How does the Croatian language sound to foreigners

Humor and drawing as a universal language

Interview with graphic designer and illustrator Booboo Tannenbaum

Culture makes you grow. (And that's a good thing, because if you're not tall, you can't look over the wall.) –– This is the text, with accompanying illustration, which was printed on one of the first posters from Vizkultura's poster collection, which dates back to the "long ago" year 2013, and was signed by the illustrator and designer Booboo Tannenbaum. This title still sounds to me today, shortly before Vizkultura's five-year celebration, like a precise soundtrack of everything we wanted to achieve through this project. It is precisely this subtle dose of irony in something very serious that is often characteristic of Booboo Tannenbaum's work.

This witty lady hides her "real name" behind the easy-to-remember "Stage" name, which, like her and her work, is much funnier and more amusing and fits her character much more than a standard name with the inevitable boring diacritics . Illustrations, drawings, graphics and visual identities by Booboo Tannenbaum are anything but boring and predictable - they are bursting with giggles, joy, candy, all kinds of animals (with the inevitable Anuschka, her faithful dog) and just the right amount of sarcasm. It is certain (and maybe that's why she baked so many pies and cakes for me) that many young illustrators and draftsmen on the Croatian scene are over-employed and very committed today, thanks to Booboo, since Boboo has been with a few others over the past ten years Colleague, has paved the way for some new styles and author's illustration as an inevitable segment of visual communication of cultural and creative industries.

Thanks to the happy freelance position, which often enables independent authors to change location and work remotely, Booboo has found her home in Berlin over the past three years (love, constant inspiration and kilometers from parks). She is still constantly involved in projects in Croatia, works with clients across Europe and is slowly finding her place in the Berlin scene, actively working on her German humor. With Booboo we talked a lot about her work, her style, her clients, the Berlin scene and a bunch of other topics in a conversation that I hope will best introduce you to her opus in a relaxed and humorous way.

  • © Maja Bosnic
    Slide: Shapes: Booboo Christmas tree
  • © Maja Bosnic
    Slide: Shapes: Booboo Christmas tree
  • © Maja Bosnic
    Slide: Shapes: Booboo Christmas tree
How long has it been since you moved to Berlin and how did it come about? How much time has passed from the first time you were here until you decided to live here and what is actually the main reason you left Croatia for?

I recently added up the fact that I've been on the route between Zagreb and Berlin for three years, and that's really unbelievable because it seems a lot shorter to me. What is weirdest about this whole story (and so typical for me) is the fact that I never planned a life in Berlin, even though I've always felt at home here. Because of the political climate in Croatia, I went away more and more often and for longer and longer periods of time, as it is not too much fun for me to live in a country where the extreme and conservative right determines life. However, the impetus for a more concrete decision to make Berlin my second home came from Anuschka, who made a friend for me while walking in Humboldthain. She went up to Constantine, sat down next to him and did not move from the spot. She was probably fed up with seeing my love affairs for the past seven years.

What should we start with other than your humor? I've known for a long time, and I believe it will be with anyone who flips through your work (and reads this interview), how funny you are in Croatian, and I would say it's similar in English too. Is it "harder" for you to be funny in another language? And how about German? You speak it excellently - so I am interested in when, in your opinion, you will be able to be (immediately) amusing and humorous through your work in German?

God forbid, I'm dead boring in German! I had a crisis here in Berlin at a time when I was no longer at all clear who I was because I realized that my character is very different in different languages. A friend, also a foreigner, recently said something to me that I think is absolutely right - if you move to a country where they don't speak your language, you completely lose your character and then have to put it back in the new language build up. This is very difficult, at least for me, who always rely on verbal humor and the richness of the language. My English and Croatian are pretty similar, I've been an Anglophile since I was a kid and I easily "translated" this type of humor and puns into English. However, I am unbearable to myself in German; I am telling someone something while the monologue is spinning in my head the whole time - “what boring nonsense is that, stop it!” I recently met a Danish woman and after twenty minutes of arduous conversation in German she saw me desperately and asked: “Could we please talk in English? I am really funny in English !! ". It occurred to me to put this on my business card - Booboo Tannenbaum. Really funny in English.

Tell me something about your illustrative style as you see it. How did you create it, how much do you change it, what affects some of the changes, refreshments, and new elements you introduce, and how do you "tweak" it?

It always seems to me that I don't have a fixed style, but that with each new project I try to adapt my style to the nature of the task. Maybe it comes from the fact that I was trained as a graphic designer, applied artist (great phrase!). Therefore, an exact presentation of the product itself, and not just my style, is what I want. Humor is always a constant - it has to exist, even if it is only present in traces. Often times I feel like I can't even think it through because of the sheer amount of work and deadlines on some projects. Because if I only have two days, I can not think about the type of execution for five days first, but practically decide on the one in which I am most confident. However, I don't like to turn around in the familiar form for too long, because that's when I get bored of myself. Whenever I can, I go somewhere I've never been and try to do something new, even if I know the customer is completely satisfied with something they already know. And grinding comes with mistakes, you do something badly, then you grind it right and shed tears until you have fixed the mistake again. Life is a struggle.

