by Julya Buhain . March 19th, 2014
YouTheDesigner has the amazing opportunity to interview freelance illustrator, Maike Plenzke. Originally from Berlin, she studied at HAW Design in Hamburg. She’s currently based in Leipzig. Maike has captured the attention of clients such as Penguin Books and Women’s Health Magazine with her colorful and intricate illustrations. You can see more of Maike’s work on her blog and her website.
YouTheDesigner: Hi Maike. What are you up to today?
Maike: Today I’m actually taking a day off to do housework, answer this interview and sew a cushion cover for our reading nook. These days I’m usually working from 10 am to 12pm to make progress on this big project I’m working on, so this is nice for a change.
YTD: Can we get a peek at what you’re working on now?
Maike: Unfortunately not yet, but what I can say is, that it is a comic book collaboration with an author. She writes and I’m drawing it. I’ve never worked on such a big and long-lasting project before, the deadlines I usually have to work with are not far away in the future. So I first had to become accustomed to that workflow and fewer days off, which I normally grant myself.
YTD: One thing I really love about your pieces is your color choices. Do you decide on the mood or the palette of the piece beforehand? Do you have any colors you love using?
Maike: It depends. Sometimes I decide which colours to use spontaneously, mostly when it’s a small personal drawing or I know exactly how I want it to look. But usually I try to paint a few colour sketches, before I start on the big piece. I’ll experiment a lot at that stage, so some of the colour sketches are really horrible, too saturated or to boring, but it helps me to see what works and what not. I usually combine several sketches into one to have a balanced concept of saturated colours and more greyish, neutral colours. It’s not easy, but I’m having fun figuring it all out.
YTD: Who are your inspirations and influences?
Maike: I think that everything you see influences and inspires you, be it other artists or things in your life, so I don’t have a list of artists I can tell you about. But I grew up with european and asian comics, so that is probably the most visible influence. I also like artists who draw human bodies with very loose lines, like Egon Schiele or Heinrich Kley.
Other than that I’m very inspired by fashion, even though that might not be the first thing you see when you look at my work. I just have the urge to draw when I see interesting clothes! The current illustrator that wows me with everything she does is Victo Ngai. Her work is just stunning!
YTD: Can you walk us through your creative process?
Maike: I don’t have a special way how I do things. I usually like to take 1,2 or 3 days to come up with ideas, if the client allows the time for it, because I like to think longer about ideas, colours and compostions. I like to get that right before I start painting otherwise I might not like it halfway through.
I often get ideas when I’m showering, when lying in bed or talking about it with my boyfriend (he’s an illustrator too). Sketching things and writing words and phrases down helps as well to get those pictures out of your head.
When I got the idea and colors down I’m just painting until I like it.
YTD: You own a sewing blog as well. That’s really interesting. How did you get started in that? What are your favourite things to create?
Maike: I’m still figuring out the “blogging about it”-part (I’ve never wrote much on my art blog) so this is new to me. Well, how did it start…
Last year there was a time when I was unhappy with my work, I suppose I was too perfectionist and I wasn’t improving as much as I wanted to . At that time this really dragged me down and I stopped sketching alltogether. So my boyfriend kicked me in the pants and got me out of this vicious circle. I decided to avoid tumblr, twitter and those things for a while to concentrate on my drawings and and pick up another activity besides drawing. I definitely wanted to learn a new skill, as a result I ended up learning to sew. And because I love drawing clothes I decided to draw the clothes I sew as well.
I had no prior experience beside some handsewing I learned from my grandmother, so when I started my blog in October I really started from scratch. The first garment I chose to make was a bit too advanced and I made a lot of mistakes, nevertheless I learned so much and was hooked to do more. I loved that I was completely focused on sewing and didn’t worry about problems and my work for once. I could concentrate the perfection on creating the garments and be more relaxed and free when I was drawing.
Besides that it’s really interesting to to know how clothes are made, how much work actually goes into one garment and how little it is that we pay for RTW-clothing. I never liked shopping so that’s also a big plus.
