Interview: The Scissorhands

First few basic questions, who are you, what are you doing, where are you coming from?

My name is Claudia. I work as a freelance illustrator and I create illustrations for books, magazines, newspapers, and advertising.
I am also the Scissorhands,  and I do art as well as commissioned works for newspapers, magazines, ads. I’ve done record covers and collaborated with fashion labels, my work has been shown at exhibitions in Japan, New York, Rotterdam, and Munich and appeared in various publications.

I grew up in a medieval town in the middle of Bavaria. For as long as I can remember, I have either been drawing, painting, or crafting. After I graduated from school, I decided to become a dressmaker. That was the deal with my parents: they would only allow me to study fine arts if I learned a “real” job first. After this three-year apprenticeship, I changed my mind and decided to combine art and fashion. I passed the entrance exam to the German Master School of Fashion and Design in Munich, where I graduated with diplomas in fashion illustration and graphic design. Afterward, I took a job in a small design studio. I learned a lot there, but after a few years, I started to feel empty and bored and I missed the analog work. I quit there and decided to start my own business as a freelance illustrator. It took me staying power, but the number of clients increased year by year, and the last decade was a blast. I literally worked around the clock, took on every assignment, never took a break – and again fell into an inner stagnation.

Why collages? How did you start to do them?

I was looking for the artistic expression other than drawing or painting. And then one evening, almost exactly four years ago, on a sudden impulse, I grabbed a pair of scissors and started cutting. Collage was the medium I was intuitively drawn to. And which was a logical consequence and complement to what I had been doing before: My mostly analog illustrations are often combinations of ink drawings or watercolor paintings with layers of colored or printed paper underneath. For my work, I collect pieces of paper – fragments of typography, random cutouts, specific color combinations.

I first came into contact with the medium of collage in art class at school. Since then I have felt a strange connection to the works of the German Dadaists, the collage works of the Pop Art era, and one of my heroes is the illustrator and collage artist Tomi Ungerer. Although I started collaging as an absolute greenhorn, I knew from the beginning what I wanted my work to look like: Clear, clean, opulent, and minimalist at the same time, sharp yet raw, with the dark, eerie and dreamlike aura of a David Lynch film. And each collage should tell a story. I don’t want to make pleasing decorative pieces. There’s this great phrase by photographer William Eggleston: “I am at war with the obvious”, I want people to look at my work twice and three times – find their own interpretations.

I started an Instagram account and made the decision not to use my real name to separate illustration and collage. Working under a pseudonym gives me more artistic freedom and allows me to reveal also darker sides. Collaging soon became a daily routine, an inner urge, and eventually an addiction.

Can you tell about the creative process?

In the beginning, there is always something that instantly captivates my attention: This can be an image, but also a sentence in a novel, music that touches, a gesture, a scent, a packaging in a foreign supermarket, a face, I draw my inspiration from everywhere. Then a narrative starts to develop in my mind.

When I decide to create a series out of this initial idea, I begin to conduct my research; meaning looking at thrift stores or eBay for matching picture books or magazines. I love working in series, it helps me delving deeper and deeper into a theme.

What are your favorite themes to pursue?

I’m not restricted to themes, but I have favorite elements to work with. I am drawn to organic forms, shapes, especially the human body, parts of the human body – I have an obsession with hands. And faces, I will never get tired of watching faces.

The background or “base” on which I paste my cutouts is varying. I do collages on plain monochrome backgrounds but also use photographs, book pages, or art prints. And I do have a passion for paintings. Flemish paintings. And especially still life paintings.

“Too much perfection is boring to me. It is those raw elements that make my work attractive and alive. “

How long does it take to make a collage?

Collage sessions can be quick, but highly intense. Once I’ve collected everything, the real work starts; I spread all the images and elements I choose to work with on the floor. Working on the floor gives me space, freedom of movement, also an overview of the whole lot. Because of my preparatory work I always have a clear vision of what the result shall look like: There has to be an interaction between the elements. A certain tension. At the same time, they have to look effortless.

