JGO: Thank you so much for giving us your time to do this interview. First question; what kind of art education did you receive?
WT: I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. My father, who is a painter used to take me to the countryside from an early age to paint landscapes, and he taught me the basics of drawing and painting. I drew a lot of comics as a child, something I stopped doing since I went to the Willem de Kooning academy. Although the academy lacked technical schooling completely, my four years there gave me a chance to discover and explore a lot of art and illustration, meet professionals and get to know the world of illustration. Nowadays I keep educating myself by visiting workshops, reading books, looking at art, watching tutorial dvd’s and most of all, by painting and drawing.
JGO: Did you always have an interest in caricature, and how did you begin your career?
WT: I guess I did. When I was about 8 years old, I used to draw caricatures of my classmates and teachers, or tv personalities, inspired by a book called: 'the arts of David Levine', containing many of his caricatures and watercolors. He still has a huge influence on my work.
When I finished the art academy in 2001, I started freelancing immediately. The internet was not the mass medium it is nowadays, so I personally went to see every editorial department I could think of and show my portfolio there. In the beginning it was hard to get in, but after a while it became easier to get jobs because I could show them some published work. I used to take on every job I could get, which resulted in a varied portfolio. The good thing was, that it gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about the complete range of illustration jobs there are, and eventually what it is I want, and where I feel comfortable.
JGO: Who are some of your favorite caricaturists, both past and present?
WT: Daniel Adel, Natalie Ascencios, Philip Burke, David Levine, Hermann Mejia, Jan Opdebeeck, Jean Mulatier,Roberto Parada, Jason Seiler, Sebastian Kruger, Didier Loubat.
What these guys have in common, is their strong personal vision. In each of their illustrations you see strong decision making, and a personal touch. It goes far, far beyond just a big nose and a funny smile.
JGO: Could you tell us about some of the other artists who have inspired you over the years?
WT: One of my major inspirations is John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). When I first discovered his work, I was struggling with color and light. Studying his paintings made me see how he used color in his shadows, how he accented the important areas of a painting to lead the eye, and how he used edges. These, and many other techniques, I learned by studying the paintings of John Singer Sargent.
Another influence is Andre Franquin (1924-1997). He’s a Belgian comic artist. His work is very funny, and the characters act so vividly. I spent a lot of my childhood copying his drawings. At that moment, I had no idea, that a great understanding of human anatomy was needed to create such apparently simple characters. Their expressions and poses are extremely subtle.
The work of Mary Blair made me see the power of design in an illustration. I was not aware of this before I saw her beautifully balanced work, but now I can’t imagine myself doing an illustration without thinking of the design quality of it. She has such a beautiful way of composing colors, lines and shapes and combine 2D and 3D worlds in such a harmonious way. Very inspiring!
JGO: What mediums or programs do you use to create your art?
WT: Digitally I mainly use Photoshop. Traditional mediums I use are: Gouache, oils, charcoal, acrylics, ink and (colored) pencil.
JGO: If an art student has never drawn a caricature before, what are some of the most important things that they should keep in mind as they begin?
WT: To me the most important thing to make any drawing is to answer this question: Why am I making this drawing? I ask myself this question in order to make as clear as possible what it is I want to communicate with my illustration.
The most common way of caricaturing is this: you look at someone, and you find out what features are typical for that person. Then you push those features. When you let ten caricaturists, or even a hundred, draw a caricature of the same person, all drawings will be different. That’s where it becomes interesting. When you are looking at your subject, the question you should ask yourself is not: ‘What do I “SEE”?’, but: ‘What do “I” see?’ . Find out what it is you see, feel or experience when you look at your subject, and magnify that.
These are questions you can ask yourself, before even putting a pencil on paper. To me they are very important, and I believe they lead to art that is personal and true.
The next step is: now that I know what I want: "How do I do it?"
To answer the question: “What do “I”see?” It is important to understand ‘What do I “SEE”. It is very important to understand shapes. You can study the traditional way of drawing portraits, which is the foundation for drawing caricatures. In caricatures, these shapes are moulded and moved around, to enhance the facial features, but maintain likeness. Study the shape of which a head consists, try to understand what is the essence of his likeness. What changes can I make to enhance likeness, and when does likeness disappear? How do the old masters use light to show the 3D features of a face, what is the effect of different colors in a face?
JGO: Can a caricature be pushed too far?
WT: I can't see how. How far a caricature is pushed all depends on what it is you want to express. The Caricatures of Grigor Eftomov are pushed extremely, but still they still get the message across.
