Steffen Ullman’s digital illustrations mess with reality

Visually disabling or enhancing objects from our everyday is like a game to the Berlin-based creative.

26 March 2020

Berlin-based Steffen Ullman studied graphic design and illustration at a “rather arty and traditional type of school”. There, he learned drawing, painting, sculpting and collage but Steffen’s interests pivoted to digital design in the early 2000s with the expansion of the internet and widespread availability of computers. Today, it’s the medium’s “opportunity to depict countless and highly diverse styles and aesthetics quite easily,” which keeps him glued to it. “In terms of 3D software, it’s also fascinating to be able to reach photo-like results and mess with ‘reality’ in a very free way,” he adds.

It’s this very notion – of messing with reality – which caught our eye when we stumbled upon Steffen’s Instagram account. His feed is full of illustrations which see the objects of our every day melting and spilling out of themselves. In one image, an iPhone screen bleeds out of its own charging port and, in another, its screen is stretched by the person using it to play Candy Crush.

On this series, Steffen tells us: “[I’m] playing with imagery of everyday objects, like cars, mobile phones, laptops, watches or scissors, and visually disabling or enhancing their common physical states and functions, though this only feels like an ongoing game to me mostly.”

In another series, he explores concepts concerning science fiction, in particular, technology which could derive from this genre. The imagery here often forms a futuristic tableaux with imagined objects and arrangements – a kind of inverse memento mori for the modern day in which many things really do live forever. It’s a series Steffen calls “slightly geeky” as its mainly a place for him to improve his 3D-modelling techniques but it’s also an opportunity to “explore and blur the boundaries of organic and technological matters or objects.”


Steffen Ullman

While these works seem distinctive to us, Steffen explains that he doesn’t aim for any consistent style. Rather, it’s a “pattern of procedure” which prevails, “ the attitude behind [my work] or possibly certain humorous, ironic or even naive characteristics of imagery.”

In terms of the kinds of projects he likes to take on, Steffen’s interests are always changing. He looks for projects in which he has to “learn new things or do research of context,” as it “keeps it interesting for me and the results are versatile.” The same goes for tools, media, styles and aesthetics: “I’ve been teaching myself 3D visualisation and modelling for a few years, whereby I really like to bring in previous ways of working and utilise experiences with former work mechanisms. Often times, the results derive from discovering one of the numberless and quite complex software functions, sometimes there might already be an idea, and in other cases it’s just starting to play in a sort of meditative moment and see where it goes.”

Clearly an artist who loves the technical side of creativity, many of Steffen’s plans include continuing to learn new techniques or softwares. “I’m planning to print some posters with a few of my works and also extend my technical capabilities to be able to get into more animation-related work again,” he explains. “Besides that there is an ongoing queue of illustration and design-jobs as usual, which in consequence of the current circumstances can be a rather solitary occupation at times. These might also provide some quiet-time to find further creative destinations though,” he concludes optimistically.

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

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