”Make people think about the whys of their behaviour” Sjoerd van Leeuwen

An illustration made by Sjoerd van Leeuwen for Het Parool.

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A couple of months ago I was drinking a great cappuccino in Utrecht when I noticed there were bits of artwork hanging around the place. Taking a closer look was the natural thing to do. The artwork depicted a lonely man in a strange environment, it was hypnotizing. Luckily there was a little plaque hanging next to the work, it said ”Sjoerd van Leeuwen.” A couple of months later I had the pleasure of interviewing Sjoerd over a great cappuccino in Utrecht.

What does illustrating mean to you?
”Illustrating is a way of expressing myself that I really need. You see, I’m actually a pretty shy person, a shy person with a lot of opinions and thoughts. I want to show those opinions and thoughts. Drawing gives me an outlet to do just that.”

How do you pick the subjects in your illustrations?
”I’m fascinated by technology, new kinds of media and how society uses that media. Exploring how these worlds collide really interests me. I observe my surroundings to find subjects and elements that I find fascinating. Let’s use my work Guns Off as an example. I handpick simple things from the digital world and put them on a blank paper. This time I used an on/off switch, and sketched around it until I get something interesting to work with.”

What’s the purpose of your personal work?

”For some of my work the main purpose is to conflict people with their behaviour, give them something to think about. Take Instagram, we make it look like we live in this ideal, perfect world, and for what? For likes, but what is a like? It’s just a person tapping on an emblem and that’s it. It doesn’t really mean anything, and yet we find it so important. What are we doing all day? Is it worth representing ourselves as these perfect human beings?  I can’t say I’m not to blame either, as I have a difficult time using the digital world myself. That’s why I want to make people think about the whys of their behaviour in a funny, yet conflicting way.”

How do you experience making these illustrations?
”I’ve been drawing since my childhood, so it feels natural to me. It’s just something that I do. However, things have changed. I used to draw a lot of different subjects before, and now Illustrating feels more focused on finding something that grasps people’s attention. I feel like I’m rarely drawing for my personal entertainment, which I find regrettable. On the other side, it’s more effective.”

An illustration Sjoerd made for a podcast founded by ARTE RADIO. The podcast is called Sex and Sound.

What’s working freelance like?
”I find joy in working freelance, but it takes time to get to a point where you can make a living of it, but I realized that before I started. I learned there’s no point getting worked up about not having enough jobs. The best thing is to take it slow and realize it’s a process. Take a deep breath and keep calm, you don’t finish such a process in one day.”

How did your first couple of day as freelance work out?
”I can tell you a pretty fun story about that. The first two assignments I got were complete surprises to me. I was at work and I got a call from Het Parool, a pretty big newspaper in the Netherlands, and got offered a job. They wanted me to finish an illustration by 7:00 the next morning. I got offered my second job the day after, while at work again, but this call was from Trouw, which again is a big newspaper in the Netherlands. I was stressing the hell out for this one, as they wanted me to make two illustration by 19:00 That was the fastest I ever drew something.”

How does getting a job work for you?
”It’s all about making people notice you by sending a lot of people your work, which is how you get into their database. This increases the chance they’ll come to you when they need something done. No one’s really waiting for you to knock on their door, because there are loads of people who scream louder than you. My theory is that art-directors look for artists who can do specific things. When an artist shows 10.000 different things he or she can do, it’s less clear for what kind of illustration an employer should hire you.”

If you loved Sjoerd’s story and would like to see more of his art I suggest you go straight to his website, or his Instagram page. We hope you enjoyed reading this article and will visit On-Art.nl in the future again. 

A compilation of work by Sjoerd called ”Elders.” This was his graduation project.

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