I don’t have a favorite thing to sew yet, considering I just started sewing and am still learning the basics. From the things I completed so far (shorts, skirts,tops), I’m the most happy with my woolen shorts, because trousers are not easy to fit and I did quite well I think.
YTD: How did you get started in art? Was it something you were always interested in as a kid?
Maike: Of course I drew as a kid, but I don’t think if I wanted to do something with art since the day I took up a pencil like a lot of other artists claim. I loved to read a lot as a child: novels, comic books and so on, which continued when I went to the Gymnasium, which is basically middle school plus high school in Germany, and soon I started drawing characters from comics. That’s when I began spending most of my free time, that I had left after school, drawing.
My parents were always very supportive but of course they (and I) didn’t know that you could actually earn money with illustrations, so that was not the first job I thought about. I thought I needed to work in graphic design to earn money with art but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to draw!
When I went to a drawing course/ get-together, I met another girl there who had applied for art and illustration schools and wanted to do it again that year. And so I tried my luck, we applied together and so it all began.
YTD: What tools do you use and what does your workspace look like?
Maike: For drawing I use simple pencils and pens I find lying around (prismacolour pencils, brushpens or water colors) and for painting digitally I use photoshop and my cintiq.
Until last year I only had a small graphic tablet which was really all I needed, but I decided to buy a cintiq just because I thought it might be better for working on the comic book.
As I said earlier, I’m sharing a workspace with my boyfriend so the right table with the blue chair is his. We moved to this much much bigger flat last year and the furnishing takes time and money, so it all goes very slow and a lot of things are temporary and will be changed. The sewing machine for example needs a separate space someday , but for now it’s on my drawing table. I also cut the fabric on my paper drawers because we don’t have the space to put a big table for that in our work room. We keep our art books in the living room as they wouldn’t have fitted in the work room, we just have too many.
Oh and our dog likes to lie to our feet when we work and keeps them warm. He usually scatters his toys all over the floor, but I put them in his box so it doesn’t look so untidy, hahaha.
YTD: Do you work with music? What’s in your playlist?
Maike: Before I met my boyfriend, I was very particular about my music choices. I listened to a lot of rock, alternative stuff. When we started working together in a studio and I had no speaker boxes, he was the one who decided what we would listen to and I’m happy that it went that way. He has a rather broad music list from hip hop to post-rock to folk pop, so my preferences were expanded a lot. There is good music in every genre! Surprise, surprise!
Musicians in my playlist are e.g Kaizers Orchestra, From Monsters and Men, The Roots, Erin McKeown, Whitey, Esperanza Spalding, The Glitch Mob, Gregory Porter, RJD2, So I watch you from afar, Fiona Apple, First Aid Kit, Seeed…
Soundtracks from games and movies are great too: Bastion, Sword and sworcery , How to train your dragon, The last of Us …
YTD: What advice would you have loved to be given when you were just starting out?
Maike: I just graduated from art school last year, so I’m still “starting out”… I thought a while about this but I don’t really know. Because my boyfriend was working as an illustrator when I was still studying, I learned a lot from him and already got an idea how jobs go, so I never felt really naive when starting to work freelance.
Maybe to balance your life and work in a better way to stay healthy and happy. Taking days off is important!
YTD: Who are you dream clients?
Maike: I don’t have a specific company or artist on my list, I just like clients that are respectful, friendly and AD’s who want to collaborate with the illustrator.
I did a lot of different jobs so far and I don’t want to limit myself to one specific thing. The variation is what I like about this job.
But I was asked if I would do a color test for Steven Universe earlier this year and was very, very unhappy that I couldn’t take it due to my work on the comic book.
YTD: Do you have any tips and tricks that you can’t live without?
Maike: Go out when the sun shines! Seriously, it’s good for the soul!
Want more inspiration? Check out our last interview with James White. Share us your thoughts through the comments below and might as well suggest some artist(s) you want us to feature next!
Julya leads the double life of being a graphic designer and a writer. Some of her favourite things in the world are nicely kerned typefaces, bubble tea and nerd humor. She holds the world record for watching the film Inception more times than necessary.