28.02.2013 carla duschka
An almost ideal case: a young person, book maker in the most extensively way possible – author as well as graphic designer –, creator of publications that have received important awards; a professional, passionately immersed in her job and committed almost exclusively to her own projects. Judith Schalansky, a name unknown (yet) in Romania, was born in 1980 in Greifswald (northern Germany), studied art history and visual communication, taught at the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences and now works as a freelancer in Berlin. In 2008 she made her debut with the novel Blau steht dir nicht [Blue doesn’t suit you], and in 2009 she has received her first award.
 

Carla Duschka: You are a writer, as well as a graphic designer. Which of the two callings is dearest to you? What have you started out with?
Judith Schalansky: I can’t have one without the other. I make books. I imagine books. That implies thinking about content as well as form. I’ve started writing when I was very young and then, while doing my design studies, I’ve come to realize how much I’ve been missing not only to give shape to things, but also to see to their look [Gestaltung]. So, while pondering the form, I was really going back, again, to the content.

CD: You’ve been awarded, twice now, The Best German Book Award by Stiftung Buchkunst (Book Art Foundation): in 2009, for the book Atlas der abgelegenen Inseln [Atlas of Remote Islands] and in 2012, for Der Hals der Giraffe [The Giraffe’s Neck]. Congratulations! For us, book designers from Eastern Europe, the competition Best German Book Design is a high-priced model!
But what does this competition represent to German graphic designers, especially for the young ones, like yourself? How important is this prize for you?
JS: This prize is renowned in the book designer coteries, because it examines what our work is all about. The annual competitions’ catalogues give an invaluable archive, in the extraordinary sense that they mention even the typefaces and the sort of paper we use. The awarded books of every edition – the ones which, therefore, can call themselves The Best Designed German Books – are a source of inspiration for my own projects. The fact that I’ve been awarded twice this prize means a lot for me. It’s inevitable that I should feel like the unofficial ambassador of the beautiful book. It’s a title that I proudly wear and try to make use of it, so that I can kindle people’s interest in the book arts. You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy a beautiful book.


CD: How much time have you been working on your last book? How do you find a noise-free environment for working? With us the daily pace is quite alert and we hardly manage to take care of our own projects. Maybe you have an advice to give to young graphic designers, about the important moments when we do our work?
JS: I need from one to two years’ work for a book. However, it is a time I don’t take up to socializing very much – in which I’m careful to stay away from the so-called daily routine. That’s not an easy task. It’s the biggest challenge I have to face right now. If you want to work and really focus on something, you have to create a protected space for yourself. This could be a temporal space – for example from Monday to Wednesday – or even better, a real, physical one. I always go to a library where I cannot receive calls. Sure enough, you can’t make a book in odd moments.
 
CD: Would it be possible to ask how you earn your living as an author? Solely from your projects or from other commissions as well?
JS: I make a living selling my books, giving lectures and earning scholarships. Sometimes I honor other commissions as well. But I’m not doing this for the money.
 
CD: How do your books come to life?
JS: I do a sketch. Find the language rhythm. Then sign a contract with the publisher so that I can have a deadline and work without any financial pressure. The idea is to work with a balanced level of mental strain.

CD: What is your relationship with German Publishing Houses, are they quick to find an interest in your work? Other favourite publishers?
JS: The German publishing houses landscape is very rich. Mostly – as everywhere -, the big publishing houses with clear commercial interests are opposed to the small publishers which are willing to experiment. I prepared each book for the publisher that fitted better. Actually, the concept behind a book starts out with choosing the right publisher. Fraktur mon Amour has been published at the wonderful publishing company Hermann Schmidt Mainz (www.typografie.de), fond of graphic design and letters. The two maritime books, Blau steht dir nicht and Atlas der abgelegenen Insel appeared at a small and exquisite publishing house, mare, (www.mare.de). For Der Hals der Giraffe, a Bildungsroman, I approached one of the few big and independent publishing houses in Germany, Suhrkamp, which has already become a myth. And soon I will publish a series named natural sciences at Matthes & Seitz from Berlin, a small, independent publishing house with an extraordinary agenda.


CD: Seeing that everything holds your imprint, from the text to the finished product, one could conclude that you do all the work by yourself? Is it true or are there any people you consult with?
JS: I work on my books alone. But in various moments I discuss it with others as well. With my friends, my editor and the producer I’m collaborating with.

