Women in Fantasy Illustration: Iris Compiet

Women in Fantasy Illustration: Iris Compiet

Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing a selection of women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.

Today’s interview is with Dutch artist and Children’s Book illustrator Iris Compiet, who is also a personal friend of mine. I had the pleasure of spending last IlluxCon and a week after in New York City in the lively company of Iris. She’s a deeply passionate woman with some amazing artistic abilities. Enjoy!


De Poel Concept Art © Iris Compiet

De Poel Concept Art © Iris Compiet

Photo of Dutch Artist Iris Compiet

Iris Compiet

1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work.
Hi! My name is Iris, or Eyeris and I’m a nut… Some would actually say that this is the best introduction I could give and perhaps it is true. One should be a little nuts to be an artist. I was born on April first (see… there’s the fool influence) in a small town called Zandstraat in the Netherlands.

I’m the odd one out in the family, the only artist and I think my entire family knew that there was no hope for me, that I’d never become something sensible. To say I’m an artist is still a bit difficult, I still feel I have a long way to go and so much more to learn. But I will ‘fake’ being one and make it up as I go along, having tremendous fun along the way.

To say I’m an artist is still a bit difficult, I still feel I have a long way to go and so much more to learn. But I will ‘fake’ being one and make it up as I go along, having tremendous fun along the way.

Marie Antoinette © Iris Compiet

Marie Antoinette © Iris Compiet

Illustrating (children’s) books, concept art, basically everything I can get my hands on. I do feel I’m just starting out; I have been working professionally a little over five years now and the last two years have been amazing.

Things are starting to click and finally my hard work is paying off. Sure I haven’t been picked up by the ‘big guys‘, but to me it’s having fun at what you love that’s most important.

And having kids come up to you and say that they really love the artwork you have done for their favorite book. So it’s my secret wish that my books will perhaps stay in their minds forever like the books by Roald Dahl. To be honest, I think I’m still just at the beginning. And every new day is so exciting; if I can keep that feeling I’ll be an artist for sure one day.

To be honest, I think I’m still just at the beginning. And every new day is so exciting; if I can keep that feeling I’ll be an artist for sure one day.

Kitsune by Iris Compiet

Kitsune by Iris Compiet

2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of illustrating?
I think I’ve never really realized I wanted to make a career out of illustrating. I just ‘went’ for it to be honest; I really just thought ‘why not give it a try’ and one thing led to another. I’ve always been drawing and painting, I have pictures of me as a 3 year old covered in paint, now 32 years later I still find myself covered in paint.

I’ve always known I wanted to be an ‘artist’. It just sounded so wonderful.

I’ve always known I wanted to be an ‘artist’. It just sounded so wonderful. I had visions of van Gogh, Rembrandt, Vermeer and all those masters in my mind… I wanted to be like that (but keep the ear mind you). I never really gave it much thought; I just wanted to do that.

Although, I must admit, there were a few other jobs I wouldn’t have complained about; Like for instance the job of archaeologist, history has always been a big fascination for me. I think my career path took a turn towards the artist side more than ever the moment I got my hands on a copy of Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee. That book was THE most important book for me at that time, I guess I was 7 or so and that’s when I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was going to paint pictures of fantasy creatures! I could tell you all the other stuff I was going to do, I wanted to become an Imagineer, wanted to design for the Dutch amusement park The Efteling, wanted to do special effects make-up and so on, but the painting and drawing stuck to me like glue.

I think my career path took a turn towards the artist side more than ever the moment I got my hands on a copy of Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee.

Sketch by Iris Compiet

Sketch by Iris Compiet

I even went to University to study art, but not illustration! I studied to become a graphic designer, a job I still do part time, just to pay the bills and to be honest, I think my background as a graphic designer does help in my current freelance adventure. I know all there is to know about book design, the printing process and so on, plus, I do think that this other job keeps my mind on edge. I have to think creatively all the time so my mind never slacks I guess. In the end I think I have now created the perfect job for myself.

Everything I like to do, I get to do. I do illustrations for history books, which means I get to study history. I get to illustrate stories for children, I get to design and make costumes. I do special effects make up for short films, photo shoots and just for fun.

Everything I like to do, I get to do. I do illustrations for history books, which means I get to study history. I get to illustrate stories for children, I get to design and make costumes. I do special effects make up for short films, photo shoots and just for fun.

I participate in street art festivals where I can paint my illustrations larger than life amongst the best street artists from around the world. I have recently designed the artwork for the title sequence of a Dutch horror film called De Poel.

