Quint Buchholz “My pictures aren’t there to overwhelm”

Quint Buchholz; © Emil Rothweiler
Photo (detail): © Emil Rothweiler

For over twenty years, the artist Quint Buchholz has also illustrated books for children. In an interview he explains the power of pictures and why they need a lot of time and quiet to ripen – not only in the creative process, but also when looking at them.

Mr. Buchholz, why is illustrating children’s books particularly attractive to you?

From earliest childhood, pictures and stories shape our imagination, our dreams, our longings and our fantasy in an infinitely vast space to which we don’t generally ascribe reality, though it makes up an immensely important part of our being. To work for this, in and with this space, is a gift – and an uncommonly interesting and colorful one.

Quint Buchholz: Die große Langsamkeit Quint Buchholz: Die große Langsamkeit | © Quint Buchholz

As a child, you often painted when you were bored. Why do you paint today?

There are various reasons: for example, to discover and understand something of the world and of myself through painting. Sometimes, too, to tell of a beauty that we are losing more and more. And I paint of course because I can only paint my pictures – I can’t speak, write, dance or fiddle them.

Your pictures radiate a magic stillness. How does that fit into the world of children today?

My pictures don’t have something to say to all children – that’s not possible. Many children find them downright boring, which may have to do with a habituation to the stimulus frequency of modern media.

Quint Buchholz: „O.T. Mann und Kuh mit Masken“ Quint Buchholz: „O.T. Mann und Kuh mit Masken“ | © Quint Buchholz
But I believe that just in this often so loud and fast and impression and information overloaded world there must continue to be other places: spaces of silence, of the slowdown of often restlessly wandering thoughts. Thought spaces where nothing tugs at you. My pictures aren’t there to overwhelm or to force a particular experience. My hope is that people can simply be in them, or devote themselves for a while to an idea in peace. Which is hard enough.

You also hold workshops on illustration. What do you try to teach the participants?

That you have to be curious about a long voyage of discovery. And don’t try to do too much too soon. A picture book is seldom created in a few weeks, even if many workshop participants would like that.
But you need time not only for painting and for designing a whole book concept. You need it above all to find out what you have to say. It’s well worth it to take the time and energy to discover and develop the very special, your very own. What only you yourself know and what only you yourself can tell.

Your book “Quints Tierleben” (Quint’s Wildlife) will be published in autumn 2012. What part do animals play in your pictures?

Quint Buchholz: „Quints Tierleben“ (Quint’s Wildlife) Quint Buchholz: „Quints Tierleben“ (Quint’s Wildlife) | © Quint Buchholz In my pictures they are less place-holders or proxies for specific human states or feelings and more the very independent fellow creatures and counterparts of human beings: strange, very similar to us, and then again very distant relatives. And merely because they are not adept in human language, we think we may treat the majority of them with so very much disrespect, neglect, cruelty and malice. Quints Tierleben tries to look at what animals mean to us from another, questioning point of view.

How do you do your illustrations?

For several years I’ve been painting most of my pictures with acrylic paint and different brushes on watercolor board or on canvas. I prepare my pictures long before I start; I try to know as much as possible about them or have as much as possible in front of me in the form of sketches, photos, models or structures in my studio before I begin work on the original. And then the picture takes as long as it takes. Speed isn’t a criterion that interests me in painting.

When do you regard your pictures as finished?

Quint Buchholz: „Die Wächter“ Quint Buchholz: „Die Wächter“ | © Quint Buchholz The Czech poet Jan Skácel once said that a poet never finishes a poem, only abandons it. That’s also the way it is with pictures. Of course, I look out for that time when I no longer know what, with my present knowledge and my existing skills, I could do better in a picture. That would be my definition, only for me and my work process. I try to give myself all the time I need to get to this point.

You’re not only an illustrator but also an author of children’s books – „Schlaf gut, kleiner Bär“ (1993) (Sleep Well, Little Bear) and „Der Sammler der Augenblicke“ (1997) (The Collector of Moments). Do you feel comfortable in this double role?

That varies. I began writing so as to make possible scenes for certain pictures in a book. But such a project then soon develops its own momentum, which quite possibly leads you somewhere else. Schlaf gut, kleiner Bär had in the end completely different pictures from those because of which I originally began the project. It’s therefore sometimes easier and more manageable to work with the finished text of a writer, which is the way it is and at the same time provides a foothold and traction for the development of my own pictures. If it’s the right text.

„Quints Tierleben“ (Quint’s Wildlife): Quint Buchholz about his work on the book and the dignity of animals (Youtube)