In her work as a tattooist, Jules Wenzel has plied her needle on practically every image from a cheese sandwich to the severed horse's head from "The Godfather". On the side, she arranges fabric-covered apes into decorative scenes for photography and creates her own worlds with pen and paper. Our author Anna Weilberg visited the versatile illustrator in her studio at the Hamburg Oberhafen.
Photos: Linda David
Jules Wenzel shares her studio with a scattering of apes, S&M types and harbour musicians. Bare breasts feature as well. In the midst of it all, the likeable creative sits at her desk, crouched over her sketchbook, drawing away. She's not a whit disturbed by the creatures around her: they are motionless and mute – produced on Jules' sewing machine. The stuffed fabric figures only come to life when she creates scenes for the camera.
Jules' studio is situated at Hamburg's Oberhafen. The area south of the main station is almost completely surrounded by railway tracks and river Elbe, one could take it for industrial wasteland. In actual fact, it is full of creativity. The illustrator moved her studio into two rooms at the front end of a former warehouse. In the midst of different creatives, from jewellery designer to musician, she can live it up undisturbed.
The inspiration of designing illustrations on the sewing machine arose during her communication design studies at the Muthesius University of Fine Arts and Design in Kiel. “My professor back then, Martin tom Dieck, thought the idea was original and encouraged me to pursue this line further,” Jules recalls. So for her final-year project, she created 3D figures and bizarre objects made of fabrics instead of two-dimensional illustrations. Her style is unmistakable, whether the figures are edgy sailors, laid-back baboons or half-naked guys in latex masks. The characters are likeable and cute, but still a bit eccentric. Jule also stitches their accessories by hand: musical instruments, a wash-hand basin, a red-and-white bag of chips and of course the appropriate dress for her dolls, from a flannel shirt or tiny sneakers to a waterproof rain jacket.
Character heads as photographic models
The finished figures and accessories then feature in decorative scenes for editorials, posters or album covers. Jules sells the images, but not the needlework figures themselves. That means she still owns all the originals except for privately commissioned figures. The two rooms of her Hamburg Oberhafen studio are populated with needlework characters and objects, reminders of Jules' past assignments.
She doesn't just associate Hamburg as her workplace – Jules practically grew up in the Hanseatic city and has been living here, apart from a few interruptions, since she was four. Her clients are mostly from Hamburg as well: in the last few years, for example, she has created musicians and instruments for the Überjazz-Festival and a musician under a child's bed for Oetinger publishing house, visualised masculine life phases for “Men's Health” and transformed the Hamburg DJ trio Heavy In The Streets into apes.
Three days in the tattoo studio
However, her stuffed fabric figures aren't Jules' only job. She actually earns her living as a tattooist at the “Immer & Ewig Tattooing” studio. When she moved back to Hamburg after graduation, she noticed an exciting development in the tattoo scene: “It had nothing more in common with the standard motifs that were around when I had a tattoo done at the age of 18,” she said. “All of a sudden there were these elaborate, individual tattoos of illustration quality – drawings on skin”. Skin as another medium for her illustration work – the idea grabbed Jules and she followed up her degree with an apprenticeship as a tattoo artist in a Hamburg studio.
Today, Jules has found her profession as a tattooist and her vocation as a designer; she works three days a week in the studio and devotes herself to her illustration commissions on the other days – drawing and stitching. Jules' striking stand-out style has also attracted a loyal following for her tattoos. “I really like tattooing figures, but I love houses and bizarre objects as well. Unusual motifs that I've never done before,” she says. Past projects have been a cheese sandwich, a Maggi seasoning bottle, a clove of garlic and the horse head on the pillow from the film “The Godfather”. She makes drawings first, then transfers the templates to skin. “That way, I'm drawing automatically all the time because of my work as a tattooist,” says Jules.
Friends in many places
Isn't it stressful at times to have all these different jobs? “I'd be bored if I only had one thing to do,” is Jules' verdict on her self-chosen mix of professions. “I love my work and my colleagues, but it's nice to have niches, where you're not so stuck in a single rut. It's like at school when you have different sets of friends – you're not just moving around a single world”.