He chats with us about the inspirations behind his work, his top tips for artists thinking about freelancing and his thoughts on Affinity Designer.
Christian, could you tell us a bit about your creative background and how you got into illustration?
I think the whole idea of becoming an illustrator started as a revenge thing. It got me in the last chapter of my high school year. At the end of secondary school, I had an art teacher who suggested that my artistic skills were insufficient—a painful statement for a math loser who thinks he’s got some artistic skills, but ultimately he encouraged my ambition—I wanted to prove him wrong.
Who you become always has a lot to do with where you come from—I come from Hohenlohe, a region in Southern Germany where socially the technical is more respected than the creative—it’s ‘Autoland’. Aspiring to pursue a creative career is inevitably considered unprofitable and unreasonable there. I have never believed in pretty machines and technology, so this way somehow seemed uninteresting to me. Luckily, my parents are open-minded people and have the attitude that you have to support children in realising their own visions.
After a very rural childhood, I was overwhelmed by the pop culture media cocktail. When I started my studies, I fell in love with art, found an apprenticeship in a printing company and went to art school, graduating as a communication designer from The University of Applied Sciences in Mainz. Later, after three decades of odyssey, I was able to return to the place where it all began, where I had always been… at my table with a pencil.
“The world is very loud, often demanding, and you need a handicraft or something similar to cope with it. For me, it is drawing that gives me strength and a voice.”
What does drawing mean to you?
For me, drawing was an important tool to express myself and process the world and the issues I encountered.
Drawing has been a way for me to find peace, both in the past and the present. I could immerse myself in pictures and work on my themes through drawing. For me, it is an escape to the inner world. I think it is essential that people have opportunities like this to create something bigger than themselves in order to gain satisfaction and orientation. A pure replay of given rules is contrary to this. The world is very loud, often demanding, and you need a handicraft or something similar to cope with it. For me, it is drawing that gives me strength and a voice.
What led you to go freelance, and how do you manage your working day?
If the place you long for doesn’t exist, you can fall into despair or build it yourself.
Everything is always in a state of flux here. I try to be as flexible as possible to balance work and family. My wife supports me with the deadlines by managing parts of my tasks if necessary. My nights are short when a deadline is ahead.
When someone commissions a project from you, what’s the first thing you do? Where do you start?
I read the assignment and try to get to the bottom of it. After that, I do the daily duties and get nervous. Then I create wild sketches, collect all weird ideas and prepare everything for clean implementation.
What does your creative process look like?
I work from rough to fine. However, I have a different approach to each project. There are projects that require the intellect, there are projects that run routinely—sometimes you can be creative, sometimes the world challenges you, and you’re glad to have a ‘less demanding’ project. The process is very different each time, and if I summarised it here roughly, it would be too general to get to the heart of the matter.
When did you start using Affinity Designer, and what are your thoughts on it? Do you have any favourite features?
I started using Affinity Designer about four years ago. I like the program. It’s fast and it helps me to implement the illustrations intuitively and easily.
I like the combination of pixels and vectors, as both are possible here. I think it’s a great program, and I wish I had learned it earlier.
“I try to walk through life with my eyes wide open, and if something catches my attention, I go after it.”
How have you honed your style and skills over the years?
I try to walk through life with my eyes wide open, and if something catches my attention, I go after it. I would say you get better and better all by yourself. Just stick with it and some open self-criticism.
Where do you look for inspiration?
There are certain feelings and pictures in Literature, Music, and the Arts. You can come across ideas everywhere: at flea markets, on vacation, in the junky part of town and in the streets. You can find them in history and in your own personal history. I’d say, maybe go with the flow. Try to walk in someone else’s shoes or go where the water is sort of deep, if you know what I mean.
Is there an illustration or project that you’re particularly proud of? Could you tell us about it?
Feeling proud about my work triggers ambivalent feelings in me. Personally, I’m more concerned about having a connection to the work I do—I succeed in this if I can contribute intellectually as a person. If that can’t happen on the content level, I try on the aesthetic level—at best, both succeed.
At the beginning of the project, you notice whether the customer has trust in the designer. Do they grant me the freedom I need to become creative? How does the client enter the dialogue? Are they open to new things?
Everything is always very individual, but in one specific project, the basic requirements were optimal in this regard. This has always been the case with my projects, I realised with Jochen Weber.
I have had the pleasure of designing several projects with Jochen. The wine label for Weingut Rings was a nice task as it’s about enjoyment but also about a product that changes people’s minds, a spirit drink. This wine has character, it is dark and old, and the field on which the vineyards are located (‘The Cross’), are charged with ancient history. All of this can be found now on the label.
The client had a lot of understanding for the creative part. They gave us time and were open to our ideas—I think this was the essential part that made this project a success.
“The result was something special. We had developed many ideas and experimented with the atmosphere. It was allowed to appear mystical, mysterious and dark in its own way.”
The result was something special. We developed many ideas and experimented with the atmosphere. It was allowed to appear mystical, mysterious and dark in its own way. The project ran for a very long time, but the result corresponded with the demands placed on this special wine.
And, of course, I enjoy my current collaboration with load securing specialist “Allsafe”—there is so much freedom in this NFT project, and they had a really open mindset for concepts and ideas. It was like a ping pong game, and everybody had much fun—I think that’s what it’s all about. You should try to see that every client offers you the chance for fun!
If you could have your work published anywhere, where would it be?
It would be awesome to publish more for music bands, for example designing a John Dwyer album. I think the most important thing for me is to have a client who gives me creative freedom and a thrilling subject. Of course, first, they must meet the basics in terms of money, time and feasibility…
Finally, do you have any tips for artists thinking of going freelance?
- Stay Calm
- Try to do what you like, and have FUN
- Don’t forget the people you love
- Money comes, money goes… but don’t be cheap
- Have some nice clients, talk to people, ask for work
- If you have no ideas, wash up your dishes and take a slow shower
- Try to have your own answers or approach, don’t do what everybody’s doing or what they expected you to do— try to avoid clichés
- Don’t stress yourself too much with naturalism and exact anatomy, it’s about the idea and mood
- You are human. You have a demanding body and soul, care for it.