Jojo Ensslin Illustrator Interview

Jojo Ensslin

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Can you recall the first time you realized you were going to be an illustrator? What were your earliest impressions?
I must have realized I was going to be an illustrator when I was a kid. My image of working in any profession was, for me, the thought of doing the same thing every day for the rest of my life. That thought was frightening. I always loved to draw, craft, create, and make films. It was clear to me, that I would need to work as an illustrator.

Who or what influenced your art when you were young?
I was influenced by books, comic books, films, music, cartoons, and my big brother.

Do you remember what your first artwork looked like? Do you still have it?
It depends how you define “first” and “artwork.” There were a lot of drawings, collages, and clay figures I was proud of, but the first time someone, outside of my family, asked to have a drawing of a cat I scribbled was during class. I was twelve years old and a girl I fancied wanted this drawing. When I gave it to her, she asked me to sign it. I don’t have it anymore, and I doubt she has the drawing either, but we became very good friends.

Why did you choose illustration as your life’s work instead of, for example, filmmaking, law, or even medicine?
During my studies, I wanted to become a filmmaker. I made short movies and music videos. For my diploma, I made a 45-minute short film, shot on 16mm, on location in France. I worked on film sets of student and feature films. But to earn money, I freelanced in a graphic service, where I did everything from cleaning hundreds of product photos to illustration for the firm’s clients.
I began with vector-based illustration, flash animation, and woodprints. By the end of my studies, I realized I could earn money with illustration. And even though I still love filmmaking, it’s an art form that depends on resources, people, and time. I prefer the independence that illustration allows.
For a couple of years now, I’ve been teaching animation and filmmaking at the university here in Düsseldorf. I guess, in that way, I’m doing something apart from illustration.

Did you study art in school?
I studied three semesters of art history, then visual communications.

Where does your inspiration come from; your impulse to make art? Do you have a source for your ideas?
Inspiration comes from everywhere; especially music.

How would you describe the process of creating art?
It’s a love of shapes and colors; simplification and abstraction. It’s about having a kind of naïve view of things. My kids help a lot in keeping that alive.

Do you have a favorite illustrator? What is it about that illustrator’s work you like?
No, there are so many great illustrators. I guess it’s the illustrators point of view that I like most about any work.

If you could do something else, other than creating art, what would it be?
Oceanography or gardening. Building wooden surfboards is another idea. It’s difficult to imagine not doing something creative in some form. I would be a good teacher, I suppose. I also like to cook. I could imagine building a food truck to provide good food to hungry surfers.

Do you remember your first set of paints, pens, or markers?
Yes, I remember my first set of watercolors. They were small blocks in a metal box with Goofy and Mickey printed on the box. And even though some smelled pretty interesting, they all tasted quite bad.

Do you have a favorite illustrator supply, a favorite method, or favorite location, where you like to create artwork?
My favorite methods are woodprint and vector-based illustration. I also enjoy creating 2D-animation, in my favorite location: my workshop.

If you could give a viewer clues to understanding your art, what would you say?
I try to give hints and clues to trigger associations. And most of the time, quite honestly, there isn’t that much to understand.

Do you think illustration has the eye of the public or could public awareness of this field be improved upon?
I have the impression, that there is a growing awareness of illustration in recent years. But, I’m also living in a bubble. Many people have no understanding of what I do.

Why does art matter to you? Why might it matter to the world?
Art enriches life. And art can express things words can’t. It can transport complex information very quickly. It can help us understand other people and how they feel.

If you could look back or forward a hundred years, do you think the life of an illustrator was or will be better than today?
I don’t think life as an illustrator was any better a hundred years ago. I have the impression that more people today can make a living as illustrators than they could have even 50 years ago. I also believe creative work will always be needed. Please ask me again in a hundred years though.