Madrid based Irma Gruenholz is a self-taught clay artist. Her work can be described as emotive, atmospheric and serene. While the magic of each 'illustration' is attributed to photography and set design, it is her hand-sculpted characters that convey her elegant and distinctive style. Lighting too plays a crucial part in often dictating the mood of each artwork, her mini worlds telling more than just a story. We spoke to the highly accomplished clay artist about her technique, method and inspiration.
CZ: You use clay and other materials to shape your illustrations. Please tell us about the creative process, how do you start?
IG: The process varies greatly depending on the project. I can summarise it with the following basic steps: I read the brief or text carefully and emphasise what I consider most important. I then gather all the information on the subject and start to develop concepts. I do not draw sketches in detail; I prefer to dive into the illustration, working directly in three dimensions as soon as I have a clear idea in mind. My sketches are very schematic drawings that help me direct the illustration and specify the materials and palette that I will use. Sometimes I build quick sketches in three dimensions using foam board and plasticine to check dimensions, composition and framing. Once the sculpture is completed, I take a photo and retouch the image digitally.
CZ: How long does each illustration take from concept to finish? For example how long did “Duck Tamer” take to complete?
IG: The time I take on each project depends on the complexity of the illustration, and the range is extensive, it is usually between two days to a month. The creation of ‘Duck Tamer’ took about two weeks.
CZ: How would you describe your work?
IG: I find it quite hard to define my style. I suppose that working in three dimensions defines my work somehow. I do not like limitations in a particular style, so I love to explore the possibilities of each project and experiment with new solutions. Regardless of the technique I use, I like the simplicity, both in composition, forms and colour.
CZ: Where did you learn to sculpt?
IG: My academic background is in Graphic Design. I have not received specific training in illustration or sculpture so it could be said that I am self-taught.
CZ: What are your three most essential tools?
IG: If I had to work with only three tools, I would choose a thin modelling stick, a roller and a cutter.
CZ: How important is photography in your work? Do you take the photos yourself?
IG: Photography is a significant step in my work. At this point, lighting and framing are essential to building the proper atmosphere. It is exhilarating to see how the same scene changes entirely depending on the light.
CZ: Your figures have a very distinctive look. What inspired you when you were honing your style?
IG: I’m inspired by nature, painting, sculpture, design, and cinema. If you have an open mind to stimulus, this facilitates the creative flow and inspiration can arise out of the most unexpected things.
Regarding style, it is not something premeditated. It is a mixture of my personality, experiences and likes that evolve.
CZ: One of the reasons we were drawn to your work was because of the emotion the figures communicate. How do you capture this?
IG: I'm glad that this aspect of my work has aroused your attention because communicating the emotions of the characters is the main aspect of my work. I think of the scene and what the characters are feeling.