Anja Karboul is a Berlin-based illustrator working in fashion, advertising and advertorial design. Her work ranges from detailed digital portraits to quick analogue fashion sketches.
After earning a degree in Fashion Design in Germany, Anja studied Fashion Illustration as a Fulbright Scholar at Fashion Insitute of Technology in New York and went on to work for a range of prestigious fashion labels including Kenneth Cole, Yohji Yamamoto and Schumacher. Since 2015 Anja is following her passion of illustrating fulltime.
Anja is one of the beautiful and talented artists who is participating in the FASHION ILLUSTRATION Exhibition "The Power of Fashion Strokes" on view from 5th of February until 27 of February
We wanted to know more about Anja and her approach to Art and asked her a few questions.
Hello Anja! Thank you for taking time for that interview. As I read in your biography you were interested in fashion first of all, and then you started to learn fashion illustration at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. That’s right? Can you please tell us how you start your career in the art field?
Drawing and painting was already a big part during my Fashion Design studies in Germany. But when I came to FIT in New York I saw a whole different level of illustration in terms of quality, technique and approach. Nevertheless it took a couple of years, until I decided to make a living from fashion illustration. Through my job as a fashion designer I had collected a couple of contacts over time and started to reach out to them with my portfolio. The first two years I worked on commissions in the evenings or on weekends. For me it was a good way to do the transition from a save permanent occupation to beeing a freelancer.
Tell us please about your life in New York? Why did you decide to move back to Germany?
I got to go to NY as a Fulbright scholar, which is an incredible opportunity for students in any field, since it allows one to concentrate completely on their studies while Fulbright covers most expenses and assists in organizing everything abroad. For me in particular it was a very formative time, since I was surrounded by an abundance of new impressions. I guess NY can be quite overwhelming when coming to the city for the first time, but it allows one to find a niche for almost any obsession and interest and that’s what fascinated me right from the beginning. During my time in NY I had the freedom to try out a lot - different internships at fashion labels, illustration classes with amazing teachers, parties and exhibitions and many new people. After one and a half years I received a job offer from a German fashion label I was very much interested in and considered this to be a good moment to start a new chapter.
Do you remember your first cooperation with a big well-known fashion brand? How was it? How did they find you or vice versa?
The first big fashion brand that reached out to me was Hugo Boss. They somehow found my website when doing research and contacted me asking if I was available for live sketching. That request was a real game changer for me, since it opened up the field of live illustration to me. It was like beeing thrown into the cold water, having to sketch within a limited time frame in front of so many eyes. But having to push myself and receiving good feedback, gave me lots of confidence.
Tell us please about your work with global companies such as Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton, Olympus or H&M.
My experience from working with global companies so far has been purely good. Usually they send very detailed briefs, that give you all needed information from descriptions, colours and materials to example images. That way it is easier to approach a new project. Especially when working with these brands on live events they leave many details up to me and we discuss, what will bring the best outcome.
In your opinion, is education important for the artist? As I see you studied a lot, right? Some people say that education puts strict limits, but the process of creation has no rules. So, is talent an innate gift or can it be learned?
I believe that talent and education are the two main ingredients in order to develop a creative career. A good portion of talent is probably an important precondition, which stays however useless without training.
Of course an academic education is not a premise, but it is a good way to learn different techniques and to put your own creativity into a cultural context. Having an educational backgroung doesn’t mean to be limited to certain procedures. It’s just the basic knowledge which helps to develop your own voice as an artist.
We live in the age of social media, where self-branding and PR are highly crucial. Can you give some tips to the young artist on how to present yourself and find the right people in the sphere?
Social media is like a double-edged sword. On one hand it gives us artists wonderful oportunities to promote ourselves and show our work to the world, on the other hand the competition has never been bigger and artists have become very comparable on a global level. I believe that continuity and consistency is a very important factor. It helps to develop an artistic voice and style.
I’d recommend every young artist to put together an online portfolio with your best work that makes you feel confident. Once you have that, you can start reaching out to potential clients such as art directors or brands. I know this is not always easy, since not everyone is a natural when it comes to self promotion. But it’s worth to jump over your own shadow, to get your work out there and even if you don’t get immediate job offers from this, every feedback can be a good teaching.
In the beginning basically every small commission can help you to develop and train your skills. Knowing how long a drawing takes you and which information you need from a brief, is more than helpful when it comes to a bigger comission.
There is a strict lockdown in Berlin now. Has the pandemic situation affected your work and how do you cope with it?
My work life is the one part that has actually been affected the least within this pandemic. I’m very much used to sitting alone in my home office studio. Of course there is less real life input at the moment, which is why my attention has shifted very much to social media within the past year. I’m not always happy about that fact, but still I see the chance to connect especially with other artists in this time through social media as a big gift.
Tell us please about your art language. Why did you choose fashion illustration? In what technique do you prefer to work?
Maybe it’s vice versa and fashion illustration found me. It’s what naturally comes out of me. I started to sketch the models from my mom’s magazines when I was a kid, when I studied fashion design, drawing lookbooks was always the part that interested me most and until today I`m fascinated by the way people express themselves through fashion.
I love to sketch with ink and fineliners. But when I started to work on bigger commissions a couple of years ago, I quickly switched to digital illustration, since it’s much easier to adjust sketches and color schemes and make suggestions tot he client.
Meanwhile I really enjoy digital sketching and try to experiment more with different brushes and textures. My recent works reflect this. But I will always be drawn to traditional media such as watercolor, pencil and ink. First of all because it’s immanent for live sketch events and second because it has it’s own magic and challenges. An ink stroke can’t be removed.
Do you have any particular routines or rituals while you are working? What role does the atmosphere of the workplace play?
Ususally I try to do the administrative stuff like writing quotes, answering emails or paying bills first before getting creative. Recently I started to do a quick sketch every day prior to working on a project.
I often envy friends who sit in a big office and have colleagues, but I realized that I can work more efficient when I’m all alone in my studio. I like to listen to music or podcasts while drawing. It’s the perfect symbiosis.
Tell us about your future plans and your current projects. Which project or exhibition are you most proud of and why?
In enjoy almost all projects in one way or the other and most of them make me proud. Within the pandemic I received tons of portrait requests and I lost counting of how many I did. The feedback of these customers was often overwhelming. But it feels like a tiny superpower knowing that you have the ability to make someone really happy with the skill you have.
This coming year my personal plan is to work more on the symbiosis of digital and traditional drawing. And of course I would be super happy if I could start doing live illustration events again, because to me this is one of the real fun parts of my job.
How do you see the art world and perception of art in 5-10 years? Perhaps new movements or transformations?
From what I experience right now, I feel it has become impossible to predict how the world is going to be in the near future. It even feels impossible to maintain pace with the present.
The one thing I’m convinced of is, that art, illustration or any other form of creative expression will gain importance in the face of digitalization. In a world that becomes increasingly determined by computers and algorithms, people have a longing for „handmade“ and valuable content that has a soul to it.
Thank you very much for your time and good luck with everything you do!