I am not a neat cutter; my cutouts are raw. You will often find ripped edges. Too much perfection is boring to me. It is those raw elements that make my work attractive and alive. The more minimalist my works are, sometimes combinations of merely out of two picture elements, the more important are details. I usually decide within minutes if a piece is worth going on or not, but sometimes I can spend hours on a single collage. When a cutting session is finished, I leave the work for a while, before I look at them again. And if I am not convinced about a collage, I remove what I pasted on it or destroy it completely. I am my hardest critic.

I also decide what is going to happen with my collages. I see frames as part of the image so I only give away framed works. I spend a fortune on frames – I have this frame maker on the other side of the river, Susannah,  who has been collecting vintage frames for half of her life, especially antique ones of the twenties and thirties of the last century. She knows everything about framing. She likes me and what I do and will always give me special prices, otherwise I couldn’t afford that. Some collages I don’t give away as originals. The 1985 series, from the beginning I wanted the heads look really iconic. So they are only available as large scale transfer prints on Alu Dibond in limited editions.

Do you work on several collages at a time?

In the past, I used to work on single pieces and series, do one collage at a time. 2020 changed everything; In September I decided to take myself a studio and then my work, and also the working process, changed dramatically. Having a creative space was like a booster for everything, my creativity was exploding. And the same time major commissions came in. It was overwhelming. Once again it proved that the moment you start to take care for your needs, take yourself serious and what you do everything will flow. My workplace is sober, clean. Nothing that distracts me. There is a filigree teak desk from the 1950s that is reserved for illustrations. And a large floor for collaging.

My attitude towards collage has also changed, I now look at collaging as a journey, comparing it to a map, with different stops or stations. And everything is related to each other, every single piece, every commission, every new series grows out of the previous one, is a response to it, and paves the way for the next one, nourishing it. There is always an interaction, even if it is not visible at first glance.

At the moment I am working on two major commissions and two series that couldn’t be more opposite – from ultra minimalist to extremely opulent. Once I started collaging with the inner mission that I would do only minimalist pieces but now I am going with the flow. My work is completely driven by intuition, it is a relief not to have to restrict myself. I believe that it doesn’t ́ t matter if my works aren’t homogenous at first sight, in the end they are all having my handwriting on it.

Do you have favorite materials, or do you like the challenge of working with something new?

I work with everything: photographs, newspapers, fashion magazines, art prints, or vintage photo books of the past century. Whatever I feel attracted to is going to be used. I love to combine different eras, decades, textures, analog paintings, and contemporary photographs. And recently I also started to combine analog and digital work for pieces on commission.

Describe your relationship to old paper as a material?

I am in love with vintage photo books from the period between the fifties and early eighties. The feel of the often heavy paper, the million shades between black and white on the yellowed pages, the washed-out colors – these books have a special aura, magic, and they are an eternal source of inspiration.

How much, and or, how your works reflect your emotions or views?

A lot. I am a highly emotional and sensitive person. Each piece reflects what was on my mind, what was preoccupying me, or my mood whilst working on it – is, therefore, a part of me.

What keeps you collaging? What excites you about it?

What fascinates me most is how something completely new emerges from a few picture elements, with a completely different context. Collaging is like a kaleidoscope. And I’m only at the beginning, there is still so much to discover, to explore. I now see collaging not just as art, but as another way of illustrating. I definitely want to do more collaborations and commissioned work, working internationally. It’s important to have goals, to stay hungry. Restless. The moment you become complacent, you stagnate in your creative process.

Collaging feels like I’ve found the part of me that was missing and that I’ve always been looking for. Maybe because I was born left-handed, I do everything with my left hand. The only thing I can do with my right hand is cutting, holding scissors. Cutting collages brings both parts of my brain together, it completes me, feels like my true self.
And I feel collaging grounds me, gives me inner peace and at the same time, it never ceases to excite me. It takes me over, I think in collages, I speak through collages. It’s an addiction, a passion. I burn for it. It is the love of my life. If I ever get tired of collaging, I will be tired of life.

If you should describe your art with one word, what would it be?

Two words: Magical. Intriguing.

Scissorhands around the internet

Instagram: @the_scissorhands_