Klaas Verplancke

Klaas Verplancke (1964) studied Advertising Graphics and Photography. He started his professional career in advertising agencies and continued to do his illustrating after office hours. In 1990, he decided to become a full-time illustrator. Advertising acted as a handy training ground for his new profession, teaching him to analyze issues and to get a story across to the public at large. In the following years, he made countless contributions to magazines and newspapers and illustrated more or less a hundred and fifty books, At first glance, Verplancke’s drawings and paintings differ a great deal in appearance and execution. But they always display the qualities that characterize him as an illustrator and designer: a sense of humor that can vary from mild to sardonic, a poetic imagination, a preference for illustrating abstract concepts and universal emotions – and a sideways, surrealistic view of reality.

•When did you start to dedicate to the world of illustration?
I produced my first illustrations during my military service. I was designer of Vox, the weekly magazine of the Belgian army. When there was a lack of photos, i filled in any empty spaces with drawings. I studied Advertising Graphics and Photography from 1982 to 1986 and started working for a few advertising agencies.
At the same time, I started as a freelance illustrator after office hours and become full-time illustrator in 1990. Advertising acted as a handy training ground for my new profession, teaching me how to analyse issues and create conceptual stories.

• How do you define your illustrations?
I once quoted: ‘Anyone can draw a chair, but an illustrator draws what the chair thinks and feels.
Drawing is reproducing what you see. Illustrating is looking sideways, beyond the preconditioned representation or signification of what we see. What you see is a shell, what’s really important is inside, what we see when we close our eyes: joy, loneliness, hope, sorrow…. The deafening silence of an image. René Magritte was right: ‘Ceci n’est pas une image’.
What you see is not an image but imagination, because we all look different, depending on our personal feelings, experiences… The art of illustrating is that the reader images that an illustration is the image is his own imagination.

•With what technique are you more comfortable? What is the importance of technique?
‘Form follows function’ is a classic design rule. This is also meaningful for the art of illustration. An idea must be enforced by the technique, the style and atmosphere, not otherwise. The way I illustrate is always determined by the content of story. That is what I’ve tried to show in my monograph The First Klaasbook: style is a way of thinking, not a way of drawing. The unity of my work must be found in the interior, not in the exterior.
In spite of all external differences and the apparent effortless ease with which i change the formal register, all my books show the same conception of what illustration should be.
I know this is a anti-commercial approach, because the market demands a recognizable trademark and the same style and characters in every new story.
But this attitude leads to interchangeability and ignores the story is a unique idea. It’s also totally opposite to the artistic development of an artist.
A creative mind daily inhales visual and mental impulses and impressions that continually inspire and knead our thoughts and emotions. Thus, my style has changed in the same way as i have changed as a person and so is every book a reflection on a moment or a remarkable period in my life.
As I’m getting older, I don’t need to impress and to proof my skills anymore. This awareness creates mental liberty that allows me to focus on the values and themes that are precious to me and that i want to share with the world through my books.

• How is children’s publishing industry in your country?
Children’s literature on one hand can be seen as a romantic medium for social and/or religious education and easy entertainment, or, on the other hand considered as a form of art, confronting, reflecting and giving a voice to even uneasy topics, emotions and thoughts. I’ve always worked according to these latter principles here in Flanders, where there’s a great respect and support for artistic freedom and authenticity.

• What is the difference between editorial illustration and other ones?
I’m generally a concept-targeted illustrator, combining metaphors in extraordinary and surreal combinations to create visual wit, a smile in the mind. Every medium needs a different execution. This variety nourishes and exercises the flexibility of my brain, but my way of thinking doesn’t change. An editorial illustration is like a quote: fast, catchy and substantive alone, speaking for themselves. Book illustrations are a chain of key moments, feelings or thoughts, all related to each other.

• Would you explain more about your books, do you prefer philosophical story or fictional ?
I tend to describe my oeuvre as philosophical realism. Not ‘real’ in the sense of true, but truly credible with recognizable thoughts and feelings. Universal, common emotions and situations that we only notice when transformed into a story. A story that works like a mirror: it reflects the emotions and thoughts of the reader and creates consolation. That’s why books and art in general is made for. I discovered that most of my stories end with a happy and reassuring home-coming scene. We all search for shelter, comfort, a home – not made of stone – but build with love, friendship and words. That’s the essence of storytelling, like I wrote in my picture book Reus: ‘A book is a roof, once upon a time is the attic, and they lived happily ever after is in the cellar. Between the two lives half the world on a thousand sheets of paper and that is my house.

• What is the importance role of philosophical stories in the modern world?
Philosophical and poetical stories translates the invisible, the elusive incomprehensible aspects of our lives. Like my stories, they are often labeled – by adults (!) – as ‘too difficult’ for children….
First of all, ‘The Child’ does not exist. Like a baker would bake his bread for a particular kind of child. What if we would apply this reasoning to adults? Not all adults understand and read Kafka’s books. So, the books of Kafka are ‘too difficult’ for adults?….
Second, we must get off the perception that ‘I don’t understand it’ is equal to ‘I don’t like it’. The unknown can be fascinating and feed our imagination. Let me quote Guus Kuijer, ALMA laureate: “If we don’t want to learn, then everything is elitist and unintelligible, even opening a door.” Children intuitively assume that they need to learn if they want to grow. Friction stimulates solutions and nuanced thinking, and philosophy helps us through this process. It guides us through the complexity of today’s world and creates acceptance for mysteries and insoluble questions.
….“We think we understand the rules when we become adults, but what we really experience is the narrowing of our imagination,” (© David Lynch).

• What is your best piece of advice for young artists who are getting started as creators of children`s books?
Making children’s books is an honor that requires the awareness of a great responsibility. Memories are composed by the words, sounds and songs we’ve heard and the books we’ve read in our youth, the images that are burnt in our mind. Thus, the children’s books we make today will be the memory of the adults of tomorrow. We create the future through children’s books, and thàt is a huge challenge. That’s is exactly why children need our respect and shouldn’t be poisoned by meaningless or mindless entertainment. Never underestimate the children’s capacity for understanding. It’s a long, tough and unknown road between the feeling, the image in your head and the final result on paper or in a book. It’s an adventure because you never know which obstacles you may encounter en route. But you always come home differently.