“I behave like a designer, not a painter”

Turkish Children’s book illustrator, Caner Soylu on his creative journey.

Listen to the episode via a podcast or on Youtube.

Would you define yourself as a painter or a designer? Well, Caner Soylu describes himself as the latter! For this weeks episode, I sat down with the Turkish Children’s book illustrator based in Poland who shares his journey thus far. We talk about the ups and downs of illustration, and discuss in-depth about art education, theory and practice what it means to be a painter vs designer. For people who are interested in traversing this route, I think you will benefit so please enjoy this episode with Caner Soylu.

Please introduce yourself

My name is Caner (pronounced Ja-ner) Soylu. I’m a Turkish illustrator living in Poland for the last four years. I’m a professionally trained children’s book illustrator. I studied fine arts, so I’m actually an art teacher but I had a speech problem when I was young so working as a teacher wasn’t possible with this condition. So even at university, I decided to find another profession.

I wanted to interview you because you have a very natural and confident style that also appeals to children. I know a lot of artists I’ve interviewed want to do children’s books! Could you tell us more about your art journey to get to where you are now?

Initially, I drew portraits and caricatures at the beach in Turkey, and that helped me to study about 20–30 different faces every day! So that probably helped me in designing characters.

I got some freelance job offers for children’s book and so I started doing that and I decided that would be my job as I could work at home and freelance. I didn’t have to socialise haha, or work in a team. I had experiences with teams but because of my communication issues, it didn’t work out so well. So I returned to work at home alone.

Now I work for a personalised children’s book publisher in Poland full time.

What’s the start to finish process for making a childrens book?

It depends on the story and the author. Sometimes I work for different types of publishing — traditional vs self, which are completely different. Self-publishers have specific expectations and working with them might be more complicated. Traditional publishing is more regulated.

But in general, I read the story of course. If the authors have some guide to illustrations, or scenes, or characters, I start from there. If they leave everything to me, then I choose some scenes I want to illustrate, make a list and start designing the concept — like visual development. What elements do I need — environment, characters, assets. I start to design all of these elements. When the author and I make the decision and it’s fine, then I draw the storyboards. When this is confirmed and agreed upon, then I start sketching and cleaning up the storyboards. I send these versions over. If they’re satisfied, then I start painting and adding details.

There are also a lot of revisions of course! Some traditional publishers understand me so they’re much more understanding! But self-publishers, especially if it’s their first book, they might expect 10s of hundreds of revisions.

Do you do traditional art? How does this help you?

Yes, I studied fine arts in school and university. I did oil painting, sketching, watercolour, gouache, pastels — many different kinds of techniques!

I would like to use traditional mediums in my professional works but in this industry you have to be so fast, and because of so many revisions, I have to use digital.

If I have free time, I would love to use traditional mediums.

Emotion plays a big role in your work — every piece I look at conveys a story and a message. How would you give advice to other artists to improve on the storytelling aspect?

It’s so subjective but in my opinion, read and watch a lot. Meet and talk to different types of people. Be around people of different cultures. That’s all I can say.

How do you come up with the stories behind your character?

I started to read emotions and the characters behind human faces.

There are stereotypes for good and bad characters. If there’s a bad character, for me it’s not difficult to find a face and body for this character because I’ve sketched so much. So it’s all about practice and psychology.

What do you think of social media as an artist? Does it play a big role for you?

Social media is good for self promotion. It’s a big chance for artists, not just commercially but even just to express ourselves personally, like our emotions and interests. It’s a big chance in these times.

When I talked to my Masters (teachers) at university, everything was more difficult for them in the beginning of their artistic career. Even if you’re talented, there was no place to show off their talent. But with social media, it’s possible and everything’s free.

Lot’s of my clients are from social media and portfolio websites like Behance. My current employer and I have been working together for four to five years. He found me through social media.

You also have a sketching account that is different from your main account — why is this? What does this account allow you to do?

I created that account two years ago to share my sketches separately, but managing two different accounts is so difficult that I couldn’t continue.

What are the benefits of sketching for you?

I behave like a designer actually, not a painter. I define myself as a designer. Firstly I focus on sketching what I want to paint.

What’s the difference between a designer and a painter?

I do not do painting — in my discipline, painting and design work are completely different. Painting is especially like impressionistic, from nature, you don’t have time to sketch. You need to be quick, finding the correct colours and adding on the surface.

But in design work, you need to find the best — that’s why you need to try again and again. Then you need to show your client, or teacher and take feedback and proceed. If you finalise without sketching, you lose a lot of time because you have to go back and do it again.

Are all artists designers?

I don’t think all artists are designers — but I think it’s so subjective. Everyone has their own opinion — but for me, not every artist has to be a designer.

Design works for industry. Art and painting is more artistic. Industry and art is more different.

So design is done with a purpose? But art may not be done with a purpose?

Yes, exactly.

What advice would you give to younger artists?

Work hard and follow trends. Learn theory, like colour theory. Children’s books are related to pedagogy and I’m lucky I studied art education at university and learned a lot about this subject.

That’s why theory is very important, in every industry, as well as building practice.

If you want to be an artist, you can paint whatever you want, you don’t really have to learn anything. But to work in any industry, then you have to learn about the theory.

Where would you like to move in your career in the future?

It’s so difficult to predict what happens in the future. I want to try to fix my issues with my work and mindset, and just let it flow. I can’t make any plans, I just want to work hard and do my best.

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The artists range from a variety of backgrounds and styles. We’ll understand more about how they create their work, and what their work means to them. You will get exclusive insight into the mysterious workings of a digital artist.

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Design. Draw. Do.

Design. Draw. Do.

Hi! I’m Noor I make videos and write daily about art, productivity and creativity (the sketching, painting kind). https://youtube.com/c/DesignDrawDo

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