Caricature by Grigor Eftimov, above
JGO: Do you work from a single image as reference when creating a caricature, or a collection of images?
WT: I mentioned that shapes are very important. To get a good notion the three dimensionality of the facial shapes I always use several pictures. Even though I may end up using one image as main reference, I keep the other images for details, or shape information
JGO: What part of your work is the most fun? What part is the most difficult?
WT: I always love the creative process. So the stage where I come up with an idea and make several thumbnails, preliminary sketches and color sketches are the most fun. In this stage, anything can still happen.
I guess I am an optimist, for I don’t think in terms of ‘difficult’. Of course I struggle with many things, but to me it is always a challenge to find out and learn from an experience when my skills or ideas fall short.
JGO: Which illustrations that you have done are among your favorites?
WT: I don’t look back and have favorites. I always want to move forward and explore and learn and do a better job than I already did. I am pleased though, when I have learned something in the process of making an illustration. Those are the illustrations I remember.
For example the caricature of Marylin Monroe was the fist time I controlled my value and color in order to establish the concept. I still like the effect of this high key approach.
In the illustration of the old woman in an old folks home, I like the way I put story, design and caricature together in one image. I approached the face as a caricature, but the design and concept of the illustration make it tragic instead of funny.
The caricature of Danny Trejo is a good example of visual stroytelling. I love it when the concept and the technique become one. The actor Danny Trejo has a rough face full of scars. I chose a rough brush and let the structure of the brushstrokes give the impression of roughness.
JGO: What haven't you done yet as an artist that you would still like to do?
WT: I love to do concept art for an animated feature film.
JGO: Have you ever been contacted by a well known person that you had caricatured?
WT: In the Netherlands, yes. I don’t think Emile Ratelband is famous anywhere else. He liked what I did and wanted to buy the illustration.
JGO: Do you ever have "artist's block", or a day when your drawings are just not coming together? if so, how do you overcome it?
WT: Artist’s block, no, because I believe you just have to start. Once you created something, you can decide whether it’s what you want or not, but doing nothing leads to nothing…
I do of course have days when things are not coming together. Facebook and blogs, where people share their best works, give the impression that everybody is always successful. Well, I’m not, I have my off days. I always find it hard to accept that things are not working for no apparent reason. There can be many causes for this. Lack of sleep, no clear communication with the art director, triyng to do something I am unable to do…..and so on…
If it has to do with me, and things are just not working, I take a break. If I take a walk in the city or the forest, suddenly new ideas come.
If it has to do with the job conditions, I try to avoid these kind of jobs in the future.
JGO: Can you tell us about one of the most important lessons that you have learned from a fellow artist?
WT: Someone once told me: Never be afraid to do too much. He meant that I shouldn’t be satisfied to easily, and always do some extra effort to make an illustration really good. If you did a lot of work already, and you suddenly see that the foundation of the illustration is not what it should be, start over, and don’t be okay with less. If you leave something in a painting that does not express completely what you want it to, it’s like saying tomato when you mean cheese…
JGO: Can you tell us about one of the most important lessons that you have learned on your own as an artist?
WT: Two things:
-There may be many artists out there, who are more skillful, and better draftsmen, more successful than you, but there is nobody better at being you. The things that define you; your experiences, your beliefs, your culture your passions; is where your art should come from. In that way, your art is an expression of who you are.
-Don’t be afraid to share what you have learned. There is nothing to lose by doing that.
JGO: What do you think is the key to creating a character with "appeal"?
WT: Empathy. When I draw a character, I become the character. How do I feel in such a situation, where are my hands, how do I hold my feet… It’s like acting. Get to know your character . Look in the real world. Draw from your experience. Everything you design should push what the character must radiate.
JGO: Do you have any additional tips, advice or words of wisdom that you could give to an artist who is just beginning their career?
WT: First of all: Draw draw draw draw paint paint paint!!!!! The best way to learn drawing and painting is to draw and paint. Stay true to yourself. Explore and learn from everything you see. Most of all: have fun! Drawing is fun! Whatever skill level you have, you can start right now and create your own universe and have fun doing it. If you have fun doing it and be passionate about it, there’s no stopping you!
Wouter Tulp's Website: www.woutertulp.nl
His must read Blog: www.woutertulp.blogspot.com
And his newly launched tutorial blog: http://tulptorials.blogspot.com/.
Many thanks to Wouter for sharing his art, tips and insights with us. Be sure to check out the links above; you'll certainly want to bookmark them once you do!
All images copyright Wouter Tulp unless otherwise noted.