Going Dutch with Onno Knuvers

Born in the Netherlands, currently living in New Zealand and about to move to Australia, nobody can accuse illustrator Onno Knuvers of resting on his laurels. We ‘go Dutch’ over a flat white and find out what makes him tick. Read on…..

Hi Onno, how long have you been a professional illustrator and when did you first realise that that was you wanted to be?
Since my senior year at high school I knew I wanted to be a professional artist, but I didn’t know whether that meant working in fine art, animation or illustration. I tried all three and I found illustration the most exciting and satisfying to work with. I’ve been working as a full time illustrator since early 2003. Before that I was working as an animator and clean up artist for a local animation studio that produced work for some of the major studios in the US. It was after the studio closed that I realised most of my freelance work was illustration and what I had learnt as an animator could be applied to illustration.

Are you self-taught or did you go to college/university to study?
Technically I was self-taught as I have been drawing, painting and creating since I was a little ankle biter. But I also studied at Elam School of Fine Art for my bachelor’s degree specialising in Painting. After that I continued with further study in classical character animation. But I believe that you never stop learning once you have finished your formal education. Every day I try to learn and improve new skills, techniques and styles.

What was your first commission and for whom?
My first professional illustration commission was for a local monthly magazine called Het Krantje from Netherlands Society in New Zealand. They asked me to design a logo for the magazine and also provide illustrations for the kid’s activity pages. My parents still have a subscription to the magazine and it’s funny to see that they are still using the same logo after 10 years.

Do you work traditionally, on the computer or a combination of both?
Most of the finished work I produce for clients is created digitally either in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. But normally all the initial development and concepts are drawn with good old fashioned pen and paper. There is something romantic about physically creating images on paper. So while most of my professional work is created on the computer I like to try and work traditionally on my own personal projects. Which means pen and ink drawings and painting with acrylics, and if I have enough time I like to break out my favourite oil paints.

Do you prefer to work on your own or in the company of others?
I’ve been working as a freelancer for a while now so I don’t mind working by myself but it’s nice to have someone around to collaborate with and bounce ideas off. I find that working with people all around the world or via email I normally don’t see my clients to often so it is nice to catch with them when possible.

You obviously love what you do. How long does it take to produce one of your busy scenes from concept sketch to final artwork?
Depending on the size of the work a complex illustration could be finished in 2-3 days from concept to final artwork. My background in animation really helped to work fast and efficient, which helps with my advertising agency clients who always seem to be on a very tight deadline.

If you hadn’t been an illustrator, what other career might you have chosen?
When I was a kid I wanted to be something different every other day. My sister kept a list of all the things I wanted to be, apparently it was quite long but I’m sure that either an artist or illustrator was on that list. But if I hadn’t been accepted into art school I would have applied to the architecture school.
While at university I also took some papers in Metaphysics so I also could have been a philosopher, thinking about the meaning of life and whether we actually exist!

What would be the ‘perfect’ commission for you?
A perfect commission would be a commission that ends with a happy and satisfied client. But if I had to choose a perfect commission it would be either providing character designs for Pixar or working with Peter Jackson.

Do you prefer clients to give you a detailed brief or a ‘blank’ sheet?
It all depends on the project and I work closely with the client each step of the project so there are no surprises but I find that with new clients a detailed brief works best for both parties. With existing clients I normally find that their briefs are not as detailed as we have built up a relationship of time and I know what they expect and they know what to expect from me. In the end it pays to maintain good communication regardless whether you have a detailed brief or a blank sheet.

What are your interests outside illustration?
Apart from Illustration I have a great passion for animation and fine art. I try to visit all the interesting exhibitions at the local galleries and museums. Also my wife and I really enjoy the outdoors, I believe we live in an amazing country (and world for that matter) so we try to take every opportunity to learn about it and explore it. We recently completed the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand, which was incredible and something we’ll both remember for a long time. When we travel we enjoy visiting all the old cathedrals, museums and exploring the centuries old villages in Europe. I find it fascinating to learn about all the culture and ancient history of these unique places.

Are there any other illustrators you admire and why?
Where to begin, I admire so many different illustrators each for their own reasons. From classical artists like the amazing detailed and accurate drawings of Leonardo Di Vinci to the impossible illustrations of M.C. Escher. I grew up reading lots of British books (especially Roald Dahl) so the works of Quentin Blake and Ronald Searle are very special to me in the way they design the characters and make the story come alive. Then there are many modern illustrators to admire for their skill, passion and business skills, artists like Meomi, Tado, Peskimo and Noferin to name a few.

The Desert Island Discs question! You’re stuck on a desert island. There’s a plentiful supply of food and water, but what other three items couldn’t you live without? (no husbands, boyfriends or pets included I’m afraid)
First thing I would take is my computer, that assuming there is power and free wi-fi. In todays connected world it’s great way to stay in touch with people, also it’s a great tool to learn and research and to find out tomorrow’s weather report. Tropical storms on deserted islands can really be dangerous when you are not prepared. The second thing I would take is a very large box of art supplies, so I can keep busy drawing and creating. The last thing I would take is my trusty magic 8 ball, it hasn’t been wrong yet but it still won’t give me the lottery numbers for some reason.

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