Illustrators Illustrated goes to Cologne for the Illustratoren Festival 2014. Read the review of the festival and check out great work by the some of the participating illustrators, all illustrated!

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Illustrators Illustrated goes to ILLU14

In early April I sped across Germany to the ILLU14 Illustratoren Festival in Cologne, excited to explore the illustration scene of North Rhine-Westphalia. The festival was organised by illustrators for illustrators, bringing together 51 artists from throughout the state in a rare opportunity to exhibit their work on a large scale. Brilliant flashes of yellow pierced my eyes as the train raced past fields of blooming rapeseed that lined the way to Cologne. As the train finally slowed, the famous Dom came into view, towering majestically over the banks of the Rhine as long barges laden with glistening coal mountains cruised along the river. Heading west of the city centre to the former industrial area of Ehrenfeld, the evening‘s warm spring air wafted me through the doors to the ILLU14 vernissage.

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Meet six of the talented and engaging illustrators participating in the festival.


Mareike creates works that play with space and texture, with almost complete disregard for the picture plane, and with wonderful gritty figures.


In Björn’s work, shaky pencil lines, wide-eyed figures, textures and hand-drawn words seem to tumble into themselves and fight against each other to be seen.


Part of the comic scene, a playful sense of adventure permeates Stephan’s work as he creates characters and colourful books for children.


Anna uses gentle colour palettes and lots of acrylic, beautifully executed in her charming tale of two people with temperature control problems.


French illustrator Chimène Henriquez illustrates with soft dabs of paint and vibrant colours in her ongoing collaborative project Les Exquis.


A freshly minted illustrator and recent arrival to Cologne, Nadine makes work with a mash-up of shaky hand-drawn elements and digital textures.


Mingling with the Art Cologne crowd at exhibition openings and a trip to the 'Burg Wissem' picture book museum in Troisdorf were a couple of adventures outside of the ILLU14 festival.

On a free afternoon I decided to do a bit of exploring… Hello Burg Wissem Picture Book Museum!

Housed in the delightfully pink castle Burg Wissem, the museum has a broad collection of picture book illustrations, old and modern picture books and artist books. It’s the only museum in Europe collecting and regularly exhibiting picture book art for children and adults, and has a collection of over 3000 images to peruse. Unfortunately the main section of the museum is closed until June due to rennovations, so I could only see the current exhibition, but I think it would be an invaluable resource for illustrators looking for inspiration from the past.

ILLU14 was held on the same weekend as Art Cologne, the world’s oldest art fair for commercial galleries to sell modern and contemporary art. I arrived in Cologne the day before ILLU14 started, and that evening went by recommendation to an exhibition opening at Museum Ludwig, a gallery that elegantly shimmers between the Cologne Cathedral and the Rhine. The exhibition was a retrospective of work by internationally renowned French artist Pierre Huyghe, and the artist’s work dominated one of the museum’s expansive wings. Just one among the night’s many gallery openings, the raucous chatter from the roaming Art Cologne crowd filled my ears as I stood in the foyer waiting for the speeches to end. As I looked around at the sharply dressed guests I wondered how many of the hundreds of people at the opening would be going to ILLU14, or even knew it was happening. The cavernous rooms of the exhibition space seemed to heighten the disconnect between the fine arts and illustration. I wondered if the coming weekend’s illustration festival could be a way to build connections between the two disciplines in Cologne.

On a free afternoon during the festival I sought out galleries that support or engage with illustration. One crisp white space that came close was Die Kunstagentin in the Belgian quarter, but it was focused on street and urban art. They couldn’t tell me of any projects or spaces focused on illustration but as I wandered around the corner straight away I noticed a street-front space selling colourfully illustrated prints. That same night I chanced upon a screen-print pop-up shop in a restaurant on the same block. It seemed like there were a number of similar projects just on that one street but they seemed to have no contact with each other. Perhaps connecting the projects through shared communication networks, or collaborating on events and workshops could bring together a broader audience and develop a platform for mutual support and discussion. By taking some cues from how the art world networks through constant openings, talks and collaboration, illustrators could develop a stronger community and position for themselves,  and in reaching out to contemporary fine art professionals as well it could create a more united visual arts community.


The journey home.