I believe that you select the works that you show the public, however it seems to me that I can immediately see most of what is "yours" and immediately see that it is yours. It has that enormous dose of playfulness, humor and your character. How does it come about - do you always succeed in getting your employees and customers on your way, and the illustrations then correspond with your character, or are the customers just looking for you, since the energy is recognizable from the start?

I think that a lot of people get in touch with me because they have seen one of my work somewhere and already have a rough idea of ​​what they could get from me, and that is excellent because I know from the start that we are going to be on the same page Side are. There are also those who do not know how I work, but give me a lot of freedom (because I look at them very fondly and bring Anuschka to the meeting). Then they are always surprised when the work is presented (luckily mostly pleasantly). I have always taken this freedom for granted, but after my arrival in Berlin I realized that commercial design / illustration is indeed a service industry here and that my colleagues usually stay within the rather rigid framework that customers impose on them. I had a group show last year, and in my room there were two writers whose work was very correct and skillful, but quite boring (storyboard deluxe aesthetic). We talked and they were amazed at how much freedom there is in my work.

Do you have some models that help you maintain your creativity and authenticity in order to consistently pursue one type of handwriting, and at the same time always strive to be fresh, different, original?

What has changed in Berlin is that I have exposed myself to a large number of people doing the same work, but in a completely different way than me. I meet up with my illustrator friends once a week and then we all draw together. These meetings help me a lot to eradicate my own perfectionism, which is my archenemy. But if you only have 30 seconds without looking to draw a small dog with a large penis or a woman walking like a calamari (the last topics at our weekly meetings) and then you have to show it to everyone - you are within a second cured. I believe that this relaxation gives me a freshness and freedom in relation to my own work and develops my handwriting.
Of course, I'm also interested in your drawing process - to what extent do you combine the "analog" and the digital, or drawing on paper and drawing or editing the drawing using drawing software on the computer?

Almost always. I admire the people who just take a piece of paper, draw the illustration, scan it, clean it up a bit, and that's it. I scan it, and then I change the arrangement of everything six more times, add something and add it, stick a collage on, have no idea what I'm doing, just stuff everything in - like Melitta from the Croatian series “Smogovci” when she bakes cakes. With vector illustrations, the situation is much cleaner, I draw an imprecise sketch and then draw vectors over it. This is of course much easier, and everything can be completely changed with two clicks of the mouse. Hand drawing is always more interesting, I never know what will become of it, especially when I'm working in ink, left handed as I am, and then while I'm drawing I smear half of the drawing with that left hand. At half past one in the morning. And have nothing sweet in the house.

You share the studio in which you work in Prenzlauer Berg with several colleagues. Do you have the opportunity to work together with them, and how important is your physical environment to you for your work, motivation and inspiration?

We share the room and the cakes and give each other motivational speeches at 10 o'clock in the evening if nothing is ready and it should be ready by tomorrow morning. I am fortunate to share the space with some great creatives - a graphic designer, a copywriter and an animator. All three have their own style and approach, from which I learn a lot, and it is important to me to get out of the house and separate work from my living space. This year we have agreed to organize a small exhibition. Our studio is upstairs above a sauna and several yoga rooms, and every day in the stairwell we meet a bunch of idle, self, avocado and kale obsessed hipsters, which is why we decided to draw them and share stories from their healthy lives to think up. The animator suggested doing the exhibition in the stairwell; I'm afraid the wellness hipsters won't find it so funny.

And now the million dollar question: the freelance position - how satisfied are you with it and what are the problems? How demanding / arduous is it for you, especially in relation to the search for new work, new customers and self-promotion, and what are its advantages?

Oh dear At least twice a week I use to say in desperation that I should have married rich, because a freelance life can be terribly stressful. It's easier in Zagreb, the scene is much smaller, people know my work. Berlin is much bigger and I consciously exposed myself to it because I needed a challenge. Here, too, as everywhere, it is necessary to be present, to get to know people and to show them your portfolio, and I have transformed myself from an extremely extroverted person into a houseplant, so this "fumbling" is usually exhausting for me . On the other hand, I am probably more lucky than I am, because I still work all the time and moments of desperation when I have no work on the horizon are rather rare. In fact, my freelance work means that I can work anywhere there is internet, and I've gotten a bunch of projects done without ever seeing clients face to face. I haven't even spoken to some of them, which suits me, a telephone grouch, very well. On the other hand, I develop great friendships with most of the customers, so it's really good to have some around.
What are your favorite projects from the last few years, since you've been in Berlin, that the Croatian audience may not have seen yet?