DePoel Concept Art by Iris Compiet

De Poel Concept Art by Iris Compiet

One of the biggest things that are on its way now is a series of young adult books I have been working on with a friend of mine about witches. It has been picked up by the largest publishing house in the Netherlands. It is a dream come true.

All of a sudden ‘my face’ is on the cover, which is so weird. I keep looking for new ways to broaden my job as an illustrator, because I do believe that being an illustrator or an artist is limited to the piece of paper or the canvas in front of you… it’s as big as you can dream! And I dream big.

3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional illustrator?
On a personal level it can be very draining. It puts a lot of stress on relationships, because it eats time. All of a sudden there are deadlines and it’s no longer ‘just for fun’ it is serious business!

On a personal level it can be very draining. It puts a lot of stress on relationships, because it eats time. All of a sudden there are deadlines and it’s no longer ‘just for fun’ it is serious business!

When deadlines are tight it turns you into something that just has eyes for that deadline. I tend to forget about things when I’m in my zone. I make a mess everywhere and I am totally submerged into the world I’m working on. My money goes to buying new art supplies, not groceries. I can wake up at 3 at night, turn on the light and sketch the idea that just popped in my head. I think I’m a nightmare to live with. I had to make some tough decisions, had to end some really important relationships.

I can wake up at 3 at night, turn on the light and sketch the idea that just popped in my head. I think I’m a nightmare to live with.

One other big problem in my case is the financial side I guess, the business side of the job. Contracts, the legal stuff can be very daunting and I tend to do the ‘ostrich’ when it comes to this part of the job. I ignore it until it bites my butt. I still make mistakes, still sign dodgy contracts but I’m learning and I’m asking other professionals. That’s key I guess, if you have any questions… just ask! Ask others, they have been there before you and they will want to help you (or not).

The Oracle by Iris Compiet

The Oracle by Iris Compiet

4. What do you like the most about illustrating?
Everything! But most of all the storytelling. The freedom of it all, yet within the boundaries of the brief. You get to tell your own story as well, even if it’s client work. I try to make the job ‘my own’, as if it’s my own personal work, that way I feel connected with it. I know it sounds weird but by approaching the work this way I keep it fun for myself and I think this shows in the final illustration.

I try to make the job ‘my own’, as if it’s my own personal work, that way I feel connected with it.

5. What do you like the least about it?
Sometimes it gets lonely. Deadlines that get pushed forward by clients, payment that isn’t on time. But the biggest ‘dislike‘ has got to be the crippling self-doubt. It is something that creeps up behind me, sinking it’s nasty little teeth deep into me and doesn’t let go. I have to keep myself from throwing away the artwork at times.

(…) the biggest ‘dislike‘ has got to be the crippling self-doubt. It is something that creeps up behind me, sinking it’s nasty little teeth deep into me and doesn’t let go.

I now avoid the internet on days like these, as I see all these amazing artists doing stuff I can’t do and I can only think of one thing… the fraud police is going to knock on my door. If I’m in that ‘mood‘ I will look up the Neil Gaiman speech and listen to that until the feeling goes away.

Other times I just step out for some fresh air. Luckily I have the beach just around the corner and the nasty self doubt creature does like ice-cream as well.

6. Please tell a little about your process and your choice of medium.
I’m still experimenting with mediums. I tend to pick the medium that fits the project the best. So the project at hand dictates the medium and thus the feel of the finished artwork.

I tend to work with several mediums at once. My freaks for instance are graphite pencils with a wash of gouache on top of them. I keep discovering new materials and new ways of working by learning from looking at the artwork done by others but most of all I learn from my own mistakes.

I keep discovering new materials and new ways of working by learning from looking at the artwork done by others but most of all I learn from my own mistakes.

I don’t really have a process, I just sketch a lot. I have sketchbooks full of quick sketches, just doodles that might turn into something more. I find inspiration everywhere and I suspect my Muse is as overactive as I am, she luckily never shuts up. But mostly things just happen and I know exactly what I want to do and how I want it to look.

No thumbnails, just a quick reference shot of the pose perhaps and that’s it. The picture evolves on the paper as I go along. After reading the other interviews I feel very unprofessional to be honest.

Sketchbook Page by Iris Compiet

Sketchbook Page by Iris Compiet

7. You work mainly with book publishing. Can you tell us a little about the process of illustrating a book?
When I receive a manuscript from the publisher I read it a few times, taking notes on everything. Writing down every detail I can find about the main characters and their surroundings. I decide what’s nice to illustrate but it all depends on the publisher, sometimes they want illustrations that are more like concept art and sometimes they really want me to illustrate scenes. If it’s scenes I pick those that are interesting and not too revealing but make you want to read on.

