Rare are those fortunate ones who turn their pastime into a livelihood, or rather perceive their bread and butter as a hobby. Jan Siemen is one of them. Jan Siemen is a German illustrator who has years of experience doing graphic designs and digital illustrations. Besides freelancing, Jan is also the founder of Sons of Ipanema, a Cologne-based graphic design agency, where he gathered a small team of young design enthusiasts.
He adopts vector format, and with his cartoons-influenced, everyday-inspired illustrations, Jan hopes to stir up “all the emotions you can have”.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Jan about his first steps in the industry, the inspiration for and meaning behind his works, and why there are no faces on his illustrations.
PS: Do you recall your first try with Photoshop, Illustrator, and how did that look?
JS: That was a very long time ago. There was Photoshop 5.0 and you could only undo 10 steps ;).
PS: How did you decide on vector graphics?
JS: I started working with Freehand during my training as a media designer and designed logos and postcards with the program. A somewhat older designer in the company I worked for drew comics at the time and as I was not very good at drawing, I tried to make comics and illustrations in Freehand. I enjoyed that. Later I switched to Illustrator.
PS: Your own a design company. Do company projects allow the same level of imagination as the illustrations you do for your own soul?
JS: This is a good question because it directly reveals a fundamental problem between work and hobby. To answer the question, no. The basic approach is slightly different because I have to think and act differently somehow. But both are fun and each has different challenges and opportunities.
PS: You said the everyday inspires your works. How much social criticism is present in your art?
JS: Sometimes there is more in it, sometimes less. I can’t tell before. Depending on which illustration you’re looking at, I’d rather call it irony or sarcasm or romanticism than social criticism. I would rather entertain than enlighten.
PS: Do people generally grasp the meaning of your art?
JS: I don’t know. Certainly not everyone understands my intentions and sometimes there are none or it is too obvious.
PS: How much do personal attitudes affect creating graphics, and is it even possible to tell apart?
JS: I believe that on the one hand, you cannot leave them out and on the other hand, they are an important part of good design. The design of graphics and illustrations is all about feelings and playing with clichés or certain attitudes. Sometimes it can be your own and when you work for clients you have to implement their taste or their intention.
PS: Your Instagram descriptions are short and effective, and they perfectly capture and round up the illustration. Are the captions part of the work themselves?
JS: Thank you, that’s good to hear. Yes, I always try to find a title that works and reinforces the intention of the illustration or takes it to the absurd.
PS: Blue, purple, generally darker colors prevail on your illustrations. Do the colors hold special significance or are they simply your preference?
JS: Yeah, I’ve been asking myself the same question. I cannot say exactly why I always choose exactly these colours. I probably just like them and can work well with them and create a certain kind of harmony.
PS: People on your illustrations usually lack or something is covering their faces, or they’re turning their backs. Why so?
JS: Actually, I don’t want to show emotion through facial expressions. The emotion should come from the viewer of the illustration and not be predetermined. The rear view of the persons in the pictures puts the viewer in the same position. So both see the same.
PS: Besides, many times there are arm sticking out of their necks, instead of heads?
JS: As far as I can remember I only did it twice :). But yes, our head is a practical tool, just like our hands.
PS: Many of your illustrations include futuristic elements, are you a tech-lover?
JS: No, not necessarily. Technology always has a good and bad side. It simplifies things and yet complicates them.
PS: It appears you’re giving up on Dribbble and shifting to Instagram. Do you think the Instagram audience is more rewarding, or is the reason something else?
JS: I started on Instagram and after a while I added Dribbble. But somehow this was too much for me and then I didn’t keep the dribbble account up to date. Maybe I should do it again ;)
PS: Were there illustrations you entirely abandoned, and if so, what was usually the reason for giving up?
JS: Yes, of course, there are many ideas and approaches that I don’t really like stylistically or in terms of their message. Or ideas that just don’t work. They then disappear in some folder. Sometimes I work on them again after a long time and it becomes a finished illustration, sometimes they remain lost forever.
PS: Is there anything you would like to introduce or change in your art?
JS: Yes, I started drawing more and a little bit away from pure vector illustration. But I still have a lot to learn and it is not always easy for me. But it is a lot of fun and there are good tools and interesting programs to do it digitally.
PS: Any advice for design beginners and enthusiasts?
JS: The best thing is to keep going and not let yourself be talked into it.
Thank you Jan, it was pleasure having you here!