Illustration Student Survey

Introduction. yesterday I’ve done a small illustration survey in class with 25 students. The goal was to get some insight in student interests, ambition and their view on the field of illustration. There were 6 multiple choice questions and 1 open question.

Outcome. Based on the input we can make some assumptions. There was a lot of variety in the results which implies we have a group of students with diverse interests within illustration. This diversity creates a rich learning opportunity, from which new innovative insights can emerge. The complexity of this diversity is that it is difficult to cater to the individual need of these students.

Many of the students are interested in ‘lifestyle-related’ or ‘unique’ products. Consultancy, service-, information- design are less appealing to them. From a technical point of view the interest are very diverse. Students have an interest from low-tech, medium-tech, to high-tech, as well as innovative skills. Most of the students wish to work freelance in the future, represented by an agent, or small multidisciplinary companies. To work in a large company only appeals to one.

When asked about why clients would hire them; most of the student prefer to poses strong conceptual abilities as a designer. They also have an interest in being able to clarify complex problems for clients. The qualities that most of the students wish to have are; being ‘commercial’, being an ‘expert’ and being ‘innovative’.

Open questions. When asked about what they see as future options in the illustration market, they gave the following answers.

  • Theirs is a demand for original ideas because companies always want better, funnier and more creative.
  • Illustrators can visualize new developments or technologies.
  • Illustrators can be very flexible and work on all locations.
  • Illustrators can design identities for festivals and use concepts of branding
  • Illustrators can visualize interviews
  • Illustrators can design new products to communicate with
  • Illustrators can connect the real world with the virtual world.
  • Illustrators can design ‘person-based’ products
  • There are new opportunities in medical- an educational illustration
  • There is a need for environmental friendly design
  • There are new opportunities for a virtual exposition (using 3D or Tiltbrush)
  • There are new opportunities for interior or fashion products

Next step. Based on these results it following topics might be interesting to continue with.

  • Instead of asking what appeals to students; we can ask where they see their best chances in the illustration market for themselves.
  • Find out what they consider to be; unique or lifestyle/design illustration products, or what they consider to be innovative.
  • Find out; what these students know about the complexities of working as a freelancer.
  • Find out which illustrators these students look up to that have; strong conceptual skills and who can clarify complex problems for clients.

I’m looking forward to take this survey to the next step.

Expo Review: “A Visual Celebration without Justification”

Review of the third year illustration WdKA exposition:


PDF: UntitledExpo-Review-DFjJan2017

Introduction. Last Friday 20th of January 2017 the opening took place of the exposition: “Untitled-JPG” at the SLASH gallery in Rotterdam. The exposition of 3rd year illustration students from the Willem de Kooning Academy (WdKA) in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. More than 30 students presented works based on their independent research project. They had the opportunity to develop a personal illustration research project within 8 weeks. The exposition was accompanied by a website where more information about their projects can be found ( The project is the final phase of the major illustration bachelor program. In the next phase of their studies these students will start their internship at design-, animation-, games-, or other illustration-related companies. Next year they will have their minor-program and complete their studies with an independent graduation project.

General Impression. At first hand the exposition gives the impression that illustration at the WdKA is a colourful, hectic, and personal orientated course in which the students are stimulated to challenge the status quo. The exposition shows a wide diversity in subject matters, visual styles and products. There are; 3D objects, video installations, comics, publications, drawings, paintings, photographs, and lasercut-drawings. The exposition shows that many of these students are brave enough to go beyond the obvious, to discard the well-known and seek originality instead of portraying themselves as traditional illustrators.

Untitled.JPG. The ambition of the students to seek new opportunities could explain why the name of the exposition and website doesn’t seem related to the practice of illustration. There is little information about the exposition on the website. Some of the works offer no information about the project at all. There’s an interesting subtext on the facebook-event page which explains: “In a society where we feel there’s a need to justify everything, some things are just better left untitled.jpg”. It leaves the impression that the students are willing to show the tip of their iceberg, but they are not interested in clarifying the details of their process with the audience.

 Critical Reflection. From an academic point of view it’s an interesting development when students critically reflect and question the identity of their own discipline. Many students have presented personal related visual experiments in which they did not make a clear connection to the (commercial) practice of illustration. Many paintings for example seem presented as fine-art objects. Not many of the works can easily be placed in an applied context, with the exception of a few illustrated publications.

