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Denitza Gruber and her life dedicated to illustration in Germany

The story of a migrant's plight and her path to fulfilling a dream 

Photo: Facebook /Denitza Gruber

Almost every child has the desire - and the ability - to draw or paint. As for talent - sometimes it takes years to be noticed and to receive recognition. Especially if you happen to be growing up in Bulgaria at the dawn of democracy. This is the story of Denitza Gruber, a Bulgarian whose parents - also artists, a restorer and a painter - found no place for their talents and no future for their family in Bulgaria. Her father and brother left for Germany in 1990, and she and her mother followed in 1991. The family settled in Bavaria, where Denitza - lonely and friendless because she did not speak German well enough - found solace in painting. At the age of 16, she won a project about migration in Germany. Her talent was noticed by many when her caricature was published in the local newspaper:

"I drew a stout German in a tie, a bureaucrat, standing at the border - he looked a bit like the then Chancellor Helmut Kohl - and opposite him, on the other side of the border, there were ruined buildings and dirty chimneys, a family with an invalid father and a mother holding a toddler, to whom the Chancellor said - 'Go back, you have democracy'," the artist recalls today.

The cartoon fully reflected Denitza's feelings about Germany's refugee policy at the time. If the rules were followed, a significant number of these people would have to be sent back to their countries of origin:

"We arrived in Munich, where we stayed in a hotel, and a day or two later we went to the refugee camp in the city, where we registered as such. We lived in this camp for a while, it was very difficult. It was a kind of dormitory - we were in a room with other Bulgarians, but there were all kinds of people of other nationalities. Later we were advised to go to another camp in Landshut. It was in a big old house in the centre of the town, and luckily we had a good host who gave us a spare room on the top floor. The four of us lived there for two years, sharing toilets, showers and kitchens. It was all terribly difficult, and even now the whole family remembers that time with sadness, because it was definitely not how we had imagined our future in Germany".

After graduating from secondary school with a degree in art, Denitza applied to study graphic design at a university in Munich. But she soon realised that this was not the career for her, and a friend introduced her to publishing:

"She recommended that I go to their publishing house, so I took the portfolio with everything I had drawn at home, went there and showed it to them. They told me they saw I could draw and they liked what I was doing, but I wasn't quite mature and needed to find my own style," Denitza recalls, adding, "I was 19 at the time and that motivated me to apply for a degree in communication design. I was accepted and met my associate professor of illustration - a professional children's book illustrator. He immediately saw my desire to illustrate, introduced me to publishers and editors, and I started working on my first books almost immediately. I was very happy and already knew that this was what I wanted to do, this was my dream. 

After working for several publishing houses, Denitza found her current job. In addition to children's books, the publisher she works for also markets jigsaw puzzles. For a while she was the artist of their designs. It was a big responsibility, she says, because the quality of the products had to be impeccable. She also quickly learnt about the subtle differences between illustrating children's books and creating a puzzle plot:

"There is a difference because the puzzle doesn't have a story, so I have to make it up. They give me the theme - cute animals or animals and different vehicles - and I have to tell in my drawing what happens in that situation.  Of course I'm not completely alone, I have an editor with whom I discuss what and how to draw. 

Today Denitza is happily married to a German and has two children. She still remembers the words her parents once said to her - "If you want to draw, make it your profession". And who knows, maybe one day she will say these words to her daughter, who also has a passion for drawing and dreams of illustrating books one day.

Photos: Facebook/ Denitza Gruber
Translated and posted by Elizabeth Radkova

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