creative chit-chat

Sebastiaan Van Doninck


"Making illustrations is more than drawing and someone who draws is not an illustrator. Through graphical means the illustrator creates an image that tells a story." Let there be clarity about the term ‘illustration’, for Sebastiaan Van Doninck is tired of the misconceptions concerning his profession. He calls himself an illustrator, he gives life drawing lessons, likes modern art and spends too much money on books, because his mind needs constant feeding.

Here we are, safe and dry in his apartment in the center of Antwerp: three people enjoying a glass of wine and biscuits, while outside the rain clatters against the window. "Thank God for heavy rain, cause this way I’m in complete tranquility. When it rains, I don’t feel that there’s something out there waiting for me, that I should go to a bar or have a coffee somewhere. The rain keeps me inside to do some sketching."




Your work gets published in magazines and books. What do you prefer the most?

I love working for magazines. A title, a word or a few quotes are enough to tickle my brain. I also enjoy books, but I always have to have a certain freedom. When there are too many restrictions, I freeze. I'd love to do some more non-commissioned work, its been a while since I did that. I get far too many freelance assignments.




And you also teach at St Lucas, the school you attended as a student?

Teaching completes my job perfectly, because I get tremendous inspiration from my students. Giving a lot, means getting a lot in return just by looking and critically evaluating their work. The criticism directed towards the student also applies to me. This way I’m indirectly evaluating my own work. It’s great to see students who are ambitious, work hard and evolve.

Does teaching give you financial freedom in your search for clients?

The teaching job gives me the luxury to be very selective when it comes to clients. I don’t accept educative work anymore and the same applies to clients who tell me what to draw. I don't want to do mindless work.




You're not a machine, nevertheless you work fast.

When I’m drawing, I hear everything, I feel everything, but I don’t let anything distract me. I just work for hours at a stretch and I cannot sleep until it’s finished. I always have a clear picture of the final result in mind. With the computer I can have close control and I can work fast.




Do you sometimes work by hand?

75% of the time I work digitally, with the laptop and the tablet. But sometimes I hate the computer and feel the need to work by hand, loosening everything up with paper and ink. But the digital mood always comes back. On holiday I work well manually. Then I take a big sketch book and go into the wild. I do this every year. This way I can work spontaneously, directly and quickly. Working by hand is considered a trend. The drawings are warmer, you have more contact with the materials and it feels natural. I am also a fan of heavy ink paint. I scan colored stains, puzzle them together on the computer and so I often create a collage, with minimal editing in Photoshop.




You love landscapes, but animals play a key role in your work.

Animals are incredibly aesthetic. I take great pleasure in drawing them, I can be so free, frivolous and mobile in handling them. They are also interesting because of their symbolic and iconographic elements and I can project human characteristics on them. The animal kingdom speaks to my imagination on so many levels.




The world of animals intrigues you, but what about the rest of your inspiration sources?

I get my inspiration from contemporary art. I love Cindy Sherman, Joseph Beuys and Francis Alÿs. The wow effect is little with illustrators, because they often focus on figurative work. The artists’ formal language is more free, it is more open to interpretation and that’s what I love about it. But I must say that my inspiration sources vary over time. I eagerly consume my inspirations sources and when I'm done with them, it's time for something new. My mind must be constantly fed. I’ve collected children's books from the 50s for a while, but now I'm done with it.



Do you get faced with impossible tasks?

Things can seem impossible, or I make the situation unnecessarily complicated in my head. To come to a solution requires a creative mind or a different approach. Tight deadlines can be problematic, for they force me to think and work quickly. What I do has to be spot on, since I don’t get time to doubt and change it. It’s very challenging. It’s quite different with picture books.



Why do you think people are attracted to your illustrations?

Someone gave me a big compliment by saying: your work touches me, over and over again. I try to grasp the attention of the viewer a little bit longer than usual, by introducing a recognizable element and putting it next to something slightly off. I’d like to discomfort the viewer and force him to think with a different kind of logic, whether it’s bizarre, humoristic or absurd. I make colorful illustrations, with a dark twist. This twisted element is very important to me. Some say my work is nostalgic and refers to the 50’s and 60’s, which is quite understandable. There’s a collection of vintage magazines in my bookcase.






Despite all difficulties in the sector, you remain enthusiastic and dream of big projects in the future. 

I've always dreamed of the theater. I’ve made theater posters, but I would like to work on sets, puppets and costume designs too. Or working on viewing boxes for a gallery, which has been my dream for so long. But my schedule is packed. I don’t know when I would have the time to do it all!

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About Coffeeklatch

Coffeeklatch stands for ‘Slow journalism using a fast medium.’ Magali Elali and Bart Kiggen created the blog as a creative chitchat featuring creative entrepreneurs in their homes over coffee, including interesting people telling intriguing stories. It celebrates storytelling and creativity in all its forms, from fashion design to architecture. Read More


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and must not be reproduced without our express prior written permission.

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