Although some artists might see the internet as a scary, hostile place there are more and more artists that embrace the creativity and like minded people that can be found online. A perfect example of this is Dutch animator and illustrator Lois van Baarle, also know as Loish. Her love for social media and kind attitude towards her admirers has rewarded her with a huge following and a Kickstarter campaign that got founded in two hours. In this exclusive interview for beautiful.bizarre issue 016, Lois and I discuss internet politics, diversity, animation and a lot more. Enjoy
Lois van Baarle (Loish)
Although you were both born and currently live in the Netherlands you’ve lived in many different countries while growing up; including the United States, Indonesia, France and Belgium. How has much traveling and moving as a child influenced your work as an artists?
It influenced me in a very specific way, in that the people I met – particularly teachers – were very encouraging and supportive of my art. These people were very important in giving me the push I needed to draw frequently and keep practicing. I attended international school while living abroad and these schools had a lot of resources and time for each individual student, which was really valuable to me. My high school art department also had digital drawing tablets which had a huge impact on my learning process as well. The people I met along the way were just really important and inspiring to me at various stages of my life. Being exposed to many different places and cultures was less of a determining factor for me than being exposed to passionate and supportive people throughout my life.
Where many artists tend to be a bit vague about their process and workflow you like to share a lot and have an active online presence. What made you decide to share all these insights and thoughts on your style and process?
I remember when I was first starting out, the whole process of drawing seemed so mysterious. I just didn’t get how to make it look right – it was a constant struggle. I believed that I ‘needed’ certain tools to draw in the ‘right’ way. As I continued to draw, I learned that it wasn’t as complicated as I had always believed, and that it’s mostly a question of practicing a lot and getting comfortable with your own way of drawing. I notice that a lot of artists have burning questions about my process and tools and it’s coming from the same feelings of insecurity that I had when I was starting out. I share a lot of my process to get rid of the idea that digital art is really complex or that there’s only one way to do it – basically I want to demystify it and create an atmosphere of openness, because that’s what I needed when I was starting out.
Next to your website you’re also very active on social media networks like Facebook, Instagram and DeviantArt. Do you find it hard to find a balance between work and spending time online?
It’s a constant struggle! Social media is something I use not only for work, but also to relax, so it’s hard to draw the line. I can get really burned out from spending too much time online for work, but the exact same goes for spending too much time mindlessly browsing Facebook, tumblr, or any other social media site. Also, sometimes browsing on social media gets in the way of work. So I need to constantly check my stress levels and make sure I put my screen down when I’m actually supposed to be relaxing. Social media is just so intensely distracting so I have to be quite strict with myself and apply a lot of self-discipline on a day-to-day basis.
You recently had an incident on Instagram when a fitness inspiration account with a large following re-posted one of your pieces displaying a curvy girl with a negative caption. Although you usually don’t bother with reposts you made a clear statement on body shaming and got the image removed. Variety is an important theme for you, and is a thing many of your fans admire in your work. How important are incidents like this for you? And would you like to see other artists explore a more varied way of depicting women too?
I try to avoid getting too political on my social media accounts. My artwork is mostly about visual pleasure and I don’t feel like politics play a huge role in what I create. But one thing that is very important to me is that my art shows a sense of peace and comfort with oneself. I want to portray moments where the characters are comfortable in their own skin, and live in their own unique world. So when my art is used to create feelings of shame and hatred towards a certain body type, it really offends me. That’s the opposite of the message I’m trying to send out! So I felt that this situation was a fitting one to let people know my honest feelings on that subject. I don’t want to play any part in a culture where people – especially women – are made to feel ashamed of how they look and have to fight against feelings of insecurity and self-loathing for their entire lives. I do think that many artists overlook drawing variety in body types and skin color when it comes to female characters which is too bad. I don’t believe this is intentional in many cases, it’s more a subconscious thing. That really makes it unfortunate, because if these artists were more aware of this problem, they would probably change their approach. I believe raising awareness of the issue can create a lot of change in the concept art and digital art world.
Speaking of negativity online: with a large online following must come a lot of backlash. You’ve had your work stolen and copied as well, stories we unfortunately read quite often nowadays. How do you deal with online negativity? Do you have advice for artists who find their work stolen or copied?
My experiences have been overwhelmingly positive for the most part, so I try to keep some perspective on these negative incidents, which are more or less isolated incidents. My main bit of advice for artists who share their work is to avoid being overprotective of your style and going after young artists who are trying to find theirs. Styles aren’t copyrighted and it’s easy to make a huge fuss over some minor territorial issue, but these are your future colleagues! As for companies that steal art to make money, I just try to approach it in the most straightforward way possible, with DMCA takedowns and cease-and-desist letters. That’s my advice to other artists, as well as reaching out to fellow artists and asking them to spread the world about the theft – sometimes that’s what it takes to make a company realize that their reputation among artists is at stake. For the rest, I try to look at it as objectively as possible. The creation process of a product is very complex and there is a huge demand for original designs, so I can imagine that during the design process, it’s possible that someone with zero education regarding copyright law would decide to just take some images off google. If a company is willing to apologize and remove the stolen work, I let it go and move on.
