Illustrator Profile - Monika Aichele: "Keep your mind free and inspired"

By Robert Newman   Thursday July 20, 2017

Monika Aichele is a Munich, Germany-based illustrator and designer. She has lived and worked in New York, Barcelona, and Berlin, and currently spends time in Mainz teaching illustration at the University of Applied Sciences. Aichele works in a variety of styles,  including ink and acrylic as well as screen printing. An illustrator for publications in Europe and the United States, she recently completed work on an illustrated book, Paradise of False Birds. Another outstanding recent project was a series of giant inflatable monkeys, created for Stefan Sagmeister.

I was born and raised in Southern Germany. My father is an engineer and inventor. I suspect I inherited his spirit of searching for solutions and approaching things differently. For a long time, traveling was my main profession. I worked everywhere, on airport floors, on remote Brazilian islands or on the Japanese Mount Ushiro-Tateyama.

After finishing my diploma at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart I first moved to Hamburg because of the harbor, then to New York. I felt like a journeyman during those years: I could travel and work with Isabel Klett in Barcelona, Thomas Fuchs and Yuko Shimizu in NYC, Gary Taxali in Toronto. And I shared an apartment with the correspondent for the weekly newspaper Die Zeit in Germany, Thomas Fischermann, and his wife Fernanda. There were lots of political discussions, great dinners, engaging parties—lots of inspiration.

I moved on to Berlin and then to Munich. My time is now divided between my family in Munich, my studio in Munich, and my time at the university in Mainz where I teach illustration.

1. My desk is at schönereWelt! (more beautiful world), a little design studio—more like a collective of funny people—in Munich. We are located in a big building called Fruchthof. It was once a part of Munich’s wholesale produce market—no dogs yet, but a 3D printer, a decent coffee maker and the oldest couch ever.

2. Trains. I work a lot on trains, so I make sure I have smaller-sized equipment.

3. Another desk, in Mainz, where I teach. Most of my books are there, so I can share them with my students.

I have different techniques:

1. Sketches that I rebuild in vector files. Leaving them pure, reworking them on the computer by adding drawn and painted structures (hatching).

2. Turning them into a screen print.

3. Sketches that I draw using ink and color them digitally. 

4. Ink on paper.

5. Acrylic on thick paper.

At the Academy of Fine Arts I studied Arts Education but I wanted to focus on illustration, which is part of the design department. First of all I had to convince Heinz Edelmann to admit me to his class. Then I wanted to sit in the middle room, a boys-only territory at the time. They wanted to keep it all male, so one of them covered the door handle with a sticky pimpled condom to keep the female species out. Did not work.

1. Heinz Edelmann, who was such a wonderful storyteller—besides being this great animator, illustrator, designer and art director in advertising. He taught advertising and illustration; both call for conceptual thinking. I was privileged to sit in a studio with Isabel Klett, who could almost sing like Janis Joplin and recited Klaus Kinski as if haunted by the man…with Christoph Niemann, Thomas Fuchs and Lutz Widmaier.

Our teacher Edelmann would sit in the middle smoking like hell and discussing the world with us. After a few hours the air was so bad that we would pass out mint drops to keep from dropping dead. There was a huge filing cabinet to store prints and posters on which we could take naps after he left. 

2. New York in the noughties (the 00s) with its great artists, designers, illustrators—the expats who all became good friends.

3. Berlin, working with my friend Mareike Dittmer (she works for Frieze magazine and has the same odd work hours than I had) and having her turn her living room into an unofficial little art salon.

4. My colleagues at university where I have been teaching for nine years.

5. The world I saw on my travels.

I felt Burle Marx (a Brazilian landscape architect, painter and plant collector) captured a certain spirit when I entered Sítio Burle Marx near Rio de Janeiro. Burle Marx, whose genius soars so high in his gardens and feels perfectly imperfect to me.

Another paradise-garden-experience has been with Janet Cardiff and her installation Forty part motet I saw in the beautiful garden of Inhotim.

Now that I have a son I love reading Father and Son by e.o. plauen to him. e.o. plauen (Erich Ohser) was a German cartoonist who committed suicide after being detained by the Nazis and facing a trial which would have sentenced him to death.  He elegantly hid political commentary in his drawings, which are so funny and full of light in a very dark political time.

When I travel I observe people and eavesdrop. I write lots of things down. 

My partner Axel Schmid is my biggest critic and I can play brain ping-pong with him. He is a product designer specializing in light who has quite a different perspective on things. His creative roots are the same though. We studied at the same university and his way of thinking feels like home to me.


Don’t get me wrong; I am a very social individual. But I work in a studio with people, on trains with too many people, at university with people. When I have time on my own, to have that contemplation and muse to dive into—I am so happy.

Almost a year ago I was approached by a German publisher to illustrate a book called Paradise of False Birds (Paradies der falschen Vögel) by Wolfgang Hildesheimer. It is a picturesque novel about forgery in the art world and a society completely fake and false.

I chose to take the title literally and came up with the encyclopedia of false birds and pretended it was found in that book. Each bird I invented has a bizarre twist and some place in my own biography.

A book on snow.

Nicholas Blechman. Stefan Sagmeister for the dream assignment of giant inflatable monkeys. Friederike Girst—she supported me from the very beginning, Antonio De Luca, who I miss not being in Munich anymore. Jorg Heiser, who let me draw what I wanted for Frieze magazine. Caterine Dean at Block magazine. Ronn Campisi for such well-prepared briefing that comes with every assignment. Charlotte Schroener, my colleague at university for having such brilliant conceptual thinking and sharing all this with me.

Tadanori Yokoo and Hiroshige—they stand for my love for all that makes Japan give beauty to the world. Jillian Tamaki—for telling by drawing. Tomi Ungerer—for making pigs rule the world (the Mellops). Hergé—the best spit drawings. Jon Han, Tamara Shopsin, Emiliano Ponzi and Tilmann Riemenschneider—(not an illustrator but I have to sneak him in) for the best woodcut hairs and hands. Olle Eksell—for wired birds.

Seeing my imagination big is exciting—so I happily did big inflatable monkey sculptures for Stefan Sagmeister years ago. Now I just finished illustrating a book and somehow my illustrations needed a story—I’ve started to write it down.

Working with students. They ask, I ask—we find answers.

There is great collaboration amongst my colleagues at the university. Illustration is taught in the context of design, advertising and typography. We start with a cross-disciplinary class as a part of a Bachelors curriculum that works like an experimental lab. If we find it worked successfully, we run this as part of our Master program.

Last year finally I started a blog on Instagram and try to keep it up as much as I can. Spending too much time there feels like eating only cake for a week—I need to go on a diet.

For more than 11 years I’ve been doing a silkscreen series of postcards—I have always been a fan of postcards sent by snail mail. Somehow I like the idea of a certain consistency.

There is no recipe and not every good dish is everybody’s darling, so listen to your inner urges and work with your talents, love what you do. Build a network you can rely on— one that consists of colleagues and friends and not only illustrators.

Prepare yourself to have enough information on the business side of the job. Try all you can to keep your mind free and inspired to concentrate on your creative work.

See more Monika Aichele illustrations, new work and updates:
Monika Aichele website
Instagram: @monika_aichele


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