Discovering the Power of Illustration
What, according to you, is or should be the purpose of illustration?
Sophie Kuhn: Illustration is so much more than just decoration or a visual additive for text. It is a powerful tool for me. An illustration can easily help words to transfer their meaning – or simply stand for themselves. It‘s not only about the picture, as such – it’s about the colors; the forms, and the associations that are connected with them. Illustrations can touch your feelings.
Could you please tell us about your very initial exposure to illustration and what was its impact on you?
Sophie Kuhn: I don‘t know exactly how I ended up in the field of illustration. I just did. I was always fascinated by illustration; it always affected me in different ways. It just feels natural to me that I’m doing what I‘m doing. Illustration helps me to order and express my feelings; to process daily life – it keeps me sane and balanced.
What made you take your interest in art further and how did you develop your skills to become a professional illustrator?
Sophie Kuhn: Art was always an important part of my life, for a long time only as a hobby. Over the years, it became more important to me; more time-consuming – but in a positive way. When the pandemic hit and life were turned upside down, I needed to learn something new.
That’s when I started digital illustration. I decided to share my art; my progress and my growth with the world. I’ve set up my Instagram page; got my first inquiries; did my first commissioned work – and, oh, I loved it. After a while, I quit my part-time job in a kindergarten and here I am. Happier than ever.
What makes you choose daily life, feminism, and mental health as your primary topics?
Sophie Kuhn: I see a lot of beauty in daily life situations, that’s why they are often part of my illustrations. But, also, I think it’s super important to show life with all its ups and downs – with all the struggles, feelings, and everything that comes with them. Life is not always sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows but it’s hard sometimes to show the darker side. Too often we are so busy with preserving our public facade that we forget our true selves and ignore our true feelings and needs.
I think we still have to talk more about mental health issues; share our struggles in life and show our vulnerability. We all struggle sometimes. Knowing that you‘re not alone can help. Feminism and equal rights are huge topics for me, personally. There is still so much structured gender inequality – you can find it everywhere. During my time in kindergarten, I could watch how even small kids would be treated differently depending on their gender. I want to show that female read people can also be strong and have body hair – and, no, they don’t have to be nice, happy, and adjustable.
How do you manage to combine happy and joyful associated colors with “grim-seeming” or “seldom smiling” characters?
Sophie Kuhn: I just like the contrast here. We usually associate the colors I tend to use with happy and joyful situations. I prefer them combined with some grumpiness. I love contradictions – life is full of them.
How did you get into so many forms of art – drawing, painting, animating, etc. – and how do you organize your time and work across them all?
Sophie Kuhn: I like to try different things and challenge myself by learning new skills (mostly all by myself). That’s always exciting for me. When I sit around, I get restless very quickly and just have to do something with my hands most of the time. But time really is a problem: I often feel there are simply not enough hours in a day.
What advice would you give to yourself in hindsight or if you could go back in time?
Sophie Kuhn: Stop overthinking everything, stop belittling yourself – you are wonderful and you can do great things!
“Illustration is so much more than just decoration or a visual additive for text.”
What would you say is your dream project or the kind of illustrative work you’d like to do going ahead?
Sophie Kuhn: Oh, there is a lot! One of my big dreams is to illustrate a book. Also, I would love to work together with a sustainable fashion label. Apart from that, Food & Beverage labels and other kinds of packaging, and illustrations for magazines. I would even love to paint a huge mural someday.
Could you point out your most significant illustrative projects and elaborate on them, please?
Sophie Kuhn: I, honestly, can‘t name one significant project at this point but probably my first one. It was an illustration job for a printed magazine. Back then, I had just started sharing my art and all this was completely new. I really didn’t know what I was doing and I was super anxious and felt completely overwhelmed – but I did it. I challenged myself. This was an important step for me.
Finally, from your experience, what qualities make a good client, and how to build a good rapport with them?
Sophie Kuhn: Communication is key. I think it’s important for both sides to be open-minded, clear, and respectful. The working relationship should be based on an equal footing and the common goal should be to find a solution that best fits the client‘s needs. Both sides should feel comfortable working together.
Who are the best illustrators you’ve come across? Which works of theirs have inspired you the most and why?
Sophie Kuhn: Some of the illustrators I admire are Abbey Lossing (I love her use of colors, forms, and patterns), Erin Dwi Azmi (her sharp lines, shapes, and forms are just on another level), Rosi Tooth (because of the lovely characters, the colors she uses and the topics she’s working on) and Nina Cosford (always funny, always on point). Just to name a few – there are a lot more great artists out there.