Simóne Van Der Spuy’s illustrations are innocent in the way that fairytales are; whimsical and fun but with just the right measurement of dark, toothy undertones. She refers to her illustration style as ‘realistic creep’. Her graduating year (from the Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography) was highlighted with a Student Loerie Craft Certificate for Illustration. For her final project Simoné added words to her pictures by writing and illustrating a beautiful children’s book, The Extra Ordinary Mind of Petula Primrose.
Simóne explains how her design style was “a mistake” that came out of disliking illustration before choosing it as her major in second year after having a change of heart. We’re happy she continued with her “unplanned skill”! Her imagination, style and future plans are worth knowing more about, so we interviewed her to find out what they entail.
How and why did you become interested in illustration?
When I first started my three year degree at Stellenbosch Academy, I wasn’t actually interested in doing illustration at all (although I definitely appreciated other people’s illustration work – especially children’s books). I started off majoring in design and never thought I would end up doing illustration. But we had to do it as a minor, so for the first year and a half it was compulsory. And I wouldn’t say that I necessarily looked forward to the illustration briefs that came our way, perhaps because I didn’t have an obvious route of execution and didn’t specifically enjoy painting, drawing, collaging or any of the other taught methods.
So I ended up using many random and different routes, half the time not knowing what I was doing. It was only in second year that I started illustrating the way that my work looks now. I think it was our third last illustration brief when I started working on the computer. I thought I was being clever by taking a short cut and was genuinely getting tired of manually cutting and pasting with scissors so used Photoshop instead. It seemed to work out pretty well but I didn’t think anything would come of it. I could see the end of my illustration minor coming and it made me quite happy. My lecturers encouraged me to carry on doing what I was doing for the last two illustration briefs and by the end of those two briefs (almost out of nowhere) I was into illustration. I ended up picking illustration over design as a major. When I look back at my three years it’s really strange to see how it all worked out. The method that I use was a mistake in my eyes, but it has definitely been the best unplanned skill that ever came my way!
What do you enjoy, or alternatively dislike, about it?
I enjoy that if you have any sort of ability to illustrate, you have an ability to express things visually that are in your head, whether it be concepts, ideas, opinions or stories. I enjoy that I am able to now take what is in my head and make it into something physical that other people can see (and be freaked out by). I do, however, dislike how time-consuming it is, and that many people don’t realise how many hours of work illustration and design takes. I do also, at times, get tired of sitting in front of my laptop (although, I did choose this route so I can’t complain, but I do sometimes).
How would you describe your style of work, and what influences it?
I think my work has a realistic look to it and at the same time some of it is also a bit creepy/weird. I have found that a lot of people aren’t sure of whether it’s digital work or whether I painted it, which is cool. I painted it! (no, not really). So it could be described as ‘realistic creep’ I suppose – maybe it can be a new type of style that goes viral. As for influences, I have always loved English as a language, as well as weird stories (especially rhyming ones like Dr Seuss). I also remember buying a book online called ‘An Awesome Book’ in first year by the illustrator Dallas Clayton. I love the way that he both illustrates and writes his stories, and the language part of it appealed to me more, but I do remember thinking how great it would be if I could illustrate in a specific way like he does, and then it ended up happening! My lecturer showed me the work of a Norwegian illustrator named Stian Hole, which has significantly inspired my work especially the realistic aspect.
Is there a message, or ethic, you’d like to communicate through your work?
Because most of my work has come from college briefs, I haven’t always had room to do exactly what I want, but where I can, I do like to add a little humour to my work or at I least try to. And for some reason I have illustrated many children but am not sure what the deal is with that.
Was studying Illustration at Stellenbosch Academy what you expected it to be? Has your perception of the field changed since your first year? – And if so, how?
It definitely wasn’t what I expected it to be, but in a good way. If it wasn’t for the lecturers at the academy I would never have been where I am now. Especially because I was forced to do illustration and draw the same chair from one million different angles with three million varying utensils, but if it wasn’t for them pushing us to do things differently I would never have progressed. My perception of the field has also changed. Now I see how much room there is for illustration and design to be used in a positive way and to create change and express important ideas that aren’t as effective verbally or through literature. I also learnt that it is a tough field. If you’re in it for money you aren’t going to get any, and if you’re not in it for money you still probably won’t get any but hopefully we will all get by!
What’s the best piece of advice you received while studying?
“Paint over your final piece (that you’ve spent a month on) with gouache, cut it up, throw it on the floor, see how it lands and collage over it. There, that’s much better.” Something along those lines was said. It is the unexpected things that usually work out best. You have to carry on trying things outside of your comfort zone to produce something original. It’s cliché but true.
Which of your creative projects are you most proud of and why?
I am most proud of my final project. It was a self-motivated brief that I spent the last half of the year on. We could choose to do anything that interested us and I chose to illustrate a children’s (or adult?) story that I wrote myself (something that I would never have expected could happen in first year). It’s called The Extra Ordinary Mind of Petula Primrose and is about a little girl who questions everything and anything around her. It is based on the inquisitive nature of children who often look at things in more depth than adults do. I based the story on some real questions that children ask. Each illustration has a rhyming paragraph that goes with it. The book comes with a magnifying glass, used to explore certain parts of the book. This goes with the theme of seeking truth and looking beyond what seems to be in front of you.
“So next when you see a disguise,
don’t be so quick to close your eyes.
For what you are seeing is just the surface,
only removing the veil will reveal a purpose.
Yes coincidences happen all the time,
but if you look close enough
you’ll see the design.
In the end it is up to you-
here is the key,
you know what to do.”
– the last chapter of The Extra Ordinary Mind of Petula Primrose
Support Simóne’s Kickstarter campaign to get The Extra Ordinary Mind of Petula Primrose to print.
Where do you find your mind wandering to while you’re illustrating?
Sometimes I think I might be crazy as my mind literally wanders everywhere, from pies to conspiracy theories. It depends on the day and my mood. As I do all of my work in front of my laptop, I spend a lot of time listening to music, singing tunes, listening to TEDtalks and YouTube videos or just silence. I’ve been amazed at the depths of the internet as I illustrate. Sometimes I lie in a horizontal slump on my bed (very creative space) and other times I go sit at a coffee shop to have a change of scenery and pretend to be a professional, but mostly it’s a slump with things scattered around me (my roommates from the past year will know what I mean).
How do you base what you design – your characters, objects and imaginary scenes – on ‘real life’? Where do you find inspiration from?
I use a lot of imagery from ‘real life’, like photographs, and then I manipulate them. Some of it is found imagery and some of it is my own imagery. I use these to create whatever idea is in my head, or I just start working and see what happens. I don’t always have a specific visual end in mind. Through the process, it turns out differently from what I visualised in the beginning.
What are your plans for 2015 and beyond?
To rest my eyes and hands away from the laptop radiation! And then (besides that) I plan on professionally establishing ‘Simonster Illustrations’ through freelancing, websites, online stores and other opportunities that come my way.
Where can we stay updated with your work?
Honest Chocolate Wrappers