Hamburg-based illustrator Niklas Wesner says a lot of his work is about emotion, and the process of translating feelings into visuals. “There’s endless potential since you can never capture them truly and there are endless variations, like there will never be enough love songs,” Wesner says. “I am also interested in how style can elevate simple things like everyday life or objects. They can be a good transportation vehicle for emotions as well. I want to explore more in that direction. I like it when pictures are weird or mystical.”
Wesner prefers his images to be clean and modest as opposed to “too dainty or fussy”. “I also like a good amount of realism, mixed with abstraction. Or a fictional space as kind of a stage,” he says. “I also like to arrange scenes like a director would do, and tell stories through that. Like showing a person in a certain situation with requisites and letting that evoke an emotion in the viewer or let them think what might have happened. Sometimes I also like mixing in surreal elements, like in a dream. Making pictures is a bit like dreaming for me.”
The illustrator’s works are mostly line based and it’s what he focuses on first when creating an image, he sees them as the skeleton of the picture. “I like strong colours but I wouldn’t say my style has a particular set of colours since I like to change it up and choose them depending on what I want to express,” he says. “Choosing a strong colour gives me joy. But sometimes it is not good for the picture and there needs to be a balance.”
Inspired by music such as The Velvet Underground, Wes Anderson films, books by Murakami, James Joyce and Pynchon, Wesner’s style is also influenced a lot by his childhood. Elements of comic books, manga, anime like Ghibli and Akira can be found within his works, and more recently the illustrator has also looked to artists such as Peter Doig and Katsushika Hokusai for inspiration.
Ideas come to Wesner from the smallest of things, like a leaf falling from a tree or sometimes it’s when he’s falling asleep that the most vivid images come to him. “Sometimes I have to switch on the light and draw them in a sketchbook. Then I go to bed again only to have the next idea and I have to get up again. This process repeats,” he explains.
“In daylight some of those ideas don’t seem to make a lot of sense or they are just not as great as in the night, because the sketch does not match the imagined idea in its nuances. But some ideas I can then recall and bring them into being.”
As well as personal projects, the illustrator also takes on editorial commissions, which he finds more timesaving and straightforward having been given a topic to capture. “When I work on commissions, I make pictures that I would not have made by myself. Sometimes it is just the topic, sometimes the client wants specific elements in the picture and I have to try to make it look as nice as possible. This is a challenge and it broadens my horizon of what is possible. It also gives me the nice feeling of problem solving.,” says Wesner.
“It enlarges the trust in myself and in my skills to work on something until it is nice even though I thought at first it would look bad. I tend to learn more and surprise myself more when working on commissions.”
Working on his own for most of the time, Wesner says the trickiest part of being a freelance illustrator is maintaining the trust he has in himself and what he’s capable of. “Even if there are no commissions coming in. It is a challenge to stay calm in these times of uncertainty. To stay motivated and keep working on my portfolio and to push myself to develop as an artist,” he says.
“And to keep the fun in it. Because when the fun goes away, it will lead to a dead end. Always keep that joyous feeling of creating to be your guiding light.”
Wesner shares a lot of his work on Instagram and he hopes that people feel similar emotions to the ones he had when creating the images.
“Sometimes I really want my pictures to have a similar impact as some songs have on me,” he says. “Putting these aesthetic things out there that mostly capture our emotions and connections to others, I hope to contribute to the better part of humanity. Maybe it sounds a bit cheesy, but I would like to be part of something that reminds us what being human is and what it means to be living.”