#MemberSpotlight on Belgian freelance illustrator Steven Van Hasten

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How did you get into the industry?

As soon as I could hold a pencil I started drawing on every surface. All my studbook, walls of my parental home, tables… nothing was safe. I never wanted to do anything else. They were therefore happy when I was allowed to go to the academy and discovered that you could also simply draw on paper.

I studied graphic design and illustration for 4 years at the Sint-Lucasinstituut in Ghent. With a lot of trial and error I got my first client and have continued to fall and get up, even now I find this the most difficult part of the job.

Where are you based now and who do you work for?

My studio is located in an old worker's house in Ledeberg, on the edge of Ghent, an ancient student city. It is a very inspiring city where something is always happening, you can always visit a nice museum, catch a theater forecast or enjoy all types of people on the street.

You never have to walk far to find inspiration. I work for magazines (T.R.O.S., CFO magazine, Readers' Digest, Circuscentrum), private clients, CTA (California Teachers Association), publishers (Averbode, Abimo...) etc...

That's a tough one, since I've always known I wanted to do something with drawing, I actually had a plan B. I didn't know as a little boy that I was going to be an illustrator, I didn't know that word yet. But that it would have something to do with drawing, that was already certain.

So if I hadn't become an illustrator I might have been a garden designer. I've always had a thing for nature (even though I'm a thoroughbred city person), so combining the 2 would certainly have been a possibility.

I actually followed the garden design course a few years ago as an evening course because I found it fascinating. I thought of drawing a garden design now and then and offering people a garden that was closer to nature, away from the modern tight, petrified garden. But that didn't seem so obvious :)

Can you explain your creative process? What makes it unique?


The process from briefing to finished illustration usually follows a fixed pattern. Once the briefing is in, I study it carefully and then let it rest for a while (depending on the deadline), I go have a coffee, do some sketching at the cafe, take a walk or make some random drawings.

All these things mix in my head during this process and a first idea gradually takes shape. I rarely sit at my drawing board in this first phase, it just doesn't seem to work very well for me to look for an idea with a blank sheet in front of my nose. But once I have my idea, it's time to take pencil and paper and make idea sketches and composite drawings.

Once the choice has been made for a particular image, I carefully elaborate it further in pencil at slightly larger than the final size. Usually everything is drawn out quite meticulously before I start painting, although changes do take place during painting. Sometimes a character disappears, but more often some strange guys are added, somewhere in the background.

The most characteristic of my illustrations, which makes the technique unique, is the layer structure when painting. I lay layer upon layer, starting with a very dark or complementary color and gradually going lighter. This can sometimes be more than 10 layers. This creates a lot of volume in the drawing with full colors and also gives the illustration a velvety appearance.

Because I paint with acrylic paint, which I apply dry, so without the use of water or any other diluent, unexpected structures occur that I sometimes emphasize again. This way you get a mixture of soft, velvety feeling with sometimes harsh contrasts.

How would you describe your style?

My illustrations are characterized by an abundance of detail, they are often crowded and the many characters fight for your attention. It is typical of my style to let people get lost in my drawings.

They are a mixture of humour, reality and references to contemporary themes such as climate problems, social exploitation, war or discrimination. I have a style that requires a little effort from the viewer.

Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?


I have always been very fascinated by Jheronimus Bosch, a Dutch painter from the 16th century. His quirky scenes populated by the craziest creatures have certainly inspired me to create my own lavish scenes. But he did have a very dark and morbid touch to his work that is missing in my work, I try to give it a more cheerful note.

Among the more contemporary illustrators I look up to, Shaun Tan, Joe Sorren, Matotti, Maurice Sendak and Folon are definitely among my favourites.

What tips would you give to aspiring creatives looking for work?

This has to be my biggest flaw as an illustrator: I'm quite shy of people. Once I have contact with a potential client, there is no problem. But seeking rapprochement is always a kind of overcoming a primary fear, even after all these years it still bothers me a bit.

So, as a tip I would say, the first step is worth gold, overcome the resistance, most of them have the same problem. Being able to make contact easily makes life a lot easier. Just dare to be a bit of a pushover every now and then!

And work on your portfolio, even if you don't have any assignments, it's important to make sure that potential customers get an overview of your abilities, otherwise how would they know what they can do with you.

So work, work and work is the message :) Although some also see sleep now and then as a condition, but I personally don't care much about that.

What tips would you give to other professionals to get more clients?


Of course you can actively search and start emailing people, sending them your portfolio or calling them? In other words, you have to stalk them a bit until they really can't get around you anymore.

But if you're a bit shy of people like me, that's quite a task. Another possibility is to work on your visibility, so that people start contacting you themselves. A good way to get in the spotlight is to enter contests, which will get you onto the website and into the catalog that is usually sent to art directors so that many potential clients who might otherwise never get into your network get to see you.

It is important that you have a good website or rather a good Instagram page. Then they can quickly form an idea of ​​your work and whether you fit their image with little effort. Or try getting your portfolio on sites like theaoi.com or si-la.org, they attract a lot of interest and get your work in front of the right people.

What kind of tools/kit/software could you not do without?

A simple pencil remains for me the most important part of my basic equipment. Whatever technique I use to develop my idea, it always starts with a pencil. I've tried many times to sketch out my idea on my iPad, usually in Procreate, but I still find the result a little less idiosyncratic, even a little cramped.

So I always go back to my pencil. I know, it's not an exotic amazing tool, but I couldn't live without it. Of course once my sketch is done it becomes a completely different story, then I use just about anything I can find, ink, watercolor, acrylic paint, colored pencil, pastel, felt tip, oil pastel, gouache, pen, charcoal and much more.

But none are as indispensable as an ordinary pencil, in all its simplicity it can accomplish the greatest things. And you can always take it with you wherever you go.

What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?


Friends. That is actually a very important fact for me in my career. Most friends are also active in the creative or artistic sector. We can discuss hours and hours at cafe. I always feel reborn and full of new inspiration to get to work motivated the next day. Visiting museums together is also very inspiring.

I think it's very important to be able to chat with friends about illustration or art in general. I could be drawing all over the world, I could find myself at home in every culture, but I could never leave my friends behind. They are my motivation and inspiration. 

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

I made a campaign illustration for a flag manufacturer, which they had installed as a full 12-metre wall cladding afterwards. That was pretty cool when you were driving on the highway and you saw that facade already passing.

I was quite proud of that. And of course also the awards that I have won in the past 2 years, especially the 'Illustrator of the year' award that I just received Japan, I am very grateful for that. Acknowledgment now and then is also a form of positive stimulation.

What is the one thing that you would change about the industry?

That is rather difficult to answer right away, because the market for illustrators is so incredibly large and diverse. Every segment within it has a point that can be improved. In general I experience a lot of respect from the customers. Sometimes more work can be done on a better pay-to-work ratio, but that has improved in recent years.

Any websites, books or resources you would recommend?


https://theaoi.com :here you will find a lot of articles and tips about everything that has to do with illustration. You can also become a member, so that you also receive legal assistance and access to contracts and the like.

Varoom: magazine published by the AOI with many interesting studies on a particular theme and interviews with illustrators.

https://www.domestika.org : I always like to look around on this site and see a new technique. It can be an incentive to try something that you might not otherwise get around to right away. The videos are of high quality and you always learn something from them.

https://graphiccompetitions.com/illustration/ : Here you will find an overview of all competitions in which you can participate as an illustrator.

And every museum you can visit, regardless of the subject, is a source of inspiration, motivation and ensures that your mind remains open and that you can create in complete freedom.


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