Michel Streich: A Conversation

31 August 2014 Katherine Smyrk

Michel Streich: A Conversation

Michel Streich has been expertly illustrating Big Issue articles for years. His stunning art went alongside Felix Clark's 2008 article 'Clouds Over the Desert', which was a finalist in the United Nations Media Peace Awards. In 2014 Michel created a suite of illustrations to accompany the stories in our Fiction Edition. We spoke to the German-born illustrator, who now lives in the Blue Mountains, NSW.


Q. When did you first start drawing?

A. As a small child, same as everyone. The thing is that most people stop drawing eventually, but some of us continue. Now that I'm drawing as an adult, the challenge is to create illustrations that are as good as the pictures that children draw!


Q. Did you always want to be an illustrator? Have you had many other career paths?

A. I've been an illustrator all my working life, and I've never had a 'real' job! And I've never had a boss, so I fear I'm now ruined for any gainful employment.

Growing up, I wanted to be a zoologist or vet. But I had a megalomaniac biology teacher who scared the crap out of me, and I lost interest in a career in biology. I'm still fascinated by animals however, and enjoy drawing them.

I started working as a freelance illustrator for a big German book publisher while I was studying graphic design, and I just continued from there after I graduated.


Q. You have worked for publications all over the world, and lived in many places too. What made you decide to settle in Australia?

A. My wife is from Sydney. We decided to give living in Australia a go for two years and see how we like it. That was fourteen years ago...


Q. So which artists or illustrators have influenced you?

A. George Grosz and his contemporary John Heartfield are right up there, as are Tomi Ungerer's irreverent books for adults and for children.


Q. How have you found illustrating The Big Issue Fiction Edition?

A. It was lovely to illustrate a whole series of short stories. An opportunity like this one doesn't come along often. In Australia, most readers think illustrated fiction is strictly for children, so it's great that The Big Issue shows that it doesn't have to be that way.


Q. How was it illustrating such a diverse collection of works? Do you have a favourite story?

A. When I read with a view to illustrating, I'm on the lookout for themes and ideas I can respond to visually. It's a little different from leisurely reading, so I don't have a favourite. That said, ‘Salt Sugar Sea’ really sucked me in – there is enough material for a whole novel in that story. Also, I thought the idea of basing a story on the Moebius strip looping back on itself was extremely clever.


Q. You have illustrated books about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, indigenous rights, and you illustrated a number of pieces for The Big Issue on homelessness and mental illness. Is social justice an important part of your work?

A. It's great when I can join the conversation about issues that I think are important. Of course there are limits to what I can contribute as an illustrator. But over the years, my own views have been changed by reading and seeing other people's works of art, and maybe I can do a small part myself to help promote ideas that I think are important. I find it very satisfying to work on projects like that.


Q. Do you have any books or publications (or ideas for them) in the pipeline for the future?

A. Next up, I'll be working on illustrations for a zany children's detective story. And I have plans to keep exploring themes of war and non-violence in my own book projects.