Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Working in Different Styles

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Occasionally, clients ask me why I am not working in only one illustration style, as opposed to my small handful? To be sure, such inquiries come from US art directors exclusively, some of whom like to work with artists with only one signature style. We need to know what we get, is a common thing I hear.

An unequivocal advocate for artistic expression, I have put together a few thoughts on this topic.

1) Form follows function:
I am about concepts, not styles

girl-jogging_06_cpA leopard cannot change its spots, and hence all the art I create has “that Oliver look” to it. However, I do not define myself through collage or whimsical line work.

Instead, I am about concepts first and stylistic form second.

A US art director friend labelled me a “problem solver,” and I think he nailed it right there. I am the guy who thinks about a suitable visual for a given topic. This isnt about styles. It isn’t about my unique way of drawing noses crooked, pointed, or round. This is, first and foremost, about attempting to conjure up (hopefully) exciting concepts.

While I am happy to follow detailed briefings for my work, in most cases it is left up to me which technique I come up with – line work or mixed ­media. Often, some styles work better for specific topics than others.

2) Art is all about expanding,
not about restricting myself

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To me, being an artist is all about experimenting and trying to find ways to express myself, and to communicate with an audience.

I couldn’t picture myself doing nothing but, say, collages for the next 20 years to come – I would be getting bored of doing one and the same thing throughout.

I hope I will be tackling ­projects in my future life that I can’t even envisage just now.

Practically all artists that have inspired – fine artists and illustrators alike – have worked in more than one technique in their lifetime. I would be hard-pressed to have to limit my artistic expression; it would feel like having to confine myself to speaking one language only, to give up playing the piano on the side, or to stick to drawing cats and dogs, for that matter.

I have always been an artist, but I have also been professionally engaged in a great many other fields of interest. I have a master’s degree in science for starters, and have worked in anything from engineering to programming to bonobos to phonetics to writing to editing to publishing to designing to multimedia to music and whatnot. This is where I am coming from, and I suppose it shows in my work.

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It appears that illustration is the only creative profession in the US that is demanding its peers to be restraining their creativity. This isn’t so for any other creative profession I can think of. Think fine artists. Think designers. Think composers, filmmakers, actors, writers, editors, scientists…

I am amazed at the readiness of many of my cohorts from the United States to be restricting themselves in their artistic endeavors, which, in my experience, is unheard of in Europe.

When asked, some will shrug their shoulders and go, “yeah, like, whatever, that’s the way it is,” while others, keeping a stiff upper lip, are making every effort to make this sound like a terrific idea at first, before conceding that they don’t understand it either, and that they wish it wasn’t so.

I have seen US artist friends bring into play their “artistic integrity” that bans them from exploring new alleys, because they are known for one specific style, and wouldn’t want to spoil their “brand.”

My gut feeling is that this is backing the wrong horse. In my world, artistic integrity is about growing and maturing. Staying true to yourself, for me, means to keep adjusting your art to your current state of mind, as opposed to sticking to what you (or somebody else) thought was cool twenty years ago.

3) Working in different styles
helps me survive

young-boy_06I believe the very least thing that you should expect from your profession, apart from personal gratification, is to have it pay your bills. In my case, offering multifaceted work allows me to supply for more than only a small handful of clients.

It seems hard to believe, but I have met seasoned US illustrators who are barely able to afford rent, which makes this a pivotal issue that I don’t think many art directors are aware of. Mind you, I am not talking about newbies, but about household names who have built themselves a reputation over time.

So why is that? My guess is that, while their single-style work may be easily recognizable from afar, it also stays so consistently and reliably unchanging throughout the decades that AD’s, careful not to inundate their publication, tend to be reluctant to hire that artist for many pieces a year, which, unsurprisingly, translates into overall modest income.

And things seem to be getting worse still. Young US graduates told me their teachers urge them to develop their own style before hitting the market.

Now, seriously, develop your “own style” at twenty-something? A style that you’re supposed to stick with for 50 years to come? Holy moly, that wouldn’t work for me.

4) Have I always worked
in more than one style?

