Art and Passion: Interview with illustrator Iris Compiet

Let us kick off the weekend with something awesome! Last year when I attended IlluXcon I was told by quite a few people to look up the Dutch children’s book and fantasy illustrator Iris Compiet. When I came home I did so and what a burst of inspiration and creative energy she is. Iris is such a colorful and intense person but what most struck me about her, is the genuine passion with which she approaches her work.

It is something I often hear young artists struggling with. Having passion for our work is one of the most important motivators to keep going and even more so to be happy. With this in mind I asked Iris if she would be interested in sharing a little bit of herself and her drive with us and she said yes. So here it is – Interview with Iris Compiet, enjoy!

1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work
Iris: My name is Iris, also known as Eyeris and I’m a Dutch artist working mostly in children’s book and fantasy illustration. Born on the first of April and as mad as a hatter, but according to Alice, all the best people are so I don’t really mind all that much. It does sound a bit corny but I’ve always known I wanted to be an artist.

I was just a little girl when I dragged my paint and paper with me everywhere I went, nothing much has changed since then, apart from my hair colour I guess. From the age of seven I knew exactly what I wanted to do. At that age I came face to face with the book faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee and from that moment on I knew this was what I wanted to do. Tell stories in pictures. Just a few years ago I thought I would give it a go and started freelancing as an illustrator here in the Netherlands. And slowly but surely the thing I’ve been doing all my life, every waking moment of it is becoming more and more something that I can call a profession. I’ve worked for several national and international clients and publishing houses.

 

2. When did you start drawing and when did you become really passionate about it to the point you wanted to make it your career?
Iris: Like I have said, I have dragged my stuff everywhere I went from the age of 4 I guess. I drew on everything I could lay my hands upon. I was, and still am a dreamer and I guess doing this. Telling stories in pictures is kind of like dreaming with your eyes open, isn’t it? It’s a perfect excuse (should you need any) to daydream about strange places and weird creatures.

I guess the passion is something I’ve always felt for my art. The only way I can describe it is like I NEED to do this, a case of do or die. Like food, water, air or love… I need art to feel alive. It is what I love with a mad passion. To create myself and to really experience the creations of other people. When I walk into a museum it is like I hear all these Masters talking to me at once, whispering their secrets and telling me how to improve my skills and evolve, grow as an artist.

Sketches

Sketch page © Iris Compiet

Iris: This sounds a bit mental, I know… maybe I am. Maybe you need to be a bit mental to live the life of an artist. As it’s not a steady income, you constantly have the self doubt, I know I do. It’s crippling at times… always second guessing my abilities and never really satisfied with what I do because you want to be better. The insane hours to smash deadlines to tiny pieces and the loneliness that you sometimes get when you are stuck behind your easel for days without any social contact other than Facebook (thank you social media!) and the occasional nibble on my ear by my pet bird. But to do what you truly love to do, what you’ve always dreamed of doing. That to me is worth more than anything in the world. When I see a book published with my work in there and I see kids reading it, coming up to me and saying they really loved it. That to me is all the appreciation I need.

 

Iris: I have got my wall covered in children’s drawings, gifts I got when I did book signings and those are more precious to me than the money I got from making the books. The money is spent on stuff, the drawings are forever a reminder that I ‘touched’ someone with what makes me happy. I don’t know if this makes sense at all. I frequently get asked why I do this and it’s something I try to explain in simple ways but I think most artists will know what I mean. It’s just ‘me’, I need to do this. And it’s scary at times, to the point I dread to pick up a pencil because I’m afraid of failure but in the end you pick up the pencil and you start drawing because that is what you need to do. It is the passion for creation and art that drives you to take the plunge into this mad world of self doubt and rejection. But the rewards are much bigger than anything else.

Spookbeeld by Iris Compiet.

Spookbeeld by Iris Compiet.

3. What do you like the most about illustrating?
The opportunity to tell stories. To make people use their imagination and to take them away from this everyday world and give them something magical. Yes I guess that’s why I love doing what I do, I’d like to give them some magic.

