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Christiane Engel

October 24, 2010

Christiane Engel currently lives in London and specializes in illustration. Her illustrations have elements of the Americana-style. Along with her illustrations, Engel has created a monthly desktop calendar project. The recurring line, “In an ideal world” appears throughout Engel’s work. Her ideal world is not a suburb or a city; it is the space in between.

Have you ever lived in a suburb? What was your experience with it?

I grew up in a small, rural town in Germany which was very peaceful in a way, but it also felt a bit isolating and stagnating. Here in London, I live quite close to the centre but in something like a suburb. There are settled families in big detached houses to one side, and towards the train station it feels more urban, loud, busy and full of commuters and terraced Victorian houses. I like both worlds, although I don’t really fit into either of them. I miss wide open spaces, and the parks don’t really make up for that.

What influences/inspires your art?

Mostly my imagination combined with images and stories from memories, travels, people and country/folk songs. I listen to music a lot whilst working—sometimes soundtracks—and I like watching U.S. indie films and road movies. Visually, I’ve always been inspired by German expressionists and outsider art, including children’s drawings.

How do you create your art?

It depends on the project and the media it’s for. I work in children’s publishing a lot and for that I use a digital collage style. All my work has a handmade base, like a sketch or painted texture, and then I play with it in Photoshop. I also paint and draw on wood without the use of a computer, like with my new oil pastel and pencil series, which is my more personal work. My Postcard series is created with acrylics, ink and pencil on card.

What is the idea behind “In an ideal world…”?

I made the sketch for that quite spontaneously whilst working on a commission, but the actual idea behind it is something that has developed over a longer period of time–me feeling slightly displaced in a big city and longing for simplicity, nature, getting away from it all, sheepdogs riding in pick-up trucks—pretty much the opposite of what you get in London, but it’s something that makes me smile.

How do you feel a suburb can enhance or stifle one’s creativity?

I think it always depends on what you choose to surround yourself with, starting with the neighborhood in a particular suburb. In London, even if you live in a relatively nice area you’re never too far from rundown areas as everything is quite close together and mixed up—which is good. And sometimes, it’s the ugly/decayed things that are more inspiring and urge me to create something. But in the end it’s what’s inside of you that counts, and in my case that’s what’s driving me more than my geographic surroundings. If I could move anywhere I would probably choose a semi-desert/mountainous small town/suburb in the western states that has a cool city within a one-hour radius. Why? It would be the perfect balance of peace, isolation, and urban stimulation if I need it.

For more information on the artist, visit her blog or DesertFriends.com.

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