Austria-based illustrator Petra Braun celebrates remarkable women from all walks of life who have overcome boundaries in her vibrant, figurative artwork.
Petra, a freelance illustrator and qualified graphic designer, has created artwork for an array of impressive clients, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Penguin Random House and Dorling Kindersley, to name a few. But even though she was always drawing and creating ever since she was a child, she did not grow up in an artistic house and wasn't aware for a long time that it could lead to a profession.
"My parents had a farm, and my life was filled with animals and plants, as were my drawings," Petra tells Creative Boom. "My career aspiration back then was to become a vet." However, a school trip to an art exhibition when she was 12 took her life down a different path. "We saw an exhibition with paintings by Marc Chagall, and I can remember how fascinated I was," she reveals. "I had never seen paintings in real life and was the last child to leave the exhibition."
When deciding on a career path, Petra chose to become a graphic designer because it seemed like a way to get a stable job out of her passion for art. After graduating, she worked in an advertising agency for a while before deciding to study painting at the University of Arts in Linz, Austria.
Of this time, she says: "At university, I mostly worked with oil and acrylic paint, but I also made ink drawings and objects from stone and fabric. The topics of the work I created there were very women-centred, and the artists who inspired me the most were female artists like Louise Bourgeois and Kiki Smith."
The passion for focusing on strong, empowered women is a recurring motif in Petra's work. And even though she draws inspiration from women who have done remarkable things in their lives despite the societal boundaries they have faced, she is also influenced by the women in her daily life.
"I often notice how badass the women around me are, how many different things they manage, and how they hold everything together," she explains. "It's impressive how many different roles they have to play and unfortunate how rarely it is recognised and appreciated in society.
"To see the accomplishments of the women around me is wonderful and encouraging. I'm a very introverted person and was very timid as a child. Having role models and seeing how other women around me achieve things was, and still is, very motivating for me to push myself out of my comfort zone. Therefore, I'm always delighted whenever I can work on a project highlighting a female role model."
Another reason Petra needs to emphasise and empower women is due to the restrictions they still face. "Women are told a lot about how to behave, how to look, what they can do, and what they can archive," she says, "The systems we live in are still built in a way that keeps women in the care of their families rather than pursuing their career goals. As long as men earn more for the same work, those things will not change.
"Also, women's rights aren't a sure thing. It is imperative to demand and fight for these rights because they can easily be taken away overnight. This is what we have seen recently with abortion rights in different countries. Rights, in general, are not something we can take for granted. Therefore, I believe it's critical to empower women to be confident, live their lives as they want to, and chase their dreams."
In her art, Petra likes to show women confident in their bodies and stand up for what they want. "I like to give them power and autonomy. Women are often raised to put their needs behind them, so I think it's important to put them in the centre and give them importance."
True to her word, Petra does exactly this by hosting the Instagram challenge 'Powerful Women Week' every September along with other female illustrators. "During the week, we show selected works created for the challenge on our accounts to increase the visibility of the artists participating in the challenge."
This project has led to a card deck (thanks to Lisa Den Teuling, the founder of 'Powerful Women Week'), where 60 female artists from all over the world show contributed an illustration that was created for the challenge, along with a motivational quote. "Some of the proceeds from the card deck are donated to a charity called Mama Cash, which supports women, girls, and transgender and intersex people all over the world."
Inspired by her work and thinking of following in Petra's footsteps by entering the world of illustration? She advises that freelance editorial illustration is the place to start. "It's easier to find contacts than in other markets," she explains.
"You can check the imprint of magazines you think your work would be a suitable fit for and find the names of Art Directors or Editors. The AOI also sells contact lists on its website. Send out an email with a polite message about why you want to work with them. Include some samples of your work as well as the links to your website and social media accounts.
"Don't get discouraged if you don't get an immediate response. These people are very busy. Just because you don't get a reply doesn't mean your message hasn't been seen or that your work is not what they are looking for."
Most importantly, though, Petra recommends sending out work that reflects topics you're interested in. In her case, this would be empowered women, and it has led to work in this area.
"Also, you could think about what the Editors and Art Directors need for the magazine. For example, if there is always an extra in the magazine, don't hesitate to pitch an idea for it. The same applies to publishing houses and ideas for books."