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No prizes for guessing – like everybody else, I started out with one style only, with quite of bit of success at the time. A few years down the road, however, I realized that this wasn’t everything that I wanted from my life as an artist, both intellectually and financially; and while I did have my set of clients that I used to work for on a regular basis, I knew that I needed to expand into new markets if I wanted to feel in sync with my art, and make a more-than-decent living in the long run.

This is when I went to stay in Rome for a bit, back in 1993, taking the time to experiment with two more illustration styles and a comic strip, all of which would keep me going in the years to come. And it has been like this ever since: I have been widening my possibilities, and seen techniques and styles and topics and focuses coming and going. It’s not that I do it all, but these days I do work in a modest variety of signature styles.

As I continue to (hopefully) mature, work that I used to do twenty years ago, I no longer do. Of course not! Such is life, and my art is only a reflection of that.

5) So why am I not working
under a variety of nick names?

young-man-dandy_08Give me Révilot any time. Or how about Wolly Fehrice? Sulliver W. Ice? Vice E. Licorice?

Been there, done that. I know of a number of illustrators who do this sort of thing, and neither one seems terribly happy about it. And why should they? Frankly, I don’t see the point of disguising myself from the public eye, and not be open as to who I am (and what my real name is, however white-bread it may be).

The publisher isn’t hiding, nor is the editor, the writer, or the art director. The ad salesman isn’t pretending to be somebody else either. So why should I be? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, I find (in a world that isn’t all black and white).

6) So how do you know
what you’re going to get from me?

operating-machine_02_cpThere is no way I can be dissuaded from pursuing my multi-style path. However, I do understand some of the concerns that an art director may have when they are unsure if they will end up receiving what they are looking for.

With me, you’ll get what you ask for – no surprises. If you want whimsical line work or collage, then that’s what you’ll get. Unless you want to be surprised ;-)

Choose any piece from the thousands of samples on my web site, and I’ll give you just that style, no bells and whistles.

However, if you’re not sure about styles or techniques, or care more about concepts, I will be happy to come up with a variety of suggestions. In the end, of course, it will always be up to you to decide which route you prefer.



Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Male, Female, In-Between

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Here’s a lively mixed-media piece on intersexuality that employs the gender symbols for male, female, and transgender.

>MORE COLLAGE



Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

The Trayvon Martin Shooting

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This is an illustration I made on the recent Trayvon Martin shooting incident. It shows a crossing road sign plastered with gun shot holes. The sign depicts the silhouette of a black boy wearing a hoodie.

>MORE EDITORIAL WORK



Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Let There be Wine

I’ve been chosen as this year’s artist for Süddeutsche Zeitung’s three-monthly SZ-Vinothek wine supplement. I created the cover art and an interior illustration for the spring edition shown above that was published today. >MORE



Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

The Untold Story of Gene-ius

A new book on genetics that I have created the jacket design for has been published today by Herbig Verlag.

Entitled GENius, this book provides a cunning overview of the field of genetics, from pea plants to drosophila fruit flies to the famous Dolly sheep, and up to man, and the decoding of his genome.

Written by Ernst Peter Fischer, a professor for science history who has authored a variety of books already, GENius gives an account of the fast and furious success story of modern genetics, and sheds insight into the masterminds behind the science.

I have created the jacket cover illustration displaying a number of brightly colored sheep. >MORE

Ernst Peter Fischer: GENial! Was Klonschaf Dolly den Erbsen verdankt – Ein Streifzug durch die Genetik
(By George, it’s GENius: Exploring Genetics)


Monday, March 19th, 2012

Bologna Children’s Book Fair

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The Bologna Children’s Book Fair has opened this morning. I have a number of mixed-media illustrations on exhibit at the SCBWI stand (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).


>MORE COLLAGE | >MORE CHILDREN’S ART | >MORE ANIMALS


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The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the most important international event dedicated to the children’s publishing and multimedia industry. In Bologna authors, illustrators, literary agents, licensors and licensees, packagers, distributors, printers, booksellers, and librarians meet to sell and buy copyright, find the very best of children’s publishing and multimedia production, generate and gather new contacts while strengthening professional relationships, discover new business opportunities, discuss and debate the latest sector trends.

TOP: “Flying Objects” Collage Art
BELOW: My Portfolio Sheet (download PDF file here)
BOTTOM: Collage Art Involving Animals and a Medical Nightmare

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Saturday, March 17th, 2012

What’s My Name?