4. what do you like the least about it?
Iris: The formal business part of it. The agreements, contracts and so on. The deadlines I don’t mind that much, I have to work part time as a graphic designer to keep my head above water. So I’m used to deadlines and I perform better with them. But I do hope I will be able to say goodbye to my day job in a few years, I would love nothing more than to paint on a daily basis. Although, maybe graphic design keeps me ‘sane’… if that’s possible haha But the thing I dislike most is ‘selling myself’, that’s something I find very difficult. I know I’m not the best around but I also know I’m not the worst.

I know I still have a lot to learn and that makes me happy because if you stop learning it’s time to stop creating. But the selling yourself and trying to get jobs is a thing I don’t like. I don’t look at other illustrators as being my competition, if anything they are my teachers. I learn from them and I don’t want to compete with them. But this is a business and sometimes you have to play the game and put on your poker face.

Greta by Iris Compiet

Greta by Iris Compiet

Another thing I dislike is when people want you to paint something for them and you say what this will cost them they act offended as if I should be thankful for the job and do it for free. I’m sure I’m not the only one still having to explain that what I do is in fact a job and no longer a hobby. That is something which does my head in from time to time. It’s a typical ‘face palm’ moment. I normally ask what they do for a living and if for instance the person asking is a plumber I ask them if they can install a jacuzzi in my bathroom for free as I’m sure they would love to do this in their spare time. Works every time hahaha Oh and taxes, yes… that’s something I hate. But if I have to pay taxes that means I have had a good year. So not all too bad.

 

5. From looking at your Facebook status I’d dare say you have an incredible passion for your artwork. Has it always been this way?
Iris: I do, I do feel a lot of passion for my art. Like I’ve said, it’s do or die in my case. And yes, it has always been that way. There was a time in my life where I lost my love for art. Circumstances in my life took that away from me, the death of my father and life being a bit too much for me took away the ‘feeling’ I got from art. But no worries, the feeling is back and here to stay.

If I have to explain what it is I feel I must say I feel like being in love. Every day I fall in love with art over and over again. When I see a beautiful sculpture, painting or just buy a new brush or have an idea I feel a rush of pure bliss. Again… I must sound like a crazy person. But this is the only way I can describe the feeling.

6. How do you maintain this passion? Does it come natural to you or do you have to work for it?
Iris: Some days it’s easier than others but most of the days it’s just there. I think it’s because I live life really simple. I don’t care much for material stuff and I try to give as much as I can without expecting anything in return. Simple and honest. I do what I want, when I want to do it. I try not to put too much pressure on myself. If something isn’t working I will just back off and do something else and things will find their way. I will find inspiration in the end and with it the passion to put it on canvas.

I see inspiration all around me, it really is everywhere, you just need to be ‘open’. For instance, a long trainride isn’t a problem, there are people in the train that are fascinating, to draw or just to talk with. The stories they tell me will find their way into my art. When I have a business meeting in Amsterdam I always plan a day for this. I will go to a museum before or after the meeting and I will just sit there and draw or take photographs. It really is that simple. It’s just a different way of looking at things I guess.

Iris Compiet isn't just create with her artwork, she is also a master of make up.

Iris Compiet isn’t just creative with her artwork, she is also a master of make up.

7. What is some advice you would give to young artists who are struggling with the passion for their work?
Iris: Keep close to yourself, be true to you. You don’t need to be the best, nor do you need to do what everybody else is doing. Just do what makes you happy and do it well. That is unique because that is you. I see this in my own art,the things I do that I don’t really ‘feel’ for are often forced. I am too focused on doing what I saw on the internet or in Spectrum or wherever and I forget what it is that makes me as an artist unique.

When I let that idea go, when I stop wanting to try and make ‘epic fantasy art’, I begin to make ‘epic Eyeris art’. And passion is everywhere, just like inspiration… Look around and use every single one of your senses. Because true art isn’t made by just your hands, it is made with all that is you. True art, true passion is something you taste, hear, smell, feel, experience. And that is something you can achieve by staying true to ‘you’. Does this make sense at all? Or are you already dialing the number of the psychiatric ward and ordering me one of these nice white shirts with extra long sleeves, hahaha.

