Interview: V&A Illustration Awards grand prize winner Oliver Kugler

German documentary illustrator Olivier Kugler was announced as the overall winner of the V&A Illustration Awards 2011 at the beginning of June for his illustration in French quarterly reportage magazine XXI about a truck driver’s journey across Iran. We caught up with Oliver to find out more about the project.

London-based Olivier was chosen from a shortlist of 14 candidates for the best book and editorial illustration published in the UK over the last year. Olivier’s 30-page illustrated journal for XXI was inspired by a four-day journey across Iran with a truck driver who was carrying bottled water down to a small island in the Persian Gulf. Olivier met driver Massih through a friend of a friend of a friend he lived with in East London, after first telling him of his creative idea.

"When I told my Iranian studio flatmate about it, he mentioned that a friend of a friend of his owns a haulage company in Tehran. So, through his connections, the contact to Massih got established," recalls Olivier. "When I arrived in Tehran I got a call and was told to get a taxi to the address of a truck mechanic's garage in the south of Tehran. I met Massih there whilst his truck got an overhaul and a check up.”

Influenced by Franco-Belgian comic book artists Hergé, Jean Giraud, Jaques Tardi and artists David Hockney and Joe Sacco, as well as life and travel itself, Olivier explained how he went about creating his travel artworks.

“Whilst travelling, I took tons of reference photos with my small digital camera. I also made many notes and very rough sketches in my sketchbook,” said Olivier. “When I was back in London, I went through all my photos and started working on the layout. I used the photos as reference to draw from. I'd have the photos on my laptop in front of me and drew with pencil on an A2 sketchpad. The colouring was done digitally.”

Integrating text -- usually quotes from people he has drawn -- into the image, Olivier admits his favourite part of illustrating the XXI piece was when Massih stopped for a half-day break in his hometown to see his wife and family.

Olivier’s travels didn’t end in Tehran – neither did the ideas for his next piece:

“In January I went travelling in Laos where I met a veterinarian who is looking after elephants working in logging camps in a remote area close to the Golden Triangle,” he said. “I joined the veterinarian on a week-long mission, travelling through the jungle and the mountains, from logging camp to logging camp. At the moment I am working on an illustrated journal of this mission.”

Olivier’s work has been featured in publications including the Guardian, Reader’s Digest, Harper’s Bazaar, New York Magazine and The New York Times Book Review.

The V&A Illustration Awards were established in 1972 and previous winners include Quentin Blake, Ralph Steadman and Michael Foreman. All V&A category winners this year were awarded £2,000, with Olivier as overall winner receiving an additional £2,000. A free display of original artwork and published work by the winning and shortlisted artists is on show until 17 December in the V&A’s 20th-Century Galleries.

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