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Sebastiaan van Doninck

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 encounter Sebastiaan van Doninck’s drawings, you might be tempted to cuddle them. There seems to be nothing in the world he can’t make into an adorable dancing creature—a bee, an apple, the Eiffel Tower, a bottle of poison. His children’s-book and commercial illustrations are wonders of lively and elegant composition and friendly fantasy; even his more realistic drawings are imbued with tender charm. Van Doninck began his life in Herentals, Belgium. As he writes on his blog, “I was born from idealistic hippies in a small village between cows, lots of trees, and 12 hyperactive brothers and sisters. No wonder I became an illustrator!” Later, he studied illustration and graphic design at the Sint Lucas school in Antwerp (where he now lives). He doesn’t see his work as typically Belgian. “I love the Japanese culture and prints from the Edo period, but I’m also influenced by popular American culture and contemporary art,” he says. “I think it’s a mixture of different things, a multicultural influence! A global, urban feeling.”

What’s your most essential tool? My ink. I have a set of wonderful inks in many different colors, and painting with them can be hypnotizing. The second stage—and tool I couldn’t do without—is Photoshop. At first I really went wild with the software. I did all kinds of tricks and filters. But now, I only use the basics. I also love crayons and pens in different colors; sometimes I feel like a little girl in a supermarket, dreaming in front of the crayon and pen sets about rainbows and ponies.

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this? Probably working as a classical dancer or a biologist. As a teenager, I had a box with thousands of cards with all the known animals in the world. Every night, I read as many cards as I could before I fell asleep. And now, when I see a creature on a documentary, I almost always know its name. So maybe, if I weren’t an illustrator, I would be investigating the strange behavior of unknown animals, maybe deep in the jungle of Indonesia.

What are some of the strangest jobs you’ve had? At the age of 14, I was working on the weekends in a frituur, a small place where you can buy all kinds of fried meat and chips. I was the dishwasher, and I also had to cut the potatoes. It was a stinking job! Later on, working as a freelance illustrator, I was asked to make illustrations for a frituur museum in Bruges.

What do you like most about being an illustrator? What do you like least? I love to work for magazines and children’s books. When reading the text, things start to “bubble” inside. If it feels right, I instantly imagine images and start sketching. What I like the most is the freedom as a creator; you’re not bound to reality. You can make surreal images and still make it believable. What I don’t like is the isolation. 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 with treasures, and the mixture of old and contemporary architecture works very well. The African section is especially stunning. When I look at these old, dark wooden masks of demons and ghosts, my imagination takes over. 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! Just the feeling of a good song can be enough to get my engine going. Sometimes I’m dancing between two drawings!

More Informationlives in Antwerp, Belgiumwebsite sebastiaanvandoninck.blogspot.com —  Ivan Maximov


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Sebastiaan van Doninck

Read Jude Stewart's introduction to Print's 2008 European Illustrators.

This article appears in the June 2008 issue of Print.