Alexandra Knickel is a freelance illustrator and miniature-artist based in Germany.
Could you give us a little background into how your own interest in art began and your decision to pursue a career in the arts?
Like most artists and illustrators, I’ve had an affinity for painting and drawing since early childhood days, I doodled a lot with my crayons, not to mention my teachers were always annoyed at me for drawing little critters instead of actually listening to what they were saying. But hey, it was so much more interesting than math and other stuff.
I always wanted to do something with painting, or at least something creative. Unfortunately, in the process of growing up, with all the struggles life brings, painting or being creative had moved very, very far into the background, to the degree where I stopped for years.
It was around 2000 when I slowly got into painting again. I was very into sewing clothes by that time and I might have stayed within that creative field. But due to a pure accident I found out that there was something called “a graphics tablet.” I remember I was like, “Oh my god! I can paint on my PC,” and there it went. ;)
So from that day on, I tried to learn from tutorials and books to improve as an artist. I had some years in between where I did not have enough time to paint as I liked, but nonetheless, slowly and steadily I worked my way up.
Unfortunately, there was no clear path to becoming a freelancer in that field. I always loved the idea of being my own boss, so in 2010 I decided to dare to take the step and become a full-time illustrator.
You are a sculptor as well as a digital painter (sorry folks, these are only for sale in Germany). Did one come before the other?
I think I am—at this point—more a digital painter than a sculptor. I found sculpting a fantastic and relaxing hobby due to all the stress of painting. Yes, I know, that might sound totally crazy for a lot people. But painting on a business level can be quite exhausting and sometimes you lose the special feeling for it. It’s all about deadlines, trying to be quick, even quicker, technique, calculations, etc. So doing miniatures is a relief. It’s not important how good they are or if anyone else besides me likes them. I just sculpt, paying attention to nothing else but pure enjoyment.
Some of your sculptures are whimsical fairy creatures and others are delightfully realistic food miniatures. How much do these sculptures relate to your illustrations, and how much are they some other creative outlet entirely? Is there a balancing act between them for you?
Hmm, that’s a very good question. I’m not quite sure, to be honest. Thinking of the realistic food miniatures, I was just fascinated on the first sight. How can something so tiny look so realistic? I found it challenging to find the right chalk color to enhance the realism. I spend days on getting the right colors for my “brezels” or figuring out how small I can make things. The food miniatures or dollhouse miniatures per se have a strange fascination to them and they always draw me in.
For the other miniatures, like my fairies in a bottle, it might be the wish to do something cute. That’s something that you can find in my paintings as well. On one side, I like to do all the regular fantasy stuff, portraits and also from time to time something creepy, but then again I feel that urgent need to paint something cute. I really like if I make people smile because of a cute character.
These tiny fairies are maybe another step in that direction because you can have them with you, wherever you go. I had a commission for a fairy once that was heart-warming. It was for a woman who lost her mother and she wanted to have a fairy as a reminder of her mom watching from heaven. These are the moments you feel you can really touch people with your art.
So about the balance between painting and sculpting, at the moment it works quite well. But maybe I’ll start to do miniatures professionally and just paint as a hobby. Who knows. ;)
What is your relationship to digital vs. traditional art mediums? For your sculptures you use polymer clay and for your illustrations you work digitally using Photoshop and Painter on a Wacom Cintiq. Was your initial training in digital mediums? Have you ever played around with any 3d digital software? Likewise, do you ever break out traditional paints to experiment with?
Oh, I love traditional media! Sadly, I am not that good at it. I do watercolor paintings from time to time and I dabble in oils when I find the time; it’s so intuitive and I love the haptics of it. I think traditional media has some special sort of spirit.
Don’t get me wrong, I love painting digitally. It’s great because it’s faster, it doesn’t smell, its clean, it has the undo function. But then again, at the end you have something sterile (might not be the right word for it), which even if you print it out on the best possible museum quality canvas, it’s just . . . it lacks haptics, smell, and it’s most of all not really one of a kind. I must admit it’s not easy to explain in English. I’m “Oh, two hearts in my chest” concerning this topic.
There are a lot of advantages to working digitally and I wouldn’t want to stop, but I still think that there will always be something missing. As an example, when working with traditional media I can use my hands to create nice effects, I can have the color run down or make parts thicker by using pastouse color. Working digitally, I of course can simulate this with custom brushes or with the help of Painter’s relatively realistic brush engine but it will never have the same feeling to it.
