Hamburg based illustrator Dieter Braun discusses his creative practice
We speak to Hamburg based illustrator Dieter Braun about inspiration, ecology, and how his sumptuous, geometric illustrative style has evolved.
Can you briefly describe your background and journey into illustration?
Growing up in the city of Dinslaken – in the North Rhine-Westphalia area – my parents were very supportive of my interest in art, and when I was ten years old gave me a set of oil paints and an easel. Though I was quite young, I tried my hand at painting. At first my paintings were quite amateurish, but over time I got better, eventually realising that I wanted to do it professionally. I went on to study communication design at Folkwangschule in Essen, and after a while gravitated towards illustration. It was during this time that I undertook my first commissions as a professional illustrator, for small agencies in the Ruhr area. In the late 1990’s I moved to Hamburg, where I continue to live with my wife.
Can you give our readers some insight into your studio? What view do you have from the window?
I share my studio with four photographers and an architect. When I look out of my window, I see trees and parts of our street in Hamburg’s famous Schanzenviertel. I work on an electrical hight adjustable table. The shelf wall behind me is full of my favourite curios and books: Illustration and children’s books, vinyl toys, a turntable and a collection of records. In our studio’s basement we have a ping pong table if I need to stretch and have a break from working at my desk.
Can you describe your creative process for our readers? Describe a typical day for you.
The very first thing I do when I enter the studio is make a big pot of earl grey tea. After checking my emails, chatting with clients and choosing the right music for my current mood, I start drawing, depending on what’s on my list. It can be sketching for a new assignment, finalising an illustration I worked on the day before, or developing a concept for a new book. 1pm is lunch time. In the afternoon I continue my work, or prepare to ship orders from my online store.
You have a very recognisable style. How have has this evolved over the years?
When I was a child, I was obsessed with animals and wildlife. I remember that I started drawing and making a wildlife book when I was very young, but I wasn’t patient enough to make more than three spreads.
You can’t determine your own style in a day. My own style has evolved over many years. If I look at my illustrations from 10, even 20 years ago, it’s really different from the work I produce now. I started working digitally in the early 90’s, when computers were much slower and graphic programmes were not as complex as they are today; my illustrations evolved as technology evolved.
When I was a child, I was obsessed with animals and wildlife. I remember that I started drawing and making a wildlife book when I was very young, but I wasn’t patient enough to make more than three spreads. It took me decades to come back to this project.
The use of geometry within your illustrations – particularly in your most recent books such as ‘Wild Animals of the South’ – really helps capture the physicality of each animal. Can you talk us through how you research each animal? Is it predominantly conducted online, scanning through natural history books? Or do you visit zoo’s and consult with specialists? Have you made attempts to observe certain animals in their natural habitat?
When it comes to the drawing process I used to collect many photos that capture multiple different views of animals.
It’s a bit of everything. I was lucky to travel to Africa and Australia a few times to observe animals in their natural habitat. I used to take many photos. I tend to go to zoo’s (I recently worked on several large projects for a German and a Swiss zoo), read books and magazines about natural topics, but most of my research is online. When it comes to the drawing process I used to collect many photos that capture multiple different views of animals. Having spent a lot of time researching animals over the years I can now see which geometric forms fit best to capture the physicality of an animal.
Working on a project such as ‘Wild Animals of the South’ must be quite intense. Do you ever have periods of creative block, or a lack of creative energy? If so, how do you overcome it?
To be honest, when I finished the ‘North’ and the ‘South’ I felt a little burned out. But I think this was due to the work that I did simultaneously, alongside them; for example, working on a monthly column of illustrations, assignments for magazines and agencies. I now try to be more balanced. I don’t usually have periods of creative block, but if I work too much I get serious back pain, and need to allow myself longer breaks!
Did natural environments play an important part of your life growing up? Do they continue to play a part of in your personal day-today life personally?
I grew up in the countryside and spent half of my childhood outside. We had no pets (except for a budgie and stall hares who were meant for the cooking pot!), but my interest in animals and environment was huge. Though I now consider myself a city person, these interests are still dear to me.
I’d be really happy if my illustrations encourage sensitising children and adults to being aware of ecological issues.
Celebrating animals in natural world is a key focus of your books, and does much to inspire the reader to consider and understand each species. Would you describe yourself as a conservationist? Is capturing and communicating a certain ecological sensitivity important?
I really like the idea that my books are understood in relation to conservation issues. I think communicating a certain ecological sensitivity is more and more important. I’d be really happy if my illustrations encourage sensitising children and adults to being aware of ecological issues.
What’s next for you? Are you working on any projects at the moment that you can share with us, or give us a sneak peak into?
I’d love to share my new book project with you, but unfortunately I’m not allowed to talk about it…yet! What I can say, is that it’s connected to a huge exhibition. Everything is still very top secret until the end of the year. What I can tell you is…it has animals in it, and landscapes…
Be inspired by the things you love the most: travel, art, music, books, movies, people, nature.
Do you have any unusual habits, hobbies or past times that helps your creative process?
I am very much into music. I couldn’t work in a studio without music. I also love to travel the world. It’s that which inspires me the most.
Illustrators often have a collection of materials that they use time and time again – what’s in your creative toolkit? What is your studio “toolkit” for making?
As I work digitally, my collection of materials is digital too. Or more precisely, I scan hand made pattern sand textures and add them to photoshop.
What’s been the most significant lesson you’ve learnt to date as an artist? If you could offer three pieces of advice to an aspiring artist, what would they be?
- Don’t do night shifts, don’t eat while standing, make breaks, but work regularly!
- If you are not sure about the quality of an art work, work on something else, sleep on it for a night or two. Then go back to it!
- Be inspired by the things you love the most: travel, art, music, books, movies, people, nature.