yeye Weller

Make it fun!

Q&A with artist Yeye Weller – creator of colourful happy things

He loves bad jokes, bold colours and silly inspirational messages – and now he’s turning Indonesian kids’ drawings into ‘T-shirts for good’

You know a Yeye Weller illustration when you see one. The coffee-fuelled, self-taught, game-loving German artist is strongly influenced by the comic strips and cartoons of the 20s and 30s. His artworks combine bold colours with drawings of animals with human characteristics. And they’re funny. In fact, even his name sounds like an exclamation of joy. Yeye!

This interview is part of a TOPIA series in partnership with Face This. The Dutch charity brings together street artists with Indonesian school kids to turn children’s drawings into merch to support their education. Read all the interviews.

Clean, flat and almost garish (in a good way), you will have spotted the sarcastic Münster resident’s cartoonish style everywhere from The New York Times, to walls in London, to skateboards and T-shirts. He has worked with the biggest brands in the world.

His references range from The Simpsons to The Beatles: The Yellow Submarine (1968) – designed by the German illustrator Heinz Edelmann – which he has watched over a hundred times. Within his artworks lie references to Disney cartoons or Max Fleischer himself – the person responsible for bringing Betty Boop and Popeye to life.

Weller says his holy trinity is “colour, mood and balance” and that his illustrations are “colourful, happy and stupid”. But stupid they are not. This is an artist who truly cares about drawing things that he believes will make anyone who sees them happy. 

Weller has never collaborated with children before. But now he has joined forces on a collaboration with Face This to create tees, sweaters and tote bags from drawings by Indonesian kids from the Duduk Atas school on Lombok, Indonesia. Two worlds come together in order to create a new one, to a point where both artists lift each other up. Proceeds will contribute to the kids’ school.

We asked the artist about recognition, how to stay creative and what he has learned from working with the kids.

Q&A: Yeye Weller

Hi Yeye. Did you always like to draw? 

I wasn’t the typical stay-at-home kid who drew pictures for hours in his room. I grew up in a small village in Germany and most of the time we played outside, doing classic childhood things; playing football and roaming through the woods. But I always had a special interest in nice things. Since my early childhood, I have collected stickers and beer mats and I love them still today. Later on, I started to collect the ads of my favourite skate brands. This was also the starting point of being creative. It started very simple, with filming our awkward teenage skateboard skills. When I was about 14, I cracked a version of Adobe Photoshop and immediately became addicted. Shortly after, we sold our own produced T-shirts to friends and classmates and things took their course.

Is there one drawing that you can recall from your childhood?

Oh that’s a tough question! Most of my childhood drawings have been about spaceships and football.

Are there specific moments in your life that made you decide to become an artist?

No not really. It was more of a process than a concrete decision. As a kid I always wanted to be a singer. I have never played an instrument and I cannot sing pretty well, but I like the fact of standing on a stage in front of a crowd. Today I am very glad that this dream didn’t come true and that I work as an illustrator in the background right now. No spotlight, no crowd, no screaming. Just me, my studio and some good music.

Just me, my studio and some good music.

All photos courtesy of the artist

If you had to look at one artwork only until the end of days, what would it be?

I really like the Old Masters, like Rubens, Caravaggio or Hieronymus Bosch, but if i had to choose only one artwork I would choose Neo Rauch’s Die Entzündung as it’s more colourful and modern. I’m a big fan of the German painter. I dig his amazing colour schemes, the extensive compositions and all the historical references in his paintings. It would be really enjoyable to discover something new every day, behind the obvious.

Neo Rauch, Die Entzündung, 2020

What is the best thing about being an ‘artist’?

There is never a daily routine. Of course most of my days are really busy in the meantime. But for me it is a great privilege to be your own “boss” and have the freedom to organise the day by yourself.

And the biggest challenge?

In my early life, everything I did was striving for recognition and maybe it’s still part of my work. But I have realised that it’s not that important what others think about my work. A few months ago I saw an interview with Niki de Saint Phalle and she didn’t care what other artists had to say about her work. She just wanted to make the observer happy for a while. It sounds a little bit hackneyed but I think that’s what it’s all about.

Do you have any dreams, something you’re building up for?

