Lois van Baarle
Lois travelled all over the world before returning to her native Netherlands. But as Gary Evans discovers, what she finds inspiring are the quieter moments in life
The Dutch artist has travelled the world, but finds inspiration in life’s quieter moments.
Lois van Baarle sits in kindergarten class. She’s drawing – loose, colourful pictures, the kind only very young children can draw. This, from her time in the US, is one of the Dutch artist’s earliest memories: a teacher points out that the person in her picture has one leg shorter than the other.
“I justified this," Lois says, “by saying that the drawing portrayed someone taking a step forward, which amazed my teachers and classmates. Of course, I made this up after I finished the drawing, but everyone’s amazed response gave me a lot of incentive to keep drawing.”
Life is made up of these little moments, Lois says. Fleeting, seemingly insignificant incidents that shape who we are. “The positive feedback convinced me that I really was good at drawing, so I just kept doing it,” she says. “It helped that I liked drawing, of course. But I think most kids do. I was mainly motivated by the fact that everyone kept saying I was such a good artist.”
Lois has freelanced for Blizzard, created concept art for LEGO, worked on animation for the UK’s Channel 4 television station, and shared what she’s learned along the way in tutorials for Autodesk. But most impressive is her huge, dedicated fan base. Her Facebook page alone has more than one million likes.
It’s with the help of these fans that the Dutch artist was able to publish The Art of Loish: A Look Behind the Scenes. Her debut artbook represents the proudest moment of her career so far. Fans funded the project through Kickstarter and the book reached 10 times its original funding goal.
I think the teachers I had, friends I met and place I was in all helped pave the way to me becoming an artist
Lois spent a year studying animation in Gent, Belgium, before she returned to her native Netherlands to take a course in animation at the University of the Arts Utrecht (HKU). The freelance illustrator is now settled in central Holland. As well as the US, she’s also lived in France and Indonesia. But it was people, not places, the little things rather than life-changing events, that had a lasting effect on Lois.
“I think for any artist, or just a person in general, the way you grow up impacts your life in many different ways. The people you coincidentally meet and early influences play a big role in how your life plays out. I can’t say that the fact I travelled a lot as a kid has specifically influenced my art. I think that the teachers I had, friends I met and environment I was in all helped pave the way to me becoming an artist. But that could have happened anywhere, with different people and influences.” She continues: “There are artists whose work is heavily influenced by the one place they live in and who draw on that inspiration for the rest of their lives, without ever travelling much. So I don’t believe travel is required or even necessarily helpful to artists.”
flowing forms, bright colours
She started developing the distinctive style she calls “feminine and emotive” from a very young age: “I remember drawing a lot of princesses when I was a kid, and feeling a
strong drive to draw things that were pretty, like dresses and unicorns. I like flowing forms and bright colours.”
Batman artist Becky Cloonan, graphic novel author Aurore Demilly, Alphonse Mucha; Disney, anime and manga, comic art in general… all of these influences and more are present in Lois’s work, but the overall look and feel is her own. She looks for the detail in a character: the curve of an eyebrow or the creases in the corner of the mouth. Tired eyes, red noses and knowing smiles help make them who they are. These creations, mostly human, often ethereal, are seen in otherworldly settings or tough urban backdrops, both of which Lois renders with great care and affection.
Lois’s work almost always starts straight on her computer, although she keeps a sketchbook, which she uses when away from her tablet to note and develop ideas. She starts simply, adding details as she goes. Her work grows naturally from a rough sketch, with little prior planning.
a clean studio setup
The artist’s workspace is simple – desk, screen, Cintiq – with a few other places to sit and write notes or brainstorm ideas. And, most importantly, she has her coffee machine close by. Lois’s perfect work day starts at 10am and runs to 6pm. Knowing when to stop is something she learned the hard way: “The risk of repetitive stress injury is real and that there’s a limit on how far you can go as an artist. At 16, I felt I could draw literally all day long, until I was too tired and would go to sleep. Now I’ve learned that my body can only handle so much. It’s a hard lesson to learn.”
Lois is an illustrator, animator and concept artist – and often many of the little roles that sit between those job titles. She went to school, but also taught herself much of what she knows, and had enough skills to start work straight out of university.
“After graduating from the HKU, I started working as a freelancer right away and have been able to make a living from it ever since. Former classmates and teachers managed to put me in touch with
Developing my own style wasn’t a conscious decision, nor do I have any specific methods for it
clients for the first few years, and because my artwork had a pretty good amount of exposure online, I managed to attract the attention of clients and people interested in commissions as well.”
Lois used to accept new commissions a few times a year. These days she’s too busy. She’s currently working on an ongoing project with LEGO, but what the project is, exactly, she isn’t allowed to say.
Lois rents an office near her home and tries to keep regular hours and a schedule that works well for her clients. She also aims to create 12 new pieces of her own every year. Between the two, she’s had to hone her style and work more efficiently, things she found challenging early in her career.
“I used to believe that it was important to avoid reference as much as possible, but my attitude has changed since becoming a freelancer and having been involved in many projects where reference material was an essential in creating a concise, creative vision. I now gather reference material for the majority of my artwork, although I use it as inspiration and guidance for adding complex details that I can’t pull off from memory, rather than create direct copies.”
draw what feels good
“Developing my own style wasn’t a conscious decision, nor do I have any specific methods for it,” reveals Lois. “I think working intuitively is also important: try to draw what feels good to you, instead of overthinking the drawing process.
Lois takes us back to the time of that fateful incident at her kindergarten: “I guess I’ve always known that I had aboveaverage drawing skills,” she says, “although I don’t think I’m very skilled at telling stories visually – something I learned in animation school. I’ve always wanted to draw visually appealing images that capture a moment in time. If I wasn’t an artist, I’d have studied history or anthropology, but I have no idea what profession I’d go on to be. Maybe a teacher or embittered blogger with an office job.”
Embittered blogging’s loss is art’s gain. Lois is basking in the succes of her crowdfunded artbook The Art of Loish: A Look Behind the Scenes, a project she describes as her “biggest career milestone.
“I don’t tend to plan very far ahead in terms of career," Lois says, "because things have never gone as I expected. I always discover new things, meet new clients, and run into new problems as I keep moving forward as an artist. So I have no way of knowing what things will be, say, five years from now. I hope that I’ll still be supporting myself as an artist and have time to work on my own paintings. If I can achieve that, I’ll feel very accomplished.”
morning “I tend to collect things that bring back
memories for me, but can also feel so bogged down by them. I drew this image at a time when I was getting ready to say
goodbye to my clutter.” bold “I’m often inspired by simple colour combinations. I wanted to paint something with the heavily contrasting blue-red combination, and this was the result.” Growth “I painted this in winter, when I was craving freshness and lush green. I was looking forward to spring, which always brings so much joy and relief that the cold months are finally over!”
Breathe “I wanted to convey the relationship between a landscape and the emotions this can bring out – the feeling of being able to become who you want to be.” Surfacing “Water imagery is my favourite to paint, and for this illustration I wanted to give the water a warm, welcoming glow.”
“I wanted to capture the warmth and sense of safety that drinking coffee with a friend can bring, while channelling one of my big inspirations: Norman Rockwell.” “I tried to give my own twist to the mermaid theme. I wanted her to have a lifeless look, maybe to lure humans in – only to drag them into the deep.”
“I often paint purely to relax, and without any intention to send out a message or idea. I draw pieces like this for fun – soft round shapes and flowing forms give me peace of mind.”