Meet Manuel Kilger. Manuel was born and raised in Bavaria, Germany, and has a background and degree in Communication Design and illustration. He is a currently a full-time freelance illustrator, creating works for clients such as BOOM!, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and Clone Magazine among others. He has also participated in several Light Grey Art Lab Exhibitions such as Night of the Exquisite Corpse, The Tarot, Mystics and Occult Show, the In Place Exhibition and Book, and the Great Personality Exhibition and Game!
Manuel's work is filled with fascinating, humorous, and narrative scenes- it is recognizable by its bright colors, playful characters, and fantastical animals. It is always a pleasure to work with him, and we are thrilled to share some of the things that he does both personally and professionally, get to know him, and a see a little of the behind the scenes!
Could you tell us a little about your working approach? Can you describe your practice, materials, and style?
When I get a new freelance job, I at first start to deal with the topic, inform myself about it, and then draw out the first pictures and ideas that come into my mind. I create the pictures in my head and try to fix them into little sketches. I always try to put a little of myself into an image, which is not required in the task, but gives the image something special and personal. I always try to add something, maybe something funny, that is not seen at first sight. I mostly work with Photoshop or Flash, depending on which style I have chosen for the illustration.
We have had the honor of including you in several Light Grey Exhibitions and projects. Could you talk a little about the difference in the creation of work- creating gallery work to client work to personal projects?
Commissions from clients are often very limited concerning topics and what will be shown. You do not have as much freedom, of course. Illustrating for galleries is cool and quite relaxing. Of course, you get a topic, too, but you are quite free in style and content, you can experiment, try something new and so on. It is always very interesting to see what other artists create and how they dealt with the topic. In personal projects you are completely free, which is, I think, not always better, because I often have so many ideas and try to put them all into one project, and I do not know where to start. Then I spend most of the time planning, sketching, including more ideas and so on. I like to work with given topics, especially those that challenge me.
For the Great Personality Exhibition, we ask each environmental artist to create two intimate and mood setting environments. Can you tell us about the spaces you chose and what elements you used to create a specific atmosphere?
When we had to choose which backgrounds we would like to illustrate for the show, I decided the sceneries that seemed most thrilling and the ones that I thought would be the most fun to draw. I already had pictures in my mind of how to draw them. For one illustration, I chose the museum of natural history- museums like this have always been fascinating to me and I still like to visit them. What I liked most, is that I could include a lot of funny ideas and details.
The Lake Side reminded me of a lake near my old home town I often visited when I was younger. It was surrounded by dense forest and you could rent canoes there, too. It was a wild, silent and idyllic place.
Through research, we know that spaces and lighting can create specific moods and interactions. How do you approach creating spaces- both realistic and fantastical? What do your spaces provoke?
Before I start, I search for a lot of background information and references. This is important if you want to create something credible. I think for both realistic and fantastic environments, it is important that the viewer can find something familiar in the picture. Maybe it provokes a special feeling or reminds him of a place he has been.
What are some of your biggest sources of inspiration?
When I was a child I loved to watch cartoon series, for example, on Nickelodeon - Ren and Stimpy, Rocko's Modern Life, Hey Arnold!, Batman: The Animated Series, and Disney's Gargoyles. They influenced me a lot, especially concerning style and character design. Movies for children are a big source of inspiration as well - movies from my childhood like Mio, My Son, Ronia the Robber's Daughter, Labyrinth, and The last Unicorn. What I like most about these movies is that they are quite serious, sometimes a little spooky and not too kitschy and "sweet" like many children's movies today. As Guillermo del Toro said, 'children's movies have to be a little spooky, too, that's what makes them special…' and I think he is right.
Nowadays I find a lot of inspiration on the internet, of course. I look out for new trends, what is "in" right now, what other illustrators are doing and so on. Travelling is also very inspiring, getting to know new cultures, tastes, colors… And, very important: books! What, for me, is always annoying in typical Superhero stories- the characters are either good or evil, there is nothing in between. That's why I like novels, like "A song of ice and fire" by George R. R. Martin or "The Night Watch" by Sergei Lukyanenko. The characters are very multilayered, not either good or evil, black or white, but rather 'grey'. I miss this in a lot of common stories and I also try to consider things like this in my illustrations.
When you are given specific prompts, how do you make an image your own? What are some of your own tips and techniques?
In my illustrations, I try to tell little stories inside the picture. I include many details, sometimes funny parts that the viewer can discover and which will not be seen at first glance. I guess the method I use to draw people is also quite unique - the proportions or my choice of color for example. Lately, I'm mostly working in Photoshop. In the past, I used Flash more often, but this also depends on which style I have chosen for the picture. For me, it is important to do real pencil sketches beforehand and spend some time thinking about my illustration before I really start illustrating.
What is your favorite project you have made or been a part of?
My favorite project is my diploma project, "Headz". It is a graphic novel about a guy that can shift himself completely into another person. Besides the 'normal' comic it contains 10 really big illustrations that describe 10 different characters, with many details in just one picture. Each picture is drawn in a different style, which made this very interesting and challenging for me. I developed this project from the very beginning by inventing a story first and then bringing it to paper piece by piece.
Can you tell us a little about your creative community? How do you connect, collaborate, or communicate with other illustrators and designers?
Well, Facebook is very important of course, as well as forums and groups. You can exchange stuff, get feedback, and stay up to date. I go to meetings in my city or to comic fairs, for example, where you can talk to other illustrators and designers. I’m always in contact with friends of mine who are illustrators, too. In general I am very open to any kind of collaborations provided that I like the topic and I have the time for it.
What is the best pieces of advice you have ever received? What advice would you recommend?
Because I've always tried to be perfect, I like this quote from Salvador Dali: "Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." It is so true and takes a lot of pressure off of you. And what advice can I give? Well, it is always good to compare yourself with other artists but never let yourself be unsettled by their work and what they do. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
What projects are you currently working on? Is there anything you can share?
In the course of the previous months I have been working on a new app called "Elfcraft“ together with friends of mine. It is a game where you have to merge gems to get more and more precious gems. It was a lot of fun to develop and design such a game, but also hard work. I was responsible for the complete design. It is my first app and I can’t wait to see it released. I really hope people will like our game.
What is your dream project? Something that you have always wanted to make?
I have an idea of a children’s book or a comic. I already have a very complex story in my mind, which still grows and grows. I developed a lot of characters for it as well as a whole unique world with special flora and fauna and an economy and so on, but unfortunately I have not found the time to start it. Maybe some day I will!
Thanks Manuel! if you want to check out more of Manuel Kilger's work, visit www.schattenkino.de, check out his pieces for The Great Personality show at the Light Grey Art Lab online shop, or at our permanent online gallery, and don't forget to download the Great Personality game!