Melcher Oosterman creates intricate and colorful illustrations without even planning them
A self-confessed late bloomer in reading and writing, Melcher was first drawn to illustrations as a child because they offered him another way to express himself and communicate. It’s an approach that has clearly paid off as now, as an adult, he’s an in-demand artist who has worked for Vice, De Correspondent, Illustratie Biennale and many more.
In his youth, Franco-Belgian comics gave Melcher an indication of how he could turn his artistic fascination into a career. Although the idea of creating comics with characters and stories seemed like too daunting a commitment, he soon realized that unique images like editorial illustrations would give him the ability to tell an entire story.
“As I got older I became obsessed with drawing, and after seeing editorial illustrations in De Volkskrant (a major Dutch newspaper) it all made sense to me. This is how you make a living drawing” , Melcher told Creative Boom. “The images there communicated everything you needed to know on one page.”
He adds that from there, “I researched illustrators around the world and started collecting their zines and prints to learn as much as I could. The world of illustration opened up to me. and I understood the endless possibilities. With drawing as a foundation, everything is possible: animation, ceramics, Riso printing, screen printing, murals and much more.
“At the moment I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface and knowing how much I still don’t know about illustration really excites me for the future.”
From this wealth of inspiration and talent, a few chosen names rise to the top of Melcher’s influences. In particular: Tove Jansson. “His ability to create such delicate and whimsical worlds with an endless cast of charming characters is insane,” says Melcher. “I’ve never watched the Moomins much, but lately I’ve been watching his work a lot. I find a sense of comfort and calm in his work.”
A big part of the fun of creating is seeing things appear on paper as if I had no control over them.
Kiyoshi Awazu is another great inspiration whom Melcher considers an “absolute mastermind” when it comes to color and creativity. Drawing on folk themes and historical printing methods, Kiyoshi’s work encompasses graphic design, and it’s easy to see between his work and that of Melcher.
Another great influence on Melcher is Seymour Chwast’s absurd humor, particularly the way he pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable in mainstream illustrations and graphic art. “He’s also been doing illustrations for over six decades now, and I really hope to stay in the illustration game as long as he has.”
Beyond the art world, Melcher has recently begun to draw a lot of inspiration from nature, the world and the people around him. “My girlfriend is from North Devon, and every time we visit her family I am truly amazed by the scenery. It feels like something out of a Studio Ghibli movie, especially when she leads me on these back roads through dreamy hills.”
These influences were distilled by Melcher to create an art style he describes as “an eclectic mix of colourful, vibrant and detailed worlds inhabited by humorous and sometimes tragic characters”. These characters are the basis of Melcher’s work, although lately he’s been keen to explore world-building and create unique universes within the various projects he’s working on.
“I paid more attention to the landscape around me,” says Melcher. “I cycle almost every day and watch the environment change. I live in Rotterdam, a fairly large city that was destroyed in World War II. Most of the classic Dutch architectural details have disappeared and the city has been rebuilt in a wild mix of modern architecture and high rise buildings.
“There are so many strange objects and architectural experiments. Thanks to excellent cycling infrastructure and public transport, I have many opportunities to observe my immediate surroundings. The people and animals I observe are so fascinating that I can’t help but draw them.”
If you are familiar with Melcher’s work, you will notice that tragic and humorous characters are a staple of his portfolio. Although it’s something he admits he may soon be moving away from, in part because he’s not focused as much on producing self-portraits that often had a darker outlook.
“I was doing self-portraits with a lot of humor to get out of those moods, and I think that’s how I started to see that element of tragicomedy in other people too,” he reveals. . “It’s important to take your work seriously, but you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously. Also, it’s much more interesting to draw characters with emotional depth rather than characters that are always happy or always sad. Opposites can coexist.” -exist and do interesting work.”
All the mistakes and little accidents that come from not drawing really add to my work.
In addition to being loaded with humor and charm, Melcher’s illustrations are explosively colorful. Yet he always seems to know how to balance his palette for maximum impact. How is it? “It’s like a puzzle for me,” he says. “If I’m working in color digitally, I start with any color that matches the mood and slowly build around that color until it gets too chaotic, and I might have to drop a few -ones.
“In the piece, I try to avoid elements of the same color touching each other, which really makes work a big puzzle where I have to put all the right elements together. If the coloring is done by analogy, the process is easier. I’ve already drawn the whole line art, so I can’t stop working on the part just because I missed a color. Basically, I just have to make it work.
And while this use of color seems carefully thought out, Melcher doesn’t weigh down her work by meticulously examining how all the elements work together, which is impressive because her illustrations can be a complex web of details and characters all interacting with a. another.
“I avoid planning as much as possible,” he admits. “A big part of the fun of creating is seeing things appear on paper as if I had no control over them.
“Before, I was a big perfectionist. I could spend so much time planning and sketching a design before I even started the creative process. These days, I feel like all the mistakes and small accidents that come from not drawing really add up to naïve compositions and awkward poses, but these imperfections give a personal, human touch to my illustrations.
“It’s also why I work with both analog and digital media – the limitations of pen and paper push me to find creative solutions, and the digital aspect brings a layer of depth afterwards. A wobbly or blotchy line and the texture of a Our brush pen is something you cannot imitate and is therefore much more interesting to me than a perfect, anatomically correct illustration with straight lines.”
Melcher’s illustrations are stunning, dynamic, and seem to burst off the page. It’s an apt reflection of how his mind works, as he’s constantly spinning new ideas in his head. The only downside to this prolific prospect is that he can’t find the time to work on everything he wants. But for those struggling with creative block, how does Melcher keep his imagination refreshed and engaged?
“Always keeping an open mind and trying to stay on top of everything visual,” he reveals. “I have trained my eyes to look at anything without judging its quality or comparing it to previous things I see. You can take inspiration from anything, but you have to actively seek it out. There is beauty everywhere as long as you are curious and almost look at the world with the naivety of a child.
“By actively looking at the world with a sense of wonder and respecting your subjects, inspiration is abundant. I avoid looking too much at other illustrators to prevent my work from following trends.”