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

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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.”

Café Pressé


“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.”


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