Florian Schommer is a talented illustrator, designer & art director – he won prestigious awards and is part of the German and European Art Directors Club. His roots in the skate & punk scene inform his work in branding, illustration, editorial and packaging design still today, while Florian has gone a long way with his career. Balancing personal projects with client work, he brings a distinct style that he is capable to adapt to meet the needs of global brands.
His expertise and creative vision are recognised all over the world, so keep your eyes peeled and read how his journey in graphic design, illustration and advertising unfolded!
What sparked your initial interest in illustration, and who or what were your major influences along the way?
Oh, that came quite early. I was reflecting on it recently and my first memories are that I used to be obsessed with certain color combinations as a young child. I also started drawing at an early age. I would say I was average, not overly talented but I was impressed by logos, which is actually quite unusual for young kids. At some point when I was 8-9 years old, I think I started to get interested in basketball and that’s when I absorbed the whole aesthetic. That clearly had an impact on what I drew. Then I got into skating, but I wasn’t drawing or doing any other creative things at the time. I even got a 5 in art at school, which is the 2nd worst grade you can get in Germany. But looking back, I would say that what impressed me most about skating was the subculture and its aesthetics. Especially how the individual brands presented themselves. Alienworkshop had a completely different aesthetic than Element or shorties, each brand was super unique. I got into hardcorepunk through skate videos and the DIY culture brought out all my pent-up creativity. Because my friends and I organized concerts and formed bands, there was also a reason for me to start drawing again… and that’s when everything took its course.
From the skate parks of Germany to the Art Directors Club of Berlin, how has your journey through different subcultures and art scenes shaped your current design ethos?
The whole thing had a huge impact. It’s not for nothing that many designers and artists come from these scenes. Especially because punk is a scene that you have to shape yourself, you are extremely motivated to create something. I think without this “do it yourself” DNA I would never have become what I am now. Even if the stuff used to look totally awful, it still had a totally unique touch. I was active in this scene for over 20 years and of course you’re constantly evolving as a result. From Albin to Albin everything becomes a bit more “professional”, at some point I studied design in Düsseldorf and then I worked briefly in an agency in Hamburg… it was also super important for me not to focus on this leg thing forever, I love it but I also love good graphic design, packaging and good, well-made advertising, so I’ve become quite diverse.
Given your roots in the punk music scene, how has this influenced your visual art, and in what ways does music play a role in your overall design process?
It still plays a big role in any case, but you have to say that the budgets in the music sector are often not very high, so you can only design record covers to a limited extent. I actually love it, but if I only did that, I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills in the end. So I try to create a healthy compromise. On the one hand, there are jobs for Pepsi, Disney, Nike etc. On the other hand, I always do a few things in the music sector as well. I’ve had the opportunity to work for bands like Pearl Jam, Queens of the Stoneage and Blink, but I still do stuff here and there for hardcore bands that I’m friends with. When the time is there. However, I also think it’s cool when younger kids take over these things so they can benefit and grow as much as I did.
You’ve managed to encapsulate a sense of traditional Asian art in your illustrations. Can you discuss the process of integrating such culturally rich motifs with your punk-inspired background and how do you define your style?
I had the opportunity to tour a lot with bands. We were often in Asia, but also in other areas such as Australia, Africa or Russia. When I was young I didn’t really travel much, I often visited my relatives in the USA but culturally that’s also relatively close to Europe. When I came to Asia with the band for the first time, I was totally blown away and absorbed everything like a sponge. It was great because we hung out with all the locals and didn’t see the countries through the eyes of tourists. I’ll be forever grateful for that and it had a huge influence on my work. Traveling is still a super important part of my life and of course it influences my thoughts every time.
Artists often have a signature piece that represents a turning point in their career. Do you have such a piece, and could you elaborate on its significance to you?
Puuuh difficult to answer. I don’t really think so. Many artists and illustrators have a style that they keep perfecting. For me it’s a bit different, I always try to adapt to the client, I love trying out new styles and I think that also comes from my design studies. For a long time it wasn’t an option for me to become a full-time illustrator because I thought I wouldn’t have had a chance anyway. I was quietly introduced to it through the band afterwards. During my design studies I tried out a lot of other things and actually I wanted to focus on typography and editorial design, well everything turned out differently but I think that makes me think more like a kind of director who focuses on illustration, of course you can somehow recognize a common thread in me, that’s also important to me, but I still try to break out of the pattern every now and then. But if I have to answer now… my biggest project so far has been the limited edition Pepsi can for the Super Bowl 2022 in Los Angeles, I think. But qualitatively I really like my last project which is a kind of travel diary, a free work you can find on Behance (have a look here).
