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From working in a cemetery to illustrating for The New York Times - meet Stephan Schmitz



"Be patient! Many of your friends will have more money than you. That's not important if you know that in a few years you will have the best job in the world."

- Stephan Schmitz

Zurich-based illustrator Stephan Schmitz always wanted to be a comic book artist. "I was totally in love with Disney Comics and Belgian works like "Spirou" and the "Marsupilami" series, Stephen explains. Now, he blesses us through carefully considered, conceptual illustrations. Working between hand-crafted drawings and Photoshop’s practicality, he produces reflective, surreal imagery with vibrant colours-contrasts that always contain a story deeper than the immediate surface layer. We spoke to the artist about his work.​


Your illustrations are extremely conceptual, often with deep undertones. How do your ideas for an illustration usually come about? And what do you normally prioritise, the concept behind the piece or the execution? Of course I prioritise the concept. But the best concept can be ruined by a bad execution. On the other hand, a mediocre concept can be improved by a good execution. When I notice that I won't be able to come up with a great concept for a commission, I focus on composition, colours and light to at least impress or catch the attention of the reader. As for coming up with ideas, I read through the text, highlight lines that contain visual potential and scribble on the sheet. Then I start working in Photoshop to see which one of the scribbles works best in colour.



Do you have a preconceived visual image of a work before you sit down to create it? Sometimes I do and I think: "Yes!! This is going to be great!" Then I start working on it and I notice that I was wrong. Sometimes it is the other way around. Sometimes a scribble seems great but then doesn't really work as a finalized illustration. Other times I work on scribbles that I don't really like, but in the process I discover that a small change, adding something or reducing it makes it better - or even good.


What do you believe the future of illustration will be? And how do see your own work evolving in the future? I just had the opportunity to talk to recent Illustration graduates from Lucerne School of Applied Sciences and Art and I took a look at some graduate works. As I saw and as I was told, a lot of them had works with moving images or interactive stories. Many illustrators are moving in that direction and of course that will be one future branch of illustration, no doubt - merging with animation. Yet, I am not sure if that's the illustrators job - to animate the image. Noma Bar has some amazing works in terms of moving image and Magoz as well. I'm always very impressed seeing those. But of course, they work with professional animators on those projects. However, if you have the skills and the time to animate your images yourself, then do it!



What would be your manifesto for the 21st century? Embrace the internet. It opens doors for everyone with a good portfolio to work everywhere in the world. I think it's amazing. On the other hand I am a bit concerned about artificial intelligence and robots taking over the world. Yes, just like in Terminator. No kidding. Take a look at Boston Dynamics. That Sh*t is F***ing Skynet!!!

What are your unrealised projects…dreams, utopias? In general, I would love to work more on my own images, just as I did three years ago when I had no commissions, no pressure, no deadlines and a lot of time. I also would love to go out on the streets for some weeks just to draw people, houses, animals, anything. Just pencil and paper. And the third thing is a Children's Book. At the moment I’m talking to a Swiss publisher and hope to be able to work with them. Finally, do you have any advice or words or wisdom for any young illustrators reading this? I always say after finishing Art-School get yourself a part time job that makes enough money to barely live on it. Invest the rest of your time into illustrating. If you have no idea what kind of illustrator you want to be, then find out. I didn't find my own language for 4 or 5 years after graduation. I did a bit of everything and through that I found out. Working at the cemetery, in a small shop or as a gardener at the same time. Be patient! Many of your friends will have more money than you. That's not important if you know that in a few years you will have the best job in the world. Try to find a studio with other illustrators, designers, animators etcetera... Don't work alone at home with no exchange with anybody. Look at every illustrated magazine, google your favourite illustrators, follow them on social media, take part in competitions. And know that there is always someone better than you at what you do. Learn from that person!


You can enjoy more of Stephan's work on his website: https://www.stephan-schmitz.ch/