Interview: Meet Illustrator Kati Szilágyi

Kati Szilágyi is a 32 year-old illustrator living and working in Berlin, Germany. Studying communication design in Mainz, Denmark and Stuttgart she quickly focused on illustration. Kati was hooked when her professor took her class to New York City in 2009, “She introduced us to the Editorial Illustration scene there: we visited the New York Times, the American Illustration exhibition and a lot of brilliant illustrators. Since then I’ve been in love with that profession but took some time while studying to figuring out my voice and style”.

After graduating in 2016, Kati moved to Berlin and started sending out portfolios to Art Directors. Slowly but steadily forging her illustration career. We caught up with Kati to talk about her process.

How do you go about starting a piece of work? Does it start as a pencil drawing? What is your process?

I love drawing by hand and I’m much better at it than illustrating digitally. So most of my work is a mixture of both. I start by scribbling little sketches and ideas next to the articles or notes that I get from the client using a pencil. I work with a light table and trace on top of rough sketches and the layout size, then simply scan the sketches and clean them up a bit in Photoshop.

For the final illustration I again use my light table and draw the outlines with a dark blue colour pencil by hand. The scan then will be edited and coloured in in Photoshop. I think the longest part then is choosing the right colour combination, this can take hours if I’m not really satisfied. For anyone interested in the process, I did two Adobe Live Sessions you can find on Youtube, in German though.

I also work with another style that’s based on my analogue cutouts. For commercial projects I create those illustrations purely in Photoshop, but try to base the shapes on my analogue experience.

What are you currently working on?

I’m usualy working on several projects at the same time. There’s something in the pipeline for So Young Magazine just now! I’m also working on an avatar for a consultation App and an illustration for a literature magazine. Sometimes I get jobs on a very short notice, some are planned ahead for weeks. So I never know what will happen next week, if it’s going to be a quiet or busy one.

Tell us about a typical working day.

Although I’m never sure what the next day will bring, I love having some kind of routine. Usually I work in a studio with other illustrators, typographers, graphic designers and 3D artists and more. I try to get there latest by 9 am as it’s then still fairly quiet there. Since the pandemic started I’ve worked more from home, though. So at the moment I’m starting the workday by making a coffee, checking emails, planning the day and other organisation work. I then start or continue working on the job that has the closest deadline. During the sketch phase I love silence, my best purchase were Noise Cancelling headphones for sure! I try to maintain working hours from morning until the early evening. However, with clients in other countries such as the US this schedule often shifts. Nevertheless, I really try to become better on taking time off, too!

How do you want people to feel when they see your work?

I guess everything besides indifferent is good, haha. Some of my work tries to be funny and I hope people find it amusing. Others speak with a more atmospheric tone. My goal would be to transport the intentions and feelings I had when creating the atmospheric pieces to the people that look at it. As I often work for Editorial clients my work introduces a topic, sometimes dry economic or political stuff. I hope a colourful, maybe clever illustration encourages the people to read the article and maybe even adds a thought to it.

I generally just enjoy when people gain some feeling or thought when they see my work.

Whose work do you admire and why?

I deeply admire my colleagues that I’ve studied with who also became illustrators, Cynthia Kittler, Riikka Laakso, Barbara Ott, Laura Breiling, Katharina Bourjau. As we’re still in contact a lot of the time I see their development and am in awe of their output and talent.

My childhood hero is Sempé, his poetic and whimsical illustrations really influenced me. And I can’t get enough of the painted illustration of Robert Rurans, a latvian illustrator who’s also being represented by my agency Closer & Closer. Another brilliant painter & illustrator is Marc Majewsky, he creates wonderful calming landscapes. I also love the retro style of Kate Dehler, illustrating interesting still lifes and scenes without people isn’t easy at all I think. These are just a few of the many artists I admire.

Does music influence your work at all?

Definitely! My favourite part of the work process is when the idea gets approved and I’m onto the final drawing. I still have to concentrate but can either listen to Podcasts or music. Especially when I’m looking to get into a certain mood, I love finding the right music. E.g. for a comic about my childhood I dove deep into 90s Eurotrance. But mostly I listen to my chaotically mixed playlist of my favourite songs, skipping those that don’t fit my current mood. I recently realized most of my music is a bit sad, though, not too many upbeat songs among them.

Who’s your favourite new band?

At the moment I haven’t been influenced by much new music sadly. I think The Doves were the last ones I got really into, my boyfriend introduced me to them. Listening to them now reminds me of evenings in the summer by the fire in our little garden with a glass of wine.

My alltime favourite at the moment are Future Islands, though. I hope I’ll be able to see them in concert again.

Finally, what can we expect to see from you in the near future?

I really want to get more into animation, so hopefully I’ll be able to show some nice gifs and videos in the future. Besides that I tried out some abstract cutout based illustrations that are currently being silkscreenprinted. Can’t wait to see how they turned out! And of course there’s always new illos coming out, for So Young Magazine and more 🙂 Thank you for having me here!


The brand new issue of So Young is out now. It’s sold out in print but you can read the digital edition below.