I’m an illustrator, painter and surface pattern designer from the Netherlands, living in Leuven, Belgium with my husband, three kids and my dog. My designs have been licensed for fabric and for serving trays. I design birth cards and wedding invitations and I have both written, designed and illustrated a children’s picture book for a Dutch publisher.
I’m a late bloomer as a professional artist. I got an MA in art history at Leiden University (the Netherlands) and started my professional career researching 17th century Dutch Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It was an inspiring place and exciting time for me, studying these gorgeous paintings and living in this wonderful city.
But ever since I was young I wanted to create and my love for pencils and paint lured me back to school again. I got a degree as graphic designer and I now combine my learnings as art historian and my creative passion in my designs.
I’m inspired by the Golden Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, by my travels, by everything nature has to offer, by lovely old picture books, beautiful patterns and old stamps. On rainy days I like to browse old National Geographic magazines.
I admire the work of Saul Bass, Paul Rand and Charley Harper. I love the bold and fresh Marimekko designs as well as the classic William Morris patterns. I’m available for representation and licensing opportunities. You can find me on elsvlieger.be
1. What’s your medium of choice and what do you love about it?
I use lots of different media, both traditional and digital. For my fabric patterns I start with ink drawings, and then use Illustrator and Photoshop to finish them. Adding textures will bring my art alive.
I love traditional media, acrylic, gouache, ink and color pencils, and always finish my paintings with details and scribblings in pencil. About 80 % of my work is done behind my computer, but it feels so good when I have finished a real painting. It is more rewarding and relaxing in the process and it is more spontaneous compared to working with computer programs. There is no undo, no command-Z. It’s sometimes a bit scary – I mean when your preliminary sketches are quite alright and you have to paint over it, it feels that you are about to ruin it right away. And it’s time consuming too, but when you eventually hold a piece of paper with your painting it is ultimately rewarding.
The variaty is essential for my work and stepping away from the computer frequently to paint and get dirty hands is what I like best.
2. What are you working on right now? What’s on your camera/desk/easel or in your studio?
I have just finished new fabric patterns for the small Belgian label Kersenpitje. It will be released early spring and has birds, wild flowers and hares in it. It will be a bit different from the first collections since it has no color, only black line drawings on a white background. I like this collection in particular since I drew the various wild flowers during my summer holiday in the Scottish Highlands, so in a way it takes me back to this great place.
I am putting new pattern designs on Spoonflower as well. And I am working on a new painting of a girl and animals in a landscape. It must become sweet, yet a bit alienating. I love that combination. Previously I finished a gouache painting staging my grandmother and great aunt — my granny with mushrooms and bark in her hair and my aunt with branches growing from her head. I want to make a series of portrait-like paintings with a strange twist.
3. What practices/activities are most valuable to your creative process?
Walking my dog is always very good for getting new ideas. He has been with us for four years and it is the best way of getting out of the house and away from my desk now that my kids have grown up.
My morning walk especially helps me with getting new ideas or solutions to problems I have encountered. Besides, my dog is the best company during the day! I tend to talk to him and it is always nice to play frisbee with him, especially after sitting behind my computer for too long.
I love going to the library and get tons of -usually- heavy books. Libraries have always been my happy place; back in my art historian days, I tend to bury myself in library caves. It is always exciting when you run into something unexpected and interesting. Going out and making an effort is good in the process of collecting new material for projects.
Pinterest works well for me for getting reference material and color inspiration. I think it is one of the best ways of collecting things on the internet; I quickly find what I need in my boards. But I also love the old fashioned way by browsing my files of magazine and newspaper clippings I have collected over the years.
I use my many sketchbooks to try out new ideas. I have sketchbooks with very thin paper, ideal for delicate pencil drawings with lots of scribbly lines. And I use my sketchbooks with thick paper for the more robust drawings with black ink with brush and bamboo pencil. These are usually the best ways to loosen up. And for drawing my icons for my fabric patterns I use ordinary copy paper. This is easy to scan and will not withhold you from experimenting, since it is cheap and there is a lot in stock.
4. What’s one thing you want to share with others about your art and/or process?
I always start with pencil and paper, never use a tablet in the initial process. I have tried that but it is not the same for me. When I draw new icons for my patterns I like to directly use the black ink or brush pen without drawing in pencil first. This way it is more spontaneous and usually better. For composition, colors and other inspiration I study Dutch and Flemish paintings from the 16th and 17th century. There’s so much to learn from these masters from the Golden Age. And besides, I’m surrounded by these books, so they are at hand.
5. What advice would you give to your young artist self?
Never stop learning new skills; you will be amazed what you can master. Try to be an expert in lots of different fields. Experiment with new media, materials, combinations. Be curious, be organized. Meet with other artists. Don’t be afraid to show your work and send it to prospects and especially don’t be too much of a perfectionist, since this is often a drawback for achieving things.
Inspired by Els?
Want to know when the next sketch is posted?