Themes. If the chosen themes of the projects says something about what these students are feeling; the overall impression is that their times are not easy. Themes like: anxieties, fear, pain, conflict, and heartbreak are reoccurring in the exposition. It is surprising that little of the works are related to todays means of communication or technology. Only a few works are related to modern technology such as; the laser-cut illustrations and a short film about mind-control technology. Also not many students take on critical themes of society. There’s a series of visualisations about a future world scenario and two projects take a somewhat critical approach towards the fashion industry. However the majority of the works are about personal experiences. Works that stand out due to their fresh, positive and humorous approach are; a comic about every day life confrontations, illustrated songs (funky taste), 9 bright and colourful illustrations about relations, and clayaew sculptured female figures.

Illustration Future. The critical approach towards the practice of illustration can give these students a competitive advantage and make them stand out in an overcrowded illustration-market. However it might also lead to confrontations, when it leaves them unable to connect with today’s market demands. The exposition raises the question if these students are conscious enough about these demands. The projects are all authentic, and outspoken on a personal level. However their focus is mainly inward. I believe the world is waiting for new authentic and eager illustrators. But they have to be willing to connect and contribute to others. I hope in the remaining duration of their studies these students will further develop themselves and learn to better define the context for their work. The upcoming internship period will be a great opportunity.

Illustrative Teamwork

Screen Shot 2017-01-22 at 9.00.28 PM

Today I worked together with students of the masterstudies: Organisation, Culture and Management of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. During the class we talked, wrote, drew and made inkt paintings about 4 different topics.

I found it relevant to work with non-art academy students to show our department and explain about the profession of todays illustrators. I hope all students got a sense of the complexities, challenges and fun of the illustrators job. The results of class will be bundled into a small booklet later this year.

Presentation: OMC-Class-IllustrationTeamwork

Client-based Education


Just a quick mental note for myself.

Yesterday I participated in the annual Rotterdam ‘Educational Parade’ . A meeting for ‘educators’ to participate in workshops that are related to education. I participated in the workshop: The Ideal Teacher; which was part of the 2-year HR teacher training program for professionals who start teaching.

Collaborative learning and inclusiveness were elements of the workshop. All members gave their ideas regarding the ‘ideal teachers’. The ideas were written down and placed on the table. Through dialogue we discussed what each topic implied and how it would relate to the other words. We also tried to connect ‘related topics’ to bigger concepts. Afterwards we compared these ideas with the curriculum program of the teacher training program.

My reflection: The program seems ‘student/client’-orientated. The goal is fixed, but the student can find his/her own means to achieve that goal. This always sounds appealing for the student, which is why I associate it with a ‘client’ (service design) type of education. What I found lacking was a strong personal proposition, and practical examples of best practices.

I am in favour of the ambition to make education more personal, with more freedom for each student. Let’s all look for individual talents. However this should not result in a ‘laissez faire’ mentality in which the goals are static terms.

I think an educational philosophy should be reflected by the leading team of tutors.


Class review: Ethics for Illustrators


Illustration by Floor Steinz (c) 2016

I started my first class last week about ‘ethics’, in the context of Illustration. Eventhough the topic is broad and complex, I find it a very relevant topic. Ethics are strongly related with passion, and the things that drive us. Finding a personal ‘cause’ can be a powerful motivator for students to generate work. I introduced students to the concepts of Michael Welsh; from knowledgeable to knowledge-Able (2010, Tedtalk). He promotes the idea that students need be aware that they can have a major influence in shaping the future, and media-tools can play be a powerful tool for them. From this perspective I believe the topic of ethics should be part of any educational program.

During my presentation I introduced the following samples of controversial topics for illustrators: public morale (Nijn Eleven), politics (cartoons), scienticif falsification (infographics), sexual morality (children’s books), nudity (Facebook, Manara Spiderman), gender (children toys), racial stereotypes, violence (Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Combat), addiction/gambling (Candy Crush).