CD:
Who inspires you (author, graphic designer, artist)? Is there someone who has played a significant role in your work by encouraging you?
JS: My typography teacher, Betina Müller, encouraged me to stick to my path.
 
CD: Already you have earned a reputation with your early works; you were certainly very happy about it. But maybe this fact puts a brake on any future projects?
JS: Of course. But the most important thing is to detach yourself from the expectations of others and to listen to yourself entirely. And if while you are working you are not conscious of the possibility of failure, then you could be making a mistake.
 
CD: Fraktur mon Amour – is a book that contains a CD about the gothic German fonts, forgotten a while ago but which, out of a sudden, came out on the stage during the 90’s. Now they are trendy again; how come you have ventured to take up this chapter on the history of German characters, even do a book on this highly politically-charged chapter?
JS: While I was studying in college, I started to become very enthusiastic about everything connected to fonts and letters. I noticed that usually, people are interested in films or music, but not in the actual body of characters. Generally, the knowledge one has in this area is reduced to choosing between Times New Roman and Arial. However, almost every each of us (Germans, - e.n.) has a special relationship with the gothic characters – some of us consider them user-friendly, others martial or even fascist. This ambiguous feeling about them interested me. I just wanted to show that there is a big storehouse of beautiful characters, untried, which have in the recent past been almost exclusively used for the display area, for different kind of titles, symbols or labels. This is how my catalogue was brought to life.


CD:
This year you are going to create and publish the series Naturkunden [natural sciences] at the Berlin publishing house Matthes & Seitz. What is it all about and what is this series starting out with?
JS: Naturkunden series is going to deal with books that talk about nature. It doesn’t come down to science only, but also to a passionate exploration of the world. Each book of the series, regardless of its literary genre, is going to formulate a distinct chapter of nature, and so it’s going to be a complex publication, organized on different levels; a beautiful book, as nature itself demands of its objects: full of illustrations, thread-bound in classical formats, with frontispiece and also colourful sprinkled edges.
Together with Andreas Rötzer, publisher at Matthes & Seitz, we choose the titles, and I take care of the graphic design. By graphic design I understand also a sort of editing work. In the springtime we are going to set out with a portrait on crows, a story about the experience of discovering nature, a classic text of the genre nature writing and the complete works of Korbinian Aigner, a man who has drawn all his life all sorts of apples and pears.
 
CD: Your books have already been translated. Are you interested in this process?
JS: Atlas has been translated into 13 languages, but not all of them have come out: the next one should be in Arabic. The Giraffe is going to be translated into 19 languages. It’s a great joy to see how your books set on their own journeys. Even if this means that, now and again, you have to make a compromise in your graphic design work.
 


photo © Johanna Ruebel, Judith Schalansky, Alexandra Cor
english version Andrea Nastac
carla duschkaattended the graphic arts department at the University of Arts Bucharest and studied book design at the Weissensee Kunsthochschule Berlin. She works as a graphic designer at Atelierul de grafica Bucharest and is assistant lecturer at theUniversity of Arts. CD is co-founder of the GF project.
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Mada

02.03.2013 la 12:14

Foarte tare personajul, desi atat de tanara... pe cand o traducere in romana a cartilor sale?

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Sabin Bors

04.03.2013 la 10:08

Da, ar fi chiar interesant de vazut astfel de carti si la noi. Oricum, foarte faina povestea, cu atat mai mult cu cat e povestea unui om tanar care dovedeste ca se poate. Sper sa mai aveti cat mai multe articole ca si acesta! Felicitari!

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echipa GF

04.03.2013 la 12:40

- reply to Sabin Bors -

Intr-adevar, multi tineri au rezultate foarte bune. Sunt nenumarate exemple, multe si pe acest site. Din pacate sunt si multi pentru care tineretea este sau a devenit o scuza. Multumim Sabin, vei mai primi vesti de la noi.

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Sabin Bors

04.03.2013 la 13:00

- reply to echipa GF -

Din fericire, proiecte targetate cum sunt GF sau alte initiative excelente de la noi dau sansa celor cu adevarat interesati sa depaseasca astfel de bariere sau scuze. Nu cred ca mai trebuie sa gandim idealist, nici sa asteptam revolutii majore, ci sa fim pragmatici si sa gandim de la mic la mare. Iar un astfel de exemplu face cinste :) Mult spor!

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