I spoke with Wouter Goedkoop, one of the creative talents in Zarfling Platoon, to learn more about him. It is an insightful conversation for those interested in expanding their reach.
Travis Blair: Hi, Wouter! Could you please tell me a bit about yourself, and how you like to express yourself creatively?
Wouter Goedkoop: I have been working as a designer and an illustrator for over 20 years. I have found myself at the heart of many projects ranging from corporate identity, brochures, handbooks, year reports, illustrations and other PR publications such as advertising material, web design and promotional films.
Aside from my design activities, I also create and self-publish graphic novels, comic strips and short stories, both digitally & in print.
Travis: You have worked on a wide range of projects! Your personal portfolio also offers a variety of creations. What types of stories do you like to tell?
Wouter: A 56 page graphic novel can tell a story in a different way a logo can, but both have something to say. My goal, when working on client work, is always to get their story across to their audience. It's not my place to design something that just 'looks cool' because it makes me look good. It has to be compelling and meaningful. I like to work within a set of constraints and make the most of headroom I am being given. My fantasy storytelling projects give me a lot more freedom so I have to set boundaries myself. Ultimately, I draw a lot from my own life experience and from what's happening around me so even though the setting might be in the past, future or an imaginary timeline, I always feel the context is very contemporary.
Travis: What types of boundaries do you set when working within your projects? Also, one great thing about your fantasy work is that it has such a clear identity. What do you do to maintain that?
Wouter: When I made my first graphic novel, I didn't set any restrictions except for a very well defined aesthetic. I gave myself rules as far as the layout was concerned but otherwise I pretty much winged it as I went along. The whole project was originally an excuse to find time to draw and write but I did however structure the process tightly. I started writing the script while designing the world and the characters. By the time the story was done, I had defined a clear graphical style and final designs for all the character, places and vehicles.
From there I storyboarded the entire story and wrote all the texts and dialogues as they would appear in the book. With that as a base I created the layout for all 56 pages and then proceeded to pencil it all and render the final product. It took over five years but it was all part of a very big learning experience.
For Tales of Jerrik, my current graphic novel project, I decided to stick to black and white as an artistic choice but also because of time constraints. The character design led the way as far as defining a look. I like to see this project as hybrid between a comic and a medieval codex. I enjoy working within limitations, it’s fun to set rules and find ways to bend – or even break – them while still striving to create a cohesive whole.
These two projects are very different in many ways: one is in full colour, the other in black & white. One is in landscape format, the other in portrait. One has a science fiction setting, the other is a medieval fantasy tale. Nonetheless, in terms of graphical style, they belong to the same universe. It’s this unity that makes my comic art recognisable, I guess. This design language gives me a basis to work from. My experiments take place in the writing process, the pacing, the layout design and within the constraints I set myself.
Travis: Sounds like planning is an important skill in your toolbox. Speaking of, what tools do you use to create your art? Also, what influences helped shape what you create?
Wouter: I think my background in Design plays a big role with how I try to organise my work. It wasn't always like that so it's definitely a skill I've had to learn. The tools I use are the usual set for my trade: Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. I have started to work with Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer which I both really like. For drawing digitally, I use mainly Clip Paint Studio (formerly Manga Studio) with a 13 inch Cintiq. I also use Procreate on the iPad for colour sketching on the go, although I tend to carry my pencil and sketchbook around to more places than the tablet.
As far as comic art is concerned, there's a lot of artist I've admired since I was a kid. People like Moebius, Peyo, Hergé, Rosinski, Goscinny & Uderzo, Frankin, Gotlib, Jodorowski and more have had a strong impact while growing up. While in my twenties, I discovered anime like Akira, Ghost in the Shell and many films by Miyasaki. I have always had a passion for animation because it combines two interests of mine: visual art & cinema. Talking about cinema, Blade Runner made a big impact on me. It introduced me to the works of Syd Mead and ignited my interest in design which became my career. I was lucky enough to meet the man while attending college. Now more than ever I can appreciate his legacy and I wish more designers would share his optimism for the future rather than this bleak, dark and depressing view we're being sold today.
Finally, fantasy has played a big role in what I create nowadays. Holland has a considerable mythology relating to gnomes and being half Swedish, I also grew up with norse mythology playing a big part in the stories I was read as a child. At eleven, I discovered The Hobbit and, shortly thereafter, The Lord of the Rings. As a teenager, I was an avid D&D player as well as many other role playing games.
All these things as well as the general contemporary culture surrounding me had an influence I guess. My father was running an art gallery when I was a teenager. Even though I did not always like everything he was exhibiting, I got a sense that art was an okay professional calling, in some form or another. And when I decided to pursue a career in design, my family was very supportive.
Travis: I appreciate you going into detail about how you do things, as well as learning about your roots. Looking ahead, where would you like to branch out?
Wouter: I am constantly looking for new challenges and ways to express myself creatively. I would be very interested in lending my illustration and graphic design skills to table top games, be it card games, role playing games or board games. Over the last year, I have started creating custom storytelling art pieces and would also love to find more time to create gallery pieces.
Travis: Your imagination seems to only be rivaled by your ambition. What would you say to other creative people looking to pursue their interests?
Wouter: You have to realise you do not need anyone's permission to start creating. Just show up, every day, and do it. It doesn't really matter how much, as long as you commit to do some, with the intent of doing better than yesterday. And just as importantly, do it because you love what you do.
Travis: That is great advice. Thank you, Wouter, for speaking with me!
Wouter: You're welcome, Travis! It was my pleasure!