Besides collaborations and small projects here in Berlin and in Germany, I work a lot for the British, Austrians and Danes, but I am still very much and very happy to be bound to Croatia through my work. I was happy to work with London design agency Tidy MacKenzie to do the packaging for the Wagamama beer, as Wagamama is a chain of restaurants where I've eaten tirelessly in England and Australia probably since I was twentieth when I first started gaining prominence To make trips. I worked with Tamara Nikolić Đerić on a picture book for the Batana Eco-Museum, with the unique Alen Vuković on the cartoon for the Ministry of Administration, in which people are prompted to be a little friendlier to one another. I made editorial illustrations for the Working Girls Network in London, as well as for the digital agency Netural from Linz and the American magazine Remedy Quarterly. A lot of murals and visual identities with the excellent Tanja and Franz Zahra, architects from Split - everything goes so quickly that I forget half of the things. But every project, regardless of the short deadlines, tears and (luckily, really rare) bizarre requirements is always an enormous pleasure for me. Work is more fun than fun, are the words of Noel Coward that are absolutely applicable to me.

Can you tell us a little more about the project for a hotel in Zurich that you recently worked on? I would say that this was an excellent combination of the collaboration of a number of employees who are all connected by this same Croatian "Archi-Design" background?

Nataša Ivanišević, an outstanding young architect from the Pinch of Design studio, contacted me and offered me to paint some of the wall surfaces in the lobby of the Park Inn Hotel in Zurich. I accepted enthusiastically because I had spied on her work on Instagram before and liked it a lot, as well as the multidisciplinary approach, the commitment of designers, illustrators, chefs, a kind of synthesis of different creatives in the project. It was really an international collaboration - Nataša with a studio in Zagreb and Barcelona, ​​I always between Zagreb and Berlin, and a hotel in Switzerland. I think it's great that Nataša always tries to work with Croatian creatives on projects, regardless of their location. In this project too, Šesnić & Turković are the authors of the visual identity of the hotel restaurant, the lobby furniture comes from the Croatian company Prostorija, and I drew the mural. The cooperation went extremely well, so we put out another tender together, and later this year we are supposed to work together on another project. Nataša is really a pleasure to work with!


You also mentioned Germany-based Iranian illustrator Merhd Zaeri, whom you recently met, with whom you should be collaborating on a children's picture book project. How did this collaboration come about?

I don't know! These are the coincidences of a houseplant's life. A friend invited me to the workshop of an Iranian illustrator who lives in Germany and mostly works as a children's author.At first I didn't want to go there at all, rain, tiredness, typical excuses. I went there and was completely fascinated by this man and his lecture. He talked about the things that keep floating around in my head myself, a melancholy stranger in Germany. Despite my mother's advice not to speak to strangers, I emailed him to thank him. He replied to me the next morning and, since the signature of my email contains a link to my Instagram and portfolio, he must have looked at it and written that I have excellent work and that we need to meet and talk to each other. Those two hours of coffee when we met were as therapeutic for me as the lecture by the best professor in the world, an unbelievable treasure. I was incredibly grateful to the universe for that, and then after two weeks it sent me the text of a picture book by a German author, which he would like to see illustrated by me. That was really a shock and disbelief! And now it is happening. I draw and can hardly believe my luck.

You also told me yourself that because of the cooperation with customers across Europe and in Croatia, at the beginning it was not necessary to find customers in Berlin and Germany, but it seems to me that you have been more and more such lately has? Which current projects that you are working on with German colleagues would you highlight?

Yes, while I work with a lot of projects on the European market without any problems, German collaborations were rare in the beginning. I tirelessly offered myself, they were tirelessly indifferent (hm, this is also the substance of my love life when I was still in school). Then I stopped offering myself, in the meantime I worked with English people and didn't worry too much. Then things started to happen too. I agreed with a small independent publisher to produce a small series of books on the subject of the survival handbook of a melancholy Mediterranean in Berlin, made some visual identities, one of which was intended for a children's musical, now I am doing editorial illustrations and, as I already mentioned , Illustrations for a picture book by a German author, which pleases me very much. It has started rolling, and some projects are still in preparation!
Who are the people from the German or Berlin illustrator-designer scene that you would like to work with?

