Illustrator Spotlight: Torben Kuhlmann
|© Torben Kuhlmann
Today we are excited to feature German illustrator Torben Kuhlmann and his recent book, ARMSTRONG SPECIAL EDITION: THE ADVENTUROUS JOURNEY OF A MOUSE ON THE MOON (NorthSouth Books May 2019) (originally published 2016). Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write & illustrate for children.
Drawing was always part of my life. As long as I can remember, spent many hours a day with pencils and brushes, painting. I was my way of learning about the world. Whenever something was of interest, I tried to dissect it by drawing it, understanding it in the process. Years later, I made the decision to start a professional career as an illustrator. A keen interest in the art of storytelling arose during my adolescence and becoming an illustrator was a good way to combine my passion for drawing and painting with this interest in storytelling. One wonderful aspect of being a children’s book illustrator: Your audience is equipped with an unbelievable imagination.
|© Torben Kohlmann
Congrats on your recent book, EDISON. Please tell us about it and the series, and what inspired you.
EDISON is my third adventure story with inventive mice. In it, two mice try to solve a mystery. A legendary mouse treasure was lost over a decade ago during a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The two mice must use their ingenuity and all their skills to find a way to the bottom of the sea.
The series of mouse adventures started with a very tiny idea. For my first picture book I had an idea about a mouse that is inspired by bats to learn to fly. In German there is a play on words. The German word for bat is Fledermaus, flutter-mouse. From there, everything started. The story itself and especially the setting was inspired by the early aviation history, from the early gliders by Otto Lilienthal to Charles Lindbergh’s first flight over the Atlantic. From there, I was stuck in “mouse mode”, because I had an idea for the next adventures even before the first one was finished. All my books are influenced by the thing that fascinated me as a child – and fascinate me even now: the ingenuity of the great inventors and pioneers, the space race, mysterious treasures at the bottom of the sea…
|© Torben Kuhlmann
What is your research process for your books?
Before I can write a story or do the artwork, there is indeed an extensive research process. For example, I have read several books about the Apollo program in preparation for my picture book ARMSTRONG: THE ADVENTUROUS JOURNEY OF A MOUSE TO THE MOON. I also watched documentaries about the history of space travel and science in general. From there I got the idea to start the story with a tiny mouse and its telescope, mirroring Galileo Galilei and his attempt to understand the “heavens.”
The next step is the search for visual references. Since I work in a rather realistic style, I need a lot of photos and pictures to get “in the mood” of a certain era. My first book LINDBERGH: THE TALE OF A FLYING MOUSE was set in the early 20th centuries, so I looked at numerous history books and city chronicles, journals about old trains, cars and airplanes of that time. Later, I did the same for ARMSTRONG and its time period – the 1950s.
What projects are you working on now?
Currently, I am in the early conceptual stages for two picture books. Since my ideas are pretty rough at the moment, I won’t be able to talk much about them. After I concluded my work on EDISON and the recent ARMSTRONG edition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I declared a short “mouse pause,” meaning that the next book will not feature mice in any form. But in the near future, there will be a new mouse adventure for sure – this time, with a rather unexpected direction.
|© Torben Kuhlmann
Next to my work on picture books, there are several smaller projects on my desk at the moment. I am painting cover artworks for a young adult novel at the moment.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators?
Just be persistent. Sometimes it is hard to get started. And don’t be afraid of detours. I started my professional career drawing scientific, informative illustration for magazines. Then, I worked in advertising for several years until finally – and unexpectedly - my diploma, the book LINDBERGH, opened a door into the children’s book market.
|© Torben Kuhlmann
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Mmmh… Only a few people know that I am a huge science fiction fan and that I have a massive collection of space ship models! :)
Where can people find you online?
The best way to find me online is my homepage, although most if it is in German: www.torben-kuhlmann.com. Another option would be my Youtube channel. There you’ll find trailers and short animations about my books and my other work.
Torben Kuhlmann was born in Germany in 1982. Highly creative as a young child, Torben was recognized as early as kindergarten for being a gifted draftsman. He was captivated by small airplanes, strange machines, and steaming trains; these elements made their way into his drawings. He studied illustration and design at the Hamburg University for Applied Sciences. His preferred media are pen and watercolor. He also works with acrylics, oil paints, and digital programs. He works as a freelance illustrator in Hamburg. His books Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse, Moletown, and Armstrong—The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon quickly became best sellers and owe their inventiveness to Torben’s great enthusiasm for unusual mechanical inventions. Edison —The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure is his fourth picture book for NorthSouth Books.