Judith Clay is a German artist and trained ceramic painter. She holds a degree in comparative literature. She works primarily in ink, pastels, colored pencils, and collages. Her drawings are echoes of her feelings and dreams. With her pictures, she tries to reawaken the magic, emotions, and
freedoms of childhood.
- Tell me a bit about you and your background: where are you from/ where did you study?
I was born and raised in a small town in northern Bavaria, Germany, where I spent most of my childhood outside in the woods or inside making up play scenes in the small bedroom I shared with my older sister, and with reading and drawing. Art schools were far away and never an option for me as a teenager living with my divorced mother. So, after I finished school, I completed a work/study apprenticeship at a china manufacturing company near my hometown to become a ceramic painter. During the three years of study, I learned how to paint and decorate various china pieces including figurines, plates, and vases. In the accompanying art classes, we were introduced to oil, watercolor, ink pen work, and other media. Since art and literature go hand-in-hand for me, I eventually also finished a university degree in German and English literature. You will find that all my artwork has a “literary” element in it, often inspired by poems or fairy tales, always telling some sort of story, some known, some my own, some old, some new.
- Do you personally find the process of working within self-imposed constraints or rules helpful to your work?
Once I was approached by a client to create a picture for an event. They told me all the things they wanted in the picture, down to the facial expressions of the people in the picture. I totally froze up and couldn’t even come up with a sketch. That made me realize that I work best with as little constraints and rules as possible whether they are client- or self-imposed.
- How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?
Finding my style was a long and involved process that is still ongoing. For me the term “style” is fluid and always changing. I need variety and constantly make little changes to the way I draw or do collage work. I love introducing new elements like my hand-carved rubber stamps I started using a little while ago. I started out doing black and white ink pen drawings, began playing with color and paper collage work. Recently, I’ve been doing more and more monochrome work using one favorite color for an entire picture. I also study the work of artists whom I admire, not to copy their work but to learn from it. I want my style to be recognizably my own allowing it to develop and change at the same time.
- can you remember some of your earliest influences?
With every book I had as a child, I remember always intensely studying its pictures whether they were photos, paintings or drawings, the first one being a collection of Brothers’ Grimm fairy tales. It had very simple black and white ink line drawings that fascinated me. Although they used no colors or other effects, they were full of energy and grace.
- How do you approach creating an illustration? And is that different depending on if you are working for a client or for yourself?
The clients that I have worked for so far have come to me—as they’ve told me—because they were attracted by my specific style. Because of that, I try and approach client work the same way I approach working for myself. That means mainly allowing the topic, theme or idea into my story worlds to find its scenery there. Sometimes I start sketching a character and ask myself where that character would go or what it would do. Sometimes I just imagine a character in my head and place it in different sceneries. Sometimes the characters end up in a hot air balloon or flying away at the end of a kite.
- How do you get ideas for each piece of art?
To me, inspiration for artwork is everywhere. I get ideas through stories or fairy tales, photos I see, a childhood memory, a special building, a toy, travelling to a new place, the decorations of a shop window, favorite animals, flowers, or plants. I also look at a lot of artwork, famous and unknown, old and new, popular and obscure, in museums, picture books, posters and online.
- How has your art evolved over the years?
It definitely evolved on the technical skill level as I constantly experiment with my favorite media. Feeling more comfortable with my tools has opened me up to experiment with color and space, too, leading to a series of minimalistic ink pen/collage pieces. I’ve introduced many new elements into my compositions that I would have never considered before like certain animals or plants. My artwork has become more daring in the sense that I don’t let myself be stopped by the laws of logic or physics anymore. I will let it snow underwater or have butterflies float through a winter scene or fish fly above the streets of a city.
- How do you define your illustrations?
In the feedback that I get, people most often call my work whimsical. I like to agree with that. Whimsical with a splash of surrealism where reality meets my story worlds.
- Is there an element of art you enjoy working with most? Why?
Ink pen on paper. I love the challenge of creating a character, animal, or scene on paper, adding the shading, highlights, textures, details with simple black lines, no colors, no extra tools.
- what would you say is your strongest skill?
People who’ve commissioned work from me, bought originals or prints, or simply commented under pictures I’ve posted online have said that my pictures take them back to their childhood, make them feel like children again. I consider that a skill especially since that is one of the aims I have for my pictures: to touch the inner child of the viewer and let them escape (a little) from reality.
- What is your favorite piece of work in your portfolio? Why did you make it?
A pastel drawing I did in 2017, When It Rains Outside. It was inspired by childhood memories and a doll in a white dress and long braids I fell in love with in the doll museum of my hometown. I wanted to share the comfort I used to feel as a child when I heard the raindrops plop against the window pane and used the doll as one of the characters in the picture. This picture inspired two more; all three were short-listed for the Ilustrarte 2018 exhibit in Portugal. A lot of my favorite pictures come into existence because I fall in love with something, a doll, a toy, an animal, or a building, a landscape and want to tell a story with them.
- What do you dislike about the art world?
I find that the art world doesn’t always appreciate individual, unique styles but instead seems to favor “trendy” work that sells.
- What’s next for you in the future?
I just finished the artwork for an international film festival. My work will be shown on the invitations, event posters, postcards, and the stage presentations. I’m very much looking forward to seeing all that “in action” next year.
- Did other people accept your work at first or did it take some effort on your part to be recognized by others?
When I first started showing my work to people, I didn’t always get an enthusiastic response. It was different when I started showing my work online to a greater, more diverse audience. Every platform or group I joined, more and more people reacted positively to my work, artists and non-artists alike. These were also the first places where I received commissions and invitations to international exhibits. Continuously creating new work, constantly attempting to improve and maintaining a presence—so yes, it took some effort for me to become more recognized.
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