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Inside Micha Huigen’s artistic bubble

Thursday, June 6th 2024

by raxo

From filling his school notebooks with doodles to shaping his own distinctive aesthetic as an illustrator, Micha Huigen’s artistic journey began way before he went to art school and said journey is yet to be traveled to completion. In this digital Q&A we had with Micha, he shared a unique glimpse into his creative world with us, which is now yours for you to take a peek into it as well.

L: When did you start your journey with illustration? What led you to it?

Micha: Ever since I was a kid I was fascinated with drawing. From early on you could see that I had a talent for it. For instance, I skipped the ‘tadpole person’ phase. When kids start drawing people they often don’t draw the body, because only the face seems important. For some reason I immediately drew full bodies. I think I just soaked up everything I saw quite well.

I never stopped drawing. Like a lot of teenagers my school notebooks were often filled with doodles. Doodling used to be my go-to way of drawing for a long time. I’d just randomly start somewhere on the page and then build from there. They resulted in weird and surreal looking creatures, shapes and landscapes.

After quitting two studies I thought: third time’s the charm and decided to go for what I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I went to art school. I had a lot of time there to figure my style out and explore ways to create illustrations to accompany texts and stories. I also focused a lot more on drawing by sight. Which really helped me understand shapes, perspective and the way shadow works. In 2020, two years after I graduated I decided to try to make illustration my full time job and registered as a freelance illustrator. A few months after that, the corona virus hit. I lost the few commissions I had. For instance: bands couldn’t play, so they didn’t need a poster anymore. It was a blessing in disguise, because due to the fact that I had lost income by the virus, like other freelancers in the Netherlands I was entitled to benefits, which served as my income for a few months. In that period I got the time to make my graphic novel called ‘Another Angle’. And slowly I got more commissions. Since a few years ago, I can make a decent living out of it. And I’m represented by Pekka, an international agency. Which I’m very thankful for.

L: An immersive style, a distinctive color scheme, and an artisanal look & feel could be listed as part of your signature aesthetic – what do you want people to take away after seeing one of your illustrations? What would YOU say is your signature when it comes to style & techniques?

M: With my works I think it takes a bit longer for every little element to be fully observed compared to the average illustration style. My works allow for the onlooker to kind of go exploring. Also thematically most have a sense of adventure. It’s an attitude and a way of looking at things that I think is also important in everyday life. I don’t necessarily mean you should go hiking right now (But if you have time, go for a walk after reading this!). I mean that with whatever you do, try not to forget to just look at things objectively every now and then. It keeps you from getting caught up in thought, and looking past what you used to consider to be mundane. That might sound a bit wooly, and I know that scrolling past my illustration on Instagram probably can’t do that. But if it just sparks something in that way, that would already be great.

In terms of style, people often say my illustrations remind them of vintage comics and posters. I think it has to do with the colors I choose. I like toned down colors that feel a bit earthy and I use grains and stipple gradients that probably give the works a bit of a vintage feel. It is not that my goal is to make vintage looking illustrations. This is just how my work slowly and naturally developed. But I can imagine that because I like the works of Alphonse Mucha, M.C. Escher and Ernst Haeckel for instance, my style has been influenced by vintage elements.

I also think the shading style I use resembles that of vintage comics. I like how hard shadows can do a lot of different things. It defines shape and spaciousness, and it gives the illustrations contrast, so if you look through your eyelashes you still see an interesting play of shapes, and it feels like there’s a bright light source, like the sun shining its light on the objects portrayed. Longer and heavier the shadows, combined with warm colors make it feel like an evening for instance.

L: Art is supposed to ignite an emotion in the spectator, good or bad, what emotions do you seek to evoke through your pieces?

M: I think the main emotion I want to evoke is wonder. Like I said, keeping alive a sense of wonder and curiosity is very important. It is easy to fall into a state of routine basically, and to live on auto pilot. Unfortunately you miss out on experiencing life to the fullest.

A lot of plants I draw are based on weeds that are quite common here in the Netherlands. A while ago I made an illustration of a Sow Thistle, which is one of those weeds. Once you really have a closer look at the plants you see are interesting, they actually are, and we walk past them everyday. That goes for a lot of things.

L: What inspires you when you’re working on a new project? Do you have rituals? How’s your creative process? Take us through it.

M: When it comes to personal work, whenever I try to think really hard about what I should draw next it often doesn’t work. I can’t force creative ideas unfortunately. They have to naturally pop up. Oftentimes my personal works have to do with topics that I’m very intrigued by at that time. For instance, one of my latest illustrations called ‘Presence’, is inspired by a book I read that really resonated with me. The book is called ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle. It is about being present in the current moment. And that really coincides with the subject of wonder that is because in order to wonder you have to be present, you can’t be caught up in thought if you really want to take in what you’re seeing and feeling. When it comes to commissioned work, getting a brief always really helps me to get a starting point to think from. It allows me to unleash my personal associations with the topic.

So then a subject is decided, then comes the process of figuring out how to visualize it. Before really getting to the sketching process, there’s a lot of just sitting and staring at the ceiling, I’m kind of waiting for the image to slowly evolve in my head. But similar to coming up with subjects, it often just has to pop up. Once that vague image and atmosphere emerges in my head I can confidently start sketching. Sketching is puzzling to me and it feels like composing music in a way. All rough elements have to sit in a place that is rhythmically correct.

