What’s your background? How did you first get into illustration?
I studied graphic-design in Pforzheim, Germany. I Used to work as a graphic designer for about two years and got a scholarship to do a MFA in Illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York (Illustration as a Visual Essay Programme). Since I’ve been a child I loved to draw. Kind of always wanted to become a comic book/graphic novel illustrator.
What prompted you to move to London?
My girlfriend and the good working climate for illustrators.
Have you always worked primarily with reportage illustrations? What got you to work in this style?
More or less… I got into reportage illustration gradually. Did a lot of drawing on location when I was studying and before when I learned how to draw. My father, an artist, told me when I wanted to learn how to draw that I should forget imitating and copying the drawings of my comic book artist heroes and start to draw from real life. whilst I’ve been studying in new york i started to draw smaller visual essays about people I met in the street like for example a series of drawings about a homeless man living in a carwreck in spanish harlem. shortly after I moved to london I got my first commissions from the guardian to do illustrated reportage pieces.
What are you biggest influences?
Franco Belgian comic book artists like for example Hergé, Jean Giraud, Jaques Tardi David Hockney, Joe Sacco… and Life… what is around me… traveling… city life… reportage photography…
Do you normally work from briefed commissions or do you create your pieces and then pitch them?
It’s a mixture of both.
How did the piece for XXI happen? How did you meet Massih?
An iranian friend of mine who I used to share a studio with in dalston told me a lot about iran and what a great place it is to go traveling… he made me curious and inspired me to go there… when I told the editor of XXI that I would love to do go to iran he asked me if I would like to do a 30 page illustrated journal about a person I meet in iran. I suggested to him that I would love to follow a truck driver on a longer journey through the country… when I told my iranian studio mate about it he mentioned that a friend of a friend of his owns a haulage company in tehran. so through his connections the contact to massih got established. when I arrived in tehran I got a call and was told to get a taxi to the address of a truck mechanic’s garage in the south of tehran… I met massih there whilst his truck got an overhaul and a check up…
How did you create the artworks? Did you work on them directly while on your travels, or from sketches, photos, or notes?
Whilst traveling I took tons of reference photos with my small digital camera. I also made many notes and very rough sketches in my sketch/note book. when I was back in london I went through all my photos and started working on the layout. I used the photos i took as reference to draw from. I’ve got the photos on my laptop in front of me and draw with pencil on an a2 sketch pad. the colouring is done digitally.
Which is your favourite or most affecting part of the piece?
It’ is probably the part when after two days on the road massih stops for half a day break in his home town to see his wife and family.
What are you working on now?
In january I went traveling in laos where I met a veterinarian who is looking after elephants working in logging camps in a remote area close to the golden triangle. I joined the veterinarian on a week long mission traveling through the jungle and the mountains from logging camp to logging camp. At the moment I am working on an illustrated journal of this mission.
How would you describe your style, and how has it evolved over the last few years? What makes you unique?
style: reportage style illustrations with text… i like to call them illustrated journals. the finished drawings are a combination of a travel diary and a travel sketch book.
evolved: I learned how to draw by drawing things and people that were around me. i’ve been drawing on location for a long, long time. i did my first illustrated journals/visual essays whilst i studied in new york. i still drew them on locations like for example a parking lot in spanish harlem where i met alberto a homeless men who lives in an abandoned car wreck, a barber shop in harlem and a junk yard in the bronx. but after finishing my studies i came to a point when I realized that if I would like to do visually more complex work (more elaborate, more detailed drawings) I would need to work from reference photos. so nowadays when I do a job I take tons of photos of the people and places i want to draw and use the photos as reference. the drawings I am doing now are also much larger than the one’s I did when I was drawing on location. they are larger because i’ve got more time to work on them as i have the photos in front of me and i can add so much more details…unique: I guess my drawings are very honest… they show life like it is and they are drawn very well.
Who or what are your main influences? Do you consciously keep an eye on creative trends / movements?
I grew up with the work of french/belgian comic authors like hergé, jean giraud aka moebius, francois bourgeon. so these guys were a main influence… later influences were artists like david hockney, george grosz and otto dix. very recent influences are obviously joe sacco’s books and the work of emmanuel guibert. I am also getting very much influenced by day to day life… things that are happening around me… and traveling of course… i love discovering new different places and meeting different people. I also like a lot to look at reportage photography… I don’t really keep an eye on creative trends.
What was the background of your V&A prize-winning project – did you receive a brief from XXI, or was it entirely self-initiated?
It was self initiated. I wanted to go traveling in Iran and do a story about a person I meet there whilst traveling… before I went to Iran I thought it would be nice to meet a local truck driver and join him on a longer journey through the country. I told the editor of xxi about my idea and he said. “great! let’s do it.”
Please briefly walk through your creative process – how much sketching and planning did you do? How long did the process take in total?
Whilst I have been traveling with massih, the trucker, I took thousands of photos of him and his environment. i also wrote down observations and produced little sketches in my notebook whilst we were on the road. when I was back in london I was looking through all my reference material and started to do sketches/ a layout of the double page spreads. next step was to do the pencil line drawings. as I said I do them quite large… the original drawings are around 4/5 times the size they are getting printed in the magazine later. then I scan in the drawings and import them into “freehand” where I arrange the pages and do the colouring. the last step then is to hand write the text and place it in the layout. I worked for about a year on the whole 30 pages.
How did it feel to win both the editorial illustration and the overall prize?
Past Interview courtesy of Olivier Kugler