Illustrator Highlight: David Leutert
We recently “sat down” with David Leutert for a quick interview about him, his work and what he does when he’s not at the studio working on another illustration. Originally from Nuremberg, David graduated from the masters program at SVA and now works full time as a freelance illustrator in New York. His work is highly detailed. If you look closely at almost any of his pieces you’ll be surprised at the level of complexity and detail he puts into his work. We’ve watched his work evolve this year as he continues to push the boundaries of his style and his technical ability. We hope you enjoy the interview!
Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
Hallo! My name is David Leutert. Say: “Loitered.” I’m an illustrator and lettering artist from Nuremberg, Germany, currently living and lovin’ in Brooklyn, NY. While working as a graphic designer I’d often have a hard time finding the right typefaces to match a project, so I would start drawing all type by hand. I guess that’s how I got into this whole lettering thing. Since 2017 I’ve been working full-time as an illustrator and have had the opportunity to collaborate with great people at Adobe, PBR, Variety and Colossal. Almost twenty years after the head teacher at my school told me that I’d never amount to anything, I found my dream job in the best/worst city in the world and would consider myself successful in terms of the meaningful relationships I’ve made and maintained over the years. I’m not saying he wasn’t right. I’m 31 and I live in a lunch box.
Describe a typical work day for you.
I usually get up around 6:30, respond to some emails, chug a gallon of Earl Grey, move my sore aching body, run some errands, and head to the office. Thanks to Drew and Jessica at C&C who take care of the administrative side of things I can now spend the majority of my day working creatively. When I’m at the studio I tend to keep my head down, set my phone to silent and get stuff done. I grew up in a place where people supposedly iron their underwear, so excessive diligence to a concerning degree comes pretty naturally to me. I usually get home around 6, cook dinner and watch trashy TV with my favorite person who helps save lives on a daily basis while I complain about how the lowercase 'q' is not fun to draw.
Was there a striking moment in your life where you knew you had to become an Illustrator?
I’ve been fortunate enough to always know that I wanted to work creatively. In elementary school I would run around telling the other kids that I’d become a ‘Kommunikationsdesigner.’ My cultural upbringing was largely informed by Saturday morning cartoons, skateboarding, hip-hop culture and the DIY punk scene. About 12 years ago I started out as a design apprentice at an ad agency where I was introduced to the wonderful world of desktop publishing, pre-press production, X-Acto knives and spray glue while doodling on my lunch breaks and daydreaming about being able to draw for a living. I learned a lot at that time. Mostly about what I didn’t want to do. On my last day at the agency one of my bosses gave me some valuable advice along the way: “Please don’t become another children’s book illustrator. There’s plenty of those out there. Stick to advertising.” I thought “Nope,” spent half a year working on a 40-piece portfolio and applied to design school in Nuremberg to focus my studies on illustration and typography. During my fifth semester I interned at an animation studio in Berlin where I got a first glimpse at the everyday life of an illustrator and began to understand the commercial viability of what I was doing. I was already spending more time making band merch or show posters than working on my class assignments, so I decided to go freelance during my junior year. Upon graduating, I spent a summer designing t-shirt graphics at Adidas before I moved to New York to pursue a Master’s degree in illustration at SVA. Grad school taught me the necessary skillset to survive in the commercial arts and how to crash in a cubicle for days on end. After a long year of home office loneliness I moved into a studio in Greenpoint with some of the sweetest humans I’ve ever come across. I now share a space at the old Eberhard Faber pencil factory with Young Jerks, Charles&Thorn, Frances MacLeod, Paulina Ho, and Iain Burke. Good folks with hearts and stories for miles.
What mediums do you enjoy working with most?
Almost all of my work is done digitally at this point. I love the convenience to be able to realize an entire client project from the comfort of my couch. But I do still enjoy working with ink or paint on different surfaces. Or the messy, often frustrating, but eventually gratifying process of screen printing. It’s really humbling. Kind of reminds you that there’s no undo shortcuts in real life. When I was 15 I interned at the last remaining photo retoucher’s studio in Nuremberg. He was only able to sustain his business in the face of digitization by replacing his trusted airbrush tools with a new, unfamiliar digital setup. That taught me to at least be aware of where technology is headed. But I do still believe in the power of tangibility that a printed product can provide.
If you had unlimited resources, what would your dream project look like?
Some of my favorite projects last year were doing a set of illustrations for Lollapalooza, painting murals with my friend Viktoria Cichoń at SXSW, being an alpha tester for Adobe’s new Photoshop CC on iPad, and creating segment graphics for MTV’s reboot of TRL. I wouldn’t mind doing more of those things. More murals, book covers, packaging, editorial, and campaigns. And I can’t ever say no to doing apparel design. Let’s work together!
Outside of your work, what other hobbies do you enjoy?
What is your favorite show you’re watching right now?
I have a thing for crappy reality television. Current favorites include Geordie Shore, Ex On The Beach, Floribama Shore, Real Housewives of Dallas, Vanderpump Rules, and 90 Day Fiancé. Oh, and Die Geissens whenever I'm back home in Germany.
What was the last book you read that you really enjoyed?
It’s hard to pick one. The last few books I read and liked were “Belonging” by Nora Krug, “Lose Well” by Chris Gethard, “My Friend Dahmer” by Derf Backderf, “Hit Makers” by Derek Thompson, and “By the Light of My Father’s Smile” by Alice Walker.
What is a common creative block for you and how do you get unstuck?
There’s no problem that can’t be solved with a long walk or a good talk. I finally learned not to freak out during slower weeks. It’s so easy to get stuck when you’re in between jobs. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring I try to work on personal projects to flex the creative muscle. The beauty of those self-initiated projects is that you don’t have to have an audience in mind. My SVA buds Nicole Rifkin and Brian Britigan started this weekly drawing session recently in an attempt to not die from solitude, and now Wednesdays are starting to become my favorite day of the week.
Outside of design, what do you do that inspires your creative pursuit?
I generally try to take care of myself more or less successfully. When I’m not working I travel to foreign and familiar places, cook a ton, read comics, write, play foosball, watch crime documentaries, go to mediocre dad rock shows, enjoy a frozen drink with friends at a dog-run dive bar, or stroll around the West Village looking for cute plant pots. I’m a sensitive little soy boy snowflake on a lifelong quest for the softest face lotion. From my experience, you can’t expect to produce good work unless you’re physically and mentally resilient. That’s why I choose to devote a lot of my spare time to friends and family. Sometimes it’s important to slow down, take a step back and think about what you have and who you love. I don’t buy into the myth of the prolific starving artist. When I hate my life the last thing I want to do is funny little drawings.
Are you an early bird or a night owl?
It’s been changing a lot over the years. I used to work long nights during school and it took me a while after graduating to get back to a normal person’s schedule. As of last year I started getting up early in the morning, getting things done during the day and not staying up too late unless I really have to. I’ve changed.