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When did you decide you wanted to be
a full time creative?
It was already obvious that this was my direction, when I was three years old. I would draw the whole day. Even though I was really little I would draw for five or six hours a day. I never did anything else. My parents saw this and they encouraged me. They gave me plenty of pencils and good paper. It was really clear to me too. I never ever wanted anything else. So, school time was not too easy. I was not that interested in mathematics or physics or whatever. I just wanted to draw all the time. I only wrote a few numbers in my books but actually more drawings.
Drawing, it's a very different way of
thinking, isn't it?
If I want to ‘decorate’, the work comes directly out of my hands and it goes fast. But if you need to think illustratively, then you have to put your mind into it. Sometimes that’s hard, combining these two forms of creativity.
So is that something you've consciously
work to do to develop?
Yes, even now. For example, the illustrations I do for Tagesspiegel at the moment. This is really illustrative. I really need to focus on the text of the article and the illustration needs to show somethingwhich is in the text, or explain some angle of it.
But my paperwork - not the client work, but all my personal paperwork - is always done without so much thinking. So I feel it. I feel that is fun.
You studied, graphic design, didn't you?
Did you enjoy design?
Yes, I enjoyed it, but more because I was young and had friends around me. I knew that this was not going to be my job, even while studying. But, there was one class that I really loved and that was illustration.
Everything else, like typography and photography or graphic design programs like Quark Xpress and Freehand. Remember those? I enjoyed them, but not like I did illustration. So I have never really worked a lot as a graphic designer, always more as an illustrator. It was funny, InDesign didn't exist when I was studying. And after college I traveled quite a bit. And when I came back from my journey, Quark and Freehand were just dead.
Illustrator and InDesign were the new standard, but I'd never used either of these programs. So I had to start learning again when I got back from traveling.
So, today, do you prefer to work analog or digital?
Now it's both. I love to draw with my iPad. I need both, they balance one another.
MARTHA VON MAYDELL
INTERVIEW by MARK PENFOLD 04/2022 for
BRINGING THE JOYS OF NATURE AND COLOUR TO PAPER AND NEWSPAPER ALIKE.
The latest iPads have been a real breakthrough for creatives, haven‘t they?
You know, for doing paper cuts, you need a lot of space and lots of materials. Space around you to lay it out everywhere, somewhere to put all the papers... But with the iPad, I can work everywhere. Even from a hammock somewhere in Thailand!
Did you work from a hammock in Thailand?
No. But I could!
But you have traveled, right? What made you pack a bag and go exploring?
I was young - I was 24 - and I wanted to see the world. I saved money for a year or two before. And then, off I went. The first five or six weeks were very hard because I landed in Singapore.
And it was so different. I had a bit of a culture shock. For the first few weeks, I thought, 'Oh, no, no.No, I can't stay here.
I need to go back. This is too much!' And then I thought, 'Okay, I can go back whenever I want. Nobody's telling me I have to stay here.
And after I realised my choices were my own to make, that I was free, I started to enjoy it. Then I traveled for eight month or something, with my backpack.I was alone, but was never actually alone. I always met people.
Would you go traveling again?
Now I'm much older, have more responsibilities, a child who goes to elementary school, and I don't feel like I can just go away again for months on end without a care in the world.
But we were in Canada again for 4 months in 2016 before our son went to school. Travel is always exciting.
Where did you go after Singapore?
From Singapore I went to Malaysia. From Malaysia, to Thailand. From Thailand to Australia and Tasmania. And back to Germany. Two years before I had gone to South America, but Singapore to Australia was my biggest trip.
I still can remember nearly every single day. And it's almost 16 years ago… Oh my god!
"FOR 13 YEARS
I LEARNED EVERY SINGLE DAY."
As you were traveling, were you thinking about what youwere going to do when you got back?
After seven or eight months, I had 500 euro left. That was everything I had in the world. And I knew that when I came back I would have to stand on my own two feet. I would need a new apartment and a job and everything.
So I had a choice, between renting a van in Australia, and just continuing the journey, or coming back to Germany with 500 euro and starting my life. I decided to start my life.
And then, once I got back to Berlin, I had a lot of different jobs. Waitress in a little cafe, working in a shop selling kids clothes and a thousand other little jobs, including graphic design jobs.
Did you find that you were a different person when you gotback from traveling?
I drew a lot while traveling as well. So I have diaries full of drawings. But yeah, I was different, of course. More adult. I had more self confidence. It was one of the best experiences in my life.
