In my previous blog, I journeyed back to the beginning of (my) time and we had a good time laughing together about how I started my drawing journey. I told you about the countless hours I spent as a child staring at animated movies and many comic books, about my first headfoots and floating hairdos, my self-created super cool comicbook hero Wim and his 13 adventures, dropping out of drawing school because I wasn't interested in fruit bowls, about mail from my idol, cowboys and my first steps into the digital world with Photoshop at the end of my high school years.
I mentioned that, thanks to these Photoshop classes, I was eager to get into some graphics major in college. And I then also disclosed that that didn't go very smoothly. How so? I'm happy to tell you now in this follow-up blog about my journey through time!
It didn't go very smoothly...
In my last year of high school, there was a lot of thinking ahead going on: what do you want to do in college next year? For me, this was already very clear for several years now. A graphics major, duh! But then again... what kind of graphics major?
I remember that I had been reading ImagineFX for quite some time, a magazine that my father was subscribed to and which arrived in our mailbox every month. This magazine is an English 'art magazine', full of (digital) artwork by various artists, with interviews, workshops, tutorials, ... Everything was centered around (digital) art, usually in a fantasy, scifi, anime, manga and comic theme. And yes... that was it. That's what I wanted to do *someday*! In which setting I would want to do this (in film, games, as a concept artist, character designer, illustrator, ...)? Not a clue! Little did I know what you could do with it, as long as it was in that world of (digital) art!
Only... in Belgium there weren't really any colleges where you could learn all this, at least not that we knew of. And certainly not specifically for digital art, with a focus on fantasy. Maybe in the meantime there are, but back then (in 2008) the choices were limited.
But no problem! I would find something, I wasn't picky. As long as it had something to do with art, fantasy and creativity, I was more than happy.
And so I took an admission test at Sint-Lucas in Antwerp.
Originally I wanted to attend the program 'Illustration' because I thought this would fit in best with my big dreams (although at that time I didn't really plan to become an illustrator). But the day of my admission test, I actually didn't feel very comfortable about it. I did pass my test and was admitted, but I felt that maybe it wasn't quite what I thought/had hoped the school and programme would be. I saw all these artworks displayed in the corridors and what other admissions candidates were creating, and soon my mind went "uh... hmm... that's not what was in ImagineFX...". So clearly my head was still up there in the fantasy-digital-art-ImagineFX cloud, and I had very different expectations when I went to take my test that day.
Ah, but you know, maybe I just had to adjust my expectations, and choose another program at Sint-Lucas. One with a clearer orientation and clear employment prospects. So I started in the program 'Advertising design' (although I hated advertising, so yeah... *what could go wrong?*).
And of course: I lasted six months ... The bad feeling from the admission test was nibbling at my stomach all these months. I didn't feel good at all in this program, in this world of art, and quickly I got completely disillusioned.
I noticed that the pieces I had to make actually didn't appeal to me at all and everything was SO subjective. Tastes are always very personal of course, that's normal. But when working for grades, it is difficult to judge what you don't like, even if it is overall technically correct.
In terms of (art)styles, I often felt pushed in a certain direction, because they obviously know what is in demand and popular in the professional world. But for me, it rubbed me the wrong way in every way, because it just wasn't my thing.
Don't get me wrong, all my respect and appreciation for this world of art, all those students and teachers who feel completely at home there and make dreams come true. They are producing beautiful and meaningful work, creating artists who will make their mark on the world. But this just wasn't me. I felt trapped and my creativity was shriveling before my very eyes. I had become SO demotivated.
I struggled through my first exams and then went to my parents to break down. Fortunately, they were very understanding and supportive. And I am still incredibly grateful to them. Thanks to their support, I spent the next six months on sabbatical, trying to figure out what I would like to study and do with my professional life. A very difficult one... Because the urge to draw had completely vanished.
Those months had been so tough for me psychologically that I had developed an interest in psychology during my sabbatical half-year. Finally, in September I decided to start Applied Psychology in Antwerp, something very different from what I had actually always wanted to do. But my desire to draw seemed completely dead, so there was no point in pursuing that dream any longer.
And yet... During my Applied Psychology programme, it gradually started to itch again. Between classes and while studying for my exams, doodles regularly started to appear on my notes. Hello?
The first digital steps
My pencil started smiling at me again, silly little creatures appeared on scrap paper, off to buy a sketchbook during my lunch break, I put ImagineFX on top of the stack of magazines in our toilet, ... Gradually I felt the urge to draw something again, and my interest in digital drawing reemerged with every visit to our toilet.
Especially during my final year of college, I found myself couchhanging more often (what do you mean "bad for my back"?) or at my desk with a pile of paper or my sketchbook. My parents also noticed. Because suddenly my father gave me his very first Wacom Intuos as a gift!
An Intuos is a tablet for digital drawing. You plug the tablet into your computer or laptop, and you draw on the tablet while looking at your computer screen. That might sound weird, so if you have trouble imagining it: I previously wrote a blog about the different types of drawing tablets, including the Intuos. Feel free to check it out if you'd like to know more, but for now, it looks like this:
I tried out that Intuos for the first time with Photoshop. Back then, I liked to draw those little characters with um ... no eyes? HollowEyes I called them, and they were my first digital creations :)
Of course, it didn't look like much (if anything…) yet. I drew the lines, colored in the areas, threw some random shadows on them, and that was it! But I was super proud of myself, because I was one step closer to my big dream: to become like all those digital artists from ImagineFX. Just a little more practice, and I would soon be displayed in that magazine too!
