Tina Zellmer

Tina Zellmer

(She/Her) • Berlin, Germany

Biography Interview

Based in Berlin, Zellmer freelances as an illustrator and lectures on illustration and art. Her artwork blends dream-like ideas with stark, graphic elements. Zellmer combines collage, painted textural effects, photography and handmade ink drawing to produce visually-exciting images. Using line, paint stains and ink washes, she creates illustration that has a weathered look and her images show multiple layers of information.

Selected clients

BBC, The Financial Times, LA Times, VITRA Design, The Sydney Morning Herald, Financial Review Magazine, Range Rover, KFC, Dresdner Bank, WDV Publishing, Mercedes/Daimler Chrysler, STERN, Lonely Planet, ARTE, WPP advertising, Tearfund, AOK, HM Revenue & Customs

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Tina Zellmer

Your pronouns
She / Her

How do you define your identity? Do you identify with (or advocate for) any marginalized communities?
Identity has multiple aspects to think about. I agree with the idea (which is also a view in Buddhism), that the self, as constructed by the mind, is a sort of illusion or distorted understanding of being. For me, identity includes not only my gender, ethnicity or religion, but especially my personality, experiences, relationships, dreams, goals, and principles. I am a very curious, open and critical person. I always wanted to become a detective and to find out about how the world works, to explore different sides of a story. Psychology and spirituality interest me. I have an urge to think outside the box, which often comes in handy for illustration assignments. I have the tendency to question everything and to read between the lines. This is also why I like being an illustrator. With some assignments, it is necessary to do a lot of research and it is wonderful to find a solution that goes beyond the obvious and that digs deeper into the story.

Where is home?
I am based in Berlin. This is where I live, but not where my home is. I wish it would be that simple, but I don’t feel like I have found “home” just yet.

Describe your illustration style in one sentence
I create illustrations that have a weathered but colourful look, black ink lines, watercolour and with multiple layers of information.

What lights your soul on fire?
Being in love and being loved. Little things, like seeing a beautiful sky, make me intensely happy.

What themes do you enjoy exploring in your illustrations?
I enjoy playing around and seeing “accidents” like a coffee stain, ink drop or painted squiggle, turn into some part of the illustration later on. If I can find a way to infuse playfulness into the artwork, it gives the final illustration a richness and surprise that creates a new masterpiece.

What techniques do you use?
I combine handmade collage, painted textural effects with acrylics and ink drawing. I scan everything and work on my tablet to put the images together in Photoshop.

How much of yourself and your own story can we see in your work?
It depends on the work. If I have to create a map for an assignment, there is less of a personal message involved because I follow the client’s wishes. Nevertheless, you can probably tell that I created the illustration. On some assignments where I have more creative freedom, it’s almost impossible not to have a piece of myself in the image. When I’m working on my own projects or paintings, there is so much of myself in them that I feel like I can’t sell them – I’d be giving a part of myself away!

What do you want to be known for?
That I am a nice person and fun to work with, that I am on time with deadlines, that I am authentic and open to input and ideas.

Which projects excite you most?
I love doing maps and portraits.

What is your dream gig?
If a client would say, “Tina, do what you want, and we’ll pay a large amount of money for whatever you create!” Yes, something like that would be nice!

Where, when and how do you best create?
It needs to be warm, bright, but not too sunny. A desk would be good, a chair too (though sitting in bed with a laptop and tablet also happens sometimes). Morning hours (not too early), a coffee next to me, so if I want, I can stare at the steam and dream for a bit, surrounded by paint, pens, paper…I like it either quiet or with an audio book.

How has your style evolved since you started?
Moving from analog to digital over time. These days, I use less collage than I used to, but that may change again.

What do you find most challenging in your practice or in the illustration industry?
It can be difficult if the client has a large group of decision-makers behind him. If it is difficult for the client, it becomes difficult for me.

How has being an illustrator changed your life?
When I finished art college in Holland nearly 25 years ago, I wanted to do only one thing: discover the world and earn my living doing what I loved most: working as an illustrator. I started by traveling to Australia for one year. My main goal was to discover other cultures and ways of life, to have fun collaborating with other creative people. I wasn’t famous, but I was brave and busy creating every day. And I was good at it. So I just went to all kind of magazines and newspapers and tried my luck, talking with art directors and trying to get jobs. And to my surprise: it went really well. I hit the jackpot and immediately earned money working for the biggest publisher in Sydney. Of course, it was not easy to travel around and take on assignments. Mobile phones had only just been invented, and laptops didn’t exist. Everything had to be made by hand, sent by post or, even better, I needed to see the clients in person. I loved having contact with art directors and working closely together on projects. I got to work abroad, to connect with people and countries from all over the world and to stay open to all kinds of cultures and experiences. I tried to use my illustrations to share some of my personal messages and to show my own visions and perspectives. I gave lectures and worked with art universities, schools, businesses and individuals.

My most memorable illustration assignment was when my wonderful agent Anna Goodson launched a campaign to “Work For Free” in support of non-profit organizations. A charity organization based in the UK wanted me to travel with them to Uganda. They needed illustrations and I was more than honoured to be part of their project. I didn’t know what to expect and that it would completely change my life. Seeing this part of the world, being in such intense contact, was a whole new experience. As hard as it was to see their poverty and life struggles, the people were so incredibly loving and open hearted. I realized I wanted to help people in a more meaningful way. It rewards me to be able to give back and make people smile. I wanted to continue to connect with people in need and try to make the world a better place. That was also one of the main reasons I decided to become an art therapist.

Since then, life has presented another adventure; I have a daughter now and this brings new challenges every day. I am still busy figuring out how to make the best of private life and work, even though I can’t always separate them. Sometimes I struggle. I want to be able to create something and I want energy back, but sometimes I just want to enjoy the miracle of having a child. When we sit at the kitchen table together making funny drawings or just playing around and laughing, I feel content and happy. Our house is filled with drawings and paintings. I love how they all tell a story, and I can remember the moments we shared. I feel lucky to work as a professional illustrator and to be a mum at the same time. My life would not be the same otherwise.

Name a tool you can’t live without!
Is a coffee machine a tool?! 😉

What influences or inspires your art?
Looking at other art, listening to music, watching a movie, being in a certain mood. I also enjoy playing around with paint or collage material to see what happens, if it becomes “art”.

What would you tell your younger self?
You can trust yourself; you are good – at least good enough and better than a lot of others. And buy a house now, “later is better” is not true.

Why do you think art speaks louder than words?
Words are important and sometimes only a good talk helps, but art can do the same and so much more! It is possible to help or influence with art. Sit down and draw or create something – it will have an effect on you! When I traveled around the world, sometimes language stopped me; I could not say what I wanted in words. But art allows a meaning to be transmitted between cultures despite the lack of a shared language. Art speaks where words are unable to explain. It communicates messages that can’t always be described but which are felt! Illustration, or art, is able to say the unsayable and creates the bridge in-between.

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