Do you draw on those experiences when you're working?
No, not really. I think about the travel a lot, about the journey.
It was important for me, but not my drawings, or the motives for my artwork.
What made you pick up the scalpel and begin slicing paper?
There was a little magazine in Berlin called DAS MAGAZIN
It's an old magazine, maybe a hundred years old.
I met the art director and showed her my work. I took everything - acrylics, watercolours drawings in pencil, everything. I really wanted to illustrate for this little magazine.
She looked through my work and said, 'You are good, you are talented, but you're not good in one particular style. You have many different styles, but who are you? 'She wanted to understand what my passion was... what style I wanted to be known for.
One of the works was a really simple paper cut of a cat hugging a fish. I still have it in a frame at my parents’ house. That was the work she focused on as more unique. And this is the point at which MVMpapercuts was born.
So, I put all the brushes away and really worked on papercuts.
What did Das Magazin commission you to work on?
It was a little story about wolves in the city, something like that.
How did your technique develop
For 13 years, I learned every single day. I started really simple, with just one layer. I cut it out, put the other layer down, glue it.
I learned the hard way. I didn't have a teacher. Nobody told me what glue is good, or what paper doesn't work with a particular glue...
I made a lot of mistakes and discovered things the hard way. For example, that glue can destroy paper years after the work has been created. So some of my artworks just broke because
I used the wrong glue!
And then I just sent my work to every magazine, agency and newspaper I could find.
The paper cuts must evolve over time, so how does theclient know what they’re going to get?
I do a rough sketch in a digital drawing program, but in the process with the paper it also changes a bit. A lot happens during the working process.
Sometimes something fits worse or better than it was originally intended in the sketch. But once the illustration is glued, it's hard to make changes afterwards.
The old analog/digital issue?
Yeah. In Photoshop the light is not real. It's not real sunlight or real shadow.So paper is difficult either way. If you make the piece in the real world, you can't change it...
So it must be important to develop strongrelationships with your clients?
Yes of course. It's always super important to have a good relationship with customers.
Of course, it's easier if they understand how analog work is done and if they can imaginewhat a good result might look like, without seeing very precise sketches.
My sketches are very rough but most of the time I can convince the clients that they will get a great result.
"I MADE A LOT OF MISTAKES AND DISCOVERED THINGS THE HARD WAY."
Over time, you have developed quite a few different styles.Have you consciously tried to change your approach,or do you find that it evolves naturally?
Both, I think. I check all the time what the client wants and
I always keep an eye on other paper crafters.
I also deliberately look for something different to do, because it can get boring if you do the same thing all the time. For example, at one point I was always cutting these tiny little perfect shapes. When that got boring I began to go deeper, started adding more layers and depth.
Then I started getting three dimensional. Which was a bit more of a challengebecause you need a lot of space. You need a professional photographer too, and you need good light.
There’s probably a reasonable supply of photographers in Berlin?
Oh of course, but I'm sure photographers exist here in the north as well! I haven't lived here long, but Kiel is not completely tiny.
Ah, so you moved out of Berlin?
Yes, I moved nine months ago. I'm not a Berliner anymore. I was born there and lived there my whole life. 39 years. And then we decided to move to the north of Germany, near Kiel. Not far from the Baltic sea.
And now we live in the forest. I have forest to the right and left. And in front of me there are horses grazing in a meadow that stretches away to the horizon.
"WELL, IT STARTED WITH CORONA."
Lino and paper cuts are very different to the work you do for theTagesspiegel newspaper. How did you come to be illustrating political events?
Well, it started with Corona. The first lockdown - beginning of March 2020 - we were alone in Berlin. Three of us: my boyfriend, my son and me.
It was really tough with school being closed for five months. And we didn't know what was going with COVID, how dangerous it was going to be. We were really home alone.
So I started to draw with my iPad. Three images every day, from our life. From our CORONA daytime life. And I put them on Instagram.
In the end, I had 150 pics about these corona-times and I called them ‘Corona Arrest’. You can find them on my website.
Did someone at the newspaper see your
A friend of mine, he did the same thing as me during the lockdown, but he’s a writer. He worked for Tagesspiegel. And after three months, Tagesspiegel wanted to publishthe best of his Corona diary.
And they needed illustrations...
You were the natural choice. Perfect!
It was a good mixture. They printed five of my illustrations. One really big one on the front page and four others, in the newspaper. This was in May and in October 2020 they asked me if I would like to do it regularly.
