Wouter Tulp Interview

Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study?  What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?

I live in the Netherlands, and I was born here too. I grew up in the Rotterdam area, where I still live. Since my early childhood I've had a passion for drawing. In the weekends we would sit at the dining table with the whole family. Someone would pick a subject and we would all draw, paint or sculpt. Also,  my father, who also draws, sculpts and paints was of great influence on my development as an artist. He used to take me out and we'd paint the dutch landscape from time to time. He also had a lot of art books, and especially the books of Norman Rockwell and David Levine appealed to me.
I went to art school when I was 18. Being in an artistic environment and hanging out with creative people helped me to appreciate a variety of art forms, and showed me there are many ways to approach an assignment. Many of the people I met there are still my friends today, and a lot of them became artists too.

How do you go about designing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?

First of all, I keep my eyes open during the day. Things I see when I do groceries, how the mailman acts, what the waiter is wearing...I try to be aware of all those things, because they fill my mind with a visual vocabulary. When I start drawing these are the things that I refer to at first, and they can be a starting point for further exploration. The real world is the best source to come up with believable characters, and my own experiences will be the ones I can communicate most convincingly.

Then when I start with a character design, I use these first ideas to find references. Either on the internet, from tv or from sketching outdoors. I try to come up with two types of reference. The first one I call 'direct reference', which refers to references that are exactly what the briefing describes. For instance: I look for images of a little girl in a pink dress, when the character has to be a little girl in a pink dress.

The second one, I call 'associative reference'. This I do to fill my head with content that may have nothing to do directly with the description of the character, but this helps me to become creative and think 'out of the box'

For instance, I look up pink objects, that I can use to design a dress that refers to that object, or I look up professional models in high fashion dresses, to give the little girl a classy look. Or I look up 1930's photos of what little girls used to wear then... The point is to combine elements that in the first place may not have anything to do with the subject, with the design, in order to give the character that specific personality. 

I always compare this with the famous song 'satisfaction' by the Rolling Stones. When you just play the chords of the song, you'll find they are very common chords, and it could be any song. But when you hear that famous guitar riff, you immediately know which song it is. And then that specific voice of Mick Jagger adds to the character of the song These are all ingredients that give the song personality.

When it comes to designing a character you want to achieve that same sense of personality. All elements should be working together to create that specific personality of the character.

The next step is often dictated by the director. Of the various designs I did, the director will choose which design feels best to him, and I will develop that design further , creating variations that are more in the direction of the director's choice.


What  is a typical day  for you, and who are the people you work with?

I am a freelance illustrator, and I work alone. Well, not exactly; my wife is a photographer, and she works in the same studio. But the work I do, I do best when I am able to find my own rhytm, and decide when it is best to take a break, step back and observe, or to keep drawing and drawing. I am at my best when I can get into the flow without being disturbed in any way.
A typical day for me starts with bringing my son to school, then I check my mail, and make a plan for what I will do that day, even from hour to hour. It depends what my assignment is at that time, since I work in different fields of illustration. A children's book requires a different approach than a last minute caricature for a newspaper. But  often comes down to dividing my job into : 1. making sure I really understand the briefing, 2. a process of exploration, 3. sketching ideas, 4. refining the sketch and coming up with color ideas 5. creating the final illustration. In between I often have contact with the art director, to discuss the ideas and sketches.

What are some of the things that you have worked on?

I have made a lot of children's books, that have been published mostly in the Netherlands. Titles include: Opscheppers, De coole cowboy and Piratenpieten.
Also I have been doing editorial illustrations, both conceptual and caricatures, for authorative magazines in the Netherlands.

I have done character designs for commercials and feature films. Among those are 'the seventh dwarf, that has yet to come out, where I worked under the direction of the late Harald Siepermann, and recently I have been creating designs for the dutch feature 'Trippel Trappel'  

Is there a design you have done that you are most happy with?

I always find it very hard to choose between my 'children', but for instance I really like the cat I did for Trippel trappel'

What projects are you working on now? (if you can tell us)
At the moment I am working on a children's book with author Tjibbe Veldkamp.

Who are some of your favorite artists out there?

