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Illustrator and animator Willem Pirquin: ‘I like to make my drawings as rich as possible’

Belgian based freelance animator and illustrator, Willem Pirquin speaks to us about how he got into this line of work and where he finds his inspiration…

Willem Pirquin is an illustrator and animator from Antwerp, Belgium. Willem has always had a passion for drawing—“I started drawing in kindergarten and forgot to stop when I grew up—my mother keeps asking me when I’ll get a real job!”

Here he is to tell us more about himself and his fantastic work…

Tell us about yourself.

I am Willem Pirquin. I am 33 years old and work full time as an illustrator and animator in Antwerp (Belgium).

How did you get into the world of illustration?

I first studied animation as a student. After that I started doing illustration and animation jobs for small local design agencies—when my studies ended, these agencies became my first ever clients.

Animation is still the most complete art form to me—you have to know a bit about everything, from music to storytelling to drawing. As time went by, I also learned that controlling everything at once takes an enormous amount of time, so I started making illustrations more often. But even today I still do a lot of motion graphics work for small animation studios.

How many hours a day do you spend illustrating, and do you think it’s important for an illustrator to still reserve some time to draw for themselves?

I sit in my studio every day from nine till five. That doesn’t mean I draw that much—I am lazy by nature, so I really need deadlines to get things done.

My side projects don’t have deadlines, so unfortunately most of them never get finished. However, I don’t think that’s the point of side projects as fiddling around a lot helps to develop new methods and tricks I can use in my client work.

Can you show us what your workspace looks like?
As an illustrator, how important is it to have a recognisable style and how would you say your style has developed over the years?

When I started freelancing I had no recognisable style and was really disappointed with that, but actually, it worked as an advantage. I took on a lot of projects where I had to match the branding of the client. Imitating these existing styles, even styles I didn’t particularly like, really helped me find my own voice.

A lot of aspiring illustrators are so worried about style and constancy of their work they get stuck. Even now, I don’t think my style is that uniform, it’s always others who tell me they recognise my style. I’ve learned not to worry anymore.

How do you plan your designs before you start drafting them?

I always start with talking to my client, I think this is an important step that is often overlooked in illustration. Talking to clients in person is a big part of my inspiration, and a lot of the time they add details I could never have imagined myself.

After talking to the client, I then make sketches on paper. These are small, very rough and don’t make sense to anyone but me. Then I pick the best ones and clean them digitally on a Wacom Cintiq. I recently started using Sketchbook Pro for that because it’s so simple and lets me focus entirely on the drawing without getting lost in other parts of the design.

These sketches are sent to the client and adjusted where needed. Then I make a final sketch on paper—it’s good to break away from the computer sometimes. This sketch then serves as a base for the vector work I do in Affinity Designer.

“Talking to clients in person is a big part of my inspiration, and a lot of the time they add details I could never have imagined myself.”

We love your isometric work. What drew you to working isometrically?

Isometric illustrations are a great way to put a lot of information in one drawing. Another advantage is that the illustration can be broken apart in smaller spot illustrations, parts can be added later or rearranged to show different configurations or situations.

It takes a lot of time to make a big isometric piece with a lot of characters. I am still figuring out a way to join my flat drawings with the isomeric perspective in the same piece.

What do you do to boost your creativity on days when you are feeling less inspired?

I have plenty of inspiration, time and motivation. The problem is that I never have all these three at the same time, so the trick is to be prepared. Make quick sketches on days with less time but more creativity, so you can use these on days you lack a bit of creativity but more motivation and time.

If anything fails, there’s always paperwork, emails and emptying dishwashers to be done. Also, nearing deadlines seem to be very inspiring.

If you could have your work published anywhere, where would it be and why?

I don’t have specific goals or ideas about where I want to go and what I want to do with my work. I’ve learned that doing interesting work brings even more interesting work I could never have imagined. At this moment I am gravitating more and more to editorial illustrations about mobility and sustainability, but who knows what’s next!

“I’ve learned that doing interesting work brings even more interesting work I could never have imagined.”

What influences your work?

I tend to look for inspiration outside the world of illustration and animation. It’s a lot easier to steal and rework things from nature or a completely different art form. For example, at the moment I read a lot of Wikipedia pages about small eighties Japanese concept cars. I also follow a lot of illustrators, designers and drafters on Instagram and I guess they all influence my work a bit.

I noticed that in your spare time you like to “stare out your window and draw”. How does this feed your work?

I live on a lively square in a multicultural neighbourhood in Antwerp and I sketch a lot when waiting for public transport. The sketches are seldom worth publishing, but they are a great inspiration to me. I like to make my drawings as rich as possible and real-life details are a great help for that. I want to show the world as rich and diverse as possible, even when it’s not part of the assignment.

What work are you most proud of? Tell us more about it.

I learned not to be too proud about my work because I know the pride is very temporary. Within months I can see how I could have done things a lot better. On the other hand, I’m proud of the progress I make. I would start to panic if I’d still like my older work.

How long does it usually take you to create something for a magazine piece?

I create the best work when there is time for three or four revisions and I can let the drawing rest a bit between feedback rounds. I always do several jobs at the same time, and I think that benefits my work. When I restart working on a drawing, I see it again with fresh eyes.

When deadlines are tight, and when I get stuck, I try to switch from digital to paper. For example, I print the digital sketch and work on it on paper and then scan the drawing and work on it in Affinity Designer.

Lastly, would you recommend Affinity Designer and why?

Yes—Isometric grids! Before Designer I used Illustrator and Photoshop and I had to draw the grids myself. Some of my isometric illustrations have 50 different parts to export, so the Export Persona is a huge time saver. Every update there are new features that really make sense and make my workflow a bit faster, so thanks a lot for that! I look very forward to Affinity Publisher!

You can find more of Willem’s work here.