INFO > Interview with Spraygraphic
Interview with Spraygraphic
Interview with Artist
lease tell us about
I work as an illustrator
and also as a designer to some degree. I didn’t go to school for either,
but have a background in engineering.
I never worked in that field,
though, but have always managed to support myself through art and
design. I have done quite a bit of other stuff on the side over the
years, such as creating web sites, editing my own legal magazine, or
making animations. But illustration has been the one thing that I have
always felt closest to.
Where do you currently
live and work?
I am based in a tiny
place near the Bavarian mountains, but divide my time staying at
different cities abroad.
What mediums do you work
Pretty much all I do
these days is either assembled on the computer, or done digitally using
a graphic tablet and archived ephemera – anything from textures and
books to photos, postcards, and letters.
Describe your working
process when creating a new work.
Until recently, I used to
do sketches before tackling the final artwork, but nowadays I tend to
get right to work on the final treatment, whenever possible. Working
mostly digitally helps in that regard. And if the client doesn't like
what I come up with, I still have a finished file that I can always use
in part or in full for future assignments, which can be a great time
saver when generating new artwork.
The greatest challenge with
each new assignment is to come up with a cool concept that visualizes a
topic or an article. Once the general path is set straight, I am trying
to figure out what technique might work best. I usually have to try out
a few things before settling on a specific style, and then go for it.
What kind of things do you
do when you get blocked or find it hard to create something?
Luckily, I don’t
encounter blocks very often, as much of the work that comes in each day
is so diverse that I am not doing one and the same kind of thing every
day. Same with techniques – some topics call for whimsical outlines,
while others are better treated using mixed-media. So it never really
“Some topics call for whimsical outlines, while others are better treated using
mixed-media. So it never really gets boring.”
Where are you currently
finding your inspiration?
comes with the given project. A friend of mine is an American film
composer, and on a recent visit I found it interesting that his
inspiration works very much along the same lines as mine – ideas come
with a given project. Also, talking aloud (when noone’s in the room)
helps articulating one’s thoughts and ideas in the process of finding
concepts that work.
How did you get into being
an freelance artist/designer for companies?
One of my very first
assignments was with a university publication that was on the lookout
for a cartoonist. I suppose I was the only one who applied for the job.
Either way, I went to become their man of the hour. I also remember
stumbling across an educational magazine which incorporated black and
white illustrations, and this made me come up with a cute little figure
with a long nose that would find himself in all kinds of bizarre
settings. I xeroxed my first set of fifty drawings, and mailed them out
to newspapers and magazines. This was before the Internet, of course.
Anyhow, a bunch of magazines said they wanted to use my stuff, and I
also managed to close a deal with a big newspaper that would be
commissioning me on a weekly basis for many years to come. That’s how I
realized that I was indeed capable of making a living as an artist.
What kind of deadlines do
you work with when producing this kind of work?
The deadlines are usually
very tight. We’re talking anything from a few hours up to two or three
days. Book projects are usually a little less restrictive in that they
will typically give you a few weeks to complete a bunch of drawings. I
have to say I kind of prefer tight deadlines as they force you to think
of something cool quick. When deadlines are too far into the future I
tend to forget about the assignment altogether.
Do the companies come back
to you and say “change this” or “change that?”
All the time. There are
instances when an art director will instantly like my treatment. The
best thing they will usually say is, hey, wonderful work, Oliver,
perfect, just what we wanted. However... we need you to do the following
fifteen marginal modifications – change the guy to a woman, replace the
dog with an elephant, and can we use the Eiffel Tower instead of the
beer bottle? As most of my work is put together digitally, making
changes is usually not a big deal.
How much are you willing
to change? Is there some kind of negotiation process you go through?
The profession of
commercial illustration, as I understand it, is not about making
yourself happy and getting paid for it on the side. The client is the
one who pays, and hence they are the ones in charge of making requests
for changes. A good client will appreciate my experience and expertise,
and listen to what I think, so most of the time we will go with my
suggestions, or meet halfway. Of course, there are limits – I wouldn’t
do stuff that I didn’t feel comfortable with.