Afterwards we discussed specific topics that students are passionate about in groups. Every group got a 1 minute pitch to clarify the importance of their cause. We concluded with a voting. The outcome of this years ‘ethic-topic-selection’ was:

  1. stereotype representations in media (11 votes)
  2. (online) shaming (4 votes)
  3. cultural diverse super heroes (4 votes)
  4. gender representation (4 votes)
  5. body representations
  6. vandalism in public space (1 vote)
  7. animal cruelty (0 votes)

I  also asked what students are individually passionate about which led to the following topics: anti-semitism, black super heroes, stereotyping, hating trough social media, shaming, female representation in games, stereotype female characters in storytelling, metal health issues, hyper positive society, realism of sex in media, balans between supernatural and our environment, social housing, anonymity, pshycology, perfect beauty ideas, gender, plagiarism, high expectations in happiness and perfection, the existence of different truths.

I hope  our dialogue gave students an awareness of the ethical dimension of their (future) practice. When it comes to ethics I often hear illustrators mention their ideas about plagiarism and the lack of recognition in fee for their work. These are relevant topics, but I think illustrators should also take responsibility in how they represent the world in their illustrations; the type of assignments they take on, whom illustrators decide to work for, and what message they send into the world with their work. I understand the complexities of these questions; but if we don’t address this during their education; then when?




Inspiration & Relaxation


Two weeks ago we organized an ‘inspiration week’ for the department of illustration at the Willem de Kooning Academy (WdKA). It was right after the evaluation of the year’s first projects. We wanted to give students the opportunity to reflect upon what they’ve done and try to inspire them before the second project starts. In other words we wanted our illustration students to have some R&R (Rest & Relaxation).

During the presentations of the first project I heard many students argue that if they had more time; their results would have been better. It’s an argument that sounds convincing and rational. However, I believe time-management has little to do with the success of our projects. I think our ability to stay inspired has a much bigger influence.

We can easily loose our inspiration during projects. In the beginning all projects are fun because everything is possible. At a certain point this changes, and you can only do what you said you would do. If we loose our inspiration during this phase it becomes hard to finish the project. Some of us need the fear of the deadline (and its consequences) in order to be motivated to finish it.

When the (real) inspiration is gone we often tend to change the game of a project. We start to challenge ourselves to manage the project as effectively as possible. We try to do as little as possible and spent the least amount of time on it. If we manage to pass the project like this, we praise ourselves for being so talented and effective. If we don’t pass the project like this, we’ll argue it’s because we didn’t manage our time well enough. Which in a way is true, but it’s not the real reason.

The risk of this development is we become satisfied with being efficient. However the ‘rush of deadlines’ is not the same as the ‘rush of being inspired’. In my opinion; to be inspired is not a ‘capricious, mysterious or divine feeling’. It is simply the ability to connect (the project) to a greater goal. Being inspired implies you feel a sense of urgency to give the best you’ve got. Unfortunately holding on to this feeling is easier said then done.

That’s why I thought it was important for students to have some R&R after their first project. I wanted an informal setting in which students from all years could share stories about their experiences. I asked some students to present their ‘best-practices’ and we had lunch together. Furthermore I asked teachers to team up and give an inspirational class during the rest of the week.

I hope in a way this event has contributed to the student’s clarity of their goals. If there’s clarity it becomes easier for students to understand how their education is only a tool that can help them reach their goal. When that happens; we won’t have to talk about time-management anymore, and things can become more interesting.

Crosscomix Rotterdam – review


Presentation: Methamorphoses by alumni Veerle Coppoolse.

There are some nice events and festivals in the Netherlands for illustrators and animators. I always recommend; Playground, Klik, Haff, Graphixx (Belgium) and the Ilustration Biennale. Today I saw the pilot version of a new event: Crosscomix Rotterdam. I was attracted by the concept of this festival to connect comics with other disciplines such as; music, poetry, politics, games and architecture. The festival took place at the Rotterdam Schouwburg.

Our Illustration tutor Robert van Raffe spoke about his collaboration with a poet for Duplex (strip2000). It was nice to learn that the poems in this publication were created by actively working together. There was also a debate between politicians during which illustrators (such as Maaike Hartjes) visually commented simultaneously in the background. I did not like the debate, but I do see how the clarity of debate can be improved by the use of illustrators.

