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German Artist Interview: Jörn – Digital Artist and Illustrator

Jörn is a digital artist and illustrator who mostly draws fantasy and horror illustrations. He has contributed art for multiple board games and works as a resident artist for the NoSleep podcast. We are excited to have him with us for an interview as part of Sci-Fi & Scary’s focus on German creators during March.

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You have done a ton of artwork for the NoSleep podcast. I didn’t see a single one I didn’t like when I was looking in your portfolio. What is your personal favorite of all the pieces you’ve created for it? Why that one?

Since the podcast ranks highly on my “best people I’ve worked with” scale, every piece I have done for them has a special place in my heart. I just went back and looked at the 41 artworks I have done for them, and it’s surprisingly hard to choose a favorite! 

Currently, I think my favorite piece is Whitefall. It is one of the paintings that came naturally to me, and the resulting artwork ended up representing exactly the emotion and tone I wanted it to portray.

Whitefall Illustration
Whitefall illustration ©Joern

Right now your personal project is Beneath Two Pale Suns. I love the illustration of Panïvar. What came first for it? The illustration or the story attached to it? How long did it take you to draw her? How big do you expect this project to be?

First of all, thanks! I’m thrilled to hear from people who appreciate this project. Actually, neither her story nor her illustration came first. It all began with another story I wrote called “Word & Color,” which takes place in the same nameless desert and got picked up by the NoSleep Podcast in S09E03. You can also read the story on my homepage.

My life was being shaken up a lot when I was drawing Panïvar, so my timekeeping for her is a little imprecise. My best guess is that it took me between 40 and 50 hours, give or take.

I anticipate Beneath Two Pale Suns becoming a significant long-term project for me. Right now, I’m at a phase where I’m still exploring the rules of the world I’m trying to build. I can’t wait to see what stories there are to tell when I’ve matured the content a bit more. I have about a dozen drafts for the different Sundered, the caste of demigods from which Panïvar hails, and I also want to draw the humans who have unfortunately wandered into that world.

Panïvar, the Broken Promise, has her role to play in future stories, too, I’m sure.

Would you ever consider doing a graphic novel to be published?

I want to say yes, because the medium appeals to me. Actually, curiosity about drawing comics and sequential art was one of the reasons I originally got into drawing. But I need to be honest: I don’t think I would be very good at it! Graphic novels require an insane amount of consistency and tenacity, and while it would be an amazing opportunity to tell the stories that live in my head, the medium itself is not high on my list right now.

But, who knows? We have a saying in German that basically translates to “people have seen horses vomit in front of the pharmacy,” (no really!) which for some god-forsaken reason means basically “anything is possible.”

So I guess my answer to this question is, “Man hat schon Pferde vor der Apotheke kotzen gesehen.”

Have you always been a digital artist or did you start in more traditional methods? What drew you to digital illustration specifically?

I had a brief stint in my early years where I tried to learn to draw graffiti and worked mainly in pencil in a sketchbook. But when I picked up art later in life, it came to me in the form of a stylus.

Over a decade ago I worked as a graphic designer, so I had to overcome Photoshop’s steep learning curve as part of my everyday work. Years later when I began using that program with an art focus, I had already mastered a lot of the program’s quirks and really appreciated it as an artistic tool.

I like creating art digitally because it affords me the freedom to experiment. Many people dislike it precisely because it is so easy to erase mistakes and try anew, but that possibility really helps me to stretch my artistic wings. Every time I venture into ink or graphite, I feel my anxiety about “ruining” a drawing creep back in and stifle me.

When you are given a story to illustrate, what is the most challenging part?

Coming up with an illustration that is balanced is the most challenging part for sure. It needs to stay true to what I imagine the author’s intentions are, it needs to reflect my artistic style, and it also shouldn’t spoil the story! 

To reach this balance I first read the story once like a “normal” reader would, and then I skim back through it again for details that stand out to me visually. I’m looking for bits and pieces that conjure a vivid image. 

Most stories that I illustrate are in the horror genre, so my instinct used to be to draw the monster, main protagonist, or big plot twist. I have since learned that those kinds of “spoiler-y” images take away from the reader/listener’s enjoyment. Everyone needs to be able to imagine that chilling Thing Under The Bed for themselves. 

Who were your inspirations when you first started illustrating? Have those inspirations changed as time passed? If so, who are your inspirations now?

I often joke that my early years were wasted playing Magic: The Gathering, although I have since realized that it was no waste at all! Magic is freaking awesome! So it makes sense, then, that most of my artistic influences and inspirations have illustrated for that card game at some point in their career. For example:

Noah Bradley comes to mind: his ability to paint landscapes that also communicate emotion and story has always impressed me. 

Another big influence would be Peter Mohrbacher, whose paintings always speak to me because of their otherworldly beauty and elegance. 

My inspirations haven’t changed vastly over the years, but they have expanded. For example, Rachel Bradley became my art mentor in the last year and has understandably become a tremendous force of change in my work.

I found the works of Robbie Trevino on ArtStation recently, and I’ve been blown away by his surprising and fresh imagination.

Also, I should mention the masters of graphite and pencil, James Martin and Timothy von Rueden, who definitely inspire me.

Have you ever drawn something and been paranoid that you unintentionally drew heavy influence from someone else’s work? What would you/did you do after that realization?

No, I’ve never been paranoid about that because I believe that drawing inspiration from other people’s work is always the first step on the journey to finding your own artistic voice. The same way language learners often adopt the accent of their teacher when learning a new language, our first artworks are likely to be an imitation of or influenced by someone else’s.

This cycle of inspiration and influence helps us identify what speaks to us personally. And as we become more fluent in the language of that art style, we can form new “sentences” with it in our own voices, telling our own stories. 

What measures have you had to take to protect your work against copyright infringement? Have you ever had to take something to court?

I sign my artwork, which is an act I find very important for artists of all caliber. It is an assertion of ownership; it is a deliberate act. I take that seriously.

Luckily, I’ve never had to go to court for copyright-related problems. However, there was one instance where a NoSleep Podcast fan got a tattoo of one of my images. I reached out to the person through social media, just to alert them that it’s usually customary to ask the artist before getting a tattoo of their art. I wasn’t interested in any kind of legal action, but I know some artists would have been. In the end, I decided to take it as a misguided form of flattery. 

Who are your favorite artists that you’ve collaborated with? If you have yet to do that, who is on your list of people to work with? Why them?

Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity for serious collaboration with other visual artists yet. I would be thrilled to work with anyone from my “inspiration list” above, and drawing for Magic: The Gathering is a lifelong ambition of mine.

I would also really love to work with Crystal Sully, who recently completed her Untamed Bestiary. I am a lifelong Dungeons & Dragons fan, and would absolutely relish making monster art with her!

I am also intrigued by collaboration with a tattoo artist. I especially love the work of Madlyne van Looy and Agatha Schnips. I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable picking up a tattoo gun, but co-creating some flashes for a tattoo artist would be a challenging and inspiring project.

Panivar Illustration
Panivar Illustraton © Joern

Want to continue to keep up with Joern’s awesome work? Follow him on social media and elsewhere:

Published inInterviews
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