Julian Piehler loves spending his free time at lakes and seas in and around Berlin—his outdoor adventures take him swimming, boating, and in search of inspiration for his water-themed illustrations and photographs.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you, where are you from, what do you do?
Hej, my name is Julian, and I’ve been living in Berlin for eight years. I’m originally from Brandenburg an der Havel, so I grew up between lakes, rivers, and lots of forests and fields. My love for nature is rooted in these landscapes.
In addition to being a Social Media Manager, I’m passionate about photography and illustration as well as new magazines, minimalist design, and purist aesthetics. Because I spend most of my time working in an office, I try to devote every free minute I have to the outdoors. This pastime includes everything from discovering beautiful and inspiring cities, such as Copenhagen or Paris, to short trips to the Baltic Sea. In my eyes, the Baltic Sea is the sea with the most beautiful coast, making it one of my all-time favourites. I’m especially fond of the Darß.
You illustrate and photograph water. What fascinates you about this element?
I’ve always had a soft spot for details. I was interested in discovering new perspectives and angles—teaching the eye to recognise something that would typically go unnoticed as you walk by. From the headlights of classic cars or macro shots of leaves and plants, many of the motifs I select are static. I can influence the light, sit tight until the wind subsides, and patiently wait for the perfect moment to release the shutter.
This process is slightly different when you’re by the sea. You never know what you’re going to get—depending on the weather, it can be tempestuous or still, light or tinted dark.
I could spend an entire hour standing in the same spot, taking 3,000 photos from one angle, and yet I’d end up with 3,000 different photographs. That’s what excites me—it’s tremendously calming. I can also transfer this approach to my water illustrations. Here, however, I can decide for myself how I want “my sea” to look.
What prompted you to start drawing water, and how do you go about it?
For a long time, I only drew minimalist floral motifs. But after the twentieth fern, I needed a new graphic challenge.
So I tried to translate things that I already liked to photograph to paper: waves, shorelines, rough seas, calm oceans.
I capture most of these motifs from images in my mind—I rarely draw inspiration from photographs. That said, I still feel the need to change things up from time to time. Hence, I recently started combining nature illustrations with urban landscapes. My focus here always lies on the depiction of the horizon—there needs to be enough free space towards the upper part of the composition. I illustrate the drawings by hand, scan them, vectorise them, and then drape them over a light-grey background to maintain consistency in my aesthetic.
What is the story behind this photograph?
Truth be told, somehow, I’ve always managed to find the best motifs and take the best pictures when I wasn’t looking for them intentionally. That’s also how this one came to be. It was the morning of 1 January, 2018. I had spent New Years Eve with close friends in a little house at Zeuthener See in Brandenburg. That morning, while everyone else was still sound asleep, I walked down to the lake and stood on the pier.
Just like any other first of January day, everything felt peaceful and dreamy in contrast to the lake which had already awakened from its slumber. The rising, crisp winter sun glistened on its surface.
The previous night still lingered in my body. And so it was simply the picture that I took in that moment.
Describe what a typical day by a lake looks like for you.
If go to a lake for a day, it’s usually on the weekend or while I’m on holiday—this in itself is already quite nice. I’ll be excited to enjoy the weather and the fresh air in the company of a good magazine or book, while ready to switch off. That said, I rarely laze around. I’ll usually rent a boat and set out from the shoreline to explore the lake’s waters. Last summer, my friends and I started scouting out the best boat rentals around Berlin—sailing boats, motorboats, pedal boats, all kinds of boat really. Our aim was to visit lakes we hadn’t yet been to. Summer is an especially good time to escape the hot, crowded city for a day.
So where’s your favourite place to swim?
I love jumping directly into the water from a boat that’s anchored somewhere—preferably at Rietzer See, which is in a bird reserve near my hometown, or at Zeuthener-/Crossinsee south of Berlin. There’s usually not a lot going on in either of these places, so you can enjoy some peace and quiet, while the nearby wilderness beckons. And who knows, I might just come across a new motif for my lens or pen en route.
Head over to @julian____p to discover more of Julian’s water illustrations and lake photography.