“The client is the one who pays, and hence they are the ones in charge of making
requests for changes.”
Where has your work been
I’ve been around for
while, and have published in a great many publications over time. My
work has been commissioned by magazines, newspapers and book publishers
like Prospect Magazine, Axel Springer, The Christian Science Monitor,
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, DIE ZEIT, Rowohlt, Reed Business,
Ravensburger, DER SPIEGEL, and many more.
Two years ago I made the grand
prize in the annual Oktoberfest design competition from Munich which was
extremely cool. Also, some jacket designs I did for Random House went to
become major bestselling books in Europe:
Where will it be seen
I am currently exploring
the US market for my work more, so hopefully more will be seen of me in
the States soon. If all goes well there will also be a line of nifty
packaging products out later this fall.
What is your dream art
To have someone really
rich commission a large canvas painting that stretches from one end of
the ceiling to the other. No seriously, I couldn’t be much happier doing
what I have been doing so far.
What is your favorite
Not sure I have a
favorite color. I do use a lot of yellowish-orange-red in my work, so I
seem to like those earth tones...
Who is your favorite
artist or designer? And why?
Probably my greatest
influence has been Tove Jansson, the Finnish artist and writer. Her work
has been with me since my early childhood, and to this day I can’t seem
to get enough of her. She authored the “Moomin” books which are overly
popular in Scandinavia but not all that well known in the rest of the
world. Her delicate illustrations are among the most wonderful pieces of
art I have come across in my life.
And she was so incredibly versatile,
too, doing everything from book illustrations to comic strips and, of
course, writing. I was fortunate enough to exchange a few letters with
her before her death in 2001. I have written a few articles about her
which you can find at
Other major influences are
people like Walter Trier, the guy who did the illustrations to Erich
Kästner’s children’s books – he was a wonderful artist who liked jiggly
lines to death:
|“A major influence
of mine has been Walter Trier, the guy who did the illustrations to Erich
Kästner’s children’s books.”
I also like Erich Ohser’s
work who published under the name of e.o. plauen – it is incredibly
tragic that the creator of this warm-hearted comic strip called “Vater
und Sohn” (“Dad and Son”) was forced into committing suicide in 1944,
knowing that he would be sentenced to death the day after on the charges
of what was considered treason in the Third Reich:
Jean-Jacques Sempé is another huge favorite. I remember when we were
Very Small there was a poster hanging in our room showing all those kids
playing a game of soccer – so he has been with me all my life, really. I
am completely in love with his loose drawing style using subtle
watercolors, and his nostalgic, gently humane humor:
Ever do a self portrait?
Where is it now?
Yeah, um, sure, I did
self-portraits at a time when I’m assuming everybody does that. This was
when I was in my late teens and up to my early twenties. Thankfully, I
don’t think I have kept much of that stuff.
What book/magazine are you
reading this week?
Tove Jansson’s fifth book
of comic strips which has only recently been published in English by the
wonderful people at Drawn & Quarterly (http://www.drawnandquarterly.com).
Where is your favorite
place to hang out?
New! York! City!
Any final words of advice?
Many, many years ago,
when I was still in high school, I inquired of Jupp Wolter, a seasoned
political cartoonist, how to become a professional cartoonist. He wrote
me back an ultra-lovely letter in which he outlined his thoughts which I
would like to pass on, however vaguely: Love what you do, and don’t let
people tell you that you won’t make it. Stick with what you love most,
and pull through the hard times.
That said, always be truthful
to yourself on the way, he told me – and if it turns out that you loved
the thought of becoming an artist more than you love actually being an
artist, then have the guts to put that dream of yours to rest. The
business of illustration can likely grow into the one good thing you
have in your life, but it takes more than a decent amount of talent to
make a living from it. – I have always thought of this as very good
advice, and am hoping it will be for anyone out there wondering if and
how to break into the field of illustration.