For our “X Questions With” series, we’re speaking with talented individuals from around the world who have inspired us with their creativity and passion. If you have a story to tell or someone you’d like to see profiled, let us know in the comments or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!
Today, we’re chatting with Sophie, a multi-talented illustrator we met on Instagram. Sophie has been creating art for years and has successfully turned her passion into a career, yet she continues to push herself to learn more. To see more of Sophie’s artwork, visit her website (pluimillustration.nl) or check her out on Instagram (@sophieepluim)!
1) Please tell us a little about yourself
Name: Sophie Pluim
City: Utrecht, the Netherlands (I’ve also lived and worked in London for a while)
Education/Training: Illustration (Hogeschool voor de kunsten Utrecht), graduated 2015
Occupation: I’m an illustrator 6 days a week, and one day I work at the legendary Passementerie in Utrecht
Creative Works: I do various things as an illustrator. I graduated with an illustrated book about edible vegetables set in the Stone Age. Last year I illustrated a picture book with poetry. Now I’m illustrating a fairy tale book and I’m focusing on becoming a botanical artist.
Favourite Quote: “Delight lies somewhere between boredom and confusion” – by E.H. Gombrich
Passions: Ornaments! I adore ornament, I can talk for hours about ornaments! And I’m very passionate about history. This day and age is all right, but I can’t help but focus on the past. I love costume history in all its many aspects. From the naked beginning to the most glorious decorated periods in time. Nature is so great, I don’t know where to start, let’s begin with the spider at my window… I can say David Attenborough is one of my heroes. At the moment TankGirl is my favourite comic, the Beatles my favourite band and I really, really, really like cookies. Though I listen to metal, punk, rock and anything old I’m most passionate about traditional folk and classical music. Last but not least: biking. My bicycle gives me a feeling of freedom.
2) We first took notice of your art on Instagram when you shared some illustrations inspired by things found in your garden. Is this an art series you intend to keep working on?
Yes! Definitely! If I could I would do it for… the rest of my life? I love fantasy creatures, I love nature and I love it when it comes together. I like to take my time and appreciate something that goes often unnoticed. Very unfortunately I don’t have much of a garden but I do grow a lot of plants, often from leftover vegetables to see in what stages they develop and decay. Even with so little there is so much to explore! So many snails, spiders and insects. Lately I had various nests and eggs I’d never seen before! It is really an endlessly interesting source for me.
I have a tendency to want to escape from reality and I like to do that through historical and light fantasy topics. At the same time, I like the world I live in and don’t want to completely become a stranger. I hover between two worlds. That is the place where I create my own. My fantasy creatures aren’t real, but the plants they’re inspired by are. With a strange detour of evolution, some of them might’ve been real.
The feeling I just described is a feeling of being a stranger to this time. Not a bad feeling, just a bit lost sometimes. That is why I love Paperblanks journals so much. Their look really suits the feeling I want to bring in my work. The feeling of grandeur, history, past adventures, intense flavours…
3) Many of your illustrations have a fantastical theme, such as the creatures you’ve created from objects from nature. Is this a conscious genre choice?
Yes and no. Fantasy is something wonderful. I think I like it best when it’s subtle. It must be something I can relate to. And others if it is about work.
Sometimes it collides with my passion for history. When history is involved, I want to have my facts right. It can be hard to let my imagination run wild when my head is full of details and facts. I still have to find a balance there.
4) You also work in watercolours. Is there a medium you prefer?
I really like working with watercolours but there is so much I still have to learn. They didn’t teach watercolours at the academy so I’ve only been working with them for a year and a half, I think (since I started the course of botanical illustration). Pen and ink, or fineliner, is also a medium I am feeling more and more comfortable with. Anything will do as long as I can put lots and lots of detail in the illustration.
I have a very strong opinion about not working in digital. I have nothing against it, in fact, I really like it, but it is just not for me. It doesn’t appeal me in any way. Of course I can work with Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign but I don’t like making the actual illustrations digital.
5) How did you get into art and illustrations?
When I was 16, in my last year of high school, I made a picture book about Coco Chanel. (I got 9.7 out of 10, hurray!) I think I knew before that but then I knew for sure that, if I could, I would make picture books for a living. There is always this inner fight because I also really like fashion. But there is the same thing going on as with everything, mainly the history of fashion. I’m very glad I didn’t choose to study fashion. Last year, however, I started a part-time course at a fashion academy. Maybe one day it will all come together!
6) Has anyone (or anything) in particular inspired your creativity and artistic passion?
My parents are wonderful to let me choose a study that I liked and not push me into university or anywhere I wouldn’t be happy. My father is a graphic designer/art director and he knows so much! I love it when we talk for hours about what are the basics of a good design and he always brings the connection with music and math with it.
As a kid I’d often take the enormous art history book from my parents and would look at all the lovely dresses and landscapes of the romantic painters. I loved, and I still love, Rien Poortvliet, Alan Lee, Brian Froud, the Flower Fairies, Toni DiTerlizzi and so many others! I think for a 23-year-old, I have quite an impressive amount of (picture) books. I dare call it my little library.
Art school really pushed my creativity away. I wish it was different, and that it might have been if I had started it when I was a bit older – not 17. I would have done things very differently and I would’ve tried to focus on the things I wanted to learn. I started to find my way when I graduated but it was quite an unnecessarily confusing journey.
I was so very lucky to meet my wonderful boyfriend Orlan Novak who is also an illustrator. I think us being together helps our creative process. We both were sort of outsiders in what we wanted to learn at the academy. He really gave me confidence. And that is so important when you are in that arena where you have to let go of everything you know and start from scratch.
7) Your website showcases quite a few completed professional projects. How did you take art from a passion to a career?
I took art from a passion to a career by passion. That is the only thing that does the trick I think. As with everything there is a lot of trial and error. Often you put a lot of personal feelings into a work and you always get criticised. So that feels like critique on you as a person. You’ve got to be able to deal with that. That has not been much of a problem for me because most of the time I’d be as critical. But sometimes it will bring you down. You have to get up again.
Unfortunately, a week has only so many hours and days. I work all days, also the evenings. My social life is very small and I tend to combine everything non-work-related I do to something I can use for my work. Illustration never bores me and until now I’ve always been motivated to work.
I dare call that passion, and that is exactly what brought my still very tiny, but hopefully soon blossoming, career!
8) Any advice you would like to share with aspiring artists?
I do have advice! Be honest about what your way of learning is. That might not be art school (like it is in the Netherlands, I don’t know about other countries). Like I said before, art school felt weird for me and afterwards I discovered there was so much more. On the other hand, get your basic skills right. I really recommend the traditional learning way of drawing. Study the past! Like many great artists say, practice night and day.
Think how an outsider would look at your work. Be polite, kind and professional.
And be honest with yourself if you’d still like it as a job. Or would it be better to do it on the side and one day create something epic and be happy?
Take your time. Don’t rush things. Don’t feel the pressure of others and social media. And you’ll make something new and unique.
Do what feels right.
About Paperblanks: 25 years ago, we created Paperblanks to help keep book heritage alive and vital in our modern age, and to offer an inspiring space for people to express themselves. Thanks for joining us on this journey! For more about Paperblanks, go to our website at paperblanks.com.