I love the work of Carter Goodrich, Anette Marnat, Nicholas Marlet, Natalie Ascencios, Paul Felix, C.F.Payne, Daniel Adel...
Also I love the work of David Levine, Norman Rockwell, John Singer Sargent, Jeremy Lipking and many, many more.

Could you talk about your process in coloring  your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?

In art school I was told that using color is just a matter of personal taste, and either you have a sense for it or not. 

In my work as an illustrator I found out that this is untrue, and like theory on perspective there is also a theory for color.  Whether you learn it by doing (observing and learning from nature) or by studying books on color theory, there is more to it than just a sense for nice color combinations. My use of color has its fundamentals in painting from life. 

By observing the world, and painting it, I learned about reflections, warm and cool light, color temperature, pigments, values, atmospheric effects, the effect of textures and shapes on reflections and color etc.  In my illustration work I can use the things I learn by observing nature, and then I can choose how I translate this in my Illustrations. For instance when it comes to perspective, I can observe it in real life, examine it, but In my illustration I can still choose to  ignore the laws of perspective, but then it is a conscious choice. The same way I can now choose how I use color and light.

The media I use are various, but often in traditional media I use gouache and digitally I use Adobe Photoshop

What part of designing  is most fun and easy, and what is most difficult?

I really like the creative process, the part where anything is possible, and nothing has to be final. I find the part when the decisions have been made and it only comes down to finishing a concept that is fixed the hardest part. Often I try to keep exploring as long as possible, so that even finishing a piece becomes an 'adventure'. This also means that things can go wrong, but at the same time unexpected things can happen that make the design even better.

What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?

Creativity dies when there is a fixed goal. When you know exactly what you will do, you are not being creative. Working for a client may sometimes be hard when a client asks for something you have done in the past. I try to see the boundaries of an assignment as a challenge. When you know what you can not do, it is a challenge to find out what is possible within those boundaries. That is where creativity comes in.
Also I like to draw just for fun a lot. Without any goal at all, just to see what happens. This sometimes leads to horrible drawings, but it can also lead to new ideas that I would have never come up with doing the same thing over and over. These ideas can be refreshing, and I often can use them in my paid jobs.

What are some of your favorite designs which you have seen?

I was blown away when I first saw the designs for Monsters inc. By Nicholas Marlet.

What is your most favorite subject to draw?  And  why?

People. I think people are what we see most in our daily lives. All of us are able to understand even the tiniest subtleties in expressions and gestures. That gives a designer a wide range to play with shapes, and expressions. When animals are the characters in a movie, we 'read' their expressions, gestures and behavior just as we read humans, so for  that matter, I also like drawing animals.

What inspired you to become an Artist?

I can't remember not drawing. It is something I have always done, and when I found out that it was possible to make a living doing that, It made most sense to pursue that goal.

What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?

One of the best things I learned is that you don't have to be afraid that someone steals your style. Your style is built on your experiences, your discoveries, your insights... Someone else is only able to steal the look of your work, not who you are. You will develop furter, and if you stay true to what you believe in, make what you like, it is not of any interest what anybody else does. This also means that we as artists can share knowledge and help each other. In the end the personality of you in your work is what appeals. You may be able to fool people at first by stealing someone else technique, but there comes a point when it will show that there is no foundation for your work. When you stay true to yourself and be honest, your work will reflect that.

What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?

Something I learned is that it is really easy to be blown away by others. Especially with social media, Facebook, twitter etc. On the internet we see so many great artworks that can make us feel small, or give us the feeling that we don't work hard enough, or that we haven't accomplished enough. It is important to understand what we see online are the best works of all illustrators around the world. So we do not compare ourselves with someone else, but we compare ourselves with all great illustrators' best works. How can anybody ever keep up with that?

The reason I started drawing is because I have fun doing it. Not to be the best. It doesn't matter what your level is. Right at this very moment, you can make a drawing and have fun doing it. That's what's important.
And also to relax sometimes, and spend time with friends and family. Not spending all your time behind the drawing table, but also to enjoy your life, have fun.

If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted? 

You can reach me at

Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?

First of all, I have some art books. They can be ordered here:
Then some originals are for sale. If you are interested in an original, send me an email, and I'll let you know if that work of art is available.

Wouter Tulp Gallery