Yes, of course. I think you should never stop dreaming, that’s the magic energy which pushes you every day. I think this “job” would be so boring if you have achieved everything you wanted. At the moment. I’m dreaming of doing some big things far away from digital or print. It would be so nice to see my illustrations as big sculptures in an urban area. That’s the sort of project that would change everything.

Pablo Picasso once said: ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up’. How do you remain an artist? And do you have tips for non-artists to cultivate their inner child?

A really interesting point of view. I think everything in life is like cooking: if you prepare your favorite food day by day it gets boring sometimes. So keep your eyes open, love the new and care for variety. Besides that, the most important thing for everything you do in life is having fun. It doesn’t matter if you repair cars, write books or are an artist. Do it with love, be ambitious but don’t take it too seriously – and don’t forget to laugh about the little things.

Don’t forget to laugh about the little things.

You designed an artwork by using some of the Indonesian kids’ drawings by Face This. The proceeds will provide the kids you’ve collaborated with a playground. How important is playfulness for you as an artist? 

Playfulness is the basis of everything creative. Think differently, don’t be narrow minded and have an eye for the little details. It’s pretty important. But on the other hand, all the ease and lightness would be nothing without hard work. It’s so important to have extensive skills and being a master of your craft to live out your creativity on point.

Detail shot of the Yeye Weller x Face This collaboration

What made you want to get involved with this “good” project?

There were so many reasons. First of all, it’s always nice to work with kids and create a connection with people from the other side of the globe. Besides that, I´m aware of my privileged situation of growing up in Germany and I think it’s very important to help others where you can. And if I could help with my drawings, I just feel very lucky.

When you received the drawings, what was your first reaction?

It’s always nice to see the world through different eyes. That has always fascinated me. And I think children’s drawings bring this different point of view to another level. Little details become big. Things which become normal over the years for us are still exciting for kids and everything is more spontaneous and based on feelings. They don’t overthink things. And all these aspects are reflected in their drawings. I think it’s pretty charming to be naive.

I think it’s pretty charming to be naive.

Can you tell us something about how you have experienced this collaboration?

The way of working was totally different to my usual working routine. Usually it always starts with listening to music and doodling on the paper and if I get something nice I digitise it with a Wacom tablet and Photoshop. But it was fun to get a totally different input and start something new based on these lovely drawings. I love colours, humour and balance. These are the three necessities for my work. So finally I tried to keep a balanced relationship between the clean Yeye Weller style and the rough drawings of the children’s. These different styles fit great.

To conclude, is there something you would like to say to the kids who made the drawings you’ve worked with?

First of all, I want to thank you for this collaboration and all the nice pictures you sent to me. It was really fun looking at these drawings. You did a good job. I hope you like my final artwork. I definitely tried my best. When I was younger I was always afraid of witches and bandits. Luckily I am rid of those fears now. But I still have the fear of failure. And that’s very stupid. Defeats and failures are part of life and they mostly lead into a positive thing, even if it may not seem so at the moment. So please do me a favour: be brave and run the risk of making mistakes.

Be brave and run the risk of making mistakes.

Yeye Weller’s World of Good

Three outrageously good people to follow

1. @amandineurruty – it’s fun to dive into the details of her surreal world
2. @moragmyerscough – big, colourful and positive are just three reasons to love her
3. @henningwagenbreth – one of my biggest inspirations, check out his kids’ books!

What’s so good about this?

Creativity has a transformative power for children of all cultures. The Face This Foundation works to empower Indonesian schoolchildren to “design their own future”. Yeye Weller’s artwork is available on tees, sweaters and tote bags. All pieces are available to buy online. Check out more of Yeye Weller’s work on his Instagram account and website.

Meet the writer

Born in Indonesia and raised in the Netherlands, Jos van der Hoek is trying to give back his country of origin by telling an unexpected and inspirational story about equality and creativity. No matter where you live, children have something many adults are longing for: creativity. With his Face This Foundation, he unearths and gives a platform to the creativity of kids living in marginalised areas of Indonesia. They take ownership of their own future by designing streetwear in collaboration with street artists from around the world. Proceeds support their education – so the kids literally design their own future.

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