It is absolute bliss to command a craft that demands both skill and patience. A mindset where we are able to tell ourselves that there is more to everyday objects than meets the eye.
This mindset could be as simple as a blanket thrown into a sofa bed or a piece of toast placed on an oversized dinner plate. Things that normally require little to no attention are found to be suddenly in some way meaningful. This seems true, especially after having had met Danielle Kroll, the Polish, Brooklyn-based illustrator who happens to be a multitalented artist by nature. She makes sure your dinner plate is more than just an object to place your toast in, as what she often does is adorn it with some of her lively illustrations. The meaning behind these plates are meant to be playful, just like the rest of her work. On some big round plates she writes ‘S A R D I N E S’, with an illustration of them on the side. The meaning behind is for one to put a sardine on toast, or better yet, maybe some toast on your sardines. You pick.
Yes, Danielle’s work can be humorous too, and that’s why it’s been a hit on Pinterest ever since blogs began to be popular. It now begs the question about the meaning behind the rest of her creations, encompassing all that stationary and home décor.
Kroll’s warm welcome also means more than just a polite ‘Hello’. Her welcoming energy foreshadowed an establishment of the close friendship which we ended up having. As the artist cheerfully stood on the dark halls of her Greenpoint studio space, she guided us to the inside of her bright and refined area “where the magic happens”. The sidelong illumination of the inviable sun reveal her pale skin, light blonde hair and dainty physique. She’s glad to have us there, I can tell.
I also see numerous books by the wall under the wide window. Some of them are children’s books, others are arts and crafts manuals. This intimate library essentially gives a certain boost of color to the area. Her big Apple computer is set aside, there’s a song by Imogean Heap playing in the background. The feeling to it is both refreshing and dynamic, just like her style, it seems to work in her favor.
It didn’t take long for Danielle, Cestlulu’s contributing photographer Julia Khoroshilov and myself, to instantly click. Kroll starts talking about her time at Anthropologie as a graphic designer in the Art Department. My initial reaction was how fun, challenging and creative she is. I was half mistaken though as Kroll began to explain how she needed more of a challenge. Her role at Anthropologie was certainly necessary, but after three years at the company she wasn’t evolving as much as she hoped she would.
“Every now and then I got opportunities to illustrate,” she says "but it was mostly design work". So after those years of training and self-realization in the company, Kroll decided to take a plunge on to bigger pursuits that could scare her (aka make her grow as an artist).
Before Kroll decided to stretch her abilities she went for a long hike in California. After a sabbatical year of replenishing and recharging, she found herself coming back eager to get started as a freelance illustrator. When Kroll began to inhabit the art world as an independent, as much as she felt freedom, so did she find herself in a constant state of exhaustion. Kroll often felt like she was carrying big stones onto a pyramid that didn’t even seem to exist.
I wonder specifically about the challenges she might have faced, and this is when Kroll tells me her first year freelancing was “especially hard”. She even came to question if she should be illustrating in the first place.
The daunting feeling of being stuck in this dark hole did not stop the visionary from discovering her abilities and strengths. It’s ironic because it’s hard to picture Kroll’s positive-looking drawings in book covers and stationary having been emerged from moments of confusion and uncertainty. This is why her work tends to be more interesting, it’s full of puzzles and stories. It focuses on series of emotions with favorable outcomes that can tell you about her childhood, back when she spent the summers at the Jersey Shore.
Long gone are those de-stressing days at the Jersey Shore, as Kroll begins to talk about her online shop, the one she wants to curate cleverly. And as she brings this up, Julia snaps two, three pictures out her 35mm film camera, Kroll acts as if nothing had happened.
It seems the Polish artist doesn’t have a hard time losing focus. What she does claim herself to be is ‘a digital mess’ when it comes to organizing her new website. Kroll wants to offer viewers, clients and buyers more of an organized online curation so people can have access to what she can offer and what she represents. So who knows, maybe next time you want to throw a special party, why not add a colorful menu by the hands of Danielle. Or let’s say you have always wanted an original wallpaper design no one else has had. Solution: Danielle can customize it! ‘I want a snake, I want an orange, I want a tea pot - make it three!’ She will have it ready for you within a week. Well, I’m not sure it takes her a week– you can ask her more about that, but I think I made my point clear. She is multitalented, and not just because she can deliver something utterly beautiful and creative to her clients, but also because her technique tends to be diverse, whether it’s done through a brush or a pen.
Nowadays she has found herself drooling over illustrations on book covers. When I asked her what had been one of her biggest accomplishments so far, she thought about it thoroughly. Not quite remembering when or what, she reflected a bit, and said she had to look at her computer, before touching the device the thought came to mind, it had been a book cover illustration published by Penguin.
“I liked it because I was able to combine painting with design and I hadn’t done that in a while,” she says. “It was familiar with but also something new as it was my first book cover.”
New and desirable, as her next mission is to get more and more into publishing.
“I have some ideas about it that are yet to be developed,” said Kroll.
It takes time to think and process ideas, just as much as it takes time to be the illustrator she currently is. Kroll has been breaking ceilings and overcoming storms, but she’s halfway towards her next goal.
We’re also halfway there towards the end of the interview. It makes sense why it went by so quickly. She’s incredibly interesting to talk to, and not only that, but as an introvert, once she opens up; its pure joy. The feeling of reliability and trust comes to play, so much more than one would have expected.
“You know, there are days where it’s a bit harder than others as I am only accountable for myself,” she says. “If I don’t come to work no one is going to know.” Sometimes when she pushes herself to do something, her mind goes blank. She can feel extremely lazy and unmotivated to get started or to continue and progress on an ongoing project. On the flip side, when she gives herself the chance to do so, there is nothing stopping her. Things begin to click once she zones out and stops thinking so much.
“That’s sort of how I felt with my dance classes,” she says, laughing, “I never wanted to go, I was shy and nervous.” But it’s once she’s present, both physically and mentally, that things begin to fall into place and she is content and feels that ‘this is actually ok’.
What’s not ok, she tells me, is to sell to the client the copyright to your work. “I wish I would have known back then,” she laments. “It’s a shame because when you do have a signature look or like a character, selling that is kind of like seeing a piece of yourself go along with it.” It depends whether the artist thinks its worthy of the price or not, but if it’s not going to bring you out of debt for a little while, better think twice.
Good advice for all of us creators out there, including Julia our photographer. It seems she takes a mental note as she is able to capture the last moments of our encounter on this chilly April afternoon. The lighting itself makes it a whole lot better. Rays coming through the wide set of windows melt into one another, so as to add an expression of delicacy and liveliness to Julia’s pictures. This just makes me think how there is, again, a deeper concept onto the pigments that lie in front of us and to the light that currently surrounds us, just the way it was with those plates with sardines on it.