Interview: Willie Delport - Drawing From Observation
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Interview: Willie Delport

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Interview: Brent Black (Swart)
Interview: Brent Black (Swart)

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Getting to Know Willie Delport

1. Tell DFO a little bit more about yourself

It was never really a conscious decision for me to draw, at least not when I was young.

I can remember in Crèche I drew a picture and the teachers raved about the drawing. I guess it was just something I used to enjoy and something that was of interest to me.

My parents and everyone else always used to tell me how well I draw, and still do. When I was in High School, my parents sent me to art classes with an old lady in town, but according to her, I had a natural gift and she couldn't really teach me much, so I was only there for a few classes. Other than that, I never did any formal art classes.

When it came to choosing a High School, my parents didn't give me a choice and so they sent me to a Technical High School so that I could become an Artisan and not an Artist.

I would have loved to have gone to a Vocational High School at that point so I could have taken Art as a subject, but my parents had other plans for me because you can't make a living from Art.

As I went through High School, I continued drawing and developing my drawing skills.

I enjoy drawing cartoons and I love comics, so I always used to look at the different ways the artists used to draw the hands or faces, etc... of their characters and I would then go and try replicate the different styles & methods they used.

I would experiment with different ideas and different techniques and this is basically how I taught myself throughout the years.

After High School I got to choose my direction of study....and to no surprise, I chose Fine Art studies....however, this dream never became a reality. My head got the better of my heart and I ended up studying Graphic Design because I convinced myself that there would be more opportunities.

I finished my three years of studies for my Diploma but never obtained the qualification because I took some bad advice and never finished my Art History. I did however obtain Best Graphic Design Student for both my second and third year.

During my studies I met my wife (I was in 2nd year & she was one of the 1st year graphic design students). She didn't complete her studies and so she started working on the gold mines in our area. After my studies I worked for a guy in Klerksdorp who owned a company called Ad-Rol. My job was to create adverts which were then printed onto the back of till slip roles.

After about a year he got into a partnership, which quickly went south and his company was liquidated. At that point jobs became available on the mine where my wife worked, so as I was in need of a job, I applied for an apprenticeship. I completed my apprenticeship, worked as an artisan & eventually became a technical Training Officer for my trade.

I had the opportunity to move over to the technical drawing department, which I enjoyed, but due to unforeseen circumstances I have returned to being a Training Officer. My drawing and art became an elusive dream. The past year and a half, I decided that I need to focus on my art again because ultimately that's where my heart is.

2. From an art perspective: What are your biggest weaknesses?

My biggest weakness is probably related to my style of drawing.

Ironically, the more I focus on zooming in on detail, the more focus I loose on the bigger picture. I get so consumed with the smallest details. This presents me with a couple of challenges and the biggest one of these challenges is that I don't always finish some of my artworks. I have a tendency to spend an immense amount of time and energy focusing on one area, but energy is finite.

This results in me then losing so much energy that either I lose interest in that project or the other areas don't have the same amount of detail as the starting point and to me the piece will seem incomplete. This impacts on the overall look of the artwork and depending on who is viewing it, it may be noticeable to some people, especially those near to me who are very familiar with my work. I have had a couple of comments like...

I remember you started that piece, are you going to finish it?"
Why is it taking you so long to finish this piece?"
I can see from this part of your drawing you must have gotten a bit tired of it"

The other challenge with becoming so lost in the detail and losing focus on the bigger picture, is that the light source can be affected, so sometimes shadows and highlights are not 100% as they should be. Depending on who is viewing the piece, these errors can go unnoticed, but every now and again a more experienced artist will make a comment about an awkward shadow or two.

Hopefully I will get there someday. I am continuously trying to work on this area of development and I have watched countless YouTube videos trying to get as much advice and guidance as possible. What makes it difficult, is that 90% of the time people just say how pretty or good the drawing is and when I ask for constructive criticism, they just say it looks cool and there is nothing wrong.

According to my wife, I am sometimes overly critical of myself & my work and therefore, don't fully appreciate what I've created because I can't step back and see my work as others see it.

3. Be bold – tell us: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

I would love to be a Freelance Artist, with my works ranging from creating small office doodles, to extensive concept art for gaming companies, to cute little watercolor creatures for children books and being commissioned for art works. I think it's important to have diversity and pursue all the areas that interest you.

4. Out of thousands of artists in SA, why should people appreciate your art?

People who know me describe my drawings as "unique", "layered", "not monotonous", "creative", etc... My wife says that I put a lot of myself into my drawings and her "proof" (according to her) is that she fell in love with my art before she had even met me or knew who I art stole her heart. Although earlier I had mentioned my obsession for detail as a weakness, I think that it is also in many ways what makes my work mine.

Ultimately, art is very subjective and trying to create art that appeals to everyone's taste and preference is extremely difficult, but I will always give it my best effort.

5. Why do you want to be an Artist?

I have always wanted to be an artist and in all honesty, it just seems to be an inherent part of who I am as a person. I enjoying creating something that evokes emotions and reactions in people, be it joy, amazement, humor, fun or lets the imagination run wild.

I have for many years envied people around me that had the guts to pursue their passion, but I think with age a person gets to the point where you realise that you can't just try and ignore that passion or allow situations and / or life to hold you back.