Nonetheless I think one can do both to get the best of every side.
Yes, I started directly with digital painting, mostly because besides being a painter I’m a geek sitting at my PC. It came quite naturally. Oh my, yes, I tried 3D programs like ZBrush or Poser back in day, but really I’m an idiot when it comes to 3D. I do not even understand Google Sketchup—and I have been told this is the easiest program to start with. I leave 3D to all the people who are really awesome at it.
You have some amazing game art and character designs. Are you a gamer yourself? What are you playing these days? Do you find illustrating for a game different than doing cover work?
Thanks for that compliment! As already mentioned, I’m a geek. Totally. I started as a 8-year-old child on a C64. Since that day, I have played everything that was fantasy-related. I always had a special love for RPGs. Later on, I played MMORPGs, starting with the first game that came out in 1998 called Meridian 59. Nowadays, I don’t have much time for it, but I recently fell in love with Guild Wars 2. It also has some of the best concept art I have ever seen. (Along with the awesome art of The Witcher and classical pieces like Keith Parkinson’s art for Everquest.) Offline I still like to play Dragon Age I.
I think game or concept art differs from doing regular illustrations, and most of the time I find it more difficult as well. But that might be because I’m fairly new to concept and game art; I still have a lot to learn.
At the moment I work mostly for browser games doing either character illustrations or icon graphics. I’d say game art is a bit more about designing than illustrating. You need to think in a practical way as well. You also need to keep in mind that the whole design is consistent through the gameworld. Illustrating, I would say, is more about “storytelling.”
What does a typical “work” day for you look like? What are some things you do if you find yourself stuck on a project? Where do you find your inspiration and motivations?
A typical day doesn’t start too early. I have my first two cups of coffee within thirty minutes of waking. Usually I’m reading my emails, visiting my social media pages like Facebook or deviantART, writing estimates of costs and checking for possible clients in search of an illustrator. If so, I’m applying for that job. After those things, I start working. At the end of the workday, (which is usually not before 10 p.m.,) I enjoy watching a TV series or a good Blu-ray movie.
I figured out that for me, the easiest way to avoid getting too stuck on a project is to work in parallel on at least two different pieces. You always suffer from “blind eyes” once you’ve worked on a piece longer than two hours. The best for me is to then take a break from one piece and switch to working on another one. So usually I’m jumping between paintings three or four times a day.
A lot of inspiration I find through my clients’ stories and ideas. I see myself more as a sort of “converter,” trying to give a face to what their mind created, to grab that feeling, trying to dive as much as possible in the story or the character. I’m working a lot for self-publishing authors and small publishers and usually I try to read their manuscripts to a certain degree to get to this point. Sometimes I even come up with a dozen extra ideas.
When doing private pieces, I do not really look for inspiration, to be honest. I just start to paint and see what happens.
Which artists influenced you most heavily when you were learning your craft? Did any particular picture or artist lead you to change your practice?
Puhh . . . well . . . I started digital painting doing anime-style work. So back in those days, I would say the ladies from Studio CLAMP influenced me a lot.
Other than that, I wouldn’t say that I had one specific artist that influenced me. There are so many amazing artists out there doing inspirational art, with their own unique styles, I could never decide. I utterly love the works of Brian Froud. But also the works of John Howe, Alan Lee, Keith Parkinson, Todd Lockwood, and Linda Bergkvist, of course. I’m also a fan of “nowadays” concept artists like Kekai Kotaki or Daarken, just to name a few.
For the sculptures I would say Angie Scarr and Sue Heaser when it comes to miniatures, as well as the awesome Shiflett Brothers, most known for their fantasy sculptures.
What changes have you seen in your work in the time since you graduated?
Hmmm . . . I must admit I dunno. I think besides basic improvements, my work hasn’t changed that much through the years. Well . . . okay besides the fact that I’m not doing anime style anymore.
What are you working on these days?
Lets see, what’s on the workbench . . . I have a nice private character commission here, which is soon to be finished. Also I’m working for a medieval-styled Facebook social game, which will be released next year. Other than that, I am preparing for a local Christmas market creating some new miniatures. And last but not least, I am working on several new homepage and logo designs.