What situations influenced you to start illustrating? I had a knack for drawing, but wanted to learn something practical, so after my military service I enrolled in graphic design studies. Illustration was part of the course, and I found it exciting, as opposed to dealing with logos, letterheads and corporate design. So I graduated in illustration, with a book about the Northern Ireland conflict. During my studies, I started illustrating for a big German school book publisher, and I was able to make a living off my drawings straight away.
What was the best thing about illustrating this book? The Declaration of Human Rights is much revered but seldom read. I am happy that because of the book, many people have read the Declaration who might not have looked up the text otherwise.
What was the most interesting fact you discovered when illustrating this book? I discovered that human rights law is a relatively recent invention. I find it encouraging that our species seems to be slowly moving away from using violence to resolve conflicts, and relies on laws more and more. We don’t fight duels with each other individually these days but go to court instead, and hopefully we’ll stop duelling between countries eventually.
Which books do you recommend? It’s so hard to recommend books – everyone has their own tastes and needs. Here are a few authors I like to revisit from time to time: Tucholsky, Lichtenberg, Steinbeck, also Voltaire and the Brothers Grimm. To people interested in books as objects, I would recommend reading Jan Tschichold’s enjoyable essays on book design.
Who do you really admire? Tomi Ungerer is one of my artistic heroes. I came across his work during my studies and admire his sharp wit and humour, and his ability to combine outrageous satirical art for adults with very sensitive illustrations for children . George Grosz is a giant of satirical art – you can trace many illustrators’ work back to him. I recently discovered the amazing work of Joe Sacco, who has revived the old tradition of the artist as a reporter.
What are your favourite tools or gadgets? My space pen. And my new (manual) hedge clippers.
What traditions from your childhood do you continue? I’m not big on traditions, but two German habits remain. I never celebrate anyone’s birthday before the actual date, and I always give Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve.
What is something that most people would be surprised to know about you? I have a black belt in Japanese fencing.
What else would you like to illustrate a book about? After my work on the two UN declarations, I wrote and illustrated a children’s book which was loosely based on the first World War, ‘Grumpy Little King’, and I would like to keep exploring themes of non-violence, conflict and war in books for adults and children.
What are you working on next? I’m currently working on a group exhibition about strange and gruesome stories from the Blue Mountains. The local history is teeming with ghosts, murderers and eccentrics!
Read my review of Michel Streich’s illustrated ‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ here.