EK Interview: Fine Kohl

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Fine Kohl has played around with a lot of different media from moleskine illustration to pop up books to digital media to photography.  She shares from her experience in the following interview, talking about growing up in the middle of nature, work ethic and artistic approach.  Check it out!

What part of Mannheim are you from?  What was it like where you grew up?

I live pretty close to the city center, next to a park. When I moved out of my parent’s house I only moved one street away. I am a daredevil that way! So for me, nothing much has changed over the years. Every once in a while a family of ducks gets lost in our garden, but our thoughtful neighbors always take them back to the park. Geese and storks stroll around on our rooftop, and if you leave your window wide open, you could potentially end up with a squirrel in your room.
A lot of nights I can’t get any sleep because there’s a really noisy eagle owl in the tree in front of my bedroom window. This eagle owl has a lot of children. A lot of very noisy eagle owl children.
Also, about 30 years or so ago, a couple of escaped parakeets settled in our neighborhood, and they have bred…
So yeah, I am a city girl – with A LOT of nature all around me.
art blog - Fine Kohl - Empty Kingdom
What were you like as a kid?

I guess I was a tomboy. I was sporting a bowl cut, had enormous front teeth and scrawny legs.
I was lucky enough to have met my best friend when I was very young, and we hung out together all the time until we graduated from high-school. We used to play soccer, got grazed knees, and cut off the hair of our dolls. An ideal childhood. Standing in puddles, with holes in our pants.
Fortunately, my mother was very down-to-earth and never put me or my sister in patent leather shoes. Instead, she bought us Velcro sneakers…
And obviously I always loved to draw. But before I found out that I could actually do that for a living, I wanted to become an inventor of jokes or a superhero (with my sidekick “Fritz the bear”).
art blog - Fine Kohl - Empty Kingdom
Did you like crayons or colored pencils better?

Colored pencils!
art blog - Fine Kohl - Empty Kingdom
For the 52 Aces, did you draw or illustrate each of the 52 cards uniquely?  Did you give the different 

The 52 Aces project was the idea of a design-oriented publisher. They engaged 52 artists from all around the world to create one card each. I illustrated the King of Spades.
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Tell us your Moleskine series.  Where have you drawn most of the pieces for it?  How do you like moleskine notebooks as a template for your art?
I created most of them in very relaxed, serene moments. On the couch, on vacation – whenever I had time to watch my friends or other people, and capture their lines.
Sometimes I find myself drawing the lines of people’s faces into the air, like when my boyfriend falls asleep next to me and I don’t have a sketchbook at hand.
Actually, I haven’t done that in a long time – thanks for the reminder! I’ll have to do that more often!
A moleskine notebook just adds a beautiful frame to that short moment you capture. Almost like a Polaroid picture.
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How did you approach “Ich sehe was was du nicht siehst”?  How did you put the book together?  How are pop-ups a different media from digital or illustration?  How are they harder?  What do you like about them more?

That book was my bachelor’s thesis for the University of Applied Sciences in Mannheim. It’s about my dreams: the ones that always come back to me, like childhood dreams, or nightmares; and those stories are told in a funny and slightly dark way. One of my recurring dreams is about me having a glorious beard that everyone is jealous of. I am so proud of this beard that, when I wake up and realize it’s gone, I get really sad for a while…
Most nights I dream a lot, and I can always remember my dreams the next morning. Whenever a dream is particularly funny I tell my friends – and they always enjoy my stories. Once, they suggested I illustrate my dreams…
It became quite clear to me that this whole thing would have to be a pop-up book – it just fits. Dream worlds and castles in the air, set up in front of our eyes.
I took a close look at all of my old pop-up books, and I bought new ones to take apart and put back together. That way I slowly figured out the technique… I was thrilled every time a construction worked out. Whenever you make the slightest mistake, though, nothing works out anymore, everything rips and falls apart, you can’t close a page anymore and, eventually, everything goes into the trash. No command + Z!
Knowing how much work actually went into the production of the book made me so much prouder, though. Holding the finished book in my hands – no digital work could have given me such a great feeling!
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Does Germany have a good support system for artists?  Are there places with better support systems?

