Vincent Bal literally has been making art out of the shadows. This Belgian visual artist has been revolutionizing the world with his films, books, and his creations. Besides, he is always devoted to contributing to others who need it, and that is inspiring. Most of his art consists of illustrations in which the shadows of ordinary objects serve as the scenario of some of the most original art pieces we can contemplate nowadays.
We talked with this artist about his life, Shadowology, and artistic journey; thus, we cannot thank him enough for his truthfulness, kind words, and the message he wants to share with all of us. So, we invite you to keep reading this exclusive interview that will let us experience art as a source of comfort.
It started with an accident
VT: How did you start with Shadowology, and how was your journey on becoming a shadowologist?
VB: Like a lot of good things in life, it started with an accident. On a spring morning, I was working on a film script when suddenly, I noticed how the shadow of my teacup looked like an elephant. I drew some eyes on the shadow animal, gave it legs, and took a picture.
When I shared the image on social media, my friends all thought it was funny, so I thought: ‘let me try to make a hundred of these shadow images.’ That was more than five years ago, and I haven’t stopped since.
VT: Do you remember your first doodles? Looking backward, what do you think about your first works and the person you were back then?
VB: To be honest, I still like them. I was discovering the whole process. And all the first images were made with the sun as the light source.
The sun gives fantastic-looking, crisp shadows. I love it. But because the sun moves, you must draw really quickly. After five minutes, the shadow has already moved, so there is practically no time to sketch first. Those first designs are a bit simpler, but at the same time, they have a fresh spontaneity.
When summer was over, and more and more clouds started ruining the sunlight, I started looking for artificial light sources, and now I practically always use a little LED lamp.
VT: What was the best advice you received in your beginnings that you always keep in mind?
Probably, the best advice I ever heard comes from a book about writing scripts for animation. It’s from Jeffrey Scott, and he says something like: you have an unlimited supply of great ideas in your head.
For me, that was very empowering to read.
Instead of looking for that one great idea, you can just work on something, and if it does not turn out to be good, start something new. There is no limited number; you can just keep on finding new things forever.
Besides that, some great advice from writer David Mamet; also from a book about screenwriting: Forget all the scriptwriting rules. There’s only one rule: We mustn’t be boring.
Whatever you do, don’t do it in a boring way. That’s the only rule. I think that applies to all art.
VB: I hope to make some more films soon, yes. I am developing two projects now: Silent Night, a neo-noir love story, which is an adaptation of a book by French author Frederic Dard, and Miss Moxy, an animation film about a cat who has to travel all through Europe to find the way back home.
Filmmaking is great because you can use so many elements: images, music, plot, acting, etc. If they all fall in the right place, it’s magical. But these projects always take a long time to develop and to finance. You have to be very patient as a director.
Sea Shadow, the short film that I did with Marlon Nowe, also took quite a while to finish because we mixed live-action and animation. After shooting and editing the live-action part, we had to wait for some extra financing to finish the animation.
Marlon is based in LA, and I’m in Belgium, so we would always talk through Skype or Facetime. Even long before the Corona pandemic. Not the easiest way to communicate, as we all know, but we made it work.
A voyage of discovery
VT: What can you tell us about your latest book, Shadow World, and the way you use it to come close to people and open up about your art?
VB: Shadow World is the second compilation of my works. It contains 144 of my favorite shadow doodles from 2017 up to today. French editor Omake Books published it.
Normally people see my work on a translucent screen, so it’s always a challenge to achieve that same bright feeling when we print on paper, but I think it looks great.
What I like about sharing my works on social media is the direct contact you can have with the people who view your work. There is no barrier in between, so people from all over the world can react and send me messages.
Since the visual language is universal, everyone can understand the images. A lot of people write me to tell me that my work makes them smile, and I love being able to do that.
VT: In collaboration with Make-A-Wish International, you brought the world one of the most inspiring campaigns in the last years. Could you tell us more about it?
VB: That was a wonderful experience. The people from the Via Agency saw my work online and thought that it would be very fitting for a Make-a-Wish campaign. The idea was that the shadow of medical objects that sick children deal with almost every day would form the wish they have. I loved that idea.
They gave me a list of wishes the foundation had received in the last years, and we agreed on certain medical objects I could use.
then harassed some of my doctor friends to lend me some of their equipment and found myself browsing through pharmacy shops a lot to find the right objects. And then, I went to work. It’s very nice when I have a lot of freedom like that, and I can just look at the shadows and see what shapes I recognize.
Working with shadows is like a voyage of discovery for me every time. I never know what will come out. That makes it exciting.
I sent them quite a few propositions. And then, 5 were chosen.
I did the sound editing in my little studio at home. It’s amazing how the right sounds can really breathe life into the drawings.
VT: As we can see, your art has inspired many. But, how does art has inspired you?
VB: Since I was a kid, I have always been drawing. Coming from Belgium, the love for comic strips came easily. Our country is the birthplace of Tintin, Gaston Lagaffe, Spirou, and many other comic strip heroes.
But besides comics, I have always loved paintings too. When we were young, my parents used to take my siblings and me to museums. They asked us to pick our favorite painting in every room. That was a great way to look at art.
Being named Vincent, I guess I always felt close to Van Gogh, even though I’d like to keep both my ears. Even as a kid, I liked his work, with the bright colors and strong brushstrokes. To this day, I love going to a museum. I can get goosebumps by looking at a painting.
When I see something that touches me, it makes me want to draw; it gives me energy.
At the moment, I am reading a book by David Hockney and Martin Gayford called Spring Cannot Be Canceled. And it’s so fascinating to read how they look at art, what details they see in it.
But inspiration comes from all around. Walking around in the city, you can see the craziest things as well. There is one advantage to everyone’s smartphone addiction, and that is that you always have a camera with you to snap a picture when you see something inspiring.
Art as a source of comfort
VT: How do you preserve your mental health?
That’s not always easy. I think of myself as a rather optimistic person, but I can be easily overwhelmed by the world sometimes. Stress is not something I respond well to, so I try to keep my life as pleasant as possible, and I try to avoid activities and places that do not bring me energy.
I think it helps to know that life is not easy for anyone. And I think art can be a great source of comfort that way. In good works of art, you can recognize the so-called humane condition and see that we’re all just improvising our way through this thing called life.
VT: Which message would you like to share with those young people who might want to use art to express themselves?
Enjoy yourself. Do things that you like. Sometimes the things that come easy to you don’t come easy for everyone, so explore that. And try out different things, experiment, fail, then try again. The worst thing you can do is take it all too seriously.
There is an unlimited number of ideas in your head, so keep going.
Another piece of advice would be to be a cultural omnivore. To see all films you can, from all genres and ages, read a lot of books, magazines. Travel, walk around; inspiration comes from everywhere.
VT: Anything else you would like to share with Vanity Teen?
In the Hockney book I am reading now, he says something interesting: “success is a by-product, not a goal.” You should not make something only aiming to be successful. If you focus on the work itself, if you enjoy the making, that in itself is the biggest reward. That is success.
If other people can enjoy it, it’s a nice by-product, but not the main goal.
In this society where everything is measured by sales, likes, and stars, it’s good to remember that.
Before we go
With Shawodology, Vincent Bal has been inspiring lots of people all over the world. But most importantly, the original shadowologist has been sharing a message of liberation and wellness through art that we love and are happy to bring to all of you in this opportunity.
Therefore, just like him, let us transform doing what we love into a journey of self-discovery in which we reveal the best of us and the beauties of the world. Let us not stay in the shadows.