In my work there’s a lot going on, but I’m looking for balance. Once I’m happy with the composition I start fleshing out all elements with the linework. That’s often the part where I can put music on in the background and just go in hyper focus mode. Once all linework is done I start shading and then the coloring process starts. For some reason I mostly do not really know which colors I’m going to use beforehand. That really just arises as I try different things out.

L: Top 3 favorite illustrators/artists of all time.

M: My top 3 illustrators would probably be Pat Perry, early works of James Jean and Moebius. I think I drew most inspiration from them while discovering and developing my own style. There’s just a lot of attention to their works. It’s full of atmosphere, and it often has something melancholic to it, which I really like. It helped me to create a mindset that everything I do when it comes to illustration, from composing a sketch, to the tiniest line is a conscious choice. I think that really helped me develop my own visual language.

L: What’s your opinion on the current landscape of the creative industry?

M: I must say that I might not be as up to date as to what’s going on in the world of illustration as I could be. I think I do have a good feel of what kind of style is trending etcetera. But I do not closely follow what’s going on. I’m not on social media as much at the current moment. And that feels pretty good I must say. I’m kind of in my own bubble, but for me that really works. I think it helps me stay authentic. But there’s a balance though. For instance, I sometimes go on Pinterest to look for inspiration. But then I often get an overload of endless amounts of insanely good art, so a lot of times that doesn’t really help me in my creative process. But it’s really cool to see all these different styles come by of course. And the images probably subconsciously inspire me in a way.

L: What’s the hardest thing about being a working artist?

M: I think the hardest thing is that, at least for me, there’s never a constant flow of projects to work on.

Sometimes it can be pretty much dry for a month, and then a month after I might be super busy. But I’m slowly accepting that. And realizing that it’s part of being a working artist.

Another thing is the fact that I depend on inspiration. So every now and then an illustration has to be made more from a place of technical skill, rather than that there’s a lot of heart involved. In those cases it can feel like ‘work’, especially with a tight deadline. But it always worked. I don’t think I ever missed a deadline yet. Knocking on wood.

L: Name your dream commission. Why would you love to work on that project?

M: My all time favorite artist is Thom Yorke. He’s the lead singer/ multi-instrumentalist from Radiohead. And has a few other projects going on, like The Smile and his solo music. I really like how he kept on doing his own thing and experimenting throughout his career. He’s pretty much the opposite of a sell-out. Which I really admire. And above that he’s a great musician and his music just really speaks to me.

I’ve done a few posters and album covers in the past. So my dream project would be to create something for a Thom Yorke project. Chances are pretty slim though because he always works with Stanley Donwood. But even a merch design would be the biggest honor in the world. I guess I’ll just keep on dreaming!

L: What’s your take as a creator on AI tools and generative AI?

M: I think it’s insane what AI can do. I mean, they can already create very impressive animations for instance. Pretty unbelievable. And it hasn’t even been around for that long. I can’t even imagine what it would be like in the near future. I’m not scared of it. It also has a lot of positive potential. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s going to have some negative consequences as well. And I don’t think we can stop it anymore. There’s a lot of big tech companies already in some kind of arms race to make the best AI. And the fact that a lot of its creators don’t even really know what’s going on in those machines makes it even more dangerous I think.

For now AI art is mostly very generic. It looks slick, but in my opinion it’s still very boring a lot of the time. Nonetheless it wouldn’t surprise me if AI gets better at making unique looking art. And that it can basically make authentic looking illustrations that could be more interesting looking then any artist’s work.

But I had this thought a while ago. Think about fake plants. Sometimes you mistake them for real plants, because they just look very real. Maybe even indistinguishable from the real one. But once you know it’s fake you pretty much lose all admiration for it. At least for me that’s the case and I think for a lot of people. So I think the same goes for AI.

I can imagine though, that a lot of companies are going to choose AI over real art, just because it costs way less. And that would be a shame. But no matter how good AI gets at making art, there will never be a human’s heart, brain and soul in there.

L: You’ve said in previous interviews that you focus on “creating visual stories”, what story are you going to tell us next? What upcoming projects are you working on that you can tell us about?

M: I have some album cover projects going on that are going to be really cool! You’ll probably see those appear on my Instagram in the near future. I also got the opportunity to work for Magic the Gathering again, which is pretty cool as well.

And I’m planning on focusing on personal projects a bit more. A while ago I was chilling in a park and this fly landed on my hand. Its wings looked very intriguing Like stained glass.. I took a photo of it, looked it up and found out it was called a ‘slijk vlieg’, which translates to sludge fly. I thought that name doesn’t really do the insect justice. I found out it’s called an Alder fly in English, which does sound cool. And I decided it would be nice to create an illustration based on this often unnoticed little fly, and get it printed so people can hang it on their walls and kind of honor it. It might be cool to make a series of similar illustrations of flora and fauna that’s often overlooked. Again, that would be very in line with that sense of wonder and curiosity I’m always talking about.

From sailing the seas of a pandemic as an independent artist and making it to the other side, to making deep analogies between AI-powered art and plastic plants that clearly depicts his stance on how art needs to have a human heart at its core, we can only thank Micha for inspiring us with his words and stunning pieces. Press play on your favorite Radiohead album and keep up with Micha’s upcoming projects & portfolio while you’re at it: Micha Huigen