Greasy pans, roast chickens, neon colours, gruesome animals and a satirical view on the world: these are the motifs that regularly appear throughout the work of illustrator Johanna Ploch. The Hamburg-based creative has been balancing illustration, stop-motion animation and, on top of it all, her education. Currently working on her Masters in Illustration, Johanna has worked across various small projects, including an illustrative poster for a party at the Golden Pudel Club in Hamburg – an event organised by her friends from Possy Collective (a female group of DJs and artists based in the city).
“I’ve always loved drawing and coming up with situations or characters,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I think the passion comes from the urge to tell or entertain.” Viewing the medium as a way of communicating to her audience in a humorous way, Johanna takes inspiration from reality and its “many crazy” forms. Where most might not bother to look is exactly where she finds her inspiration, “because it may be banal, disgusting, failed or something strange” – either way it pulls her in with great force. She even cites the “stupid” and “useless” side jobs as those that enforce creativity, the type where you “have to roast sausages all day”. Because, let’s face it, when you’re in such a monotonous situation, that’s when your best ideas tend to surface. “I just like to observe; I’m interested in people,” says Johanna, “especially those who surround me every day.”
Johanna often travels and keeps a sketchbook filled with notes and drawings – a valuable process that aids her creative perception. She’s also recently begun to work on the iPad Pro, which has surprisingly proven to be the “perfect” method, due to its freedom and mobility. As for the rest of her process, she explains: “I often make a rough sketch, but lately I’m starting to draw more intuitively to see how the process works. I find this quite exciting and I generally love the intuitive way of working.”
“On the other hand, I like to draw a very specific character, for example a hobby fortune teller who does her job in her own four walls dressed in her pink plush pig slippers,” she continues. “Often I can really get into what this person looks like and how she lives. I think both are good, but such a certain premise and restriction is sometimes not so wrong to make.”
Looking through Johanna’s portfolio is like stepping into a chaotic line-drawn world that, quite frankly, tells it like it is – all with a sprinkle of dark humour and irony. One of her favourite pieces sees a man at a bus stop looking at his phone; meanwhile he’s being robbed by two people. “This was a situation I came up with just to illustrate what could happen if you don’t even look at the street for five minutes,” Johanna says. Another work depicts two characters wearing pyjamas snacking out of un-washed kitchenware hanging from a mobile in the kitchen. Perhaps a familiar scene of hours spent in a kitchen, snacking – but things are slightly off, and saucepans are hanging from the ceiling.
The irony of life takes centre stage in Johanna’s illustrations. How she intends for her readers to interpret them, however, is open. “Some people see just a picture and other people see the character,” she says. “It’s a kind of entertainment for myself and for other people, because I like to tell things or imagine them.” In turn, Johanna takes the mundane and morphs it into the spectacular, where the the imperfect meets self-acceptance, making the socially rejected acceptable.
“Sometimes my characters are really annoying or exhausting but that’s exactly what I find funny about the presentation,” she concludes. “If I watch it closely, the topics often have a social critique, such as the cows drinking their own milk greedily. Often, however, it’s also the simple things that arise out of pure cheerfulness and I can amuse myself.”
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.