Haha, lol. Of course it wasn't that easy *duh* :p (Digital) drawing turned out to be much more difficult than I had imagined as a naive young girl. But… you know… in those magazines, it didn't seem that difficult?
Of course, the medium (traditional or digital) is one thing, but the main thing is that you have to be able to draw before it actually looks good. Regardless of whether it is traditional or digital. And so: lots of practice, experimenting, messing up, cheering, watching YouTube videos, cursing, crying and above all having fun was the message! After a while I traded in my Intuos for a Wacom Cintiq Companion (a portable drawing tablet/computer to draw directly on the screen) and even took lessons through Schoolism for a while. This is an online art-school where you can take classes at your own pace to learn to draw, both traditionally and digitally, and where you can choose from a very wide range of courses, ranging from drawing fundamentals to character design, landscape design and storyboarding.
The bottom line is that I ended up going my own way. I didn't go to school to learn how to draw, didn't take any official courses and therefore didn't get a creative degree, but I taught myself to draw by practising a lot, looking at my big role models and following tutorials via Youtube and Schoolism. I did what I loved, drew what I wanted to draw, at my own pace, in my spare time, with a lot of trial and error.
Of course, this is not to say that self-education is the best way to learn to draw. Especially in the beginning, you actually miss a solid foundation for a long time, you learn more slowly than if you would take real courses, you make the same mistakes for a longer time, you have to learn to persist, cultivate a lot of self-discipline, learn to challenge yourself and think critically, ...
But I did what I loved so much. I followed my heart and my passion. Maybe with the dream of *someday* doing something more with it, but that was no longer really a requirement at the time. I would see where I would end up. I wanted to get better, for myself, and just... draw!
And so, with some pride and shame, I am happy to present you some of my creations (traditional and digital), thanks to years of trial and error, from 2014 to 2018!
The birth of ImagiNelle
Mid-2014 (so actually when I "really" started experimenting with digital drawing), my studies were finally over and I started working as a psychology assistant at the psychiatric hospital where I had done my last internship. Until, in 2017, I noticed a job opening at the administration office, for an administrative and graphic employee. Ohla hey! That sounds like something I could do! My knowledge of Photoshop, graphic design and InDesign had been honed in my spare time anyway, and I had done Administration-Languages in high-school. So it was actually pretty much right up my alley. And apparently the head of the departement felt the same way, because a few months later I made the definitive switch to the administration office (hurrah!). I still work there part-time to this day, by the way :)
And then suddenly, in 2019, a new opportunity appeared around the corner: I was asked to illustrate a children's book! Holy cow, I had been dreaming about that for years! But who would have ever thought I would get this opportunity - let alone so soon! Not me anyway. Because... could I even do that? Am I already good enough for that?
Of course, I had done drawings for friends and family before, but that was always on a small basis and as a hobby. But this was a big and commercial project.
But the writer was and still is a good friend of mine, a fan of my work AND he had complete confidence in me ^^ So how could I refuse!
But because it was a bigger and commercial project, I soon asked myself whether I should make it "official" and start doing my art as a secondary profession. I could start this project as a freelancer, and afterwards "I'll see", right? :)
And so it happened: there was ImagiNelle! At first, it took some time to find a suitable name for my little artbusiness, one that matched the pseudonym 'Nelle' I had been using until then (in case you haven't noticed, that's the opposite of 'Ellen'. *Ahum* Original, right?! :p). As soon as I came across 'ImagiNelle', I had to Google it first to see if it didn't already exist in Belgium, because you know how that goes ... And yes and no: apparently there was only a small webshop called 'Imaginelle' but it seemed to have been inactive for several years now. So: mine! Woohoo!
Fun fact: a few years later, that webshop turned out to belong to Gwendolyne, the writer I collaborated with for ‘Scheetje Planeetje’ :) It was because she Googled her old webshopname again that she found me and kept me in mind when looking for an illustrator for her book. The world can be so lovely petite, can’t it!
After officially starting ImagiNelle, I started drawing for my very first commercial project ever: 'Nestje - e ratteke uit de ruien' by Patrick Van Ouytsel.
This first book suddenly opened quite a lot of commercial doors during those first ImagiNelle years: I worked on two more Nestje-books, illustrated 'De Kat-astrofen van Rikske Strikske' in collaboration with writer Femke Vleminckx, illustrated ‘Scheetje Planeetje’ for writer Gwendolyne Schmetz, and I even got to illustrate an American children's book: 'The Adventures of Felix the Flamingo' (*waaahh!*).
Looking back on it now, I still can't quite believe it myself! What wonderful opportunities I have had! What an incredible honor that all these talented writers wanted me to illustrate their books! I am still incredibly grateful to them all for their trust and the opportunities they have given me! Each of them made ImagiNelle grow over the first few years and gave me the confidence: "Hey, maybe I can do this after all?". Faith in myself! And that is invaluable to me.
And not just them. Also all my other clients: everyone who wanted a drawing by my hand, to use privately! They too have helped bring ImagiNelle to life, strengthened my belief in myself, made both ImagiNelle and myself grow as professional freelancer. What an incredible honor that I was and am given the opportunity to draw for all these people! That they love my work and support me to pursue my dream!
Gradually, my portfolio started to grow, I started a webshop, I expanded my website and the world of ImagiNelle was taking more form. But... I am far from there yet! :)
I have so many dreams for ImagiNelle, so many goals, so many wishes, hopes and so many ideas. Whether I will be able to realise them (all) and how long it will take me, that's anyone's guess for now. But one thing is certain: ImagiNelle is a dream come true. And for that, I am incredibly grateful.
PS: the drawings above are just a (small) selection of all my drawings over the years, but showing them all would be a bit too much of a stretch :)