Fortunately there’s a positive side to the web as well, for instance the Kickstarter campaign for your book that got funded in two hours! The campaign and book The Art of Loish have been a great success, any plans for a follow-up?
Definitely! I am working on some ideas for our next Kickstarter book project right now. I tried to make The Art of Loish an all-round type of book, with something for everyone. Now that that’s done, I can make books that revolve around more specific subjects and go into a little more detail.
The Art of Loish book
Your work is mainly digital, although you share sketches on paper on your blog and Instagram as well. You’ve once said you like to explore translating your vision onto canvas as well: is that something we can expect soon? Are there any other mediums you’d like to try as well?
I definitely enjoy working digitally, but it’s good for me to keep exploring and trying new things. I sometimes feel the urge to try something new, just to see what I am capable of. Painting with traditional media is definitely something I’d like to be able to do, as well as sculpting and working with gouache/watercolor. I don’t think you can expect it soon, but maybe at some point in the next 10 years, haha. I’m trying to be realistic about what my schedule allows!
You’ve studied animation in college and have worked on several animation projects, including your project Trichrome. Lately your work seems to focus more on illustration than on animation: is this a conscious choice? Would you like to work more in animation again? Are you still working on the final two Trichrome chapters?
I am still working on Trichrome, yes! I haven’t had a lot of time to focus on personal projects, unfortunately. I focus more on illustration because I can work on it in shorter intervals, and also because I mostly get hired to create illustrations and concept art. It hasn’t been so much a conscious choice as something that I tend to do more because it generates more interest in my work and brings in profits in the form of print and merchandise sales. I do really want to work on the animations, but I just need to set aside a lot of time to do it. Animation is so expensive and time consuming that it’s difficult to commit to it when you have a faster, cheaper and less labor-intensive alternative for expressing your creativity. That doesn’t mean I will never animate again, but rather that I need to prioritize it over my other work if I’m to ever create any.
You write a lot about people that inspire you, from classic artists like Alphonse Mucha and Norman Rockwell to an elaborate list of Deviant artists you love. If you could create a collaborative project between you and any artist of your choice, dead or alive, who would you pick and why?
That’s a tough one! I’m not very collaborative by nature, I tend to work alone because I’m quite stubborn about doing things my way. I would love to collaborate with an amazing storyteller like Sylvain Chomet. That would really push me to create more visually dense material than I create right now. I always find that working with someone who has amazing stories to tell brings my artwork to new heights.
Lately you’ve been exploring a more bleak, gritty style. You mentioned before you love Dystopian themed films like The Road and Children of Men, and are intrigued by the dark narrative of the successful game The Last of Us. Is this dark, Dystopian path something you’d like to explore further? Where does the fascination come from?
I definitely want to further explore some darker themes in my work. I tend to go through phases – sometimes I draw lots of bright and colorful stuff for a while, and then I switch back to darker artwork. I think both of them appeal to me in different ways. I think the reason I like darker stories is because my mind is very analytical and I tend not to have the most positive outlook on life – not that I’m struggling with that, but I’m just much more a type of person who looks for the complexities in a story. I am more intrigued by stories that critique society, or portray a fictional situation and setting (like in Children of Men) realistically, showing both positive and negative aspects. It’s more intellectually stimulating for me to watch. On the other hand, I also like Disney princess movies, so I guess I can appreciate both for the different moods and ideas that they bring.
There are a lot of strong female characters to be found in your work. From recording artist Grimes to the next DC hero WonderWoman and new Disney princess Moana. Who is your all-time favorite female character? Which women and your current inspirations?
That’s a tough one – I don’t think I could choose one favorite, because it depends so much on context. I guess for me it would be a tie between Elaine from Seinfeld, and Enid from Ghost World. I love female characters that are a bit cynical and lack conventional charm. Those are hard to find – women are usually portrayed as quite perfect, with an optimistic and supportive attitude, which can get boring for a story-driven type of medium. I relate more to the women that have a bit of an edge to them, and are kind of ‘weird’.
What’s next for Loish? Any updates on projects you are working on?
I’ve got a busy year ahead of me in terms of client work, and I also hope to make some big steps in the release of my next artbook! Maybe I can squeeze in some work for Trichrome as well.
Last but not least: can you recommend a book, movie or artist you’ve enjoyed lately?
I’ve been enjoying the work of Andrew Hem a lot. He is one of my all-time favorites. As for a book, I definitely recommend the Ancillary series by Anne Leckie – amazing story and very innovative way of telling it. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. And for movies, I really enjoyed Moana – as evidenced by my recent fanart! Fantastic film with great music and a good message too!