Like a magician who’s keen to keep the tricks of their trade a secret, German illustrator and designer Nadine Kolodziey feels vulnerable revealing the creative process behind her joyfully colorful work. At first glance, her illustrations might look like the products of digital tools, but we discovered that her methods are far more hands-on.
The glorious effusions of Kolodziey’s acid-bright yellow, pink, and blue color palette and the Matisse-esque cut-outs that underscore much of her portfolio were all created by hand, using sheets of plastic melted together to create a single layer that “looks kind of like a screen print, but also like a collage,” she says. “I like it when it gets super intense with colors, and using plastic means that it’s resistant. It’s a nice thing to illustrate with plastic as there aren’t many people working in those sort of materials. You also don’t have the strict format of a sheet of paper, and if you cut it you can create any shape; you’re more flexible. I don’t often explain how I do that.”
Because Kolodziey’s process isn’t self-evident, things can get tricky when clients, who assume her work is digital, ask for tweaks. There’s no un-melting plastic, so if an image doesn’t suit, it has to be created again from scratch. Still, it hasn’t stopped her creating some superb work for YouTube, Google, and de Zeit.
Currently, Kolodziey juggles jobs in cities that are four-and-a-half hours apart, and uses her regular commute between Berlin and Frankfurt to sketch. She spends two weeks at a time in each city; in Berlin, she has a desk at Eike Konig’s studio Hort; and in Frankfurt she freelances on her own illustration and graphics projects.
What might seem like a slightly exhausting career to some seems to suit Kolodziey well. She enjoys the variety at HORT, where “each project is a bit different,” she says. “There’s a big list of clients who have different expectations or styles.”
She’s particularly excited about the annual HORT project, After School Club, a sort of summer camp for creatives where design students from around the world gather in Germany for classes and workshops under the tutelage of designers liks Kate Moross, Anthony Burrill, and Konig himself. Kolodziey was only 22 when she first started working on the program. “We thought of it more like a music festival,” she says. “We wanted everyone to sleep and live in one place, like camping. It’s the same with a music festival: you have a passion for something and meet other people who want to experience that feeling.” It’s a far cry from the slick “networking” bias of many conferences or design gatherings. In fact, four years ago Konig even got his first tattoo in the basement of an After School Club.
Kolodziey’s studio in Frankfurt is where she can “get messy,” and work on personal projects such as Salto, a playful-looking magazine comprised of images created from the first drawing of a given exploration of a theme. It works like this: Kolodziey forces herself to take an initial sketch, regardless of whether she likes it or not, and work on it until it becomes a final image she’s satisfied with. She describes the publication as a “mashup” that visually mimics the way “reality is jumping and spinning. I’m mixing the different pictures and text I have in my head, so it’s always English and German mixed together. I take the impressions I have in one moment and mix them together with other moments.”
The magazine is bound in such a way that readers can rearrange the layout in any way they choose, experimenting with different narrative arcs and spreads, or even remove images to use as posters. “I don’t want to present just one narration, so I felt like that was a good format,” says Kolodziey. “Also, you can get A3-sized paper wherever. It was important that I could just grab some if I’m in the countryside, so I can make this anywhere.”
As a testament to that, the first issue was created in Berlin and the second in Tokyo. “I always make notes and try to capture the vibe of the city I’m in.” Japan, where “even a sheet of toilet paper has a face on it” and where “drawing and illustration are part of daily life” proved particularly inspiring.”
If you spend a few weeks there you have so much joy for little things like colors and shapes and things. I feel super pumped when I’ve been there.
Another personal project that’s a standout in Kolodziey’s portfolio, and one that hints at the influence of bright Japanese colors and character design is Evil Spirits of 2016. The series was created at the end of a year renowned for global political and social turbulence, but rather than turn to ubiquitous caricatures of Trump, Brexit et al, Kolodziey used her imagery as a sort of talisman. “In Germany on New Year’s eve we have a lot of fireworks and fire crackers; it’s to get rid of evil spirits in the explosions,” Kolodziey says.
You do a bit of karma cleaning—the loud noises get rid of evil spirits and the bright lights bring the good ones in.