Born in 1976, Benjamin König has been enamored with drawing and painting since his earliest years, when countless beautifully and creepily illustrated children’s books led a trail of breadcrumbs to his passion. Despite attempting several other professions (audio engineer, conservator, etc.), Benjamin always returned to his first love: drawing. He is now a freelance illustrator in Upper Bavaria, near Munich.
What is your artistic background?
I have no particular artistic background. Although I went to a school of arts – some kind of technical college – I never learned any relevant stuff there.
What is your medium? Your method? I typically have a good eye for distinguishing digital painting from traditional but the entirety of your rustic, nearly organic catalog leaves me utterly nonplussed. What am I looking at?
You’re looking at a mixture of traditional and digital painting. I guess that’s the reason why you can’t specify it exactly. Digital painting makes it a lot easier when it comes to commissions. Concerning amendments, modifications, etc. . . Furthermore I can work faster, which is important for the pricing.
Why do you create? And why create this sort of work?
I create because this is some kind of calling. I feel strong bonds to the magic of fairy tales, (old) children’s books, myths and almost everything that “grabs into the depth”, touching a certain intuitiveness within one’s heart. It is a passion, a liaison between old and new.
Unfortunately not many books/paintings have a deeper esprit nowadays. I don’t want to say “things aren’t what they used to be”, but in some cases things used to be better back then. There was more tactfulness in it. Today a lot of illustrations are loud, with shiny armor, big weapons, stunning effects, glossiness, shrillness, much BOOOM and a lot of WOOOSHHH, etc… Same goes for movies, music and the games industry. But mostly they are soulless.
Of course one can find very beautiful illustrations today. But in the mainstream there’s too much junk around.
Can you name some of your influences?
I am a child of the 70s and early 80s. So are my influences mainly. Artists like Franz Josef Tripp, Reinhard Michl, Graham Ward, Gary Kelley, Susan Gallagher, Herbert Holzing (and many more) are great influences. And of course my own view on things and inspiring moments.
Do you draw ideas from fiction? If so, which authors do you find inspiring?
Again and again I get inspired by fictions. Some authors I can mention are Ottfried Preussler, Michael Ende, Hans Bemmann, Eberhard Alexander-Burgh …and some well-known Authors from the Gothic period (~1790 – 1920).
Your paintings – and, additionally, your photographs – frequently depict hillocks and forests, citadels and villages, and the monsters which may lurk in each. What do these settings signify to you?
I think that someone’s homeland is a big influence on how she/he is reflecting things. I was born in Upper Bavaria somewhere between the Alps and Munich. Very rural. And still living there. From my point of view it is a landscape which is predestinated for gloomy tales and myths. More broadly, that’s the old European culture at large. Of course someone should have the ability to feel the deeper atmosphere that a certain region breathes. Plus I try to mix my view with some smooth humor here and there.
I love taking a closer look to the world. For this purpose photography is a great stylistic device.
My googling shows me that you recently illustrated a book of fairy tales, Troldeskoven, for a Danish author, Anne Mølgård Nielsen, is that right? How did that come about and what was the experience like?
Oh, she is just a private person. Writing tales for her niece. She came up to me and asked for certain illustrations. I felt that there is a true deep-routed mind, influenced by her homeland, as well. Relating to Denmark and Scandinavian culture in general. Which I adore, too.
Americans are plenty fixated on telling, retelling, and warping our fairy tales, but our fairy tales are fairly sanitized. European tales, especially German, have a reputation for being more violent, grotesque, and grim (including many that are totally unfamiliar to us). Do you think this is true?
I don’t know American fairy tales. Thus I hardly can’t give a statement about it. But I know that the old fairy tales from Germany used to be even more brutal in ancient times. They were warped by telling and retelling, as well. But some kind of core kept the same.
Oh, the German psyche… hard to say because nowadays the inhabitants are moving and developing much faster. Especially the youth. Which I don’t think of negatively in general. But there still is some kind of German psyche. A mixture between morbidity/melancholy and tightness.
Germans like to lament and to dwell on sorrows. And they like to be clear, tight and organized at the same time. Both mannerisms can be found in old German fairy tales. And our relation to nature is important, too. “The German and his forest.”
Maybe it is still given that we are a nation of poets and thinkers. Here and there… at least.
It seems like such a natural fit for you to illustrate for fairy tales. Were they a great influence on your work?
Yes. Blessedly, I was told lots of fairy tales in my very early childhood. For sure this had – and still has – a huge impact on me. And I have read a lot of books with wonderful illustrations. And I still have all these old books in my bookcase.
The original role of fairy tales, arguably, was to normalize death and morbidity in the minds of children who were bound to experience both, and constantly. Do these subjects feel normal to you?
Death is normal because it is part of life. Of course in the past death had a more direct effect on daily grind. Overall I think that fairy tales also have the message that light/good wins. If not by now… but in the end. It is some kind of “church service” for the normal population. And of course there’s so much more in it… concerning spirits, afterworld, etc…
What are you working on right now?
On illustrations for a rather modern children’s book. But it’s nice. The author is Hilde Vandermeeren from Belgium.
In the past I used to work a lot for music labels and bands. But I reduced it to almost zero because you have a lot of work and very little return.
What’s your dream illustration job?
To illustrate books. And hopefully books with lot of fantasy and magic in it. Books for children and adults. But maybe also some aesthetic board/computer games… whatsoever, I am open for lots of ideas.
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