My biggest struggle was and will always be fear, fear of failure and fear of not being able to provide for my family through my art instead of the "steady job" route. I think I have always been an artist in the sense of developing my own skill and having an interest that has never dissipated over the years but has instead grown.

6. Tell us about the last time a client, family or friend questioned your art or creativity. Elaborate on what happened.

As I have mentioned before, genuine feedback is not something you might always get a lot of and/or on a regular basis. It is important to remember that there is a big difference between positive and negative criticism. Positive criticism identifies areas of development, but negative criticism only ever breaks one down.

Sometimes, even if you specifically ask for feedback or honest, positive criticism you may still struggle to get any proper feedback at all. If the feedback I receive is unconstructive and only negative criticism, I can become quite depressed about it.

I would then sometimes simply not draw for extensive periods of time, but this only lasts until the need to create overwhelms me and I feel motivated again. I will however, keep all criticism in the back of my mind and always try to either work on those areas of development, or if it is criticism that is negative and unconstructive, I will eventually discard it.

7. When working on art "describe your definition of done."

My biggest weakness describes my personal definition of done…I am never done. If I have to give a more "traditional" answer, then an individual would probably deem their work as done, once their finished work reflects exactly what they envisioned in their mind or expressed the emotions that they were trying to convey

8. When creating, what kind of work environment do you like best?

I am by nature an Introvert, so I prefer and enjoy having as much time by myself as possible and for as long as possible. As I am a full-time employee, I usually only get time to draw in the evenings and over the weekends.

I have a little corner, or small room if you like, in the house which we as a family refer to as my Study. I enjoy playing music while I draw and I prefer drawing in the late hours of the night and through to the early hours of the morning when everyone is fast asleep, especially the cats who seem to think that they are assisting by sitting on my work while I am busy with it.

9. Define your creative/drawing style?

I absolutely love Fantasy Art, from dragons and warriors to angels and demons. Some of my all-time favorite artists are Salvador Dali, Michelangelo, René Magritte, Auguste Rodin, Norman Rockwell and the list goes on. If I must choose only one, it will have to be Boris Vallejo.

I rarely create art for myself, I mostly create art for someone or for art competitions. This means that I am usually limited to what I am able to draw, but on the other hand it provides me with the opportunity to use many different styles.

When I do create art for myself, I usually don't get further than creating many sketches with lots of ideas on them.

I would define my style as somewhere between semi-realistic to borderline cartoonish with a little bit of detail in between. My works have ranged from drawing (various mediums), painting & even murals. One of my favorite murals, was done for friends of ours, who wanted a mural on their Dining Room's wall. I ended up doing Carravaggio's "Bacchus".

10. What can we expect from you in the near future?

I want to focus on creating more artworks, but what they will be exactly is yet to be seen. If possible, these works will be more of what I want to do instead of what others want or the strict guidelines & criteria of competitions, etc…

11. What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Being an Artist is tough. I am now almost 40 years old and I am still striving to get to the point where I feel confident enough in myself to believe that I can make a living out of drawing and art, even though other people feel that I can. The realities can be harsh and it's important to be aware of this; however, you still need to believe in yourself & your work.

There will always be someone better, but this should become the driving force for you to continue striving to do your best, not be a source of discouragement. Don't try and be someone else. Create art because you love doing it. Just like any career, no matter how good you are at it, if your heart isn't in it, it will show. In the same breath, if it is your passion, don't give it up to keep others happy, because you will be the one who will have to live with the regret & consequences, not them.

There is also unfortunately, some artists who tend to be jealous, and therefore some of them become quite nasty towards other artists. This is absolutely wrong. As artists we should encourage each other, build each other up, help others where we have learnt from our own mistakes.

You must however, also be able to take positive, constructive criticism, it helps us grow and develop, it doesn't matter if you are a beginner or a celebrated, well known artist, there is always room to grow. Art is subjective and objective and just because something may not be to your taste (which is fine), it doesn't mean that it is of less value or that it doesn't have a well-deserved place in the world.

There is a very sad trend at the moment where traditional medium is becoming overshadowed, as the digital era is taking over. Artists are creating art in a fraction of the time that it takes traditional artists & have tools that make many of the more difficult aspects of Traditional art, a lot easier.

You can pick up prints for next to nothing. Don't get me wrong, there is absolutely a place for digital art and the possibilities are very exciting. We just need to ensure that we continue to see the value of traditional art. There are many times that using traditional art as the base for a digital creation, just lends that something extra special to a work.

I'll say it again, for those out there who want to live the dream, I will always say go for it. As I mentioned in the introduction, my parents never sent me to an art school and if I look back today, I am grateful for the choice they made. I had the opportunity to develop my own style and preference and there was never anyone to try and limit me to only their style and taste of drawing, I was free to explore.

Today young artists have an endless supply of reference material and online tutorials to help them develop their drawing skills. Practice, practice & practice some more, no matter how naturally talented you are. After my wife left graphic design, she stopped drawing and painting, so she will be the first one to tell you that "If you don't use it, you'll lose it".

She does however, feel like she is very accomplished at drawing pregnant stick figures. The perfect artist doesn't exist and imperfections should also be celebrated because sometimes the imperfections can lend something special to a piece. After all, art is supposed to be an expression of ourselves.