This Innovative Illustrator Uses Unusual Methods in his Character Development

Using paper, black ink, and the unlikely but irreplaceable tool of a wooden skewer, Stephan Guenther sketches out the ever-expanding hoard of characters that make up the Signo Malhela collection. Using an organic process of repetition and non-repetition, Stephan draws his characters with shape but not outlines, feeling his way aesthetically with small and varying skewer-stroked until a character emerges on the page.


Stephan was relaxing in the kitchen with a graphic designer friend and her two children when Signo Malhela kicked off. Whilst demonstrating different inking techniques with a number of tools, he alighted on a wooden skewer and started sketching out graphics, and characters – a particular interest of his. From there, Signo Malhela was born. The name means Dark Signs in Esperanto, the language constructed back in 1887 as a means of easy international communication. “I chose Esperanto for this series that I can’t explain in words; the name seems to be conveniently familiar,” Stephan shared with us.

Stephan trades in visual development, concept art, illustration, and graphic design, which makes him a dab hand at this brand of character design. Get to know the growing Signo Malhela family with us.


THE PLUS: Who are the characters? It looks like you‘re growing a small army…
Stephan Guenther:
I’ll leave the characters to your own imagination, but they appeared very unexpectedly. I wouldn’t call them an army. If you like, we could call them a tribe.

TP: Your characters grow spontaneously through your repetition and non-repetition – what are the benefits of this approach?
This method allows a controlled line drawing combined with random interrupted shapes. Each of them appears individual, but in the end they all have something in common.


TP: You’ve stuck with monochrome: why is this?
Monochrome is pure and keeps the widest space for my imagination. They’re a very distinctive style – little outline, two-tone, highly stylised.

TP: Where did this develop? And what do you think has influenced you?
A smart person told me you don‘t have to go far to find inspiration, sometimes it’s right in front of your nose, you just have to learn to see it. Have some trust in intuition and coincidence. Keep it simple and use as little material as possible. Keep experimenting with different tools.


TP: How many have you made, and how many do you plan to keep going on for?
I don’t know. At the moment it’s still fun to draw them. I would like to discover more animal-like figures.

TP: So do you always use the wooden skewers? You’re not empted to find something more conventional for the series?
I wouldn‘t change the tools for Signo Malhela. It’s like a mutual symbiotic relationship. Usually when I‘m drawing for Signo Malhela, I’m in a calm mood, sitting in a silent room, with a cup of tea or coffee. Sometimes it’s like meditation, so maybe it’s similar to a ritual.


TP: As someone constantly creating new figures, how do you feel about creative block?
A creative block is a chance! Since I see creativity as a process of transformation, a creative block marks a point of conflict that challenges us to change our conditions, and from where we begin to be creative.

TP: Any advice you’d give people to get them started?
Find your inner balance, which will help you to cultivate an interaction between contemplation and diversion. Play! When we are playing we acquire balance and we acquire intuition.


TP: And how do you spark your own creativity?
Day by day, line by line, drawing can be very relaxing, but also an isolating process. I take a walk for a few hours in the woods, or go to the nearby river, where I’ll sit on the bank reading a book or scribbling in my sketchbooks. Sometimes I just watch the waves on the water. When the water level is low, and the flow is weak, I step into the river and take a walk, where I collect stones and different things.

TP: Sounds like the perfect recipe for creativity…
On the way back, sometimes I feel like I’m coming back from a journey from a different world, and I feel enlivened by this new exploration.