Stephanie Wunderlich Illustrator Interview

Stephanie Wunderlich

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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 remember being fascinated by how easily I could create a whole new world with just a pen and paper. The enthusiastic and encouraging reaction of my parents spurred me on.
Later, my lust for creation became three-dimensional. At the age of nine, I started to redecorate and refurnish my dollhouse. As a teenager, I tried a variation on my uncool hobby: I’d design antique dollhouse rooms. I imagined myself to be an interior designer.
Probably the fear of working in three-dimensional space lead me to graphic design. I always envisioned working in an applied design, of some sort. I never really thought about fine arts.

Who or what influenced your art when you were young?
As a child, Picasso’s prints in my parents’ house and art postcards my ballet teacher gave me after each lesson had an influence on me. I collected them like treasures.

Do you remember what your first artwork looked like? Do you still have it?
My mother kept almost everything. Her cupboards still seem to be a museum filled with our dusty childhood bricolage.

Why did you choose illustration as your life’s work instead of, for example, filmmaking, law, or even medicine?
I love creating things that are unique and that translate an abstract idea into something that’s visual. I like combining conceptual thinking and handcraft.
After finishing my education, I worked in ad agencies for a few years. I didn’t see much of a future there for me. When I began with illustration, it felt like I’d finally been liberated.

Did you study art in school?
I studied graphic design.

Where does your inspiration come from; your impulse to make art? Do you have a source for your ideas?
I walk through life with eyes and ears open.

How would you describe the process of creating art?
I primarily create cut paper illustration. What I’ve always loved about this style is the bold, striking, expressive, and very graphic visual language of it. The technique invites you to simplify; to see things in an abstract way.
The working process resembles a simple process of cut and paste layouts similar to what I learned while studying graphic design in school. I’m still strongly influenced by that experience.
The page is like a stage where I move props around until the composition seems right; expressing both tension and harmony at the same time. The cut paper process is similar to a digital working process, as strange as that sounds. I have an “Undo” at my disposal. I can always change things; move them around or try out different colors. Nothing is saved as long it isn’t glued down. I love how flexible this technique is.

Do you have a favorite illustrator? What is it about that illustrator’s work you like?
I love the work of many illustrators: Arnold Beckmann, Neo Rauch, and Kara Walker. I also admire the illustrations of David Plunkert, Nora Krug, Brian Cronin, Christoph Niemann, Sara Andreasson, Blexbolex, Martin Nicolausson, Tina Berning, Goden Cosmos, Martin Haake, and many others.

If you could do something else, other than creating art, what would it be?
The only thing I sometimes miss in my work is the direct social interaction with other people and the feeling that I’m doing something of real importance. I guess, I would have become a doctor if I hadn’t pursued illustration.

Do you have a favorite illustrator supply, a favorite method, or favorite location, where you like to create artwork?
Since I need a lot of table space, and an extensive choice of materials and papers, the absolute and only place I work is my studio in an illustrators’ building in Hamburg.

Do you think illustration has the eye of the public or could public awareness of this field be improved upon?
When I started working in editorial illustration 20 years ago, I had to explain what I was doing almost all of the time. Most people’s awareness of illustration seemed limited to children’s books. This has changed completely in recent years. Perhaps it’s thanks to the internet.
We are all becoming more visual in terms of our thinking. The overflow of images we see on a daily basis, has created a need for more personal and authentic images that stand out from the crowd.

Why does art matter to you? Why might it matter to the world?
Illustrators speak in a universal language; visually, with images. If we’re lucky, we touch people, stimulate them to think twice, inspire them, or simply entertain. We, as illustrators, are social commentators.

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?
A hundred years ago, the life of an illustrator was probably more exciting and required more courage than being an illustrator does today. I think of all the revolutionary new approaches that were discovered in the last hundred years. Many illustrators were misjudged and ahead of their time. They had no notion of the fame they would later receive.