I usually have the ideas for the illustrations when I’’m reading the story, I tend to ‘see’ the story as a film in my mind. With my notes in hand I get reference shots and start sketching the scenes/illustrations. Those get sent to the publisher and they tell me if it’s a ‘go’ or a ‘no-go’. With the notes of the publisher and often the writer as well I enter into the final stages of illustrating.

Sketchpage by Iris Compiet

Sketchpage by Iris Compiet

A children’s picture book is slightly different. As in that case it’s the illustrations that are the most important part of the book and there’s not much text. So you get a lot of freedom to do your own thing. I do try to find jobs that are ‘different’, like for instance I’ve illustrated a book about a princess who falls in love with another princess, a controversial but very important subject.

I do try to find jobs that are ‘different’, like for instance I’ve illustrated a book about a princess who falls in love with another princess, a controversial but very important subject.

Weeping Angel by Iris Compiet

Weeping Angel by Iris Compiet

8. You live in The Netherlands – do you feel it’s more challenging to build an illustration career when residing in Europe? What are some of the cons and pros for you?
The fantasy field isn’t very big here. So yes, in that regard I find it difficult as I would love to work more in that area. In the Netherlands there are a few things happening but it is all very small, like the Netherlands itself so you really need to step into the world if you want to do anything.

I do have an agent in the UK but I haven’t been working much for them, they have a lot of artists and I think I get ‘lost’ in there. I think it’s better to have direct contact with your clients, I have found that people really like the personal contact with the illustrator. As do I with the client.

I think it’s better to have direct contact with your clients, I have found that people really like the personal contact with the illustrator. As do I with the client.

The US have so many great initiatives around like SmART School that Kimberly Kincaid spoke of in an earlier interview. The Illustration Master Classes! All the big conventions! I wish I could afford to attend each and everyone but sadly the money tree hasn’t taken root and died a slow and painful death last year.

So I guess those are the big cons for me, but living in Europe does mean that I get all these museums filled with art. I get to walk in the actual studio space of Rembrandt himself; I live a three hours drive away from Paris, four hours journey from London. I can get all of the information and inspiration when I just step outside my door so to speak. To be honest, even though it is a challenge to build it up working from the Netherlands… a challenge doesn’t imply it’s impossible: So just put your mind to it and do it!

I get to walk in the actual studio space of Rembrandt himself; I live a three hours drive away from Paris, four hours journey from London.

Sakura by Iris Compiet

Sakura by Iris Compiet

9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
One of the best things I’ve been told was by none other than John Howe, I was telling him I felt so insecure about my work that when I looked at the artwork of other artists, I felt I wasn’t good enough. I still have this feeling from time to time, it’s never good enough. John told me that there would always be artist better than me, but also artists who are worse and there is no sense in trying to be like some other artist, I just had to be the best Iris Compiet I could be at that moment.

John told me that there would always be artist better than me, but also artists who are worse and there is no sense in trying to be like some other artist, I just had to be the best Iris Compiet I could be at that moment.

Also the quote by Neil Gaiman: “Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.” So I’ll stop the thinking and start the doing: Just make art.

10. You share a lot of work in progress on your Facebook page. What are some of your thoughts on using Social Media to promote your artwork?
I’m not sure I use Social Media in the most effective way to promote my artwork. I think you yourself do this much better than I’ve ever done Kiri. So I guess you would need to tell us all your secrets and do a self-interview one of these days.

But I have met some wonderful people through Social Media. For instance Pat and Jeannie Wilshire. And that’s how I attended IlluXCon for the first time in 2011. And things only got out of hand after that in a good way.

I’ve met some really great people who bought my artwork and it feels good to ‘know’ these people, knowing that what I made now has a special place in their collection.

11. Where do you hope to take your art in the future?
I don’t really look too far into the future, I just make it up as I go along. I have a general idea of where I want to go but sometimes I deviate from the path when a new opportunity is given. I’ve always wanted to have my name on the end credits of a movie, I have fulfilled this wish this year. I’d love to have a book made of my Freaks and do a gallery show with them. That’s something I really want to work on for 2015. But most of all I’d like to get old, have grey dreads and look back upon my life and say ‘yes, I’ve lived the life of an artist, with all the pain but most of all the passion’.

(…) most of all I’d like to get old, have grey dreads and look back upon my life and say ‘yes, I’ve lived the life of an artist, with all the pain but most of all the passion’.


Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Iris Compiet, if you did please share it with your friends!

Links:
Iris Compiet on Instagram
Iris Compiet’s Website
Iris Compiet’s Facebook Fanpage
Iris on Shadowness
Iris Compiet’s Etsy Store

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.

No Comments

Leave a Reply