So now you illustrate every Sunday. Do you enjoy having a rolling deadline?
I really do. It can be quite tough though.Sometimes I only have a day.
That’s a short turnaround. Do you have a process for coming upwith suitable images? Or is it pure intuition?
This is really pure intuition. I have to deal with the text relatively quickly and I have totrust that my head will produce a suitable image in a short time.
It's amazing how each image captures little moments.They're very natural, not at all staged.
No, they’re not staged, that's intentional. I don't use text either, so there's no speech bubbles. And I try not to be tooobvious, so there's always a little work for the viewer to do.
Have you found yourself becoming quite political since youbegan drawing for the newspaper?
Yeah, of course! It's hard work sometimes, but I like it. I need to read a lot and it means I'm not always drawing animals and plants. It's more open in terms of themes.
Speaking of which – your work involves animals and nature a lot.Is that just something you feel drawn to?
Yes, especially birds and fish. I can't tell you why, though. When I was smaller, I would draw everything. But in my adult life it was always animals and plants. Nice things. Not the darkness.
THE WORKING PROCESS."
A lot of your work involves nature. Inspiration must have been inshort supply when you lived in Berlin?
I think I always missed nature when I lived in Berlin. That's maybe why I drew it so much.
Not on purpose. It comes from inside. But maybe I just created all the green stuff becauseI didn't have it around me.
Has your work changed too, since you moved?
Well, I have started to look beyond paperwork now. I still do it and I love it, but it's not the only thing for me anymore.
It was the only thing for 13 years. And now I’ve started to do other things.
Like your lino cuts? These are wonderful, what made you choose lino?
I needed something else, something new. And here, in Schleswig-Holstein, the art scene is pretty big. So I thought starting with some artworks, rather than illustrations, could be interesting.
Lino cutting is not a big jump from paper cutting. You don't have a knife,but you use something which is really similar. And you cut out of the material which is different to working with paper, but also similar.
There are transferable skills! What are some of the differences?
Well, I can use different colours in the same layer and blend them together, which is not possible with paper. And you need much less space than with papercuts.
Are you showing these lino cuts in galleries?
Not now, but ‘one day’, maybe?
"AND I TRY NOT TO BE TOO OBVIOUS,
SO THERE`S ALWAYS A LITTLE WORK FOR THE VIEWER TO DO."
There's enough of that in the world.
There certainly is! So, even for the Tagesspiegel jobs, I try to illustrate them with positivity. That's why I make everything so colourful.
Well, I see from your drawings of Chinese animals that 2022is year of the Tiger.
Is that a good sign?
Determined. Tigers are great creatures. but my Chinese zodiac sign is the dog.
When did you start doing these, zodiac animals?
I started with the fish two years ago and made a
calendar out of it.
Every month a fish. The sea animals have then always had a drawing in the body that fit the month. So the march fish carries tulips and the december fish has Christmas presents. The february fish is full of snowflakes and the january fish is decorated with fireworks.
"I TRY TO ILLUSTRATE WITH POSITIVITY. THAT`S WHY I MAKE EVERYTHING SO COLOURFUL."
Then, last year I started with the Baltic Sea birds. They don't have quite as consistent illustrations of the respective months. Sometimes they are decorated with what they eat or whatever else just popped into my head.
At the beginning of this year I started with the Chinese zodiac signs. All animals are filled with something Chinese. The tiger with the winky cat, the dog with Chinese cutlery and the rooster with Bonsai trees.
I will continue these series. After that, I think the elements - fire, earth, water and air - will be next.
Again, you manage to make images which are colourful without being gaudy. Do you have a particular philosophy on colour choice/balance?
I think the world is really quite dark at the moment. At least as far as the news is concerned. The world is actually so beautiful but we humans really manage to destroy a lot. I take very bright colours on purpose. They should be striking and positive.
What kind of direction are you moving in at the moment?
At the moment, I'm doing lots of different things. I still do paperwork and lino cuts, and a lot of these digital works too.
But I've started to teach as well. I just did a week long paper cutting workshop at theMuthesius School here in Kiel, a very well known design school in Germany.
Do you enjoy teaching?
Yes. And I think it’s because now I am ready to teach. I can say what kind of paper to use. What kind of glue. Whether this paper is too thin or too thick.
These are all questions I had when I was younger. And now I can tell other people, so they don't have to make all the mistakes.
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