Tom Schamp

22 September 2017
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Tom Schamp was born in Mortsel (Belgium) and grew up in Brussels. After graduating from Sint-Lukas Brussels University College of Art and Design, he studied Graphic Arts in Poznan (Poland), where he got the opportunity to experiment with various new style elements. He gradually developed a style of his own, using acrylic paint on cardboard.

Tom’s illustrations appeal to adults and children alike. His assignments come from an international mix of customers, including reknown children’s books publishers (Albin Michel, Milan, Lannoo), magazines (Humo, Playboy), newspapers (De Morgen, De Standaard, NRC Handelsblad), and various ad agencies. He has designed posters, calendars, post cards, toys, annual reports, web sites, and postage stamps.

In 2005, Belgian publishing house Oogachtend published a 197-page retrospective book with a broad selection of illustrations Tom made during the first 13 years of his professional career. The book reveals some of the subtle style changes that characterize Tom’s work throughout the early years. Click on the book’s cover to view a gallery with sample pages from this book.

In November 2010, Belgian culture & arts channel Canvas (VRT) aired a 50-minute documentary - which was part of the channel’s series “Vormgevers” - featuring Tom Schamp, his work, and the creative process Tom used for his book “Otto in de Sneeuw”. Below is the full feature documentary and a short animated version of half of the book that was specially created for the occasion.

• Where does an idea come from and how does it transform from an idea into a book?
Very often ideas got shaped in my head in the early hours of morning when a certain feeling of ‘guilt’ that I really should start working on something in order to meet the deadline is taking over my thinking...
When working on a book it’s slightly different because it’s more like personal work and it’s more a process of one thing leading to another.
A process of associative thinking while your hands are painting stuff and you must take decisions on how you’re going to show things (colors, shapes, words etc)

• How do you decide what to include and what not to include in the book?
Very often it’s in the confrontation/collaboration with a publisher/editor that it becomes clear what works and what doesn’t. It forces you to show work in progress, to show the vulnerability of ideas that seemed great inside your head, but rather pale on paper and it defines what’s worth fighting for as a creative and what turn out to be lost causes that only matter in your tiny little world.

• What are some of the techniques or processes that you used in creating the artwork for the book? And what is the main characteristic of your art?
I like the balance between the old techniques (mainly painting in my case) and the digital ones because it turns out to be activating other parts in your brain so you can stay more concentrated for longer periods (at least if you switch of the internet while working on the screen)
I think one of my main characteristics is that I start from a concept, but then try very hard to hide it behind lots of details and anecdotic stuff. A bit like real life (if there’s any concept at all)

• How do you find thinking about the book as a whole – the text, illustration, design – in comparison with illustrating someone else’s text?
I’ve been working both on my own ‘texts’ or others’ and it’s more or less the same process to me: just trying to translate your imagination. It very often starts from a color.
Should this be a blue book or rather a pink one. Or all at the same time. Vertical, horizontal or square? How many pages? And once all these things are decided, it’s one page leading to another and then going through it again and again until you have the feeling you can’t add or leave out anything anymore and you would absolutely love to be somewhere else.

• What is the difference between illustration in modern world and past?

In modern times everything is much more available The last days I did some workshops in Spain for illustrators of all ages and almost everyone used google images to check how to draw particular things. That’s a huge progress compared to the older days where you had to visit several libraries to find a monkey in the right position before you could really start working, but I kind of like the idea that I learned it the hard way and that I could continue doing my thing if all technology fails. I feel very much that my brain is not always compatible with the technological evolution. But overall I think this is a great time to be an illustrator: everything is much more oriented to the whole world, there are so many pictures taken all over the place that people seem to be craving for original interpretations of reality, customers appreciate your personal approach and don’t want you to make something that’s not you (generally spoken)

• What is your best piece of advice for young artists who are getting started as creators of children`s books?
My advice: take the work very seriously, but yourself not at all. It’s only drawing, but very often may outlive you in the long run And I very consciously continue doing different types of projects, for children & adults alike, commercial and less commercial, because in my head I don’t make such a clear distinction and things you can’t use in one situation are useful for other commissions (sometimes literally the left overs and thrown away illustrations for one customer can be recuperated and turn out to be masterpieces in a new context)

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