Dutch illustrator Ilse Moelands’ drawings awaken emotions in an utterly beautiful way. Freshly graduated, she’s on the verge of publishing a book and continues to translate her fascination for the Far North into stunning drawings.
Ilse Moelands: I’ve always doubted about my future and thus I had a lot of difficulties choosing the right study; would I become a doctor, an artist? I have always loved fashion and it’s influence on our culture and identity. To me fashion is about people and their characteristics and for a while I wanted to continue in that direction, ignoring the fact that I can’t sew at all. I thought I’d give it a go and ended up enjoying the drawing part the most. I wanted to draw all the time, so I decided to change studies and go for Illustration Design at ArtEZ. I like the directness of drawing and printing. Sewing and designing fashion is a much slower process.
Tell me something about your drawing process.
Often my urge to draw awakens when I am fascinated or frustrated. Then my ideas flow out of me on paper. I like to draw when I am alone, because I really have to be focused and concentrated.
You use a lot of older techniques such as thinner press and lino press, this is quite unusual in our digital era. Why these techniques and how did you come in touch with them?
I like to start with something physical, so I can smell the material; I want to have paint and ink on my hands. I just love the imperfection. It’s not that I don’t like digital work. I think there are a lot of possibilities working digital, but it’s not my cup of tea. At the art academy we had a really nice printing workshop. During my last year I spent as much time as possible in the workshop experimenting with all kinds of techniques and became intrigued with the older ones.
Your work instigates deep emotions, from the love for family to shame and loneliness. Are these feelings you experienced yourself when working on your drawings?
Yes. I always start with a very strong emotion, because it’s the only way I can make satisfying images. I think the world is a weird, crazy place and making art is my way to deal with that. It’s like therapy. But I try to make my work for other people as well. Emotions are a good starting point, but I always try to twist it in a way, so a lot of people can relate to my stories and images.
Where do your ideas come from and when is an idea good enough to execute?
People and their stories inspire me a lot. I am pretty hard on myself, so things aren’t good enough for me very easily. But I am still learning to let go of this perfection, and sometimes I overthink things and I stop myself from making art. But I always try to remember that small ideas can lead to big beautiful projects.
Talk to me about your fascination with the Far North, what is it that attracts you to it and inspires you to create illustrations?
I have worked and lived amidst the snow, polar bears, seals, and Inuit, I grew a fascination with the extreme living conditions those people have to deal with and how they remain a balance of sensitivity and strength. The hard, isolated existence and the respectful way these people treat nature provide the basis for the graphic story I’ve created for my graduation. The Inuit are very proud people however I can’t help but feel they are a bit lost, uprooted from their original culture as times have changed so much there. This idea had an immense impact on me and on my work. I went there with a lot of questions, but I came back with even more. I would love to go back there one day and maybe live even more primitively and remotely.
You went to Upernavik, Greenland for half a year. How did you end up there and what is the most important thing you’ve learnt?
A year ago I applied for the Artist in Residency Program in the Upernavik Museum. After waiting impatiently for a very long time, I was so happy when I received a letter saying they had chosen me to go there. The most important thing I learnt during my stay in Greenland is to be more calm and relaxed. Nature dictates the rhythm of life, so you either go with the flow or feel very miserable. I had to let go.
You're currently working on a book with Julia Dobber; tell me something about this project?
Next to the Greenland project, I needed something else so that when I was stuck with one project, I could escape into the other. I met Julia through a mutual friend and I instantly fell in love with her stories. Her work is about people who get through things, but nobody knows exactly what. For my graduation we compile six stories and complimenting drawings. Finishing them we both felt that there needed to be more, so our plan is to make twelve in total. I can’t wait to continue our exciting project and have the finished product in front of me.
Is there a particular artist you would love to work with?
Several. I really like the work of photographer Jeroen Toirkens. He’s a Dutch documentary photographer who followed several Nomadic cultures around the world for years. Also fashion collective ‘Das leben am Haverkamp’, which is founded by some of my old fashion classmates. I really like what they are doing and they inspire me to carry on. Maybe one day we can do a project together.
What is your plan for the future now that you have graduated?
I always hate this question... It feels very definite to talk about the future. I can only dream about it. I would love to have a little workshop with all kinds of presses so I can make special prints and books. I hope I can do more residencies and visit other countries. I went to Myanmar a few years ago and I really want to go there again to start a new project. But there are a lot of other things I dream about, for instance more collaborations like the one with Julia Dobber. I really like dreaming..