When working together, the most important thing for me is that I get on with someone on a “level of life”, that we have the same sense of humor, that we are sensitive to the same things. I recently discovered the Berlin studio Colors and the Kids and thought - "People who named their studio after my favorite Cat Power song, these are my people, Weltschmerzer, here I come, I'm moving in." Then I went to their website Lo and behold - astro batatas, polished future, death of chance and odd lines. Huge projects for huge companies, an impressive portfolio, but that leaves me completely indifferent. On the other hand, Merhdad (Zaeri, the Iranian illustrator I mentioned earlier) did not plan to work together, but we recognized each other as brother and sister. The small editors of book editions, this one creative scene that is unencumbered by large budgets, that is the most interesting for me. I discover people at exhibitions at the MFI (Ministry of Illustration, an excellent little gallery for contemporary illustrators) and then, when I have the courage (and enough alcohol in my blood), I speak to them, and sometimes we make a difference, Exhibitions, drawings, etc. I like the Pictoplasma - Illustrative Festival, of course, but the little underground authors who print their illustrations on an old risograph in the basement are much more interesting for me to work with.

Otherwise, how do you find the illustrator scene and the graphic design scene here in Berlin? How do you experience them and what would you highlight? I am also interested in how you comment on this ubiquitous design that can be seen everyday in cafes, bars, pastry shops, restaurants?

The illustrator scene is so huge and confusing that I often even consciously isolate myself from everything because it becomes too much for me, and it always seems to me that a lot of people are doing all these great things and “just look at me "Poor mouse me, best of all, I can find a job at the post office" and all that. But, joking aside, of course there is a lot of nonsense here, as well as everywhere, besides excellent authors, because Berlin is one of those cities. where all the artists are.
In contrast to London, for example, where every sandwich bag has a shiny design, Berlin is much more casual when it comes to graphic design, and I like that. However, at the same time in graphic design there are a lot of things that have not been thought through to the end, solutions that are just "eye candy", without real substance or idea. Lately, a lot of hipster cafes that love industrial style and minimal design are springing up, but that's a lot more boring to me than an East German sign over a pub that someone has hand drawn.
There are a billion graphic designers, but honestly, they very rarely blow me away and I often say that some of my Croatian colleagues do a better job than most of what I've seen here. Fortunately there is no dominant style, and almost every place has its character, which is aesthetically more or less attractive, but at least a character.
The city is extraordinarily inspiring and, being huge, there are a million different things and a market for everything. Since Berlin is a city of start-ups, everything happens very quickly and can therefore be very superficial. I don't know ... I'm old school, always for this well-thought-out design, of the Cuculić and Serdarević type, and these intergalactic neon-homogeneous shapes and Adidas trainers in batata shape without seams, I can't do that ... I know that I do I'm old-fashioned and will soon be overtaken by time, but I might still be able to get married rich.


I think you will agree with me that the awareness of design and aesthetics on the one hand, and culture in general on the other hand, is at a terribly high level in Berlin. It seems to me that this is miles away from our context, almost incomparable?

Absolutely, these two contexts cannot be compared, neither politically (fortunately for us in Berlin!), Economically, nor aesthetically. However, small scenes like Zagreb have their advantages, in Berlin excellent projects are sometimes lost in the crowd! Incredibly creative people produce fanzines in their cellars in Neukölln and have their hardcore fans, but without access to the larger market. I have the feeling that in Zagreb the good people always come out, and I often think that this is sometimes thanks to Vizkultura.
Here, on the other hand, much more is invested in culture, and therefore production is much larger. That works wonders for creativity. The opportunity to ride a bike to Bob Wilson's Threepenny Opera or to spend three hours staring at the originals of Jeanne Mammen's drawings is the best food for the mind there is.

Finally, I care if the environment affects your work? To what extent are the everyday Berlin “street” situations inspiration for you, how important is Berlin to you? A lot of your work has these little storytellings, narratives, and situations in it, so I care where you get this from?

Berlin really influences my work to a great extent. Not just Berlin as a city with an enormous concentration of creative people, inspirational places and events, but Berlin as a place where my life has been completely turned upside down. And it's terribly important to my work, my inspiration, and my mind. From the passers-by on the street with an incredible sense of humor in their clothes, to the facades, the architecture, the cultural offerings of the city. However, what I really like best is freedom. I can wear a chicken on my head, hold a girl by the hand, have pink hair and eight hundred piercings and no one will yell at me or make fun of me. The others, those who are different, are accepted, the people have an open worldview and are free of prejudice. That is priceless and opens up a whole new scope and a lot of energy for you. Thanks to linguistic misunderstandings, some nonsense from Anuschka or the interaction with the motley people on the street, I experience a bunch of strange situations every day. I do an exercise where every night I write down seven things that I have seen, and when I have time I also draw some of them. That provides me with a huge amount of material, which I then sometimes “pick up” on my work somewhere. Last night I saw a lady with more hair than body (this bun was really tall), then I drew her and laughed to myself at half past one in the morning.


Ivan Dorotić

Translation: Marina Bertović