Will Instagram Render the Art Academy Obsolete?


I have some rough thoughts about this question. The question belongs to one of my illustration students. I think it’s a relevant question because many illustrators promote the use of Instagram. I hope to further elaborate on my thoughts later.

Instagram is a social networking application.  It allows you to share photos or videos within a community. It is similar to facebook and twitter. Illustrators post their work on instagram where clients can find it, which can lead to commissions. I understand it can give illustration students the impression of a short-cut to ‘illustration-paradise’. Why bother with; academic theory classes, complicated conceptual issues, or vague hypothetical questions about artistic vision? Why bother with any academic content at all when all you need to do to become a ‘successful illustrator’ is post online and get noticed? As course leader of Illustration at the WdKA I feel I must reply.

My reasons why I consider studying at an art academy is more meaningful compared to posting your work on Instagram.

Passion.  The art academy encourages students to discover their individual qualities. It’s important to learn about yourself in order to understand how you can develop your creative abilities. It is not easy to find your passion as an illustrator. We often don’t find them unless we are willing to try and experiment. The academy serves as a place in which students are more likely to experiment. One of the roles of teachers to push and shove students (at times). A personal passion is not easily discovered.

Part by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on wasted potential […]

FOMO […]

You can look at other illustrator’s work on Instagram; but looking at images alone, will not increase your understanding. My colleague explained; the term ‘theory’ originates from the Greek; it implies ‘to look at’. Not just to ‘notice things’ but to acquire insight. We don’t study theory at the academy in order to gain ‘cold knowledge’, but to find a better understanding of ourselves.

The ‘applied arts dilemma’. How to stay with your artistic vision in a client-orientated market. […]

Market. The second reason is to learn about the ‘illustration-market’. This reason is complicated, and often misunderstood by students. By understanding the market; I don’t mean that students have to understand the client. Of course in some degree they must, but it is much more important to understand the: questions, principals and challenges of today’s illustration market. We should not teach students how to comply to clients. In stead we should talk on how the market should change. Instagram might be a market-influencer for illustrators, but who is reflecting upon this influence? There will not be any easy answers, but the academy is the place in which this should be addressed.

[platform-economy] – What is the bargaining power of todays freelance illustrator? What is the risk of an unprotected and open market principal for illustrators […]

Synergy. The last topic is about what can be achieved when a student can connect the three topics. It will give them a deep awareness of their individual role and possibilities as an illustrator. This is not a guarantee for economic success, but it implies that the student has discovered how to make a personal meaningful contribution to the world […]

Instagram can be an effective tool to acquire economic success for illustrators, but I hope our students will be the ones to contribute to the development of the new Economy.












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.

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?




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

Shop-Around Worries About Illustration Students


Shop-Around Worries About Illustration Students

How should De Kooning illustration students be prepared for the market?


Keywords: illustration styles, market research, 3D-computer skills, Google Sketchup, WdKA Stations

Estimated reading time: 15-20 minutes, Article used for educational purpose only.


Introduction. The objective of this article is to evaluate 3 aspects in the education of illustrators and to introduce a new form of research lab (Station) at the Willem de Kooning Academy (WdKA) in Rotterdam. The article is a response to concerns about the education of illustrators by Bert Dijkstra during the portfolio evening in at the WdKA. Dijkstra is owner of Shop-Around; a Rotterdam based creative production agency that specializes in: “contemporary illustration, graphic design, animation, motion graphics and interactive design” (shop-around.nl). Dijkstra is afraid that there’s gap between what is taught at Dutch art academies and the global context in which illustration it is practiced. In the publication: “The Fundamentals of Illustration”, Zeegen also claims that art education is often criticized for: “being unaware of commercial realities and constraints” (2005). In this article aspects of three of Dijkstra’s concerns are evaluated and the new WdKA Stations are introduced. The assumption is that the WdkA Stations might offer solutions to Dijkstra’s concerns.

Illustration styles. Dijkstra’s first concern is that illustration students place too much emphasize on one signature illustration style. Having a visual style or identity as an illustrator is important. However, students should also be aware that no matter how appealing and refined their style may be, some styles are unlikely to result in enough commissions to make a living (Dijkstra, 2014). Another problem with too much focus on one style is that like fashion: it can simply go out of style (Brazell&Davis, 2013; Dijkstra, 2014; Zeegen, 2012).