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This image was created for Psychologie Heute magazine to illustrate an article on amnesia.



Friday, February 24th, 2012

A Graphic Novel on Guilt

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I have illustrated a little graphic novel for Random House in ten black and white images.

The novel is on guilt, and tells the story of a thief who steals a purse, gets caught, imprisoned, paroled and released, and finds a way to make up for his crime. It was fun using only black and white silhouettes for the images.

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Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Doodle Book on Lovesickness

The second in my little series of doodle books has just been published by Carl Hanser Verlag.

Following its predecessor, Lass stecken: Kritzeln statt Qualmen (Don’t Smoke, Doodle), this book is targeted at those among us who are currently at a stage of grief over a lost love.

Clever and funny, Lass los: Kritzeln statt Klammern (Don’t Grieve, Doodle) helps readers to overcome their sorrow by doodling away, and challenging them to work their magic on completing unfinished drawings, colorizing images, filling in missing pieces, etc. – anything really that distracts from mourning. >MORE




Friday, February 3rd, 2012

The Upside of Irrationality

Why can large bonuses make CEOs less productive? How can confusing directions actually help us? Why is revenge so important to us? Why is there such a big difference between what we think will make us happy and what really makes us happy?

In Predictably Irrational, social scientist Dan Ariely revealed the multiple biases that lead us into making unwise decisions. Now, in The Upside of Irrationality, he exposes the surprising negative and positive effects irrationality can have on our lives. Focusing on our behaviors at work and in relationships, he offers new insights and eye-opening truths about what really motivates us on the job, how one unwise action can become a long-term habit, how we learn to love the ones we’re with, and more.

An illustration of mine was used for the cover of the German paperback edition (Wer denken will, muss fühlen – Die heimliche Macht der Unvernunft, Knaur Verlag). It shows a little guy carrying a sun balloon. >MORE



Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

New Art Brochures Are Out

My latest art brochures are ready for download (I also had them printed)!

Oliver’s Year is actually more of a magazine highlighting some of my goings-on from 2011, while the two other smaller-size brochures are showing some of my work in whimsical style and in mixed-media collage style.

Click on an image to access the PDF file. Grab’em while they’re hot! >MORE BROCHURES

TOP: Oliver’s Year 2012
BELOW: Whimsical Artwork from 2011/12
BOTTOM: Mixed-Media Artwork from 2011/12



Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Fly, Fly Away

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The topic was “jump-start your story,” and this is what I have come up with for the cover of The Writer magazine – a hang glider consisting of manuscript leaves which are starting to float through the air.



Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Handlettering for The New Yorker Cartoon Book

In On the Money: The Economy in Cartoons, fans can revel in over 350 of The New Yorker’s best cartoons on the theme of money, culled from the past 80+ years.

I designed the hand lettering for the German edition for selected cartoons that needed their headlines, captions, and bylines to be translated directly on the embedded images (The New Yorker: Die besten Wirtschaftscartoons 1925 – 2009).

While it felt a little awkward to be editing the works of fellow cartoonists, I attempted to replicate the various lettering styles used for the original versions, trying hard to make this look as generic and seamless as possible.

The collection is edited by The New Yorker’s cartoon editor, Robert Mankoff, and includes an introduction by Malcolm Gladwell, best-selling author of The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers. >MORE

Clockwise from top left: Wonderful cartoons from greats like Jon Agee, Sidney Harris, Richard Decker, Roz Chast, Lee Lorenz (and Roz Chast again). (Copyright of the original cartoons (c) The New Yorker and the respective artists.)


Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Free Willy

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These are a few of the images I made for Psychologie Heute to illustrate the topic of will power.

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TOP: Thinking Jogger
BELOW: So Many Thoughts, So Little Space


Friday, January 6th, 2012

I Tee, You Tee, We All Tee

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This is an artwork I created on the the topic of information technology. The idea was to have a monumental “IT,” set in an idyllic landscape, which is maintained by lots of little people.

Some of the people are looking at plans, replacing chunks of the monument, painting parts of the monument, rewiring plugs in its side, adding “whistles and bows” to suggest new software, calculating costs, placing orders on the phone, thinking far ahead, etc.