How do you approach the planning stage of a new illustration, and what are your preferred tools or software for creating your illustrations? Could you take us through your process?
Normally I get a briefing from the customer. They pick out a few illustrations from my portfolio and tell me what they like about them, then he/she explains the product and the target group. Based on this, we then agree on a certain number of feedback rounds.
I start with research and then present the client with a rough sketch. Then I get feedback and in the next rounds we work our way up to the final illustration. I once did a rough process for Adobe – the video is part of their Make it happen series and you can find it on YouTube.
How do you manage to keep your artwork distinct while also meeting the varied preferences of your clients from around the world? Has there ever been an especially challenging project that pushed you out of your comfort zone but ultimately helped you grow as an artist?
I can’t give you an exact example, but it’s definitely an art for you to interact with the customer. It’s very important to me that we communicate as equals and that the customer accepts my advice. Of course, I also know that I’m ultimately a service provider and the customer has the last word, but I’m still not the customer’s plaything. Thank God I haven’t had many negative experiences, my customers are often super cool, they come specifically for my style and usually trust me. The nice thing is that you actually learn something with every job, it’s also super important to me to be open towards the customer and that’s how you learn a lot in the end.
But to go into your question in more detail. I’ve noticed that I sometimes reach my limits when I get a request from someone I’ve always wanted to work for. Then there’s too much emotion in it for me and then I think too much to get to the goal because it’s just so important to me. This has never led to problems, but I do realize that I need a few days break after these jobs, which was quite extreme at first, but now I understand that I have to block out my emotions to some extent.
How do you challenge yourself to keep your work innovative without straying too far from your main style?
I think this is now automated, you can’t go too far. As a student, I used to do completely different things. Typography made from chewing gum etc., but the more experienced you become, the more you know where you feel most comfortable. As I just said, I often need to try out new things, but it’s always within a certain framework and you can always tell that it’s mine… but it’s not planned, it’s just automated.
How is your current work influenced by Berlin’s unique dynamic and history, and how does this compare to the inspiration you’ve drawn from other cities you’ve traveled to or lived in?
I’ve never really felt at home anywhere, but Berlin gives me a lot right now, I draw a lot of creativity from my surroundings. Most of my friends here don’t even have anything to do with design and that doesn’t really matter because they’re all people who are on fire and passionate about something, that inspires me a lot. I also think that this city is somehow a gathering place for such people.
It’s also great to see that I’ve now created some designs that can be seen every now and then in everyday life in Berlin. For example, I made a design for my favorite record store coretex and for my favorite pub bierhaus urban. If you like vegan donuts then there is brammibal donuts. You see the boxes every 5 minutes on the street here, and I recently created a series. I also recently did a series of illustrations for Nike that relate to Berlin… I just like it when I can do something that influences my everyday life.
What advice do you have for young illustrators working to establish themselves in the industry?
I think the most important thing is to show your work to the world, even if it’s super scary. An illustration is super personal and any kind of criticism hurts in the beginning, in the end you have to show your stuff otherwise you won’t get any jobs. I know a lot of incredibly talented illustrators who struggle with Instagram and don’t like to present themselves. I feel the same way sometimes but now I accept it as part of the job. So don’t be afraid and show the world what you do.
Looking at the future, are there any untapped techniques, technologies, or collaborative ventures you’re eager to explore in your art and design journey?
Well, AI will change a lot, I think. How far it will go remains to be seen, but it will almost certainly be used in certain areas. Whether that is good or bad also remains to be seen. I see a lot of positives but also a lot of negatives.
Want to know more about Florian Schommer's work?
There is so much interesting work you can see by Florian Schommer – after reading the interview go and spend some time with his awesome work! Head to his Behance profile, Instagram account or to his website and enjoy his work!
And if you are curious to discover the work of more talented artists, designers and illustrators, then keep reading Indieground’s Artist Interview series! In the latest episodes you can find Spanish illustrator Bern Foster, 3D Artist Trey Trimble, and illustrator & art director This is Blazé.. enjoy!