Illustration for Microben, 2007, a children’s book about microbes, bacteria, and viruses. Art director: Sofie Van Sande; creative director: Wendy Meulemans; design director: Steven Theunis; writer: Geert Bouckaert; editor: Sofie Van Sande; publisher: Lannoo.
Warning: the moment you encounterSebastiaan van Doninck’s drawings, you might be tempted to cuddlethem. There seems to be nothing in the world he can’t make into anadorable dancing creature—a bee, an apple, the Eiffel Tower, abottle of poison. His children’s-book and commercial illustrationsare wonders of lively and elegant composition and friendly fantasy; evenhis more realistic drawings are imbued with tender charm. Van Doninckbegan his life in Herentals, Belgium. As he writes on his blog, “Iwas born from idealistic hippies in a small village between cows, lotsof trees, and 12 hyperactive brothers and sisters. No wonder I became anillustrator!” Later, he studied illustration and graphic design atthe Sint Lucas school in Antwerp (where he now lives). He doesn’tsee his work as typically Belgian. “I love the Japanese cultureand prints from the Edo period, but I’m also influenced bypopular American culture and contemporary art,” he says. “Ithink it’s a mixture of different things, a multiculturalinfluence! A global, urban feeling.”
What’s your most essential tool?My ink. I have a set of wonderful inks in manydifferent colors, and painting with them can be hypnotizing. The secondstage—and tool I couldn’t do without—is Photoshop. Atfirst I really went wild with the software. I did all kinds of tricksand filters. But now, I only use the basics. I also love crayons andpens in different colors; sometimes I feel like a little girl in asupermarket, dreaming in front of the crayon and pen sets about rainbowsand ponies.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?Probably working as a classical dancer or a biologist. As ateenager, I had a box with thousands of cards with all the known animalsin the world. Every night, I read as many cards as I could before I fellasleep. And now, when I see a creature on a documentary, I almost alwaysknow its name. So maybe, if I weren’t an illustrator, I would beinvestigating the strange behavior of unknown animals, maybe deep in thejungle of Indonesia.
What are some of the strangest jobs you’ve had?At the age of 14, I was working on theweekends in a frituur, a small place where you can buy all kindsof fried meat and chips. I was the dishwasher, and I also had to cut thepotatoes. It was a stinking job! Later on, working as a freelanceillustrator, I was asked to make illustrations for a frituurmuseum in Bruges.
What do you like most about being an illustrator? What do you like least?I love to work formagazines and children’s books. When reading the text, thingsstart to “bubble” inside. If it feels right, I instantlyimagine images and start sketching. What I like the most is the freedomas a creator; you’re not bound to reality. You can make surrealimages and still make it believable. What I don’t like is theisolation. After a week of work I have to get out and see some people.
What’s your favorite museum in the world?My favorite museum is the British Museum—it’s packed withtreasures, and the mixture of old and contemporary architecture worksvery well. The African section is especially stunning. When I look atthese old, dark wooden masks of demons and ghosts, my imagination takesover. These primitive masks have a very modern feeling.
What’s the number-one thing that gives you energy and inspiration to keep making art?My collection of music! Justthe feeling of a good song can be enough to get my engine going.Sometimes I’m dancing between two drawings!
Read Jude Stewart's introduction to Print's 2008 European Illustrators.
This article appears in the June 2008 issue of Print.