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Expat Week - Rilla Alexander, Illustrator, Berlin

Creative People

14th June, 2012
Lucy Feagins
Thursday 14th June 2012

Rilla Alexander

Pages from 'Her Idea', a picture book written and illustrated by Rilla Alexander, published by Victionary / Pictoplasma (It's sold out unfortunately, though Rilla thinks there may still be copies at Published Art in Sydney!)

Rilla's picture book 'Her Idea' featuring her alter-ego Sozi, tells the tale of making ideas happen - and as a result Rilla has spoken at many conferences about ideas, procrastination and the creative process, most recently the 99% conference in New York.

Sozi toys! (some available, some sold out, in Sozi's very own webshop!)

Sozi illustration by Rilla Alexander

Rilla Alexander is an Australian-born, Berlin-based illustrator and storyteller. Not that I've met her personally, but I get the distinct impression Rilla has one seriously vivid imagination! She creates characters with such intense, capitivating personalities, they buzz with energy and truly seem to dance off the page! Being able to draw is one thing... but creating characters which, without words or explanation, instantly compel the reader to fall in love with them is a fine art that few creatives ever really grasp. Rilla has it totally sussed!

Rilla's quirky characters have grown to a colourful and impressive tribe over the past few years - they have graced picture books, credit cards, ceramics and stationery, retail stores and hotel room walls.  In fact, as it happens, Rilla has almost turned herself into an illustrated character of sorts!  Perhaps her most distinctive and best loved character is Sozi - Rilla's cartoon alter-ego!

Sozi starred in Rilla's beautiful picture book called Her Idea, which she launched in December 2010 with an exhibition at Colette in Paris (ah AMAZING!!!) – it tells the tale of Sozi's courageous quest to make ideas happen. Sozi keeps her own blog (YOU WILL DIE OF THE CUTENESS), and even her own webstore - here you will find the sweetest edit of Sozi-inspired toys, prints and books for little kids and big kids alike!

Rilla is also a founding member of much respected Australian creative collective Rinzen - under which name she has worked on several collaborative projects over the past 12 years, publishing books and running various exhibitions and workshops.

Oh Lord.  It's all a bit much isn't it?  Such epic talent and ambition and energy and DRIVE! I'm wondering if being an expat in a foreign city makes you more energetic and/or productive? Thoughts?!

Please read on for a few works with Rilla about her amazing work, and do take a moment to check out her super impressive folio site - waaay too much talent for one person, let alone one blog post.

Rilla designed the 'Sleep Seasons' room at the Hotel Fox in Copenhagen - where animals sleep around the seasons - replacing the bed with a tent. The project was completed in 2005 but the room was recently listed in Flavorpill's list of the 20 Most Extraordinary Hotel Rooms in the World!

Rilla's work at the Hotel Fox in Copenhagen
Can you give us a little background about yourself - what led you to become a designer, illustrator and storyteller?

When I was ten I woke up after having an operation, to a gigantic get well card that said 'How much can a koala bear?'. It was drawn in markers by my father's friend who was a graphic designer for the ABC. I decided that if he could do that at/for work, then this was was my kind of job. I must also say that I was also a junior National Park ranger so I was unsettled by the fact that a koala is most definitely NOT a bear!

How and when did you end up in Berlin?

Always scheming (and still aged ten) I hatched another plan to simply marry a park ranger so I could draw koalas all day. As it turned out I instead married a fellow designer, and together we have worked in Brisbane, London and Zurich, before finally settling in Berlin. We've been here for seven years now. Pleasingly, some of that time has been spent drawing koalas. Though many more owls, lions and whales.

What do you love most about Berlin?

Berlin is not beautiful like Paris, nor as well trodden as London, but even though it's been thirteen years since my first visit to Berlin, there is still this adventurous vibe about being here. I read the other day that there are about 2000 Australians in Berlin now, and I guess that most of them stayed for the same reasons as us. I overheard some visitors talking about how they had fallen in love with Berlin – laughing at 'ausfahrt', giggling at an invitation to 'make a party' and talking about a crumbling dark place in the middle of nowhere that they had discovered. And I thought, wow, we're all having exactly the same experience!

To launch her book, Sozi took over Colette in Paris - with the exhibition traveling to Berlin as part of the Pictoplasma festival. (Berlin exhibition pic above). The life-size Sozi was made in Italy and the wooden idea toys made in the Czech Republic.
Berlin's best kept secret?

If you like dogs, then a trip to Grunewaldsee is hund-utopia. On a weekend there are hundreds and hundreds of dogs wandering around the lake off leash, chasing rabbits and jumping in the water to cool off. It's really like landing on a planet ruled by dogs. Oddly, there is a section also reserved for FKK (nude bathing).

What are you looking forward to?

I am looking forward to summer warmth staying for more than a day or two at a time. I have always been as white as a ghost and had to be kept home from school on swimming carnival days because of repeated sun stroke. My relationship to the sun is completely different here. I crave it. I go outside in the middle of the day. Gasp! That said, I am working on my next picture book so rainy cold weather could mean I finish it sooner rather than later. So either way I win.

Can you give us the 411 on your involvement with Rinzen?

After a year in London during the dot com boom, my husband Steve and I were sitting on a beach on the Sunshine Coast around a fire celebrating the dawn of the year 2000. We realised that we didn't want to go back to that money hungry insanity. We started collaborating with a group of friends just for fun and it clicked – soon afterwards we were all working together under the name Rinzen, which means 'sudden awakening'. It really was a moment where we truly realised we could do whatever we wanted to do. It's many years on now and Rinzen has evolved and changed. We've all developed personal ideas and directions that we're currently in the depths of exploring.

Can you tell us about Sozi? Who is she and what is she about, she seems to bestow a few of life's philosophies?! Where did the inspiration come to create her? What's the deal with her book?

Growing up I made picture books for birthday and Christmas presents, but when I set about making one as a 'grown up' I procrastinated for more years than I care to admit. And so in a final act of desperation I wrote about what I knew – and that was having more ideas than time, the art of procrastination and the struggle of actually making an idea happen – Her Idea was the result. The book features Sozi, who has turned out to be my alter-ego. We also share a certain affinity for the colour red. While I procrastinated I developed stories and characters for exhibitions that I now see all fit together into Sozi's world – she even keeps her own blog and has her own webstore. So I'm happy to say that my procrastination turned out to be productive!

Sozi 'D is for drawing and dancing' illustration by Rilla Alexander for The Illustrated Alphabet Project by The Small Print. What a cutie! I want an alter ego!

This post was written by Lucy Feagins, and researched by Lisa Marie Corso.

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

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