Furthermore political cartoonist TRIK gave a presentation on how he illustrates news-topics. How can you clarify your opinion visually to a broad audience? His key solutions were; use metaphors and clichés. During the program illustrator Brecht Evens gave an ongoing workshop to students who were experimenting with his style/technique. Our alumnnus Karida Bochove also seemed to draw continously throughout the program on a ongoing comic.

Illustrator Merel Barends explained about her drives and interest in scientific topics. She says her interest in science came partly because she wanted her comics to ‘last longer’ or have a ’deeper impact’. She also introduced the term: Illustrated Journalism, which might offer new posibilities for illustrators.  It was also nice to listen to Paul Bierhaus, (great to have a Rotterdam-based game company: YipYip). He gave a lecture about the relation between comics and video games. There was even a skype conference with Joost Swarte. Unfortunately the connection was not very well. He spoke about his new publication: Scratches. The cover image he presented was made by our alumnus Daan Botlek, but I am sure no one in the audience could identify the blurry image.

Next to the professionals it was nice to see our alumni students present their graduation projects from last year as well (Maureen van der Hout, Meral Tuncali,  and Veerle Coppoolse). In general the program was easy accessible, fast, diverse, and never boring. It was nice to see students, teachers and alumni. The festival is still going on as a write this review. They probably had a lot more to offer, and I’m sorry to have missed the performance of Kamagurka, but for me it was time to go home.

I think the relevance of the festival is to see the importance, the fun and the beauty of ‘crossing borders’ and making new connections with other disciplines. I think that it’s important for illustration students to others approach others for new forms of collaborations.

I am looking forward what the program will be like next year. Congratulations to all those who made this event possible.


The WdKA Finals (graduation show) can still be seen until Sunday the 10th of July.  I have been wanting to write my reflections on the works of this years illustration graduation students. However for now I’ll share this quick visual impression. I would like to show the themes that inspired the illustration students. The design probably still has lots of bugs. However I learned at the expo, that bugs have meaning too..

Finals – Beeldverslag




Stop Individual Student Feedback

I was amazed yesterday at how well students can give feedback on each others work. We had a project-feedback moments and I asked the students to write down feedback on post-its. Each ‘feedback-round’ had a specific aim:

  1. indicate a quality
  2. raise relevant questions
  3. give sound advice
  4. give bland critique

I considered it a very effective class, because within short time we had all given each other feedback. It made me reflect on the question; how relevant is a teacher’s individuals feedback for a student? Is it really necessary?

When talking to my students about the quality of education; they often desire more individual feedback moments with teachers. Individual feedback is not the most effective method to support the majority of a class. I don’t like the situation where students  sit around waiting for their little talk with the teacher.

I also notice that many students find it difficult to prepare for a feedback moment. Some students postpone their research, claiming they don’t want to develop anything until they acquire the “teachers blessing”. Some students passively wait for the teacher to tell them what to do. I think students are aware that they’re sabotaging their own studies this way, but there’s always enough distraction and arguments at hand to explain for themselves why they couldn’t prepare better. The risk of individual teacher-feedback in education; is that it doesn’t challenge students to make their own decisions.

I see a certain paradox in this situation as well. I consider my students motivation above average in relation to non-academy students. They are often well motivated, and strongly dedicated in completing a task. If I ask them about their desires; they often describe big and challenging achievements. They know perfectly well who their heroes are in the industry. They have no problem in working throughout night and day to make the deadline. The problem is definitely not in the big gestures. I think the problem lies in the ability of students to take small steps.

How can we inspire students to take small steps? How can we stimulte them to move ‘slow but steady’. I hope to take some small stepswith them, and give less individual-feedback, in the remaining periode of this project.

Designers-Behaviour-Grid 1.0

yesterday I presented this ‘Designers-Behaviour-Grid’ to 2nd year Illustration students.

It was my intention to discuss with students what type of behavior we desire from design students in projects. I think most students know what type of behavior is expected, but sometimes they choose to act differently.

I tried to explain that I believe it’s normal and human that students can’t always act like professionals yet. Part of their education is to learn how to act properly. However in order to learn how to behave; I would like to recommend students to become aware of different roles they can choose from. If they know which roles there are; they can vary and learn how to play each role.

I think that by learning to play the different roles, students can acquire a bigger insight in themselves and what they can be. I hope students can use the grid as reference and play with it during projects as they see fit. It was version 1.0.

Scanned Document
Scanned Document