Ones to Watch 2018: illustrator Max Guther


It’s Nice That’s Ones to Watch shines a light on 12 emerging talents who we think will conquer the creative world in 2018. From a global pool of creative talent, we have chosen our 2018 Ones To Watch for their ability to consistently produce inspiring and engaging work across a diverse range of disciplines. Each of our selections continually pushes the boundaries of what is possible with their creative output. Ones to Watch 2018 is supported by Uniqlo.

In the short time since graduating, Berlin-based illustrator Max Guther has carved a solid niche for himself with his hyperreal portraits of everyday stereotypes. Made in 3D and intricately textured to incredible detail, we’ve previously likened the aesthetic of his works to The Sims, though he says he never thought about that. “Lots of people say it reminds them of computer games, which is kind of your fault!” he laughs. “I always just liked the style of isometry, it came from architectural drawings and Bauhaus, drawings by Herbert Bayer, Le Corbusier, Aldo van Eyck.” He also cites Roland Reiss and his miniature tableaus as an influence, plus photographers David Gomez Maestre and Mária Švarbová for their use of colour.

As for his subject matter, it also began with architecture. “I used to see buildings and use them as a start for an illustration, but now with commissions, the architecture goes to the background and the people are more of a focus,” he explains. “It doesn’t make sense to just show beautiful drawings of interiors. I’m a commercial illustrator and I want to explore the themes and subjects of an article, add to the story the writer is telling.” Now, his interest in architectural styles has come up trumps, as Max can not only nail a hilarious portrait of a societal stereotype, but also the environment that character lives in. His aforementioned Esquire commission looked at the culture of WeWork, and depicted the industrial-style co-working space and its young, hipster inhabitants in the illustrator’s typically funny-because-it’s-true satire.

Likewise, his series The Good Life has an entirely different retro colour palette and set of textures and details, looking to paint a scene where the characters and surroundings are part of one world. “Many of my characters come from movies,” he says, referring to the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick as his favourite filmmakers. “I want people to recognise them from movies, or from their daily lives. When you walk down the street and see someone that really fits a stereotype, those are the types of people I would put in my images.”

Max is as equally pragmatic and straight-talking about his sense of humour as he is in his approach to his art form. “There are many illustrators out there who are humorous, but I’m not that obviously humorous guy. I did an image once with a dick pic. That’s a humour I normally don’t do, it’s so obvious that it’s supposed to be funny. The rest of my work is more subtle.” He does, however, sneak in little jokes for himself that could be easter eggs for Max Guther super-fans. In his Zeit Selfie illustration, the tattooed guy is adorned with some of Max’s early drawings, for example. In another for Wired, a stack of magazines is filled with magazines by Max’s friends and peers. “It’s fun for me, but nobody else would ever find it.”

Max’s style grew from this time-tested architectural drawing technique, one which he partly attributes to playing with Lego a lot as a child. Growing up near Frankfurt, he studied Communication Design at Mainz University, though in his fifth semester took an influential exchange to study under Eike Konig at HFG Offenbach. “I wanted to do something else, see something else, another approach to teaching.” Afterwards, he did an internship at Hort, Eike’s studio, and began to develop his style. Learning from Eike’s collage course, his first work combined collage with isometry. “The hard shadows and colourful palette turned out good images, to me anyway. But I realised pretty fast that the analogue approach wasn’t for me. So I started doing digital.”

The next phase of his work combined photos taken by Max brought into 3D drawings. “I got people to pose or took photos of people I didn’t know. So I had to be careful to make sure it didn’t look like them anymore, so they wouldn’t recognise themselves!” As commissions started to come in he began to work more heavily in 3D, to save time, and now makes the majority of his work in 3D programme Blender, overworked with Photoshop and real textures to give his images that hyperreal look.

“For the Zeit selfie image, I photographed real people but everything else is 3D. In my Esquire commission, these are 3D people. You can see the difference. Photoshop collages take a lot of time so I basically figured out a way to make my work easier to be commissioned, otherwise, it might take me weeks to do an illustration, and that’s just not practical.”

A mere year into his professional career as an illustrator, Max has no plans for dramatic changes over the coming months, only to hone his craft and the way he works with peers and clients. Still a relative newbie to Berlin and currently working from home, he has formed a solid group of fellow freelance creatives with which to share challenges, feedback and advice. These artists, including Jan Buchczik, Cynthia Kittler, Benedikt Luft, Nadine Kolodziey and Oriana Fenwick, also put on a group exhibition together last year.

Aesthetically, he’s beginning to experiment with new perspectives, branching out from his signature isometry and trying frontal and bird’s eye views. “I like what I do with isometry, it unifies the images even when they show different environments,” he says. “But I want to try something else. What’s interesting about a flat perspective is it has no vanishing point. This is something you can’t do with photography and gives the illustration something structural, clean and precise. From above, the fascinating part is the shadows are vital. Without them, you wouldn’t recognise what the object is.”

Mainly, though, Max is keen to develop his commissioned work, more than self-motivated projects. “What’s great about a commission is the client tells you the idea or theme, but not the whole concept. Most of the time you have creative freedom to explore what to show, how to explain a story. It’s the perfect mix. With personal works, it’s so hard to know what to show, or how to finish them. With a brief, there’s a deadline, and they’re always finished. I don’t think I could survive just being an artist doing my own work. I always need some pressure.”

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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