Illustrator Tanya Teibtner almost didn’t become an illustrator at all. Originally studying modern languages at university, Tanya was always interested in ways of expressing herself and at first this presented itself through linguistics. With time – thankfully for us – the German illustrator needed something more, feeling a natural draw to the ability of visuals as a tool of communication.
Since taking this leap, and through the tutoring of the excellent illustrator Henning Wagenbreth, Tanya’s background and general fascination with the art world has led to an expressive and expansive portfolio of illustration work.
While studying, she’s also been able to try her hand at applications of the medium, from creating record sleeves, posters and largely a series communicating performance art events of the past half a century through illustration. The result is a style that feels refreshingly contemporary as the illustrator navigates large expanses of space in one area, but in another will portray characters in the smallest of stick like figures. Reigning supreme in her work however is always a strong concept which unearths a new perspective.
Tanya’s resourcefulness while studying at the University of Arts Berlin demonstrates exactly what those few years of undergraduate study should be about: reading up on nuggets of visual culture you find interesting, reflecting on their influence and channeling them into your own unique practice.
It’s Nice That: What is it about the medium of illustration which initially attracted you?
Tanya Teibtner: I can’t remember the first time I saw illustrations, because as a kid you’re constantly surrounded by it. It’s a medium capable of communicating information without using words and an internationally understood language. The beauty of illustration is the clarity with which complexity can be communicated.
I used to study modern languages and philosophy and felt, at the time, an intuitive call to study a visual language. I found myself then applying for visual communication at the University of the Arts in Berlin, aiming to study in Henning Wagenbreth’s illustration class.
"I like to learn from past art decades"Tanya Teibtner
INT: How would you describe your particular illustration style?
TT: My work is based on a black and white method as I draw with Indian ink. It’s a working method that helps me to understand illustration in its abstraction, as in relation to the format. When starting to illustrate, I need to know the end format and product I am working on. After drawing in an analogue style I scan illustrations at as high a quality as possible, to make sure all small details won’t be lost. Afterwards, I add colour.
In terms of research I like to learn from past art decades. The Egyptian hieroglyphs, Ancient Greek architecture, the traditional Indian artworks, Japanese woodcuts, and so on. The symbolic storytelling in those examples is truly inspiring. Most of my projects rely on my own observation, and I have to embrace the process of filtering acquired information and visual content. Every time a project has manifested, I take time to seal the past experience to open up for the new.
INT: What’s been one of your favourite projects completed while at university?
TT: My bachelor’s project has been my favourite work so far as it took a lot of research and sparked new interests for me. Performance art came to me via some courses I registered for, some theoretical, some practical. I felt I needed to go through its history in order to understand the purpose of it and therefore explain it to others. What struck me was that I found many well-known women being the artists, not just the objects of the art, which we are culturally used to. It was a profound examination of an art form I hadn’t known until then.
I started my research with Marina Abramovic. A woman who is strong and weak at the same time, but always determined to process her struggle between these two poles in public. By perceiving and analysing her performances she shaped my understanding of spirituality and symbolism. This art form has a purpose of liberation.
I understood that time and space was important for real time pieces, the illustrative collection of performance art. But when deciding on how to translate these elements two-dimensionally I decided on isometrics. It’s a technique that visually conveys a time distance, as all performances had happened in the past.
From there I translated the researched visual content of 18 real-time pieces over the last 60 years, providing single illustrations as the outcome. Everything is based on fact as I tried to do as little interpretation as possible, in order to keep the researched performances as complex and unique as they’ve been. Regarding the visual decisions, I chose to work in grey scale to emphasise the past of the performances, and also avoid another level of interpretation which is colour. Each composed illustration shows a meaningful moment.
INT: What was the best about your time at university, and the worst?
TT: The University of the Arts Berlin shaped my notion for conceptual work. It made me ask questions such as what needs to be communicated and what the starting point was, as well as what we are aiming to explain, criticise, symbolise, perpetuate or change?
But the most difficult moments at university were when I had to make a decision that made me feel like I was turning away from other opportunities. After some time I understood that focusing on one specific project encouraged my growth and gave me knowledge to open up for bigger tasks. Bachelor’s and master’s students work together and share a studio space in classes at the university and I learned working techniques and found solutions through my professor, but also my fellow students.
Looking back, I wish I had opened myself up to the idea earlier, there were so many creative universes surrounding and inspiring me, rather than trying to find one single mentor. I found empowerment in those years of studying art and design, but also myself. All of the students evolved through each others growing and development and an intimate network derived from this connection.
"I found empowerment in those years of studying"Tanya Teibtner
INT: What would be your ultimate dream project and what do you hope to do in the future?
TT: Right now I am focusing on keeping this network growing. I am about to curate some workshops and direct a monthly fair in Neukolln, Berlin. I also want to keep illustrating on researched information and communicate values and theoretical knowledge.
What I am interested in is unusual contexts that usually don’t use illustration as a form of communication. It’s an abstract idea, but I’m sure that at some point there will be tasks and challenges to elaborate through illustration, in which I have to be innovative and creative. I’d love to work more with fabrics and music to be able to set a combination for senses: hearing, touching and seeing – maybe even smelling!
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About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.