A lone figure stands at the edge of a dark and daunting cliff edge, until you then note the craggly edge is a face staring back at her. Although Isabel Seliger’s illustrations may at first seem abstract, there is intricacy to the stories. Playing with different brush pen and digital coloring, Seliger’s works have been featured for a range of publications including The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Bloomberg.
We asked Seliger about her art style, whether art was always her passion and how her daily routine shapes her day. Read on for more!
Where are you from? What’s your background?
I grew up in a small village in Eastern Germany, in a region that got named after its forests and a river that flows near by.
As a kid I spent a lot of time outside, exploring places and things, experimenting with all kinds of materials. I also loved it to be at home all day with my books and listening to music or audio plays while drawing. When I was 12 my younger brother and I got our first computer. From then on adventure games were my new picture books and I took my first steps (using a computer mouse) in digital art. I did an apprenticeship as an Advertising Graphic Designer and at the age of 22 (2006) I finally left home to study Visual Communication with a major in Illustration and Comic Art at the School of Art and Design Kassel.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
What were your favorite classes at school?
Art class was always my favorite. I liked geography, the earth and its structures.
I was interested in physics but not good at it because I didn’t like math. I think I like the fantastic parts of it, the things we cannot explain, the questions before the answers.
How did you move towards doing illustration and comics?
At the beginning of my studies I thought I could do art for video games and character design, maybe book covers as well.
I knew nothing about editorial illustration. The Illustration and Comic Art class was mainly about doing comics, which I thought (in the classical sense) isn’t really my medium. I liked doing single illustrations, series and more abstract silent sequences. I did very few comics until about two years ago, when I got commissioned by California Sunday to do a short comic for their magazine. My first editorial job came in the last year of my studies. I had started to send out some emails to art directors because by then I had realized that this could be a good path for me to go.
How did you develop the distinctive visual language we see in your work now?
It accidentally and steadily evolves, influenced by various factors, like a brush pen some older student, who’s work I admired, gave to me, or a task that forced me to limit my effort, a topic that made me draw something I haven’t drawn before, something that had to be drawn in a different way, using a different tool in order to make it work, a gap that needs to get filled and so on.
I went from digital drawing to analogously experimenting and finally using a brush pen on paper, while coloring digitally for a few years, just to go back to doing all digitally again. And this is where I’m now, curious on what might come next.
What do you look to for design inspiration?
I’m very much into minimal and abstract art, architecture, architectural drawings, photography, old book illustrations and especially retro science fiction art. There’s one webpage I discovered around 2011 or earlier, But Does It Float, that really had an impact on my artistic horizon at that time and it’s a great inspirational source!
What are your favorite topics to tackle?
I really like psychological and philosophical topics. Topics that let me create something with a monumental character. I like to illustrate solitude and relationship issues. Science, fiction, dreams, dystopia, utopia… to name a few more.
What are your favorite ways to create illustrations?
Currently I do all my work in Photoshop using a small set of brushes by Kyle Webster. I like limited tools and palettes, 16/9 and portrait formats. I use a ball point pen to do tiny drawings and sketches on thin paper of pocket size journals. Most of my personal work I did on rough paper with one brush pen, that I dipped into india ink instead of using it with a cartridge. It’s been too long since I did my last drawing on paper, I really hope I can do them again soon.
What is one of your proudest achievements so far?
I dreamed of doing book covers since I knew that they don’t grow out of nowhere. In 2014, the year of my final degree, I got asked by HarperCollins (out of nowhere) to do the cover art for a new edition of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette.
What is your home like? How do you decorate your home?
My home is a cozy mix of new and old, many books, plants, a few frames on the walls.
A lot is improvised because the space is so small and also because I like to arrange my stuff around things that were already there. The frames are using nails that the previous resident left in the wall. My books encase the small bookshelf that I found years ago in a chamber in my old flat share. Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo by Taschen serves as temporary tabletop.
What is your daily routine?
I don’t really have one. How I spend my day depends a lot on what I have to do and where I want do drink my first coffee.
I either work at home, at a café or in my studio. If possible I like to switch during the day, for example I get up and out for breakfast and coffee at a café near my place where I work on sketches until I need a break. I use that break to drive to my studio where I continue working until the late afternoon. Then I go home and finish the work.
See more of Isabel Seliger’s work on her portfolio, and let us know which of the illustrations you see is your favorite. If you liked this article, share it with someone you think will like it too!