Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?
Hi! Thanks for reading my interview!
I illustrated already before I ventured into children’s books. I have 10+ years’ experience working as a graphic designer and illustrator for several design studios.
My kids helped me discover the children’s book world. Because of them I bought and read a lot of children’s books over the years and watched a lot of Disney and Pixar movies. All those colourful and meaningful stories made me interested in becoming a children’s book illustrator. It is a powerful tool to inspire kids and adults at the same time.
How and why did you decide to pursue illustration as your career?
It is very meaningful to do. To see my two kids, grow up with tons of beautiful stories is great. It sparks their imagination and creativity. Both gain a lot of vocabulary based on us reading children's books together.
Besides that, I personally enjoy writing interesting stories and illustrating them. Creating something that is your own is very nice. And it is also quite fun to read my book to my kids. They are my best critics (:
Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?
I didn’t attend art school, because I started my career as a marketer and graphic designer. It helps me now, because I have a strong knowledge of all technical terms and conditions for digital and print publishing (and marketing, brand strategy and identity development).
I’ve learned to be a children’s book illustrator by following great courses at Schoolism, Society of Visual Storytelling and Aaron Blaise (former animator/illustrator for Disney). I've gained a lot of knowledge in terms of storytelling, composition, perspective, character creation, colouring and other important fundamentals.
I’m also addicted to collecting art related books. From Color and Light by James Gurney, Perspective made easy by Ernest R. Norling to almost everything 3Dtotal Publishing has to offer (:
Where do you currently live and where did you grow up?
I’ve lived mostly in the Netherlands, seen a few cities along the way and lived abroad. I lived for 7 years in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and returned to the Netherlands in 2018. Currently I live in a city called Apeldoorn in the Netherlands.
Was creativity part of your childhood?
Yes, I have always drawn comics. We used to go on holiday by car to France. I was drawing complete comic series in the back of the car. Loved it!
Have you always loved to draw?
Yes, I have drawn mostly all my life, experimenting with different kind of techniques. I stopped for a couple of years because I was focused on my graphic design career. I created more vector and lettering art during those years (using Adobe Illustrator for example). The last 5 years I have picked up traditional and digital illustration work again.
Which books from your own childhood really stand out?
Several Disney stories and comics like Suske en Wiske, Kuifje and Asterix. My favorite books as a kid were ‘De schat van kapitein Goofy’ (in English: The treasure of captain Goofy), 'Suske en Wiske en de komieke Coco' (not sure how to translate this :)) and Kuifje en 'De schat van Scharlaken Rackham' (TinTin / Red Rackham's Treasure). These books sparked my imagination like the movie the Goonies. Great books and movie for little pirate adventurers and treasure hunters ;)
What was your first commission as a professional illustrator?
Working for a Dutch publisher in the elementary school sector. Still working for them today (:
Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.
Usually, I roughly sketch out a few thumbnails to set the scene. After this we select the best thumbnail to refine. After the refined sketch is approved I will colour it roughly to see which colour fits the scene best. The colour scene can also be earlier in the process if needed. Once the scene and colours are selected, I will colour it in detail to finish the final artwork.
I perfect my techniques by drawing every day, using courses, and learning from great artists along the way.
What piece of software or hardware could you not live without and why?
My Wacom tablets. I can’t create my current art without them.
What is your favourite medium to work with and why?
Wacom and Photoshop. Both give me enormous creative freedom in drawing what comes to mind. Working digitally also gives advantages commercially, as you can work much faster and more efficiently.
Do you offer more than one style, if so – talk us through the different approaches and the audience you are targeting for each.
Yes. Although it is not my core business, I do offer different styles. They range from realistic line drawing to abstract vector art. It is mostly aimed at other businesses than publishers.
How long does it take on average for you to finish a spread, from initial sketch to final colour?
Probably around 2 days for a full spread, but it depends on the content and number of details.
What do you hope children take away from your drawings?
I’m hoping my art is fun, memorable and gives them inspiration and valuable lessons along the way (:
What is your favourite children’s book and why?
Rimboe, because it was the first book I made for my kids. Nice to create an actual book and read it with them. It includes text in Dutch (my language) and Vietnamese (my wife’s language). Very handy if you can create a book yourself (:
What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
I usually start the day with warm-up illustrations. After warming up I dive into the daily (client) projects. Every week or month (depending on the project) I plan my work carefully, so all deadlines are met. Of course, a bit of stretching in between work to keep the body fresh! If not urgent I answer e-mails and do my administration in the late afternoon. These things usually break the creative energy during the day, so I keep this at the end of the day if possible 😉
Take us behind the scenes and describe your studio / workspace.
Small, but cozy. I’ve got a large desk for my 24-inch Wacom Cintiq and I’m surrounded by children’s books, drawings from my kids, art related books and my favorite Weta figures of The Lord of the Rings, District 9 and other movies (:
What would you say is a distinguishing feature of your artwork?
Colourful and detailed.
Share your favourite piece of artwork from your portfolio and walk us through its creation.
It is my Iguanodon/dinosaur painting. I like the colours overall of this painting. I roughly sketched or thumbnailed the scene first. After I was happy with the composition, I refined the sketch and coloured it. The nice thing about this piece is that I’ve used fundamental rules I’ve learned during my study. For example, sharper edges in the front and more blurry elements in the background. I used a cooler (blueish) colour for the dinosaurs, so they would stand out more vs. the warmer environment.
Which 4 words would you use to describe your illustration portfolio?
Colourful, fun, diverse and stylized.
Which area of children’s publishing excites you the most?
Children’s books and educational publications (like books for school). Both are very nice means to educate and entertain children (and adults).
If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be doing?
I would have been a graphic designer or marketeer. Otherwise probably a paleontologist. Always loved dinosaurs!
How do you overcome a creative block?
Leave it for a bit, work on another project, listen to some music. Usually, inspiration comes at the most unusual moments, like in the shower, toilet or just before sleeping (: Stepping back and returning later helps for me to overcome creative block the best.
What are some of your favourite subjects to draw?
Stylised animals and nature.
How do you get your creative juices flowing?
Reading children’s books, books related to illustration, watching animation movies, and sketch, draw, colour (:
Are there any children’s classics you’d love to illustrate and/or re-tell?
A re-tell of Hansel and Gretel. The original story with the house of candy is great, but to me it feels more like a horror story than an actual kid’s story. It has Blair Witch vibes to me (: Not sure if the kids will go to sleep after hearing it, so a re-tell might make it more kid's friendly.