I’ve only ever worked in Germany, so I can’t really compare support systems.
In Germany, there are a lot of agencies which connect artists and customers. So far I have done fine without any support systems, but I don’t think Germany stands back behind other countries. There are so many new magazines around, in print and digital media, introducing new artists and publishing their work. There is a lot going on here!
How has your approach changed since you began making art?  How do you approach a piece?
Actually, everything starts with a pencil sketch, sometimes more elaborate, sometimes less, and then I continue digitally. The way I work has changed in so far as everything I do, I do it a lot faster these days – since I know what I have to do. Also, depending on the type of work I do, I start working on the computer quite early. In the beginning I used to do a lot of pencil work, and I would only color bits and pieces digitally.
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How did you come up with the different designs for your “Buddies”?  Did you sit down and do it at once or work on it over a long period?

That was a very trivial, really. I had just bought a new pen, a really thin one, and I wanted to try it. I was lying in bed, watching TV while I was scribbling and hatching. In the end all the characters matched so I put them together. It took me about ten or twenty minutes per character and, thank God, everything doesn’t have to be elaborate and digitally edited…
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What’s the longest you’ve ever spent on a piece?  How long was it and what piece?

I am way too impatient to spend a lot of time on one single piece so I try to finish all my pieces within a day. I don’t think I could do any longer – unless, of course, I’m doing a series of illustrations or a big project like the pop-up book or my masters thesis. I do envy other illustrators for their patience, though, and I wish I could be more patient.
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How do you stay disciplined?  How do you get yourself back on track if you start to waver?

I really don’t know how to answer this question, I am about as disciplined as a sloth 🙂

Contract works are not a problem at all, I complete my duties diligently, but I find it difficult to get back on track, especially after such a long phase like my master’s thesis, where I had to be creative for half a year straight. It can be really frustrating. You know what you’re doing is what you always wanted to do, but you don’t really feel like doing it this instant. Instead, you’d rather be a truck driver, because they have the biggest schnitzel dishes at the rest stops. On the other hand, since you don’t really like driving all that much, this probably isn’t the best idea either…

So I just hope these phases will pass. These days I tend to think that it’s ok not to be creative for a while, and – if you can afford it – be lazy for a bit.

art blog - Fine Kohl - Empty Kingdom

What kind of music do you listen to while you work?

It depends on my mood. A lot of Sixties and Seventies music. The Beatles, Nancy Sinatra. Sometimes I can’t listen to anything at all, otherwise I’d get nervous. I need to be able to listen to myself, in a way. Especially when I start a new piece and I don’t know what it’s going to look like.  Once I figure it out and I get into my work routine again, I like listening to stuff like Ratatat and Goons of Doom.
Which is your favorite piece?  Why?
I really like my pop up deer. Not because it was difficult to make, but because it looks a lot like home. For a long time now he has turned an empty room with bare walls into a cosy office.
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Can you name three influential people?  What have they done that has influenced you so greatly?

It is difficult to pick specific people. My biggest influence is probably my family, their tolerance, the way they supported my imagination and furthered my creativity. The time, which has influenced what I do these days the most, is probably my childhood. I can take a lot from that time, from my memories. There aren’t any pithy experiences, I think I had a rather normal, simple childhood, without any major strokes of fate or anything. I draw a lot from feelings and ideas I remember. From stories my grandfather told me and how they made me feel. From cartoons on TV, from books I’ve been given, or from stories that my mother read to me. Every year at Christmas time, she took a big old book and read “Peter and Anneli’s Journey to the Moon“ to me. I can still remember every single illustration, and I still love Hans Baluschek’s drawings.
When I was given the book “Where the Wild Things are“ I was so fascinated by those wild hairy creatures that I thought: This is what I want to do.
That’s why Maurice Sendak is a big influence.
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What are you working on right now?

I just finished my master’s thesis. For this project I developed a label for handbags, complete with illustrations, obviously. I am very proud of this project. Right now I’m still trying to figure out how to put this whole thing into practice. Apart from that I’m currently preparing for a little exhibition.
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