20 Minutes with Inga Israel

Interviewing the illustrator about the dark sides of the creative industry, social balance and self-employment

Looking at Inga Israel's illustrations one submerges with a world between facts and phantasy, between adult- and childhood, between playfulness and attention to detail. Inga Israel creates a universe in which everyone can feel at home – no matter how many years, kilometres or experiences lie between. With this versatility, the German illustrator catches clients' attentions, ranging from theatres and audiobooks over magazines and publishing houses towards winemakers and creative agencies. With Roman Israel, she created a book about Berlin, as her own boss she made a collection of cards, posters, plates, even leggings and in her free time she follows the calling for balance as a Kundalini-teacher. We talked with her about her favourite project, work-mania and tight deadlines.

Nele Tüch: You’re drawing for a living. Has this always been your dream job?
Inga Israel: I have always liked to design things and wanted to be creative, even as a child I liked to tinker and paint. The desire to make illustrations my main profession had only crystallized after my design studies. In my first agency, I first worked in the field of book- and magazine-design before I discovered my absolute passion for illustration.

"I never know exactly what is coming. It never gets boring, that much is certain."

NT: Working in the creative scene seems like a privilege à la ‘Making your hobby into your living’ – but what are the dark sides of being a part of the creative industry?
Inga Israel: The dark side is that you have to be very flexible and often you never know when a new order will come in. Sometimes I plan a day and then quickly notice that it goes completely differently than expected. I never know exactly what is coming. It never gets boring, that much is certain. But starting from 0 to 100 is sometimes quite exhausting. Especially when there are very tight deadlines, like in editorial illustration.

NT: As an illustrator, you work for magazines, books, agencies, theatres – you make posters, stickers, labels. What’s the most ‘out-of-the-box’- project you ever did?
Inga Israel: The most unusual project at the time was in 2016 during the refugee crisis in Europe. The Berlin International Literature Festival had invited me to do a comic workshop with refugee children and young people from Syria once a week for six months. I and my illustrator colleague Mina Braun developed a character together with the children and based on this, many great comics, posters and 3D projects were created. The aim was to break down existing language barriers through drawing and handicrafts and to give the experiences of the arduous journey or local life a space in the form of comics, photo stories or posters. At the end, there was a wonderful exhibition with all the children‘s works.

NT: You are using digital and analogue techniques for your illustrations. What are your go-to tools?
Inga Israel: I work almost exclusively digitally since I discovered the iPad Pro for myself. When I have drawn the shapes, I usually continue to work in Photoshop and work out the composition and colours. A lot of analogue effects, you can now also create greatly with the iPad. For example, painting with watercolours or different structures. There is hardly any difference to be seen between analogue and digital illustrations. I work like this because it saves me a lot of time and that is very important, especially with tight deadlines.

NT: Being an illustrator means to be creative. How do you keep this creativity? Do you need inspiration, mental or social balance or is it just something you can learn?
Inga Israel: Yes, the inner and outer balance is already very important for me. Otherwise, I block quickly and cannot work freely and intuitively. This is one reason why I started a yoga teacher training on the side so that I can always find my balance quickly. On all three levels – mental, emotional and physical. Being in nature also helps me to stay in the creative flow. And very trivial things, like being well-rested, having enough time to eat properly and taking enough breaks helps me to be and stay creative. It is also important for me to break out of the daily structure when I notice that there is no more flow in it. My fellow students had called it her „5 min“. Turn on the music and jump around the room or watch funny Instagram or youtube videos, run around the block. Just forget the work-mania for a while and let everything go.

NT: You are self-employed – how do you structure your day?
Inga Israel: I do not use an alarm clock in the morning, but allow my body the sleep it needs. Then I usually do some yoga and meditation and then have breakfast without rushing. Afterwards, I go to the studio or work from home, depending on how I feel at the moment. In the morning I always make a to-do list with priorities for the day and then work them off over the day. As a solo freelancer, there are of course also some works that are not very creative. For example tax stuff, writing offers and invoices, meetings or customer conversations or customer acquisition. Depending on what is coming up, it will either be a very long day or sometimes a short one.

NT: What do you wish someone had told you before becoming a freelancer?
Inga Israel: Since I worked as a freelancer after my studies, I actually knew what I was getting into. As a self-employed person, there are quite a few extra tasks that you have to do to keep the shop running (tax stuff, offers, bills, social media, and more). That was not so clear to me at the beginning.


"I find it very enriching to question myself again and again and to recognize myself more and more."

NT: Personal leeway (= Freiraum) - what does it mean for you and where can you find it?
Inga Israel: Personal freedom begins with small things like daily routine. For me, it is important that I can organize my day freely. Would I rather work at home or in the studio today? Can I work 14 hours straight today or can I only manage a few hours a day for some reason? Do I possibly need a longer break in order to continue to work creatively? Back when I was still employed in a design studio, I had to follow the structures of the others. Now I can go where, how and when I have the best workflow. That is a great luxury. But for me, freedom also means leaving familiar structures. Above all, this also includes travelling. New perspectives change views. That is very important to me. The same applies to new acquaintances and relationships. I find new life concepts and ways of thinking very inspiring. I find it very enriching to question myself again and again and to recognize myself more and more.

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