VSS Illustrator Interviews

In doing these interviews, we hope to give you a glimpse into our artist members' unique personalities, a new perspective on their wonderful work, and the opportunity to know what inspires them!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bas Waijers

This week we have an interview with children's illustrator Bas Waijers. Alex Colombo talked to our special guest, Bas who tells us how he turned a publisher's reject into an opportunity and eventually became a published illustrator.

1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?  What first drew you to art and especially to children’s illustrations? My name is Bas Waijers and I’m a Brooklyn-based illustrator. I remember drawing as long as I remember dreaming, and I’ve wanted to tell stories ever since I saw Fantasia as a 10-year-old kid. My professional career started in 1996 when I began freelancing as a graphic designer and illustrator. Four years ago I started to focus more on becoming a children’s book illustrator, and this year my first illustrated book was published for the iPad.

2. What challenges have you faced in developing as an artist? There are always challenges on many different levels. Some are very obvious, others are more personal. I set creative goals and I continuously challenge myself to become a better artist. I want to reach a certain level of quality that I see in the work of people that I admire. I’m self taught and I’ve had to work through a lot of trial and error. It’s also a challenge to judge your own work. To take a step back and look at it objectively. Fortunately my passion for storytelling and self-discipline help me to stay focused and motivated.
Then there is the practical challenge of being able to support yourself as an illustrator. My commercial illustrations became my bread and butter. I always make time to create personal work. It’s hard to do that with a very busy schedule, but it’s important to me because it’s the only way I can really try to find my own voice.

3. What other artists would you say have either inspired or influenced your own work? I’ve always been inspired by animations from Disney, Pixar and Studio Ghibli. Amongst many others, they are a constant source of inspiration. An artist that recently became my virtual mentor is Pascal Campion. I wanted a more spontaneous and expressive technique. I also really wanted to get rid of the line art in my work and work in a more painterly way. But I didn’t know where to start or how to go about it. One of the problems of being self taught! I was basically holding myself back. I looked at Pascal’s work until I understood his technique. At least I think I do! And I wanted to try something in that direction. So finally, last February, that’s what I did. I have much more freedom now that I’m not constrained by my old technique anymore. No more coloring within the lines...

4. In your view, how does knowledge influence an artists work? Technical knowledge gives you a set of tools that you can build with. Design, layout, color, perspective and lighting are some of those basics that anyone can learn. Emotional knowledge is much harder to define. What works, what doesn’t, and why? How can you give your work heart? When is a character appealing? I think it starts with being able to recognize a good idea when you are looking for something new. The right knowledge helps to define good ideas and will determine how to actually bring them to life.

5. How important is experimentation with media in developing ones craft? Working with different media, in a variety of techniques, gave me a broad level of experience on many levels. Every project comes with a challenge that needs to be solved. And every finished project adds a new layer of knowledge and experience. Some problems and solutions will overlap. Knowledge can gain an artist creative freedom. If you don’t have to figure out how to do something, you can just create!
I push vectors and pixels around in 2D and 3D applications. I draw with pencils and ballpoint pens and I currently “paint” in Flash. I’ve learned a lot from my days in animation, especially in making the transition to interactive storytelling for the iPad. And I’m still learning something with every drawing. You never get worse, only better.

6. What is your view on the development of an artists style? Is it something that one should consciously strive to develop, or does it evolve naturally from hard work? I don’t know if I actually have my own style, or if I’m in the middle of developing one. Whatever it is, it’s been in the making for years and it has taken a lot of hard work! And a lot of trial and error. I never consciously tried to develop a “style” because I don’t think it works that way. It would feel too contrived, too forced. However, it’s something to keep in the back of your head: having a personal style is important because it makes you stand out from the pack. And your work is easier to recognize. I’m always going back and forth between things that I know will work and things that I think can work.
When it comes to my own personal style, I think that I’m on to something with my new work. About four years ago, I decided to go completely with what I like personally. This was right about the time that I began to invest in my illustration skills. It’s closest to my heart, and that makes it easy to trust my instincts.

7. You have worked as a freelance artist for many years. What was your experience as a freelance? My experience has been mostly very good. I’ve worked on great projects for a wide variety of clients. I worked in different industries, wearing many different hats. I built experience as an illustrator, art director, graphic designer, animator and story artist. Being a generalist has worked well for me, and it has been key to being successful. As a freelancer you have to be multi-skilled, since there are so many artists that you compete against.

8. What have you published so far?  – If you self published, what influenced your decision to self publish? I’m really proud of “It’s About Life,” my first illustrated book that was published on the iPad this year. I illustrated it for my father when he fell ill a couple of years ago. I was able to show it to him two weeks before he passed away. It was my way of telling him how much he had meant to me throughout my life. I shopped it around to publishers and agents but nobody was interested. I then looked into self publishing and became interested in iPad apps at the same time. An independent publisher approached me because they were interested in publishing it as an app for the iPad. I went back to the drawing board to further develop the book and add new drawings to it. It became a great interactive experience and I’m really proud that it’s on the AppStore now.

9. What were some challenges in publishing your work? I think that it depends on how and where you want to get published. If you want to illustrate books for a publishing house, then the challenge becomes finding an agent with the right connections. Otherwise you have to connect with them directly. In my experience it’s almost impossible to find the appropriate art directors and/or editors within these publishing houses. And sometimes they only want to work with agents in the first place.
After my book got rejected by the publishers I had approached, I decided to go a different route altogether. This way I turned the challenge into a new opportunity.

10. What would you say are the benefits of self publishing and what are the negatives involved in it? Two of the major benefits are having creative freedom and being able to choose who you want to work with. A negative is that you’re creating a brand new property that nobody has ever heard of. The marketing strategy becomes essential in getting your app noticed in a sea of thousands of apps. 

11. Do you have any upcoming projects that you can share with us?  I’m working on “The Wonderful Colorful World,” my second app for the iPad. It’s a great children’s story that spans 22 pages. I built a small and passionate team around me, and we are hoping to release before the holiday season. I’m really excited about it because it will be a rich reading experience, with original music, interactivity and narration. And great illustrations :)

Another ongoing personal project is evolving around my character Keiko and her spirit. This series is the result of my attempts to work in a brand new style. I’m giving myself the creative freedom to do what ever I want! I’m working without a preconceived notion of what this story should be. Instead, I just have an idea of what the story can be. I improvise as my inspiration unfolds. It’s a great creative outlet and I’m curious what it can lead to. Another app, a book?

12. What encouragement can you give to our illustrators out there who wish to grow as artists in their abilities in digital children’s illustration? Strive to be as good as you can be. And draw as much as you can draw. Each and every drawing makes you better as an artist, never worse. Always keep learning more and absorb the world around you because anything can inspire you. Sketch and save your ideas. And then sketch some more! Put your work out there in the world for people to see. Don’t keep it to yourself! Have a strong and clear online presence. Be objective and only show good work.

Define what you are most passionate about and focus on that, whatever it is. Because that’s most likely what makes you unique.

And most important: Make Believe!

Website Apps: http://baswaijers.com/apps/
Website Illustration: http://baswaijers.com/
FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/baswaijers.makebelieve