To me it's more like enjoying the sweet fruits that have come out of what I have done in the past. l like the coaching and I like doing the charity work in Nepal. And yet, both are only possible because of the hard work I did in the past. Now I'm purely enjoying myself!
5. If you could go back in time and meet the Mark that had just graduated from art school, what one piece of advice would you give him?
Take time to reflect on the things you create, always keep in mind what your goal is, why you create and have a plan! When I look back on those first 15 years, I did not have a plan. I just staggered from one assignment to the next. But as I said before: everything has gone as it had to be for me, so, it is okay. Nowadays though, I have a secret point of focus in my mind. I just have to continue doing what I do and one day I will be there!
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5 Questions for ... is a blog series featuring people who have reinvented themselves and created a thriving career by following their passion.
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Hi, I'm Chantal Valerie. I'm a writer and self-taught illustrator. I am inspired by late bloomers and creative self-starters (I only started drawing at the age of 34) and since I believe they deserve more visibility, I started my blog series ‘5 Questions for …’.