Illustrator Profile - Golden Cosmos: "What brought us together was our passion for drawing"

By Robert Newman   Thursday April 23, 2015

Golden Cosmos is the work (and life) team of Daniel Dolz and Doris Freigofas. They’re based in Berlin, and have been illustrating together since 2010. Since that time they’ve been doing a steady stream of striking editorial illustration, most notably for The New York Times, Wired, and the Swiss Das Magazin, as well as for numerous German publications.

“Everything we do is teamwork and it’s not important who did what” explain Golden Cosmos about how they work and create together. In addition to their editorial illustration work, Golden Cosmos have created a memorable series of limited edition books, most for children. High Times: A History of Aviation was produced for Nobrow press and is a beautiful fold-out package “detailing the history and mythology of flight.” Their books are treasures of illustration and production, rich packages meant to be saved and cherished.

Golden Cosmos produce illustrations that are vibrant and bold, with bright primary colors and a screenprinted feel. Their images are often childlike, and harken back to the simple, beautiful illustrations of childrens’ books of the 1940s and 50s. But the simplicity of their imagery belies the complex and sophisticated message in much of Golden Cosmos’ work. They did a cover and a series of inside illustrations several years ago for The New York Times Book Review Summer Reading section that were not only beautiful and graphic, but captured a lot of the subtle joys of urban living. The Golden Cosmos illustration style is rich in both power and joy, and are a delight to see in every context.

We are Golden Cosmos, that’s Daniel Dolz and Doris Freigofas. We were both born in the former German Democratic Republik, in Dresden.

We met while studying graphic design and became a couple. We moved to Berlin where we live and work together with our son and our dog. We’ve been working together for five years.

We both have no artistic background. Doris’ parents are both scientists (her father is a physicist and her mom a pharmacist) and Daniel’s parents both work as scientists for the State Art Collections (his father specializes in cartography and his mom is an ethnologist with a focus on Africa). However, the fact that Doris’ mom is self-employed definitely encouraged her work as a freelance illustrator. Daniel got his interest for art from his parents. They visited a lot of exhibitions together and his mom even took him and his sister on an expedition to Africa where they learned a lot about other cultures and their understanding of art. However, in spite of having chosen a totally different path than our parents they have always supported us.

What brought us together was definitely our passion for drawing. Before becoming a couple we attended nude drawing courses at art school together or we drew portraits for money on fairs. The idea of working together was born much later during studies. We just realized that working together makes our relationship even more interesting and varied.

Our studio is a former kindergarten in the eastern part of Berlin. The house is shared by around 30 creative people, designers, illustrators, photographers, and artists. It has a huge garden where we grow our own vegetables and play football or relax in the summer.

It’s a very friendly and open atmosphere in the house; we share a screenprint studio and a workshop, we have lunch together and  anyone can get involved in anything.

It’s good to have a space for working and a space for living. As an illustrator life can get kind of lonely when you work from home. We enjoy being around other creatives, to have a lively exchange about not just creative but also organizational matters like fees, contracts or legal issues.

We sketch by hand. In the next step we use the lightbox to paint over the different color-layers on foil, which we can use for screenprinting. Or we work digitally with Adobe Illustrator.

When we work together on a project each one of us is involved in the whole process from idea to sketch to final artwork. In the end everything we do is teamwork and it’s not important who did what.

We still remember our first assignment for The New York Times. We had taken a weekend off for a romantic trip to the Baltic Sea. At night we received an email asking if we would be interested in doing a small black and white spot illustration for the Op-Ed Section. We couldn’t believe it and were totally overwhelmed that THE NEW YORK TIMES wanted to work with us, so we jumped right into the car and drove back to Berlin. We gave everything, sketched until clouds of smoke came from our pencils, knowing that this would be a great opportunity and we didn’t want to miss it.

Our illustration professor at art school, Nanne Meyer, has taught us how to work passionately and persistent on a project, to be self-critical and open minded for what might come out in the end. She has supported and encouraged us a lot in finding our own style and going our own way.

We like the work of Christoph Niemann a lot. He’s got brilliant ideas, a great sense of humor and he gets something right not everyone does: he can surprise you! He’s not fixed to a particular formal style but still you can tell it’s him and in its entirety his work gives an overall picture. It’s always a great inspiration to look at his work.

That might be the business part. Answering emails, negotiating fees, writing invoices, running after people for unpaid invoices, signing contracts, taking out insurances, doing all the paperwork for the tax office….we take full responsibility for everything even though we’ve never been taught how to do these things.

We have made a lot of good experiences with art directors so far. And it does not matter whether the art director sits at the end of the globe and we only communicate via email or if we have a personal relationship with them and meet for a drink from time to time.

Communication and confidence is important. We prefer to have an open dialogue with the art directors. For example we really enjoy working with the art directors at The New York Times. Firstly these assignments are demanding in the sense of quickness and content and on the other hand we are given great freedom. And we can be sure to have feedback immediately.

We don’t look at blogs or websites a lot because it makes us dizzy. We seek creative inspiration in exhibitions (not just art but also science, history and nature) and we collect art books and illustrated books, vintage and new ones.

We made the cover illustration and several inside illustrations for the Swiss magazine Das Magazin about double lives. We liked the series so much that we made a screenprint edition of it afterwards.

A cover for The New Yorker.

When we work on a book, for several months it is always a very intense time. It’s different from editorial illustration, which would be a sprint; book illustration is like a marathon. It is always like a long and lonely journey and you need to pace yourself well in order to reach the finish line. In this time we tend to isolate ourselves in our studio and try to concentrate and focus only on the book. This is sometimes very hard because we have to decline job offers during that time.

You don’t have a quick achievement like with editorial illustration but therefore the result will last long term. In editorial we have to be spontaneous and precise while in book illustration we can develop things more in-depth and leave things more open to imagination. Both disciplines are exciting and it’s a challenge to find a balance between both.

Actually we don’t have a master plan. So far we have done what we are passionate about. And that was not really future-oriented, but on the contrary we have a great passion for traditional book making and printing techniques.

However what definitely thrills us and what we’d like to do is animation. Moving image can be a great expansion of our narrative spectrum and stylistically our work would be suited well to be animated.

We enter annuals like American Illustration or the Society of Illustrators and send our books to competitions like the Bologna International Illustration Award or Ilustrarte. The book Von einem, der auszog das Fürchten zu lernen, which was Doris' diploma at art school, was awarded in several competitions, including the Best Designed Books From All Over The World 2010. That got us a lot of attention and art directors were contacting us. We also send out examples of new books, once they’re published. We try to update our website regularly and our page on Facebook.

Put all your energy in your work instead of spending too much time looking at other illustrators’ work. Try a lot of things and take the time to develop your unique language. Be very critical with your work and once you think it’s finished, let people see it and believe in it!

See more Golden Cosmos illustration, new work, and updates:
Golden Cosmos website
High Times: A History of Aviation — book by Golden Cosmos, published by Nobrow
A Look at Golden Cosmos' Bookshelf, via It’s Nice That