Jörg Mühle was born 1973 in Frankfurt am Main and studied at the Offenbach School of Design and the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. He has been a freelance illustrator since 2000, and held a temporary professorship at the Fachhochschule in Mainz. Today, he lives in Frankfurt where he works as a freelance illustrator for book publishers, magazines and newspapers.
Where did the idea for Tickle My Ears come from—do you have children of your own you’ve been trying to get to sleep?
The idea for Tickle My Ears had been with me a long time. It just struck me, as ideas sometimes do. I took a note on a slip of paper and kept it in mind, until my daughter was born. At that time, I had been illustrating other writers’ books for about ten years, and the urge to try it with a story of my own was getting stronger. And when my girl was two years old, I kind of knew that it was now or never. So I made a first version of the book with extremely rough illustrations, just quick sketches in black and white, and I showed it to her. It was amazing. My book was working! Well, in a way. It didn’t make her go to sleep. But she really loved it.
Does having a child influence your work?
I have been working on children’s books for years, without having a child of my own. And I certainly don’t think parents make better children’s books. But reading books with my daughter is always interesting for me. And fun as well! When I was working on Tickle My Ears I frequently showed her new, slightly modified versions of my first booklet. I tried out things and optimized the text, changing the rhythm, playing with the mechanics. That was fascinating and a completely new experience—usually, I just do my illustrations without asking for anybody’s opinion. Thinking about it, the only thing I didn’t try out on her were the illustrations. I always used the same rough sketches.
‘Little Rabbit’ has such a distinctive personality—how did you go about creating him?
When I did the first, preliminary version of the book, I didn’t care too much about the hero. I wanted to decide later. As a way of avoiding a decision, as a placeholder, I just used what I already had— a bunny. And then I fell in love with one of my first sketches.
How did you create the illustrations for the book—what medium/tools did you use and what was your process?
For the line art, I use pencils and fill dozens of sheets with all the elements I need. Then I choose the drawings I like the best and arrange them digitally. As for the colours, I used a limited palette, but stylized. I tried something new: I painted all the areas separately with ink on paper then combined them digitally in a second step. It is important for me to use real pens or ink—there is always a hint of magic in working on paper. The computer, for me, is a tool, much like a ruler. No surprises, no magic. I know exactly what will happen. But it allows me to do things I couldn’t achieve otherwise.
You have illustrated other writers’ books as well as your own—how is working on other books different from creating your own? And do you have any favourites?
I always loved illustrating other writers’ books. Above all, it’s much easier (for me), than to start working on a book of my own. A given text comes with structures. There’s a commissioner, a target audience, a deadline, a number of pages, a format, a story, characters and so on.
Creating a book of my own means everything is possible. Just think of all the options! There are so many decisions to make—I can get paralyzed before even starting. Plus, I am solely responsible! Illustrating other books is more about doing the packaging. I always try to do the best I can but, finally, I am not responsible for the content. If the book isn’t good in the end, it’s not my fault. But with Tickle My Ears, there is nobody else to blame. At the same time, this is what makes it so very special for me. I have illustrated dozens of books and there are some that I am really proud of. One that is very important for me and still one of my favourites is Meet at the Ark at Eight by Ulrich Hub.
What did you love to draw when you were a child?
I remember working on an illustrated animal encyclopedia. In my memory, I spent years on it. But I didn’t do it just for fun! We had a very famous zoo director in Frankfurt, Bernhard Grzimek. And for a long time, I wanted to become a zoologist, too.