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I was born in The Netherlands in the groovy 70’s, but my parents immigrated to New Zealand in the early 80’s, where I grew up and currently live.

I grew up within a creative family with a number of family members involved in the arts, music and other creative professions. So it only seemed natural that I would pick up on some of these talents and use them for myself. So from a young age I was always creating, painting and drawing any thing that came into my mind.

My favourite Christmas presents were always a new set of colouring pencils or paint.

I used to have a regular wage job but unfortunately or fortunately, the studio I was working at ran into financial troubles and everybody lost their jobs. But as the saying goes as one door closes another door opens. And so it did, I began to work as a freelance artist and that just suits me fine because I gets to draw pictures all day.

So at the moment I am working mainly on animation and illustration projects. But I also manage to squeeze in some painting now and then.

When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?

I don’t think there really was any pivotal moment or some grand awakening. When I was a kid I wanted to be lots of things, everyday it was something different but I always knew that it would be something creative. I was always drawing and creating some form of art, so it just seemed natural and I never really thought about doing anything else. I remember at high school I was pulled into the headmaster office because he was concerned that I was taking many art subjects. He said that I should think about doing something else as well, I thought like what?

Anyway I was made to drop photography and I had to pick another more academic subject instead. But that didn’t dampen spirits, in my final year I won all the major art prizes at the senior prize giving. So I guess putting all your eggs in one basket does work.

It was a natural progression in becoming an illustrator; I kind of just fell into it without thinking about it. After high school I went to a fine arts school at a university and earned my BFA, and I continued studying classical animation for another two years. Straight after study I landed a cool animation job at a studio and we worked on some exciting projects for Disney, Nelvana and other studios. But after the studio boss ran off with everybody’s wages, we were all out of a job. It was at that point that I realized and considered myself as an animator/illustrator/artist. Which was great because it gave me direction and a plan.

Who or what inspires you?

I don’t think one thing or person specifically inspires me, rather I am inspired by life. I draw inspiration from the people I meet, from the things I see, touch and smell. By opening your mind you can draw inspiration from any object. I spend a lot of time looking through and read books, searching the Internet and talking to people. Suddenly from nowhere the magic of inspiration appears. It creates a snowball effect, you have an idea and then another one pops in your mind and then another and another. Before you know it you have a million ideas waiting to jump out.

Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?

I had my official fine arts training through art school but in my last year I started to draw cartoons and illustrations, which the tutors didn’t seem to consider as art. So I was pretty much left to my own devices. Looking back it was good because I learnt to teach myself to be self reliant, I also learnt different skills and I ended up in a completely different world. But I don’t believe that you ever stop learning or training. I believe that we all learn some new each day, and in turn it helps us develop as people and as artists. The day I stop learning is the day that I die.

How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?

Cold showers are a good way to stay fresh but if you don’t want to catch hypothermia I would recommend something else. I draw or at least think about drawing everyday and I think this is the best way to stay fresh. If you do this you are continually developing ideas and developing your style, which is a great way to stop your work going stale. I would recommend always carrying some form of notebook or journal so you can scribble down those great ideas that come at the most random times and situations.

What are some of your current projects?

I have just finished doing a series of cartoons for Air New Zealand. They moved to a new building and they wanted to replace the old internal notices and reminders with cartoons. Things like respect each other workspace, turn off cell-phones, tidy up after yourself in the kitchen. It was part of their plan to make the office space have a more modern hip feel. So far the feedback has been very positive.

I’m also working on a painting for an exhibition at Easter about the different Stations of the Cross, which are basically the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion. Each artist is given one of the stations to create into some form of artwork. I was given Station 8, which is when Jesus is betrayed by Judas and is arrested. Which a is pretty cool part work on, I have some great ideas of what I want to develop and it will be interesting to see what the other artists are creating too.

And finally I’ve started working on some illustrations for a book that hopefully will be published soon. But otherwise it should be a busy year!

Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?

When I was just starting out as a freelance illustrator I made a series of T-shirts, about 6 designs in total. They were these cute characters kind of influenced by manga but more simple and graphic in design. I had them printed on T-shirts for my girlfriend and myself. We wore them all the time and we still do but they’re getting a bit old and faded now. But people would ask us where we got our funny/cool/cute T-shirts. They actual thought they were T-shirts bought in a store, which for me at the time was a great buzz and a confidence boost. After I told them that I designed them, they wanted to buy the extra ones from me. So for a while I was just printing T-shirts and giving them as birthday presents.

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?

I’ve worked with a lot of techniques and mediums including encaustic paint made from bee’s wax. It was the same stuff Leonardo used for the original Last Supper painting. It was a lot of fun especially when bees kept flying into the studio. I guess they thought my painting was a giant flower or some weird new beehive.

One area I would love to work with is sculpture. After working on mainly 2D surfaces it would be fun and challenging to create a 3D object. I may even sculpt one of my characters and turn it into a toy.

Regarding projects, I haven’t worked on any music or record (CD) cover projects yet. So that would be a fun thing to try. There are some really cool covers around and the fact that millions of people can see your work would be a real buzz too. I guess it is just finding a band that will fit within your illustration style.

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?

As clichéd as it sounds “practice makes perfect”. Basically if this is your passion you should be doing it everyday and probably every hour. Study and learn from other artists, don’t copy them but learn about their art and techniques. Also don’t just study the contemporary artists but also study the all masters through out history, there is a lot to be learnt from history. Someone once said to know the past is to know your future. Finally, learn some business skills, if you a freelance artist then you are also the CEO, CFO, Managing Director and also the Janitor. The ability to market yourself is also very important because you may be the greatest artist in the world but if nobody knows about you then you aren’t exactly going to get a whole lot of work.

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?

It really depends, if it is for a client and they are happy with it and then they start worshipping you as some sort of illustration god. Then yeah that illustration was successful. But if it was for a personal project then it would be successful if I got a good response from other people especially my peers. Saying that however, deep down inside I’m never really 100% convinced that my work is at all success because afterwards I always see something or think something that could improve the work. But I guess I have to stop somewhere otherwise I’ll just keep redrawing and redrawing and redrawing the work until I become a crazy man.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?

The one thing that keeps me motivated is the fear of my girlfriend nagging me to stop playing games and do some work. But seriously she is lovely, my real motivation is that I get to do this every day and I enjoy it. How many people can say that they are living their dreams?

Regarding burnouts, I just don’t have the time but I find that quick micro pauses and a classic episode of M*A*S*H really helps to fresh the mind.

And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?

Fortunately I don’t have much time to watch TV, which is good because TV generally sucks in New Zealand and it turns your brain into mush. But there are two exceptions to the rule. The first one is a truly funny and a well-written local show called Outrageous Fortune. Which I just found out they have received funding for another series. The other exception is a TV channel called C4, which I guess is New Zealand’s version of MTV. They have a number of good music shows, comedy and animated shows on at the moment. Otherwise my girlfriend and I normally just rent some DVDs and at the moment we are really into our Asian films from Hong Kong, Korea and Japan.

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Kyle Kesterson said...

Pretty solid interview. Great work Onno, my favorite piece in that selection is the political puppets, nice concept.

Oh, one thing I'd have to disagree with is "practice makes perfect". A good rebuttal that I heard a few years back is "practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect".

Cheers. :)

Choper Nawers! said...

man your work is that little loco white choco snow guy...LOL.....!best, and nice interview!

Anonymous said...

Great Interview, good luck with your future plans.....

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