Although, I never really planned it come out like this, the following interview with Benjamin König is a follow-up to my previous post about Sperber Illustrationen. Apart from his aspirations as an illustrator, Benjamin is also known as one out of the 2 former creatives behind atmospheric black metal band Lunar Aurora from Germany; it was active since 1994, however they announced their split-up in 2012.
Benjamin König was kind enough to answer my questions over email; as I always do my questioning that way, so without further due meet the man behind Sperber Illustrationen and his beautiful artwork!
Allow me to bring you back in time when you were at that stage of your life when you realized that art is your life purpose. Do you recall how it happened, the emotions encompassing such a realization and possibly the struggle?
It all developed over the years, so I never had a plan or thought about the struggles. I had various employments in non-art sectors but did some cover designs for bands here and there along the way. So it grew occasionally.
How were you received when you announced that you will pursue arts to your inner circle?
The people around me never doubted my way. Of course, one or another frowned but that’s normal.
Being a full-time freelance artist is a very brave and challenging step to take. It takes quite a bit of courage and twice as much resilience to withstand what’d come ahead in time. Could you walk me through what it was like for you when you decided that this is the path that you would want to go?
One challenging thing is bureaucracy when it comes to work as a freelancer. I really suck at bureaucracy and all that administration stuff. Doesn’t sound very interesting… and it’s not, indeed.
Prior to diving into the freelance world, did you have any experience working on-site for a company?
I never worked as an artist or graphic designer (or how you might call it) on-site for a company.
Walk me through your first steps into freelance illustration. What were the first biggest challenges that hit you first when you created Sperber Illustrationen?
There was a book called „Adulator“ from Marc-Alastor E. E. which I had to illustrate in the early years. That felt kind of challenging and unfortunately my illustrations turned out smudgy and faintly. I simply was not self-confident enough. But that’s how it goes when you are thrown in at the deep end.
A sheer number of artists would admit that at some point one might hit a creative block/s; some being so overcasting that may lead to giving up on their craft altogether. Have you lived through such episodes and what remedies pulled you back together?
I know these blocks and when this „silence“ comes in I don’t try to force creativity. You simply can’t be creative all the time. In fact it’s important to feel empty sometimes. It’s just a matter of how to deal with it. Don’t panic if this emptiness takes for months.Sperber Illustrationen brings a very interesting fusion between childlike innocence and chilling vibes from the dark folklore. I can see a very clear fascination with fairy tales and urban legends, especially with an inclination towards the mystical and macabre. What fascinates you about those aspects of art?
It’s the mystical thing in general and all my personal fascinations about that, which began early in my childhood. There’s more profoundness and more layers in gloomy old stories. Unfortunately, not many books/paintings have a deeper esprit nowadays. I don’t want to say “things aren’t what they used to be”, but in some cases things used to be better back then. There was more tactfulness in it.
Today, a lot of illustrations are loud, with shiny armour, big weapons, stunning effects, glossiness and shrillness. Same goes for movies, music and the games industry. But mostly they are soulless.
Blessedly, I was told lots of fairy tales in my very early childhood. For sure this had – and still has – a huge impact on me. And I have read a lot of books with wonderful illustrations. And I still have all these old books in my bookcase. Overall, I think that fairy tales also have the message that light/good wins. If not by now… but in the end. It is some kind of „church service“ for the normal population. And of course there’s so much more in it… concerning sprites, afterworld, etc…
Obviously, a major part of your works are fuelled by inspiration from all the fairy tales when you were being raised. Aside from that, could you share how and what you do in order to keep your creative flow up and running presently?
As I said before, you can’t force creativity. But generally speaking, I think that it’s always good for the flow to enable yourself some moments of retreat or contemplation. Try to create a situation that calms you and where you feel at home in yourself.
Apart from illustration, you are also expressing your creative outbursts with music. I must admit that it is quite the shift from going full-blown atmospheric black metal with Lunar Aurora to a more laid-back experimental rock with Bald Anders. Fundamentally, could you speak up why you felt that Lunar Aurora was “out of tune” back in 2012, thus laid it to rest?
I was kind of burned out after 9 Lunar Aurora albums and various contributions. And almost every album was a huge struggle with sometimes really annoying circumstances, be it because of people and/or technical things. And yes, maybe we were out of tune because even the rather conservative black metal genre develops over the decades.
Although, you are no longer associated with the rather darker shades of metal, do you keep yourself abreast with the current releases where black metal is the predominant ingredient?
Not that often. Here and there I get hold of an interesting album but that’s it. Can’t really say much about this topic.
Allow me to get back to Sperber Illustrationen. Your work has an overarching traditional feel to it. Given the rapidly evolving trends concerning the digital medium, what is your primary set of tools that you currently relying upon?
Over the years I use more and more digital painting. Digital painting makes it a lot easier when it comes to commissions. Concerning amendments, modifications, etc… Furthermore I can work faster, which is important for the pricing. However I think my paintings have this „analog“ look. It’s all about the final result and not the tools.
Generally speaking, if you were to choose between digital or traditional illustration, which one would you go for and why?
I don’t want to say that this is good and this is not. I guess it depends on the final result and what you want to achieve. In a recording studio someone told me: It’s the ear, not the gear. And I think same goes for the eyes and all the visual things.
Speaking of your recent experience with clients, what is the most common type of commissions that you fulfil in terms of medium and stylistic approach?
During the last 4-5 years I almost exclusively worked for schoolbook publishing houses. That’s not a very creative work but good for your wallet. I know this sounds boring but it’s way more interesting than painting wannabe spooky or gory metal cover.
When it comes to higher education, I read in an interview with yourself that you went to a technical college to pursue arts, however it didn’t leave any significant marks on you. Even in my personal experience I can pretty much relate to yours all the way. What interests me is what was the off-putting factor for you and if you were to advise anybody, what would you encourage them to go for; self-teaching or professional education?
It depends on what kind of technics you want to learn. If you want to paint and draw… go ahead and practice, practice, practice… If you want to learn more specific things like copper engraving or aquarelle, you should learn the basics at least.
Before I sign off, please update me on your current workings as well as plans with Sperber Illustrationen.
At the moment I backed up a little bit with Sperber Illustrationen because I have different other private themes to accomplish. Meanwhile ,you can purchase 12 various postcards, each with an illustration from a Grimm’s fairy tale. Just have a look on my web page.
Thank you so much for letting me enter your artistic domain!
Thank you for your interesting questions.