In the article: “The Anarchy of Style”, Davis makes a distinction between fashion and style. He claims anyone can copy fashion well or bad, but it will only be fashion. Illustration can be made fashionably good, and become fashionably popular, but in the end style is considered very personal and complex (2014). Having a wide range of illustration styles is not recommended either. In the publication “How to be an Illustrator”, Rees wonders why one would hire an illustrator who can do a little bit of everything when you can ask a solo-style specialist as well? Rees recommends illustrators to focus at the most on two different styles. He claims it’s difficult to obtain more than two distinct styles that are both original and consistent (2012).

It’s hard to find conclusive answers about styles for Illustration students. Every choice seems to have it’s own type of risk (Brazell&Davis, 2013; Dijkstra, 2014;Rees, 2012 Zeegen, 2012). Furthermore Dijkstra’s perception of Illustration students focusing on one style might be true. However it remains to be seen if this implies that these students won’t be flexible enough in the professional world. For professional illustrators the topic of styles seems less complex. If you can’t sell enough work in your style of illustrations, you will have to change.

Market research. Dijkstra’s second concern is that illustration students spend too little time researching what’s going on in the market. He finds it surprising because there’s so much opportunity to get informed nowadays. For example Shop-Around organizes design-theme events at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam. He also recommends the Dutch Playground festival in Amsterdam/Tilburg, and Pictoplasma in Berlin. He wonders why he seldom meets students at these occasions. If they don’t want to leave the house there are also portfolio websites such as behance.net where the latest trends in illustration can be found (Dijkstra, 2014). Given the openness of communication and the accessibility of illustrators via their websites; it has even become easier to contact them directly (Brazell&Davis, 2013).

However the ‘modern-day’ accessibility of information also raises questions; “How much information is enough?” and “when does the search become a form of procrastination?”. WdKA illustration alumni Wouter Tulp thinks it’s a great time for art students because “they have access to online instructions, resources and knowledge one mouse click away”. However Tulp also sees many artists struggling because the continuous exposure to amazing artwork can also lead to insecurity and become demotivating. Art students should prevent becoming what he calls: ‘slaves to the internet’ (Tulp, 2014). It’s important not to let trends take over your own originality. Be aware of what other Illustrators are doing, but don’t let it get to you (Snoad, 2013; Tulp, 2014).

In the end it seems obvious that market research is important for illustration students. However there seems to be a more important question that needs to be addressed first: “What is good market research for illustrators?”. If illustrators don’t know what’s good for them; they could end up in a wild goose chase. This shows the importance of teaching illustration students on how to conduct good and effective research.

3D skills. Dijkstra’s third concern is about the lack of 3D-computer skills by Dutch illustrators. He claims you don’t have to be a scientific researcher to realize that the illustration market has an increasing demand for illustrators with 3D-computer skills. Perhaps we don’t always like how these products look, but maybe that’s just because illustrators haven’t shown us all of its possibilities yet (Dijkstra, 2014). For example the game-market has increased enormously which has resulted in an increased demand for digital orientated illustrators (Fleishman,2004).

WdKA illustration alumni and Art Director at Guerilla games Misja Baas says a lot of the 3D-design for their production of the game Killzone is being outsourced. Some of it to large Chinese outsource studios with dedicated design- and production departments. Baas was one of the few students who got excited about the MAYA-3D computers at the WdKA some 20 years ago. At that time very few students knew how to work with MAYA 3D or wanted to work with it. One of the difficulties with the earlier 3D programs was the complexity of the tools. You can’t make illustration students love 3D-computer programs, but the tools nowadays are getting easier to play with, and equally important, easier to come by. Baas recommends students who have an interest to experiment with Google Sketchup. It’s relatively easy and it’s free. Many designers at Guerilla Games are using it (Baas, 2014).

Former Pixar illustrator John Nevarez says it became essential for him to learn 3D-(computer) skills some years ago. Nevarez doesn’t consider himself to be a 3D-designer, but he sees the 3D-programs as a valuable time saving tool when constructing complex illustrations. For example while working for Pixar studios it was useful to use a 3D- programs to design German-look-a-like cities for the animation of Cars. The ability to play with lights and viewpoints, by creating rough shapes in a 3D-mock up, makes it much easier and faster to create complex naturalistic looking background illustrations. His basic 3D-mock ups would not be seen in the final illustrations (Nevarez, 2014).

The advice to illustration students by both Baas and Nevarez is not to worry about ethics when using 3D-computer tools to make the process easier. They describe that some students don’t find it ethical to work with design tools that make the process easier. However they both declare that nobody in the market cares if you design purely by imagination or if you use reference materials or 3D-computer tools. Students should always feel free to use any means necessary to get the desired results, especially if it can save valuable time” (Baas, 2014; Nevarez, 2014).

