His Story: Stefan Kuhnigk

Tell us a little bit more about yourself.

I’m Stefan. I spill coffee. I write concept and copy as a copywriter for an ad-agency and have a diploma in communication design. I create music and love cookies baked by my best friends wife.

So, how do you like your coffee?

I love cappuccino and I love to make it with a mokka-can for the stove. Just hot water, some metal and great coffee. Then pump up some milk and make the best foam ever to top it. That’s about it.

What is a motto that you live by?

Do I need one? Well. Then it probably would be something like “Improvisation is key”.

Tell us one thing about yourself that most people don't know about!

I avoid watching horror movies. It’s almost a phobia.

How did you learn to draw in such a creative and quirky way?

I learned to draw in school and university. In school I always doodled and drew on my homework. Almost never there was a blank page. And then in university we had real drawing classes for about 4 semesters. We drew everything. From nudes to architecture. That probably helped. But the quirkiness comes from my doodling since i read a load of comic books in my youth and childhood. Mostly Asterix & Obelix or Clever & Smart. European comic books I suppose no one in the US ever hear of them?

When and how did the first coffeemonster come about?

Sad little story. I was in a meeting and I spilled coffee. The rest of a cup. It all landed on my work and formed a stain looking like a monster. At least for me. After the meeting I took it with me, let it dry and went on drawing the outlines. What came to see was the first coffeemonster.

Do you see the monsters before you splatter the coffee, or splatter the coffee first before visualizing the monsters?

Because it’s all about improvisation i splatter the coffee before i see something and draw it. I can not imagine it the other way around. Would make no sense for me right now.

Which is your favourite coffeemonster to date, and why?

My absolute favourite is no. 66. It’s a facehugger monster and has mighty teeth instead of a belly. What I find so funny and cool about it is that I imagine it as a “world-eater” like creature. Big as skyscrapers. I think that is the fun part. Things other people don’t see and then imagine little stories around it. 

How would you describe your illustrative style?

It’s pencil on drawing board with coffee stains. and if you say it in a more grounded way it’s doodles with a comic touch on coffee-blots. Haha.

Do any of your coffeemonsters represent people in your life? (e.g. your family members, someone you met on the subway, the barista who served you your coffee)

Sorry, but no. It’s just monsters trying to eat people, nothing more, nothing less.

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What influences the kind of monsters that you draw?

Mostly the stain I think. If it is long it can be something long. If it’s round I need to think roundish. And so on. It’s improvisation that comes into play here and I love that. Eventually, things that I see throughout the day also play their part.

Do you really number every one of your coffeemonsters? How do you keep track of them?

I do, but I started way too late with it and was not tracking in the beginning. That is breaking my neck right now, because I started to make lists with everything and which ones are sold and which ones are not for sale and where they are right now. It’s really annoying when you find out that some monsters don’t even exist. I probably have to fill up some empty spaces. But some numbers are taken twice. It’s a miracle. That’s one of my main problems to be fixed in the near future.

What’s the wackiest thing you’ve ever done to come up with a coffeemonster?

I made a blot with my meal. It looked horrific and later on it became it’s own legs and tried to run away before i could put it in the garbage. Mold was not my friend back then.

Writers have writer's blocks, and artists have artist's blocks! How often do you experience artist's blocks and how do you overcome them?

Definitely have got them. Sometimes i just have no fun in doing it and i just stop. When there is no fun, don’t do it. I overcome those blocks by doing it anyways. Making things is probably the best way to overcome a blockade. Giving in is the thing that makes you blocked even more.

After having gone through the motions of creating a coffeemonster so many times, how do you continually push the limits of your creativity and challenge yourself?

Ok. This may seem simple: I make another blot. It’s that easy. They never ever look the same. It’s absolute coincidence how the coffee hits the paper and I love that fact. The real challenge is to make something new out of the monsters. A book or other cool stuff, events and so on. That quest pushes my limits in various ways. First there was my first exhibition. Limit one pushed. Then there have been conferences where I exhibited in Düsseldorf, Berlin and Brighton. Limit two pushed. Then there was this huge, at least for me, media buzz about the coffeemonsters, giving me the opportunity to talk to people, to give interviews like the one right now and in general be a person that makes people happy from time to time over the internet with a lot of hard work in the background getting everything done after my workday is over. Limit three pushed. I have to say that I am a one-man show. It’s really hard at times when I try not to go under in all of this but it’s a ride I like to take and want to take. There is so much cool stuff waiting and there is so less time for doing it all.

Have you ever made coffee stain and thought, "That's a bad one, I can't make a coffeemonster out of that!"?

Twice.

In all the time. I always draw them when i spill them. That’s one of the rules. The two stains “missing” is just because the paper couldn’t handle the coffee and ripped apart.

What makes a “good” or "bad" stain?

A good stain has much structure, a well placed body and some funny streams on the outside. A bad stain is when there is just a round blot and i’m like… “Damn, that will be something similar to something we had before” – But then i eventually just take the spoon again and spill a little more to make it a little more unique.

Do you use a specific type of paper/pencil for your illustrations?

Absolutely. The paper is artist paper 250g/m2 and the pencils are normal ones in HB strength. Sometimes, I use thin markers when the coffee was too sugary, but it fades with the time. It is better with pencils.

Would you consider creating coffeemonsters with other mediums? (e.g. using cloth, cardboard, paints, markers, etc) How about using other beverages besides coffee?

