Interview and portratit by Judith Carnaby
Björn Steinmetzler bubbles with energy. We met on the last day of the festival just before his stint on the ILLU14 bazaar, taking over from other illustrators who had been there for the last few hours. With an upbeat and cheerful charm, Björn could sell anyone anything, and indeed I was his first customer for the afternoon.
Talking about his work, it is clear that Björn relishes his creative practice. Working as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, Björn has spent the last couple of years building his network and winning some awards along the way. It is easy to see why his work caught the eye of judges, there is just so much going on: lines, figures, textures, words, with subtle dark undertones and strange faces. The elements seem to tumble into themselves and fight against each other to be seen. His exhibition space at the festival seems almost the opposite, with neatly framed images tidily arranged, as if he has put each image in a time-out…
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Illustration by Björn Steinmetzler for an interior design fair brochure for FAR_Consulting
Judith Carnaby: Can you describe to me your work situation and studio – where do you work?
I live and work in Hückeswagen, a little village about 40 km from Cologne. I work from my home and have my atelier and office there. It’s not far away from Cologne and for me it is perfect; it is relaxing and calm, and if I want to see anybody I can go into the city.
You have been freelancing since you finished studying. How have the last couple of years been for you in developing your freelance work?
Yes I have been working for the last year and a half as a freelancer so I am in the situation of trying to find clients. So far I have enough projects to pay my bills but I am at the beginning so over the year or so I have been making work, emailing and phoning clients.
Cologne map illustration by Björn Steinmetzler
Your illustrations are really full, layer after layer of drawings, shapes and textures. How do you create your work?
Normally I draw with pencils, and I like this because its easy: you can find a pencil and you can find paper anywhere. Then I scan my drawings, and colour them on my Mac. It is a mixed media way of working. It is not only drawing but also a sort of collage, with old paper that I use for texture and colour. It’s a big mixture!
What influences you in your work? Do you have artists that inspire you? Artists and designers you like?
I love Martin Haake in Berlin. After finishing university I emailed him and said, I want to be an illustrator, can I see how you work? And what your atelier looks like? And how you organise your day? He said, I don’t usually do this but you are so friendly you can come and work with me for one week in my studio. That was really great, he is really an idol for me. He has been an illustrator for more than 20 years so I could learn a lot of things from him. He gave me a lot of tips for the beginning of my career: I need to do a lot of emailing and show my work everywhere. Also he shares his atelier with his friend Olaf Hajek, so I have met both of them and it was really nice. Also, Dalí and Picasso for sure. I like that Picasso draws like a child a little bit. He somehow holds on to the sense of lightness or playfulness of a child, and I want that for my drawings too.
llustration by Björn Steinmetzler as part of his ‘101 Days of Drawing’ book
How did you develop the way you draw the people in your work? They have big wide eyes and strange body shapes. Did you develop that through your studies, or has that come from other influences?
It just comes from me I think, I don’t know exactly. But as an illustrator you have your own style and it is the easiest way for me to draw things, and so, it is my style!
You do graphic design work as well as illustration. How does that contrast or how does that mix with your illustration work? Do you find that you do both illustration and design for the same client, or do you normally do separate work?
Some clients want illustrations and graphic design too, especially when you do it for a magazine they sometimes want you to lay out the page. I love illustration but I love graphic design too. I try to do both and it is easier to get jobs in graphic design so it’s sometimes easier to earn money in that way. The illustrations are the Rosinen, the cherry on the top.
Illustration by Björn Steinmetzler on the art of streetperforming for Päng! Magazine
You have won a German Design Award recently, could you tell me about that? Having won that award, will that help you with your work in the future?
Yes, the award was for a book I made for my studies. In this book I simulated the day of an illustrator. I was a student at this time and wanted to explore how illustrators have to work to be creative, how they have to illustrate every day. So I gave myself the challenge of 101 days, and every day I had to make an illustration. And this book, my diploma book, won a German Design Award. I have also won an Art Directors Club award and a Red Dot Best of the Best, and the GDA is the third. But the awards don’t really mean much for me in my career. The best thing is that the people like my work but I don’t make work for awards and I don’t believe there will be be heaps of work due to the awards.
Is this the first time you have participated in this festival? Has this been an interesting experience for you?
Yeah for sure! It is the first time I have participated, and the second time they have done it. For illustrators it is a good way to show your work, and it is more than a trade fair I think. You stand there in front of your drawings and talk with the people passing by. In the week before the festival I got a phone call from a book publisher, and they saw my work on the festival website and asked if I wanted to make a children’s book together. It was only because I was in the list of participants, so I think it’s good to be here! And I have sold a few paintings too.
‘Extra Schicht’ pitch illustration by Björn Steinmetzler
Do you think that there should be more events like this in Cologne? What do you like to do to explore the illustration scene in Cologne and the wider area?
There is an illustrator Stammtisch, where illustrators meet here in Cologne one day in the month, and there you can go and talk a little bit with other people. Then there is Draw By Night, which started in Canada, and a friend of mine is starting it here in Cologne. It is an evening where not only illustrators, but everyone can come and draw together in the night and I love this idea.
Personal illustration by Björn Steinmetzler
Thanks Björn! To see more Björn’s illustration and design work see his website.