Key Art's Great Women Designers: Flore Maquin and Eileen Steinbach

A chat with two premier European poster talents

Europe has seen never shown a decline in its creative skill and imagination. Remarkable works of poster art reveal its high standing across the globe. In particular, two women lead the pack: Flore Maquin from France and Eileen Steinbach from Germany. Both are commercial artists who count among their international clientele: Disney, Festival de Cannes, BBC Studios, Universal Pictures, Europacorp and so on.

This is the last of three articles that spotlight female key art designers, interviewed by Tami Shelly at Greenlight Creative. See the other two articles here:

Key Art's Great Women Designers: Diane Nguyen and Jen Elbogen
Key Art's Great Women Designers: Akiko Stehrenberger and Desi Moore

Tami: Let's talk about France and Germany. How did you find yourselves working in entertainment marketing, specifically poster design?

Flore Maquin: I would say it's thanks to the internet. It's crazy how fast things go with internet. When you post an image, it can be broadcast around the world in a second. That's kind of what happened to me. I started by creating five alternative posters in 2015, just for myself, and I posted them on my networks. Luckily, a journalist saw my Instagram and decided to share my posters in an article. The snowball effect has been crazy. I had immense visibility in a few days. The internet makes the world much smaller than it really is. I found myself talking about a project with Paramount within days. Little by little, I was called more and more for these kinds of projects. I was an employee at the time and decided to go out on my own, to try my luck, and here I am.

Eileen Steinbach: I've always been a huge movie buff, from a very young age. Being from Germany, I never had any real hopes to be involved in anything film-related over in Hollywood. Even after finishing design school, it wasn't the plan. I worked at advertising agencies for a couple of years, doing campaigns, etc., and it was more of a coincidence as I started creating my own versions of movie posters for fun on the side. Those led me to the alternative movie-poster scene. While I started with illustrations as well, my main focus has always been the image-based key art. After a while, some of my pieces ended up being mistaken for the official key art, and from there it wasn't long until I had the first requests from film students and then filmmakers. It all grew very organically, with social media being a big help—so much so that I could go full-time freelance three years ago, pretty much exclusively creating key art and promotional material.

Tami: Can you describe for us what you do?

Flore: I create alternative movie posters. Today, it is quite common to see this kind of poster when a film is released, or re-released. It is a slightly less commercial and a little more artistic medium. The stakes of an official poster are higher than an alternative movie poster; this one will mainly be used on the internet or be used as a collector's product. Sometimes it can also be used as a teaser. The advantage of an alternative movie poster is that you can take more risks, afford more extravagance, and that's great!

Eileen: Basically? That I design movie posters. While there's more to it and I also do pitch decks and other promotional stuff, it's the easiest to mention just that because it's something people can grasp.

Tami: Who are your biggest influences?

Flore: Andy Warhol. I love pop culture, and he is one of the movement precursors. Overall, I love to be inspired by artists who have no connection to cinema. I think it allows you to have more creativity, to be able to invent new things.

Eileen: Oh, there's a lot of them. Style-wise it's definitely masters like Andy Warhol and Saul Bass, but also Olly Moss, who got famous for his minimal Star Wars and Disney posters back in the day. I'm a huge fan of strong concepts and minimal illustration. As much as I enjoy a good technique, I'd always prefer a smart, interesting poster/composition, as it has more impact on me personally. I definitely have to mention the great Akiko Stehrenberger; she's been such an inspiration and support over the years, too. She's just awesome, and I'm very grateful she always has an open ear.

Tami: What's something you learned early in your career that has helped make you a better artist?

Flore: I'm someone who doubts a lot, all the time. I think it's part of the artist life. But I learned early on that you have to be confident in your job. It is very important. You need to believe in your work and be proud of what you create. It's a virtuous circle, The more you love what you do, the more you will dare to create new things.

Eileen: Don't compare yourself too much. Your artistic voice is unique, and you should embrace that. Don't put yourself down because you can't do xyz. Focus on the things you CAN do, because at the end of the day, that's what people will hire you for.

Tami: What's been your biggest learning curve working in entertainment marketing?

Flore: Always focus on the idea, the message to be conveyed. A poster should have a clear message. During my studies in advertising, my teacher kept telling me, "What's the idea behind your poster?" A good idea should be described in one sentence. If you need more to explain your idea, then change it, or simplify it. I remember a scene in the movie Philadelphia starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. Tom introduces himself to Denzel and has to explain to him why he needs a lawyer. Denzel Washington tells him, "Tell it to me like I'm a 6-year-old." And it's exactly the same when you create a poster. You always need to have an idea in your head when you create a poster; you have to tell a story. As we say in French, the shorter the story, the better it will be.

Eileen: Working with bigger studios and on bigger jobs and how fast things need to move sometimes reminds me a lot of my classic ad-agency days sometimes. Ideas need to be pumped out fast and a lot, and while I really enjoy working like that, it can be draining, too. It's why I now always try to take breaks in between agency days to recharge either with slower or personal projects to keep the muse happy and healthy.

Tami: You both do a lot of amazing personal art. What inspires you to keep designing between paying gigs?

Flore: It's hard to find inspiration between two paying gigs, but it's great fun to create for yourself. I love to make portraits and share them with people. Often, I start one project and finish it a few months—or years!—later. Inspiration comes and goes, so I don't force it, but as soon as I have an idea, I go for it!