WdKA Stations. The WdkA has started with a redesigned curriculum for Art & Design education in September 2014. Part of this new curriculum is the implementation of Stations. A Station can be seen as a multidisciplinary design research ‘lab’. It’s a place where students, teachers, and instructors work and research together. The Stations provide knowledge and expertise in: software, hardware, skills and machines. Currently the WdKA has seven different Stations: Interaction, Image & sound, Publication, Material, Fabric, Drawing, and Business. A difference between the Stations and the former traditional workplaces is that stations are not only about technique and machines, but Stations are also engaged in research and offer open educational programs for all art and design students.

For example the Business Station has an open and online platform. It offers both students, professional Illustrators, designers and fine artists tools like the ‘creative business map’ to learn about market opportunities (Beards&Suits.nl, 2014). The Image & Sound Station offers open instructional courses in 3D-computer Design and Rendering. The interaction station offers an opportunity to experiment with relatively new 3D related Design technologies such as: Oculus Rift, Google glass, and Kinect.

The Stations are open 5 days a week, and there are always teachers and instructor available to assist. Students get in tough with the stations through their major/minor studies, but Station instructors and teachers offer help with individual student projects as well (Study brochure WdKA, 2014-2015). It remains to be tested if the Stations will have the desired effect on students, but in relation to the concerns expressed by Dijkstra the Stations at least offer specific programs to assist the illustration students.

Conclusion. It remains difficult to provide any conclusive answers on the concerns raised by Dijkstra. In most cases it appears that students will have to be able to find and maintain a delicate balance. They should focus on their style, but not let it become fashion. They should research the market, but not be overwhelmed by it and end up snow blind. They should follow their heart when it comes to 3D-computer technology, but not be afraid to try new tools. It’s hard to say if the implementation of the Stations at the WdKA will play a significant role in solving any of these concerns. However the intention of the Stations is to present students in a new way with knowledge and expertise. At least there is information accessible for all multidisciplinary students. If they know what they want; the WdKA has a new place where students can get it.



Course Director Illustration WdKA

© 2015 All rights reserved.


No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, without prior written consent from the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.



Baas, M (2014). Q&A with 3rd year Illustration students, WdKA, Rotterdam, 05/11/2014

Block, E. (2011). Becoming a professional illustrator; an insiders guide

Article acquired via: http://careers.theguardian.com/working-professional-illustrator-insiders-guide

Brazell, D, Davis, J. (2013). Becoming a Successful Illustrator, creative careers, Bloomsbury Publishing                 PLC

Davis, Paul. (2014. The Anarchy of Style, Varoom, Association of Illustrators, summer 2014, issue 26

Dijkstra, B. (2014). Student presentation portfolio evening, 3rd year students WdKA, Rotterdam           15/10/2014

Fleishman, M. (2004). Exploring Illustration, An in-dept Guide to the Art and Techniques of   Contemporary Illustration, Design Exploration Series, Thomson Delmar Learning, Canada

Hall, A. (2011). Illustration, portfolio, Central Saint Martins College, Laurence King Publishing Ltd,       London, UK

Nevarez, J ( 2014) Inspirational talks during: TheMasterLecture.com, Rotterdam, 11/10/2014

Rees, D. (2012). How to be an Illustrator, Laurence King Publishing Ltd, United Kingdom

Sinofzek, A. (2013). A life in Illustration, The Most Famous Illustrators and their Work, Gestalten, Riga

Snoad, L. (2013). Lions, tigers & bears, oh-my! What’s hot in animal Illustration, Digital Arts                   26/06/2013

Article acquired on the 6th of December 2014 via: http://www.digitalartsonline.co.uk/features/illustration/lions-               tigers-bears-oh-my-whats-hot-in-animal-illustration/

Studybrochure, Willem de Kooning Academie, Hogeschool Rotterda, (2014).

Tulp, W. (2014). Take your time, facebook post, 09/02/2014

Zeegen, L. (2005). Complete Digital Illustration. A Masterclass in Image-making, Rotovison SA,           Switzerland

Zeegen, L. (2008). Illustration Renaissance, Design taxi.com, 07/04/2008

Article acquired on the 6th of December 2014 via: http://designtaxi.com/article/100243/Illustration-Renaissance/

Zeegen, L. (2012). The Fundamentals of Illustration, AVA publishing, Switzerland