I do. Cardboard was one experiment, but I must say it makes bad stains. Not really good. Paint is an option I think about it a lot, because it’s the most equivalent to coffee. Other beverages I tried is red wine which just gets purple/blue in the end and has no good “stainish” character and I tried red cabbage once which ended in a blue stain I drew and raffled. But it was like a one-timer. The materiality of coffee is just perfect for the monsters and I think the other beverages are not runners up. Tea is the first runner up, but well… I like tea, but I don’t love it.

Many people liken art to therapy for the soul. How has spending time on coffeemonsters helped/impacted you personally?

I used it to get more creative every day, so it took me to another level of “stay with it” and working on one thing for very long. And drawing calms the soul a little. That is probably all I can say here.

What are some goals that you hope to achieve out of coffeemonsters?

I want to make a book and I am already working on it. Then we’ll see. Step by step is my thing. There's maybe another exhibition in Hamburg when I get the chance.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to try out improvisation? 

Don’t use coffee and draw sweet little deadly monsters. Haha. No everyone could just search for something that is highly coincidental and make something out of it. You can do it with photography, colour, mud, wind, mud and a ventilator. Haha. I’ve got a new idea. Wait… where was I. Ok. I think improvisation is a part of playing. And playing is childish. So we’re back with: Just rediscover your inner child and play.

Has anyone ever sneered at your work? How did you deal with it and what would you say to someone whose art has been laughed at?

Not really. There was a discussion if it’s art or not and people were bragging about the comic style in it. I see it that way: I create coffeemonsters. And if it’s art for some people, it’s art for them. And if someone thinks it’s not, then it’s not for him. And i’m totally ok with that.

The Rorschach test (more commonly known as the inkblot test) is a method used to examine personality, thoughts and emotions. In your opinion, what are the similarities or differences between this test and coffeemonsters?

Similarities is that there is a form that is unknown and someone needs to figure out what could be seen. The difference is that the test is precisely planned. My thing is not.

From your prolonged experience in projecting images on ambiguous coffee blots, what is your opinion on the validity of inkblot tests?

It can definitely show a state of mind, but it cannot tell you if the person is a bad guy or a good guy. It can perhaps tell you how the person feels right now. And that’s just guesswork because sometimes my monsters are not sweet and chubby but bad and ugly – sometimes, but not every time, I feel like that is a little soul mirror by the time drawing it. Example, I feel bad: monster feels bad. I feel good: monster feels good. But it’s not that way all the time because sometimes the monster I find makes me happy and then… well. I could go on with pros and cons for an hour.

Good question.

Your personal account, @dontblameme, reveals a side of you that is a stark contrast to your adorable, light-hearted coffeemonsters. Which style do you more deeply identify with?

The personal account, as you said, is my personal mirror. It’s dark and light. Day and night. And the lyrics, written in german, are always posted to the dark night visuals, none for the day. That’s the concept behind that instagram. Sad thing: in summer it’s bright day for too long as that I can take cool night-photos. The whole channel is some kind of far away view on everything. I love to write little stories that shock people, that are definitely harsh contrast to what I do with the coffeemonsters, even if they have their evil side too, as I told you that most of them have little stories and those are mostly about “eating people and hunt for prey”. But the personal account is more likely to be me on the deeper inside, even if I always try to make people laugh and be some kind of comedian. It makes life more bearable. But you probably found the darkest page I ran aside from my music projects. So in conclusion, a dark and a light side – like the account itself – and I think everyone has both.

What's the biggest difference between photography and illustrations?

Photography is becoming very easy nowadays. Everyone has got a smartphone at his/her fingertips and the world slowly adapts to those new smartphone photographers. But normally you should learn that from scratch. Just my opinion. Know, where your technology comes from.

Illustration is hard. I think it’s really hard to find your own style, it’s really hard to become good at it because it’s like learning an instrument – you need time. And it’s way harder to promote yourself and get real jobs with it.

The real difference of photography and illustration is that in photography, most of the time, you use something that is there. In an illustration, you don’t think of something that could be there. Good photographers do that too. They make sketches on how their photo should look like in the end and build it from scratch, like Tim Walker. He is a great photographer. I’ve got his photography book and there were some pages where he really planned out everything for a photo. That was inspiring. But well. My photography is mostly on the streets. It’s iPhone – shoot – VSCO work – upload. I will go to the same spot every other day and hope to get the day or night shot that’s missing and then do it all over. Photography is more like a vehicle carrying my idea.

How do you see your photography and illustrations progressing in the future?

The illustrations will probably be like the most powerful thing for me because they have the buzz. The personal account has not - yet. And that’s because I don’t take my good camera with me all the time, put it on a tripod (stativ) and shoot great photos. I’m just an iPhone user and it sometimes bothers me, that I cannot take my old Nikon D80 everywhere. 

For my illustrations, I am in a good place where they are right now. They will probably evolve one day, but I am hoping for them to stay the way they are because they have everything I want in them. 

For my photography, I am a little short on time, like I said. It will stay as an Instagram hobby but I can dig deeper if I have more free time.

What can we expect to see from coffeemonsters in the near future?

A book. I hope for some art fairs. I hope for some exhibitions. I hope to meet cool coffee-people and I hope to let my monsters evolve. Lastly, I hope for some other cool stuff that I did not think about until now.

 

All photographs are taken by the talented Jan Bornholdt. You can check his works out here