Eileen: As I mentioned, it keeps me sane sometimes. You can try new things, new styles, new techniques, or software and just stretch creatively. There are no rules I have to stick to, no art directors or clients to work with. It's just your own voice coming through, and that voice inspires other people as well. I really enjoy that part, too. On top of everything, it's obviously a great way to expand your portfolio, to show what you're capable of and what kind of projects you want to work on.

Tami: Do you have a favorite genre?

Flore: I don't think I have a favorite genre. I work quite unconsciously in terms of aesthetics. But what I can say is: Color, color everywhere.

Eileen: I'm a huge horror fan. From old to new, indie to big production, original to remake. I just enjoy the creativity the genre always had to bring to the table to really make an impact. It's so easy for dramas, to play with themes like loss and love, but to actually scare someone? That takes a whole lot more, in my opinion. Also, a lot of them are so well done these days, beautifully shot—like Midsommar or Us. So stunning.

Tami: You both created very different pieces of art inspired by The Mandalorian. Tell me about your process that brought you to your final piece.

Flore: I wanted the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda to be on the poster together to emphasize their complementary nature. I also wanted to add a kind of "movement" to symbolize their crusade, the adventure they are having together. On the poster, they are depicted as if they were running and heading toward an opponent. Both look to the right, to the future. And with color, of course!

Eileen: I created two promotional pieces in collaboration with the Poster Posse and Disney+ for both Season 1 and Season 2—without assets. So, it was basically working off of trailers, which is why I didn't even try to guess what it's going to be about and went with a vibe, a feeling, instead. In both cases, I worked with Mando's silhouette and the starry sky as well as color to create an iconic piece, that now makes a pretty neat set.

Tami: Being a woman, does that impact the point of view of your artwork?

Flore: Actually, I don't know. Besides, people often think it's a man behind my posters, and I think it's funny. A woman can also have a masculine approach. I don't really think about it. I let myself go when I create. I like to try lots of things, sometimes something masculine and other times something more feminine, or a mix of both. In my opinion, there is no genre behind art.

Eileen: I'm not sure it has an actual impact on my work. I'm not bound to genres or styles just because I'm a woman. I can do anything I want creatively, and fortunately, the alternative movie poster scene is very open and supportive and makes a point of celebrating women, too. As for paid work, I try to choose projects mindfully because I want to help filmmakers and stories that are important and interesting to me, but that's also not really a gender but a personal thing. Did it have an impact on working in the industry? For sure. Unfortunately, there's still a lot of people who prefer to work with men.

Tami: Eileen, you've collaborated with Disney+ on a number of their tentpole titles. Tell me the difference between the official key art and the official promotional posters.

Eileen: Key art usually has a lot of rules, a lot of legal things you must take into consideration, while the promotional pieces are more about the artists' interpretation. You're hired because they enjoy your style, the way you see things and visualize them. There are still rules, but usually they're a lot less strict because it falls under "art," if that makes sense.

Tami: I love the poster you created for Mulan. Is there a project you're most proud of?

Eileen: Probably the one-sheet for the Oscar-nominated short film My Nephew Emmett and the promotional poster for Avengers: Endgame. Two very different projects, but they mean a lot to me for different reasons.

Tami: Where do you find your inspiration?

Eileen: Personally, I think inspiration is all around us—everyday life, music, art, movies, friends and family. It's what all these things make us feel and how we translate it into our work. Sometimes it's the small things, sometimes the big things. So, it's important to keep your eyes and heart open, in my opinion.

Tami: What unique characteristics best describe your work?

Eileen: One thing I've heard quite a few times by now is my ability to capture a film's essence in one image, which is a really nice compliment. I always try to keep ideas simple and strong at the same time, simple in style, strong in their message. I think I've gotten quite good at that, but there's definitely room to improve still.

Tami: Flore, I love the official posters you designed for the Cannes Film Festival. Do they give you specific directions, a theme, and access to their photography archives?

Flore: I don't really have a direction. The Cannes Film Festival team gave me carte blanche. I had to look for photography on my own. I did not have access to any archives. I went through everything I could on the internet and in libraries. It was a huge job. We had to find the perfect photo, and I made a lot of different posters. It's the Cannes Film festival poster, and it had to be perfect. As long as we had no heart stroke, I had to continue to seek and create posters. It was a work of several months. I was constantly looking for photos, day and night, to find the right one. I am immensely happy with the result and proud that both posters were so well received.

Tami: You draw, paint and employ digital art with a vibrant color palette. How would you describe your portrait style?

Flore: It's hard to describe my style because it's very subconscious work. I think it's all about color. I like the '80s and pop culture. I think it shows in my posters; they have a retro feel.

Tami: What was your first poster that you got really excited about?

Flore: My Pulp Fiction portrait. It's a red portrait of Uma Thurman drinking a milkshake. It was one of the very first posters I made, and it's funny because, when I finished it, I was like, "OK, there is something here." I was very proud of this poster and still am; it motivated me to continue.

Tami: Flore, who are three artists you'd like to be compared to?

Flore: Andy Warhol. Roy Lichsteinstein. Blair Breitenstein.

Tami: You're clearly passionate about movies and pop culture. What quality does a character need to have to inspire you to paint its portrait.

Flore: Lots of personality!  

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