Looking around at the current global creative scene, it’s safe to say that side projects, or passion projects, are often the catalyst for some of the best work we see. It has become such a norm for artists, that it’s also safe to assume if you’re not working on a passion project at the moment, you’re probably among those who are thinking about starting one. Though it’s without a doubt rewarding, getting into the business of creating for the sake of creation is far from easy. Between work and life and work again, procrastinating on personal projects seems inevitable. But one of the ways to avoid it is to find some collaborators to accompany the journey.

The Time Tunnel Collective is just that. With the ambitious goal of illustrating random years of mankind’s history, the project was born as a joint venture of like-minded artists with the sole purpose of encouraging one another to get creative outside of commercial work. After working as a freelance illustrator for the past 13 years with books published in almost every continent of the world (all but Antarctica as a matter of fact), Shahar Kober, one of the founders of the Collective, decided that he wanted to take his work a step further. “It started out during a video chat with fellow illustrator Noam Weiner,” Shahar recalls. “We wanted to do something with no clients, just for the love of illustration. We then brainstormed with a few other colleagues till we came up with the idea of time travel.”

“Freelance illustration is generally a lonely profession,” Shahar adds. “Most of us sit in our studios alone, so when working in a group, even if it’s a virtual one, I think we inspire each other more.” Together, the group picks a random year in history, and then go about illustrating events that occurred that same year, individually. “We use a random year generator, then we come up with three dates and take a vote to select our next stop in time.”

Your best client is you

Soon the word of this project began spreading around their professional circle. Today the collective prides itself of fifteen members, all coming from a diverse background and style. Among the current members is Maya Shleifer, a freelance illustrator and designer that has worked as an art director for years in the publishing industry, and embarked on an independent journey five years ago. “The workload and the daily rut shut creativity down and eventually damage the end result of your own work,” Maya explains as the reason she joined the collective. “A personal project is like sitting in a stuffed room when there’s rain outside. You get to stick your head out through the window and enjoy the scent of rain, but at the same time you have to bring yourself back inside so you won’t get wet. A sense of stress and complete freedom at once.”

Award-winning Illustrator Omer Hoffmann had gotten the call to join the group from Shahar, and in the midst of a successful career that included numerous children’s books, comics, ad campaigns and editorials, he decided to make time for this new adventure. “I appreciate the idea of creation for creation’s sake. I think it’s vital for an illustrator, or any creative for that matter, to have self-initiated projects as a way to create with less creative constraints, i.e. no clients.”

“We are all here for the love of drawing and illustration,” adds Shahar. “We were lucky enough to make this a profession, but when working with clients it can get somewhat frustrating. On personal non-commercial projects, you are your own boss. You have the freedom to experiment, to try new things, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

To date, no man has indeed gone back in time, but that’s exactly where the wild imagination of the collective’s members get to flourish. Their voyage to the year 1982, for example, included a visit to the day of Michael Jackson’s release of Thriller by illustrator Lihie Jacob. Our very own Wix illustrator Or Yogev, who is a part of the collective as well, chose the same year to depict the moment when China became the first nation to have a population of over one billion people. And when the group traveled to 1937, Noam Weiner took the viewers on a bloody trip to the first hospital blood bank that was established in the US.

The day Michael Jackson’s Thriller was released, Lihie Jacob

China’s citizen number 1 billion. Or Yogev

A blood bank robbery, Noam Weiner

History in the remaking

 The group’s choice to tackle such a broad topic as history throughout time was widely praised. For some, it was about the opportunity to find a common ground. “From our perspective, history has so much to offer in terms of creative material,” Omer explains. “From the audience’s perspective, it is universal.” For others, it was more about the personal challenge such a project invites. “About a year ago,” says Maya, “I realized that I can’t keep judging and understanding events that occur in the world without historical context. Since then, I started reading a lot of history books, so in that sense Time Tunnel Collective came at the right time for me.”

More than just the right timing, for Maya, the process of picking an event comes from a deep place of connection. At five, she was living in the Soviet Union when politician Leonid Brezhnev died. “Existence during those days was false, like Potemkin village – a construction built solely for deception. Everything you thought was real, turned out to be a lie. When Brezhnev died, his death was hidden from the public for a whole day. In the meantime, the normal TV schedule was cancelled and instead, Tchaikovsky Swan Lake ballet was aired. This was one of the first deaths of a Russian leader during those years. Each time someone died, they aired Swan Lake. It became a symbol of a politician’s death. The screens, the swans, the ballet dancers and the applause that followed every word of these Communist leaders, were all mixed into one squared illustration.”

Illustrating history with such creative freedom welcomes a variety of options for storytelling. As a mediator between a moment in time and a higher concept, an illustrator can choose to embrace facts, nostalgia, critique and even fiction. When Shahar worked on his comic strip for the year 1937, he chose to commemorate the date of the disappearance of aviation pioneer, Amelia Earhart. The comic suggests that she may have flown to the moon. “We really do as we please, no clients” he reminds.

Omer tries to play with the event in a way that will be relevant for his style. “I like to take the building blocks of events and rearrange them so it will convey my personal point of view as an artist and person,” he explains, referring to his 1982 piece. It was about the decision the European Court of Human Rights made to ban the beating, canning and teasing of pupils in school. “When I approached the subject, I felt empathetic for children who attended schools which practiced physical punishments in those times,” he explains. “It felt like such an inhumane and horrible practice, so I wanted others to understand how it might have felt to walk those school hallways and fear grown-ups. Heck, I think it’s still relevant today.”

In this particular instance, Omer chose to deliver a critical point of view. Using the characters involved in the scene, he created a “composition that will convey the sort of horror-house-feel a pupil might get when walking in school.” He then created a tunnel composition using layers, to form a main hall that twists inwards. ”I think the result was a dreamlike satirical image, reinforced by an exaggerated 80’s color scheme, where teachers come out from doors and corners and faceless pupils are being devoured.”

Time Tunnel Collective Illustration

Horrific imagery was also what lead Shahar to his choices in his 1494 piece marking the day of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to Jamaica. In general, Shahar leans more towards depicting historical figures as true to the facts as possible. “Reading and researching about the time and culture I currently work on is possibly one of my favorite parts of the job,” he says. “I try to remain true to periodical fashion, design and architecture, but give myself the freedom to exaggerate events or to criticize them. Columbus, his ships and the native Taíno people are depicted in the illustration as true to the period as possible. But to show the horror of Columbus’ actions then, I drew him sitting triumphantly in a pool of blood.”

Days of future past

While the past seems filled with bloody and violent events, the future of the Collective and the field of illustration offers a brighter note for Shahar and his colleagues, though not effortless. “I hope we can continue doing this for some time, and mainly have fun as we go,” he stresses, yet all three illustrators express a certain fear about the future of their profession. With our collective attention span diving deep into new lows, Shahar acknowledges that illustration in the 21st century must become more simple and precise. “Illustrators must also be able to have their work ready for animation in this digital age. Everything will have to move eventually, and static illustration might become irrelevant with time. Although I really hope it doesn’t.”

“The field has changed quite a bit in recent years,” adds Omer. “I think illustrators now struggle more with the changing framework, since traditional working structures such as newspapers or locals markets, diminish in importance while new working opportunities that did not exist in the past have emerged.” But Maya chooses to see this change from an optimistic point of view. ”Illustration has the ability to speak without a language barrier,” she points out. “It can touch people, move them and explain the world. No matter how the design world is changing, whether it’s more print or more interactive, illustration is like water. It penetrates every field of design.” 

Follow Time Tunnel Collective on their blog, Instagram and Facebook.