Known for his humorous and quirky creations, Frank Höhne is one of the most recognized German illustrators working today. Appearing in several magazines on a regular basis, his works have also been published as complete printed publications, such as the monograph book titled ‘Book Of Bock’.
As eccentric as his drawings, Frank is quite a character, approaching life and his profession with a healthy dose of frivolity. We recently had the pleasure of spending one sunny morning in Frank’s Kreuzberg apartment, where he talked to us about working at home, the endless stream of ideas in his head, and why he mostly enjoys drawing ugly males. For this feature we teamed up with HUAWEI MediaPad M2, an elegant tablet that redefines the possibilities of design, functionality and user experience.
Your idiosyncratic drawing style has propelled you to become one of Germany’s most renowned illustrators. How have you come to develop your signature style?
“I always wanted to have more of a naive style, which has the ability to show the emotional situation and has more expression.” I guess nobody really likes to talk about style, because you just develop it without even thinking about it. I always just did what I appreciated the most and what I wanted to do. And I always wanted to have more of a naive style, which has the ability to show the emotional situation and has more expression than ‘on point’ illustration. However, I like to combine it with more technically-developed motifs so that I can be taken more seriously by clients. Because if you do just the naive stuff – which I prefer – or have a more expressive style, then everyone says “yeah, I can do that too”.
So I like to mix it with other techniques, to do more detailed creations – and this is how my style improved in a way. There’s a lot of decoration in illustration right now and I don’t like this kind of style, I prefer to simply express ideas in my work. Since I am not a very good illustrator technically, I prefer to have lots of ideas. That’s why my work is a collage of tens of small ideas rather than representing one main thought, so everyone can pick the one that they might like.
In one interview from 2012 you stated “I don’t feel like an artist. I feel more like I’m providing a service.” Is this still the case today?
I still don’t feel like an artist – I just provide a service. Being an illustrator, you always have a client. An artist’s work is born from his inner feelings or desire to do something he or she wants to talk about. I get job offers from clients, which means I provide the service – I deliver a drawing to the client.
But don’t you draw illustrations for yourself or for your children?
Of course I do, but that’s not art! For me, art has a deeper, intellectual sense, and I just create for fun. I guess that’s not a very popular thing to say, but I don’t want to be an artist. I just feel like a human doing stuff, and if people feel entertained by that, that’s okay… but I don’t feel deep at all.
Can you describe your desk space to us?
Well, as you can see, I don’t work in a studio, I work at home. Sharing space with other people would not be a good solution for me, as I need to feel safe to work. I need to have this familiar distraction around me all the time. I always try to put the work somewhere in between my daily routine. So I do the dishes, work a bit, play the guitar, work a bit, make a coffee, work a bit, do the groceries, work a bit (laughs). And I think it’s perfect – nobody watches me here, I don’t feel any pressure to actually work, I just do it when I feel like doing it.
How do you typically approach a new brief from a client?
Since I mainly work on editorials, I usually receive an exposé or the entire text of the article. I usually read the text and then think of the first ideas that come to my mind. I always pick the first ones – I need to be pretty fast because I have to do the dishes or something like that, there’s always something that has to be done when you work at home. That’s why I have such a fast style. I read the text and think what I can do with it, I take the first idea and then I start working on it within my daily routine. So I do the dishes and think about the text, and maybe something about washing the dishes can help me with the idea?
The inspiration usually lies just below your feet – it’s in your house or in your experience, in things that you do throughout the day. I usually work in analogue, but when I already have the drawing on my A3 paper scanned, I sometimes add new things on the computer. These are the things that come to my mind later on, sometimes after reading the text for another time. So I look at it and I think “Maybe the nose could actually be a mini ramp? That would make sense,” then some other associations appear and it just grows like that. That’s what I had on my mind when I mentioned having many ideas – I find one to start with, but then a lot of new little ones come to my mind when I’m already in the process of drawing.
How does your drawing process and style when working digitally differ from when you work by hand?
First of all, it gets more color. However, I use the computer or the graphic tablet only to work on my analogue stuff. So I work on it to combine different pieces or to erase things. That’s when I think it’s allowed to be used, helping you to define the final picture. Of course the whole collage thing comes out by working in digital, but in the end, all my works still look analogue.
And what are some of your favourite motifs to draw, and why?
People, because I like people and I need them in my life. I draw a lot of inspiration from the people I see on the streets, and I’m particularly interested in ‘common men’. I have this working class background that I really appreciate because it’s authentic. I used to do shitty jobs all my life and now when I go to the supermarket, I am always friendly to everyone. I appreciate people working there – they work so hard compared to me. But I know how it is to work physically, and when I see how friendly they are after many hours of hard work, I find it very touching in the end. It causes an emotional reaction and that’s why I am most inspired by the working class people. I like to draw faces a lot, male faces in particular. For me, women are hard to draw.
"I have this working class background that I really appreciate because it’s authentic."
Why do you think that’s the case?
I can’t really draw females, I have a problem with beauty. I just can’t portrait beautiful people. Not that I am against them, I just think that life is not beautiful at all, and that’s it’s real beauty – it’s beautiful because it’s not. I appreciate this aspect of our existence. Men are uglier than women by nature, so it’s easier for me to draw them. You can always add a lot of hair to their bodies, and since I am more male than female it’s also easier for me to draw something that I am myself. If you draw something, you want to tell the story, and it’s better to tell about something taken from your own experience. So I could try, but I think it wouldn’t be authentic. However, I grew up with women, I am surrounded by women, I have two daughters, and I also have female hobbies. I am actually not male at all [laughs].
Well, I like to knit, I draw, I like to cook, I like, I don’t know… crying in front of the TV [laughs]. But really, I can’t be a woman so I don’t really feel like I could draw them. Except if they are hairy or more like men. And I actually have a big issue with drawing hair right now. Sometimes I have to portrait people with lots of hair, and I can’t draw them because I now begin to lose mine. I suffer because I need to draw something I am soon to lose. This is what I mean when I speak about being authentic. So I prefer to draw the portraits of male people who are losing their hair… and getting fat [laughs].
What are your strategies for overcoming creative block?
I am not afraid of being blocked at all. When I don’t feel like drawing, I just stop doing it and do something else from my daily routine. That’s what I like about working at home – if I go to the studio, then I would just have to work all the time, and then I could become blocked. But when I feel like it now, I just go to the park jogging, I play the guitar or I just eat some cake and then the idea comes. I don’t really stress about it, in the end it’s just a human thing. To me, having no ideas might be also very creative, only you have to know how to handle this situation. As I find inspiration in everything that surrounds me, ideas come naturally when I stop working and do other things instead.
And what about the situation when you’re under the pressure to deliver the job?
Actually, I think I’ve never been in a position when I just don’t have an idea. All I need is a plain piece of paper and if I draw a circle, then I already have something I can work with. My works are a collection of small ideas, so if I don’t find one big idea, I can also just use the little random ones and tease them out them in the creative process.
"All I need is a plain piece of paper and if I draw a circle, then I already have something I can work with."
Any personal projects you’re currently working on?
I’m thinking about a lot of things right now. I have the idea of making a children’s book, which is such a classic thing to do, especially if you have kids yourself. I don’t know when I’ll do it, though. I would also like to do more animated work as well. Working with sound has been on my mind since 2010, but it all takes so much time… And I’d rather spend some time with my kids or in the countryside, where I work with wood. It’s a fun thing to work with something else than my usual materials. Having such activities to do enables me to go back and refresh my illustration. For now, my main personal project is working with music and on short animated stories.
– In collaboration with HUAWEI –
The interview was edited and condensed. Photography by Clemens Poloczek.