Poland-born illustrator behind The Dragon of Kraków

Artist Interview with Danielle Rhoda

What were you like as a kid?

I had the best childhood in the sense that I got to play around with things, and make up my own little world. When it’s summertime, you just go off and then you come back when it’s time for dinner. I loved picture books, I loved making things by hand out of paper or clay, and I’m getting back to that now as well.


When you were young did you have an “I want to be an illustrator” type of moment?

I didn’t know what an illustrator was, but I knew I’d like to be illustrating for as long as possible. My mom had a really big part in this - she didn’t do this for a job or anything but she’s really creative and she just spent time with me, making things. We’d make clothes for dolls and stuff. That attitude of just being able to make things yourself has really stuck with me.

When I moved to the UK I was 12, and it took my parents a while to sign me up for school. I had about 2-3 months of downtime and being bored, so I drew a lot in that time and I read a lot of books. I think in that moment it was like — “Oh, I’m doing this, and I really enjoy it!” — and it sort of became second nature. Then when I started school I couldn’t speak a lot of English, so art was one of the only subjects I could do well in, and not have to worry about anything. Because art sort of transcends language if you wanna go deep.

I’ve had really good teachers who’ve been super supportive as well. You get to express yourself in certain ways that writing doesn’t allow if you can’t write in a certain language. I was always the kid who was doodling or sketching all the time. You gravitate towards drawing people.


What kinds of people are you inspired by?

I love people watching and I like staring at people...which may be kind of rude. But I usually notice something odd about someone and that actually makes them stand out from the crowd...so whether it’s an older lady sort of crouched over or someone with a massive coat on that makes their shape kind of funny...that’s the sort of stuff I like.

When it was allowed, I spent a lot of time outside. It’s been interesting to see how much of that I relied on before COVID. As soon as it wasn’t allowed, I had to just look at my pictures and it wasn’t the same. All that observational stuff is really difficult to replace, and sometimes you just forget what people are like. You take a trip to a shop, 5 minutes outside and you see someone and you realize you’ve totally forgotten.. oh that’s a thing! You just forget all the parts that the world consists of, and when you’re just sitting in your room and try to come up with all that in your head, you become very limited. I was trying to think of characters to draw and trying to google those people, but what can you type... “person walking a dog?” And then just draw that person over and over again? It’s not the same.

What was it like for you diving into a folktale and also drawing from observation?

I’ve always wanted to do something like that. Growing up in Poland, folktales are a major part of your education in early stages. It’s a really strong part of Polish culture, and so it wasn’t too hard to think of a folktale to draw/be inspired by. I think sometimes it’s drawing inspiration from people I’ve seen and putting them into a made-up world.

The illustration for WHILED is not observational, but it’s not what the folktale would be either. I’m reimagining it...having people dancing around, making it playful, giving it a different perspective because that’s what we want and it’s fun that way.

What’s the ideal viewer response to your work?

It would be: you’re able to forget about everything else for a moment and get sucked in because each character has their own story, each character is doing something around the dragon. So you can really spend some time with each character and make up little stories about them. I think maybe that’s what my work is about in general -- when I’m observing someone, I make up a little story about them, and then I try to translate that onto paper.

I’m so excited for my work to be a puzzle! It’s meditative, and you have to take your time with it, you have to focus but it’s a different type of focus -- you really relax -- and that’s what WHILED is about, isn’t it? Taking a break and enjoying something tactile and making something.

How do you get inspired to make work?

Since I’ve officially gone freelance, I had to make sure that I have systems in place that keep me making work, because if I didn’t then it would be very on the whim and not very organized. More sporadic, but maybe a bit more inspired. I’ll just say recently I’ve been spending time thinking about those routines, reconsidering things, and reimagining what I want to be seen as. Making sure I go for a walk.

I bought myself a little disposable camera so I can take pictures of people. It makes it more special that way then just having pictures on my phone. I’ve got a lot of sketch books, that’s a really important part of my work.

You forget how you used to do things. I miss being playful, so I’m bringing in a lot of little things that I used to do at uni when your brain is just full of ideas. Making sure that I’m connecting with creatives online, watching interviews. “It’s Nice That” is a creative platform, they’ve got these talks they host online and it’s a lot more accessible. You sit down for an hour and listen to someone talk about their work and their process and it’s like being in a studio again.

Do you have any prompts that you go back to?

When I’m stuck, I try to look back through some folders that I’ve saved. Screenshots of places that I like, a certain color. I go back there when I’m lacking inspiration. If that doesn’t work, I just sketch whatever, even if it's not a pretty drawing. None of my sketchbooks are pretty. I think that’s important as well: to make messy and ugly art.

Communal activity that you enjoy most?

Anything to do with food. I love cooking. I’m a massive foodie. My dad is from Ghana so recently I’ve been making it my little mission to try to cook the flavors I’ve had at home growing up, so Ghanian and Polish food as well (my mom’s side). Those dishes usually take a bit longer as well. They put you in a meditative state because you need to take your time with them. I had a little cry a few months back because it was so nice and sunny outside and you can’t have people over. Soon!

What’s a Polish Tradition you love?

In Kraków, you have to have this pastry. It’s kind of like a croissant but it’s not sweet, kind of doughy and more like a pretzel. And I love this Catholic tradition. You get long pieces of dried grass, the type with seeds so that it almost looks like wheat, and then you decorate it with colorful pieces. It’s for Palm Sunday because it looks like a little palm. The process of making something and it being colorful and special is something that I really like.

Headshot photo courtesy of Danielle Rhoda.


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