comic art by Jan Kraan

Jan Kraan was a Dutch graphic artist and illustrator, who was best known in his home country for his 1930s advertising illustrations. He was also an illustrator and designer for the children's magazines Kie-ke-boe and Zonneschijn during this period. After 1938 he worked as an animator and cartoonist in Switzerland.

Early life and education
Kraan was born in 1901 in Noordwolde, part of the municipality Westellingwerf in the province of Frisia. He knew from an early age that he wanted to become an illustrator, and avidly cut the illustrations of Louis Raemaekers and Albert Hahn from magazines. Together with a friend, the future woodcut artist Johannes Mulders (1899-1989), he received private drawing lessons from Harm Ellens, the director of the local reed braiding school ("Rijksrietvlechtschool") in Noordwolde. Afterwards he was qualified to become a drawing teacher.

In 1933 Jan Kraan visualized the production process of the printing firm Vada in Wageningen.

Early graphic career
He subsequently worked as a drawing teacher in Utrecht from 1923 to 1930, while in the meantime studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague. Increasing advertising and illustrations assignments allowed him to quit his daytime job. After being employed as an ad illustrator by department store De Bijenkorf (1930-1932) he turned freelance. Among his major clients during the 1930s were the Dutch postal services PTT and the Niemeijer tobacco factory, for which he made several humorous advertisements. Another early client was the glossy monthly Nova, for which he illustrated text stories in 1930.

cover by Jan Kraancover by Jan Kraan

Zonneschijn & Kie-ke-boe
He also worked for the publisher W. de Haan from Utrecht. He was an illustrator and designer for the firm's pedagogically justified but otherwise independent children's magazines Kie-ke-boe and Zonneschijn, both edited by D.A. Cramer-Schaap. The magazines offered fairy tales, rhymes, activity pages and games. Kie-ke-boe was launched in 1930, and became a supplement of Zonneschijn in 1934. The first issue of Zonneschijn had appeared in 1924, and the magazine lasted until 1943. Kraan served as one of several illustrators, among which Jan Lutz, Rie Cramer, Anton Pieck, Hans Borrebach, Guus Hens, Freddie Langeler, J. B. Midderigh-Bokhorst and Tjeerd Bottema. Besides illustrations for covers and picture stories, Kraan was also the designer and typographer of Zonneschijn's section headers. Inspired by the "De Stijl" movement of Piet Mondriaan and Theo van Doesburg, he also gave Zonneschijn a new cover design in the early 1930s.

Children's books
Later on, Jan Kraan also illustrated a couple of children's books, including some by Zonneschijn's editor D.A. Cramer-Schaap: 'De avonturen van Jopie Sprinter' (1938) for the Peijnenburg biscuit factory and 'Het Konijnenboekje' (1954) for publisher Veenman. Kraan also provided the illustrations for Ed. Hoornik and Wim Hora Adema's 'Joosje' (L.J. Veen, 1940).

By then end of the 1930s, Kraan had however found another calling. In 1938 he was asked to come and work on a Dutch animation film for a movie company in Bern, Switzerland. It took him one year before he became lead artist in the Trick Film Studio. There, he was in charge of the production of many films in commission of British, Italian and Swiss firms. He quit the movie industry in 1956, and became the regular illustrator for the daily Berner Zeitung for seven years.

Jan Kraan was furthermore a prominent figure among the Dutch population of Switzerland. He was for instance chairman of the "Dutch colony" of Bern and of the Schweiz-Holland society, for which he was named Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau by Queen Juliana in 1978. On the occasion of his 80th birthday, a small exhibition of his work was held in the Compagnonshuis in Noordwolde in July 1981, called 'Jan Kraan, een tekenaar met humor' ("Jan Kraan, an artist with humor").

Jan Kraan passed away in Bern on 8 March 1988, one week after his 87th birthday.

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