If you had to choose between reality or fantasy, what would you choose? If you are not so sure of it, wait to see the illustrations of Julie Van Wezemael. In her work you will see dogs reading, elephants riding on bicycles – in short, an endless of surreal things that arise through spontaneity; ideas that go from her mind to the paper directly, without going through any kind of filter. It may be that Julie's work reminds of the illustrations of children's drawings given the ingenuity of her art. But don't expect the typical drawing with the same colors as always, Julie uses bright colors and dares to sew the paper with different threads of colors. Julie explains her vision of art and invites us to immerse ourselves in her fantastic world.
Can you explain us your beginnings as an artist?
I've always been drawing, even as a little kid. When I finished high school it was a pretty easy decision for me to go to art school, and after a few years in graphic design I ended up studying Illustration. Looking back on it, it's what I've always wanted to do. The urge to draw things is so big I can't imagine doing anything else.
What's your vision of art?
To me personally it's a very important part of life. Creating tangible things is a big outlet and gives me a sense of purpose. I love the fact that people spend time and energy into creating things just for the sake of it.
Your interests, besides the art, of course, are the textile design, literature and nature. As we can see, you capture this elements in your illustrations but, is there anything else that inspires you?
Music is definitely very important in my life and I totally obsess over my favorite artists (looking at you Robert Smith), maybe it doesn't literally inspire my work but nonetheless it's constantly there when I'm working at home. Aside from that I get a lot of inspiration out of things I see and hear around me. I can't make a living out of my illustration work alone so I work part-time at a bakery, and I get so much stuff from just looking out of the shop window all day or talking to customers. Lately I've started to listen to podcasts while working too, when something interesting comes up I write it down in my sketchbook for future reference.
You said that you don't like to make sketches before starting to create a project. So all of your work comes out from your mind to the paper?
When it's personal work, I usually start off with an idea I wrote down in my sketchbook at some point and I just start painting. When it's commissioned work I think it over a little more and make a very rudimentary sketch and sometimes a moodboard so I get a basic feeling of what I'm going for, and then I just start drawing. I'd say 80% of the ideas is stuff I come up with while working on the proper illustration.
The spontaneity is the key of your work, right?
I believe so. I've done a few illustrations where I spent a lot of time on the sketch and then remade them properly afterwards, but they lack spontaneity in my opinion. When I work without a sketch, I start with a background and then I add layer upon layer. I try to play with transparency a lot so you can actually see how I built up the image, which I think is visually interesting. I wouldn't be able to figure out this playing with layers all beforehand, it has to come naturally and gradually.
In your illustrations we can appreciate an indie, alternative vibe.
Maybe, if you compare it to traditional children illustrations. But I feel that nowadays the notion of illustration is a lot broader than it used to be and the boundaries between illustration and painting or drawing aren't as clear anymore, so there's a lot more people working in an alternative style as opposed to classic children book illustrations. That's not to say that children book illustrations are or were boring or too traditional by the way, there's a lot of fantastic stuff out there!
You usually mix fantasy with elements of the real world. How do you find the balance between this two worlds?
I'm not very interested in drawing reality as it is. I like to imagine weird creatures living weird lives, it's what comes naturally when I let my mind wander.
You don't use only the pen to or the brush to illustrate them, you also use thread. We can consider that your work becomes more crafted but – what else does this technique offer?
It gives the illustrations a tactile quality, and it allows me to work layer upon layer while still retaining very bright colors. The lines also look different than drawn or etched lines and I like mixing a lot of different textures like that.
In the last years your artwork has appeared in some books – have you ever thought about writing your own book?
Maybe sometime in the future but not at the moment. Right now I enjoy making single drawings, I'm pretty impatient too.
You have a little on-line shop where we can find some postcards and a tote bag. Are you planning to add more products?
I might start selling prints of illustrations at some point. I also have a few zine ideas floating around in my head but haven't gotten round making them yet. There's never enough time!
What are you planning to do in the future? Exhibitions, any projects or collaborations?
Right now I'm working on a big assignment for a concert hall in Bruges and I have an exhibition with a friend and fellow illustrator coming up at the end of next year. As a freelancer you never really know what will come up in the future but I'm constantly drawing anyways. I'd like to start working on the aforementioned zine ideas when I get the time.