8. How important is it to you to get away from your desk and seek inspiration outside? I have heard many artists complain they end up living like hermits.
Iris: VERY! I live close to the sea and when I feel restless I just pop outside for a walk, this always helps. But like I’ve said, if I have a meeting somewhere I will plan a day and go to museums. This could well be a fine arts museum or I will go to a museum of natural history. Everything is useful for reference or inspiration. I think you need to get out, smell the air, feel the wind, sharpen your senses and let your mind find the stories.

I tend to find at least 3 to 5 stories when I go out for a walk. If you look closely you will find them everywhere. A simple rock can become the heart of a giant… and there you go a whole picture book is born right then and there, just by picking up a rock that you’ve just stumbled over. So yes, go outside. Take your sketchbook and go sit in a cafe, draw people. Talk to them, talk to that strange lady you see each and every day in the subway on your way to school or work. maybe she has THE best story you will ever hear and it’ll slowly turn into a bestseller in your head. Who knows. sitting behind your desk, like a hermit you will never know.

Artwork by Iris Compiet.

Artwork by Iris Compiet.

9. Did you go to art school? If so which school did you attend and how was the school experience for you?
Iris: I did go to art school, I studied graphic design. There wasn’t an illustration class back then in my school and besides, the art I was making, fantasy art was frowned upon. Still is in a way here in the Netherlands, not a very big market. But it was a good experience, I learned how to think in concepts and work with deadlines. I graduated with honours at the top of my class with a multimedia project about Snow white. It was called Schneewittchen Üngluckskind and it was my way of saying ‘f*ck you teachers I love stories and I will do this’. And I did… Ever since then I slowly began to dream about an illustration career again.

Artwork by Iris Compiet.

Artwork by Iris Compiet.

10. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Iris: The best piece of advice I was ever given was by John Howe. Years ago I was very active on his forum and I emailed John a couple of times, he was very nice to reply and help out with everything I asked him. At one time I found myself really doubting everything I did as an artist. I felt I wasn’t good enough. I was seeing all this incredible art all over the internet and I felt intimidated because I couldn’t do THAT.

It was John who told me that there was no need for me to try to be the next Alan, John, Brian, Rebecca or whoever I wanted to be… I just needed to be the best Iris I could be. I was unique if I stayed true and close to myself. If I was enjoying myself creating my art I was the best at what I did, being me and being Iris as an artist. And that changed everything. I no longer looked at the other artist with a feeling of envy but more with a feeling of ‘greed’, in the good sense of the word that is. As I felt I wanted to learn from them, I wanted to soak up all the knowledge their art was offering me.

So I greedily soaked that up and turned it into something I could use in my own art. So I could learn each and every day and become a better Iris. I think that’s the best advice I’ve received…. that and the Neil Gaiman speech…. “Remember, whatever discipline you’re in, whether you’re a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a singer, a designer — whatever you do, you have one thing that’s unique: You have the ability to make art. And for me, and for so many of the people I’ve known, that’s been a lifesaver, the ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times, and it gets you through … the other ones. Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong — in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.”

That is EXACTLY IT! Now I have to open the door…. I think the guys in white are here to take me away

Mermaid by Iris Compiet © 2013

Mermaid by Iris Compiet © 2013

Links:
Iris Compiet’s Website
Iris Compiet’s Facebook Fanpage
Iris on Shadowness

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Kiri Østergaard Leonard
kiri@kirileonard.com

Award winning Illustrator, Artist and Creator Kiri Østergaard Leonard happily shares her experiences making a living as an artist and pursuing a creative life. She grew up in a tiny village in Denmark, left her country behind to pursue art in the bustle of New York City and now resides in the delightful weirdness of Austin, Texas surrounded by sunshine and felines.

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