Traces of migration: Five Spanish illustrators in Berlin
They came to Berlin and stayed. In the German capital they found everything an aspiring artist dreams of. A low-cost cosmopolitan city in which they can afford to do what they do best: drawing. Five Spanish illustrators share their experiences of expat living in Berlin.
Violeta Lópiz (b. 1980 in Ibiza) invites us to her studio in Kreuzberg called Lelo Books. It’s just the right setting for her work, which consists in self-publishing her books through direct contacts among her readership. Violeta stands wholeheartedly behind her work, though without giving herself away. This is the premise underlying her illustrations, printed at various publishing houses and in magazines all over the world. She’s a painstaking perfectionist. On average it takes her a year to illustrate a book. “It really takes it out of me,” she says. “To illustrate a book you have to align all the bases you build on: technique, imagery, perspective and pictorial discourse.” She is fitted out for the future. Her weapons are: crayons, tempera paints, painted acetate film and the notorious felt-tipped pen that went with her last winter to Lisbon to illustrate Cláudio Theba’s poem Amigos do Peito (Bruaá, 2014) – with encouragement from fellow illustrator Valerio Vidali (who works, and sometimes on joint projects, in the same atelier). She dreams of turning a motor home into a mobile studio and travelling around the world in search of stories. But for the time being she’s busy on her latest project, La Foresta. And planning to fly to South Korea to work on her next book.
Just a block away from Violeta’s studio we come upon Jorge Liquete (b. 1973 in Madrid). He’s a trained graphic designer, an ad-world escapee and a self-taught illustrator.
Jorge does graphic animation, storyboards and videos, and he designs figures. Illustrating is his way of making a contribution to society. He fled advertising and got in touch with Spanish textbook publishers, for whom he’s been working ever since, illustrating a series called Batracio Frogger about a detective – in the shape of a frog.
He came to Berlin in 2009. His most interesting projects include a comic book for the Mokoh Music label. He has learned a lot from Germany, which has opened up plenty of opportunities for him. “An accomplished piece of work is highly prized here, they give you more credit for your achievements than elsewhere.” He’s going back to Spain in September though, taking some new projects with him and keeping his options open for whatever comes along.
Cristina Sitja (b. 1972 in Caracas) keeps her options open too and doesn’t abide by boundaries either. She’s half Spanish, half Venezuelan. After studying art in Montreal, she ended up specializing in pinhole camera photography in San Francisco. Then she went to Barcelona, half her family is from there. That’s where she decided to change course again. She realized she hadn’t forgotten how to draw and devoted herself to illustration. In 2006 she landed in Berlin, planning to stay just a few weeks . . . and stayed for good.
We made a date to meet up at the Mundo Azul bookshop, which specializes in books for kids and young adults. Cristina shows us her publications in Europe and Latin America and talks about an annual event she mustn’t miss come hell or high water: the children’s book fair in Bologna. She has already shown her books there twice. “I start right in drawing straightaway,” she explains her method, “mistakes are worked in there, you can tell from my style.” Cristina bemoans how little consideration is shown to illustrators and the exploitative terms of contracts with some publishers. But she takes it all in humorous stride: “I couldn’t feed myself on books before.”
“You have to learn to say no to underpaid jobs,” says Raúl Soria (b. 1983 in Zaragoza). “It’s hard at the start. They take advantage of the fact that you’ve no work to show for yourself and this is your chance to get some exposure.” Raúl came to Berlin 11 years ago, planning to learn German. He ended up studying at the Universität der Künste (UdK), specializing in illustration. “Sure, the work is not steady, but there’s nothing makes me happier than making a living with illustrations.” He works mainly for newspapers. At the outset, his work had a lot to do with the crisis in Spain and the 15-M anti-austerity movement. Increasingly politicized, he worked his politics into his pictures and now does primarily editorial illustrations for La Directa and Neues Deutschland. He has also designed book and CD covers and collaborated on a documentary film about the Berlin cult hangout Bar 25. What’s most special about Germany, in his opinion, is the financial support for artists, including social security benefits from the Künstlersozialkasse. But he wants back to Spain all the same: “I’ve given up on my dream of going to London or New York, now I want to go to Madrid.”
Irene Fernández Arcas (b. 1987 in Granada) has a similar career path behind her. She is studying Visual Communication at the Weissensee Kunsthochschule, an art school in Berlin. She has written and illustrated some books that have yet to be published and she works for magazines, collectives and university projects, almost always free of charge. Music is her greatest inspiration, and what she loves most is giving pictorial expression to music. She dreams of being a professional illustrator and that someday a child will come up to her and say they’ve read one of her books. She sees Berlin as her big chance and “the place where you don’t have to wait long for something to happen because something always happens.”
is a Berlin-based freelance journalist and a member of Bisual Studio.
Translation: Eric Rosencrantz
Copyright: Goethe-Institut Madrid
Any questions about this article? Write to us!