Illustrator of the Month – April

The AOI is back in OFFSET this weekend, delivering a range of events from masterclasses to panel discussions and a PARTY. Every year we attend we get to meet so many talented Illustrators who inspire us, and bring a unique perspective and voice within the industry.

One of those Illustrators is Dubliner and AOI Member Ruan Van Vliet, who captivated us with his simple, striking and humorous work. It’s hard to take a quick look at his Instagram and not love his charming characters, often involved in silly scenes and actions. He he tackles commissions with a distinct DIY approach, working simultaneously with big names like Vans, Airbnb and Dr. Martens. 

Join us in this edition of our monthly Illustrators feature, where we find out more about Ruan’s work, his background and his insight on illustration:

Tell us a bit about yourself – Where are you from, how did you get started and going in the world of illustration?

I’m from Dublin, Ireland. I was born here many years ago, in the Rotunda Hospital to an Irish mother and Dutch father. He came over here with the Dutch design invasion of the 50s/60s and instead of going to college I learned my trade alongside him. Outside of my main work on newsletters, calendars and business cards I began making gig posters, album artwork and various bits for the local DIY rock n’ roll scene. This allowed me plenty of space to try out different ways of working and slowly, without planning, I moved in a more illustrative direction. There was a blurry middle and then two things happened in quick succession; I moved into a studio with Fuchsia MacAree, the head-honcho of Irish illustration, and a friend, Bobby Aherne, asked me to do some drawings for a book he had coming out. Bada-bing-bada-boom I changed the bio on my instagram from “Drummer/Designer” to “Drawing/Drumming”.

Your portfolio is a mix of funky characters, merch, paintings, bits of animation. How would you define and explain your visual style? How did it develop?

This sounds cheesy but I feel like Style is something that finds you. It’s pitched somewhere between your taste and your talent, and the only way to develop it is to draw every day, after a while you start to draw like yourself and the trick is to stretch that as far as it can go without overthinking things.

You constantly work with local clients and/or collaborate with brands in Dublin (like your works with Dr Martens and Vans Irish branches). How do you get these commissions and collaborations?

Those were cases where some nice person was thinking of me for the job and put me forward. It’s always nice to be reminded that there’s people out there fighting your corner. A good bit of my works comes through word of mouth or just getting seen online, but I reach out to people too. It can feel quite self-conscious, imagining some big-time art director on their yacht, showing their party guests the grovelling email you sent and them all picking apart your work and falling about laughing. But really, the worst thing that can happen is you don’t get a reply, and less emails is what we’re all after right?

What was your favourite project in Dublin and why?

I have to mention the hoarding for Christ Church Cathedral I worked on with the design studio Unthink. The place was originally built by a Viking King in 1030 and I think it’s the most photographed location in Dublin but it wasn’t the significance or the size of the job that was remarkable. What made it my favourite was that it went so smoothly, from the very first meeting with Colin and Fergal in Unthink we had a very clear vision of what we wanted and where our styles could meet.

They had pitched me for the job, and had designed a loose template and look for the 140 meters of hoarding. We split that into sections that would tell different stories about the history of the cathedral, and then sent files back and forth for a couple weeks, building simple characters in illustrator, printing those out and drawing on them with my crayons. It was a new way of working for me but not unfamiliar. Accurately vectorising the drawings was a challenge but I think they came out true to life – there’s a point on the hoarding where I can see the remnants of a shopping list I mistakenly scribbled on top of a drawing due to be scanned.

The folks in Christ Church were really receptive and encouraging throughout, they allowed us to get silly and really play around. There was one Monk I drew that we thought might be a tiny bit too…sassy? But they loved it. I heard that attendance was up over the period the hoarding was in place too. Although one night a taxi driver did call it “a disgrace” as we drove by. I kept my mouth shut.

I don’t mean to sound flippant when I say it was easy, there was a huge amount of work involved, but all done by a team of people who were really giving it 100% and working in a really open and creative way. When something so huge can feel like that, that’s the dream.

Do you think that Illustrators should have a duty to be present in their local communities?

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to go about it and it’s never been a priority to focus my efforts at home rather than abroad. It’s a truism now but the internet means no matter where you live you can find your community and find work and make real connections. I guess coming out of the DIY scene, there’s always been a great sense of community to the things I like to do, it comes naturally. It just so happens I was born in a big city (big village) where, now and then, things are happening.

You have some cool playlists in your Spotify – Is music an important factor for you and your work?

I’ve been obsessed with music ever since I started listening and I’ve been drumming in bands for about 20 years now. Music is always on at home and in the studio and my work is absolutely chockablock with references and nods to songs and artists I love. When I want to draw a square I count the beats as the pencil moves across the paper. The playlists are something I’ve always done, since home taping, burning CDRs, they’re just nice things to plot out in the back of your mind and share with friends.

What plans do you have for the future? Any exciting projects in the making?

I’m always wary of jinxing things, there’s lots of ideas that have been dreamt up but not worked out, but in the January lull I began working on my first cartoon, a short animated film about the invention of the snare drum, and I’m pretty confident it’s close to finished, in that it’ll be out sometime this year. It’s been my first time working on a long-term personal project, and learning to animate as I go, sound editing too. It’s pretty crude but it makes me laugh.

Many thanks to Ruan for taking part in our interview!

See more of Ruan’s work on his Website and Instagram.

Make sure to catch us at OFFSET this year: Panel Discussion on Saturday day / Doodle JAM on Saturday night!

And catch last month’s members feature on Illustrator/Animator Valeria Weerasinghe.


5th April 2019
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