#005 — Joey Pool

Landscapes, Freelancing and Taking Naps

Interviewed by
#005 Joey Pool

Charlotte Simons

Published on

February 12, 2024

Landscape illustration by Joey Pool. Shepherd's Journey digital artwork. Rocks and sheep in a calm environment with beautiful nature.

Hello Joey, How are you doing? Would you like to introduce yourself to our audience? 

Oh I’m doing great! And of course! So my name is Joey, and I’m freelance Illustrator, background artist and production designer based in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Most of all I love to create immersive and atmospheric worlds.

Taking the viewer with me to either a cosy or otherworldly place. 

How did you get into background painting? You always say you love painting rocks, have you always loved painting rocks? 

I’ve been drawing all my life, but at some point I realised what I enjoyed most of all is creating moods and settings.
Drawing environments (or backgrounds) is the perfect outlet for it.

Using colour and composition, I can communicate the emotional tone of a story, similar to how a music score might do that. 
And painting backgrounds is also a lot of fun. Painting nature especially.
Trying to capture its organic beauty is a fun challenge, but also meditative.

Rocks are a prime example of it. Early on I found them difficult and weird, but lately painting them is the most relaxing thing I can do. I let my intuitive brain take over, and I’ll give colour and shape to them in a sort of flow-state.

It is a great offset to the more focus and attention requiring part of a painting, like houses or storytelling elements.

Landscape illustration by Joey Pool. Shepherd's Journey digital artwork. Rocks and sheep in a calm environment with beautiful nature.

How did you get into freelancing within the creative industry, as a background artist? 

I’m based in the Netherlands, and in this country there are almost no permanent illustrative jobs: everything is freelance.

So the choice was quite easy.

Still, it took me a while to find my footing in the industry, my network in the beginning was non-existent.
I had the luck that a design studio was looking for background artists for a 3 month gig, and they did not have any strong pre-existing contacts.

That first job led to many other opportunities. And from that point onwards everything sort of grew organically. 

What are your tips for starting artists looking to freelance? 

For me there are two avenues from which I generate work. My local network and my online presence. 

Locally I would just advice to socialise and bond with peers. Approach it with the intention of having fun and making friends. And whenever you do get a job, do your very best. When you are reliable, hardworking, communicative and chill, clients tend to return!

And of course, there are good opportunities online nowadays as well.
In that area I would say, be as visible as possible, with the art you love making.

Rough Layout for a freelance client project by Joey Poel. Black and white digital illustration of a science-fiction story.

You and Saverio Wielkens run a studio called Color Bandits.
What was a recent project you’ve worked on that was exciting to you? 

We both worked on an animated short for a friend/director, called “Love on the Edge”, together with a lot of our peers and friends.
Collaborating with a group to deliver a story focussed project always feels amazing!

Currently we are developing several pitches for more animated shorts.
And we are also looking at opportunities to develop 2D illustrative and animation campaigns with regards to branding and advertising.

Black and white digital background illustration by Joey Pool, for short film "Love on the Edge" by director Anselm Oettell and Patty Stenger. The environment is an large city with moonlight.

What do you look for in a great project? / What is your ideal project (dream project)

If I get the opportunity to use my skills as a background artist and illustrator to convey mood and feelings, I’m quite easily sold.
More so if it is fantasy related.

My personal style also has a little bit of a Ghibli inspired vibe. So if you add that to the mix, I would be ecstatic!

A Blauw Films project you’re working on is The Monk and The Dragon.
Could you share a bit about what the process has been like up until now? 

The moment we talked about the idea of The Monk and the Dragon, I got excited.
In the animated short there will be a lot of room for the natural beauty of the environment.

But because it is such a vital part of the film, it is also challenging.
Right now we are in the process of finding the right stylistic voice.

We want the backgrounds to feel alive, but also calm.
We don’t want to fall into stylistic tropes, but still be respectful towards the setting, which is partly based on the Huangshan mountains in China. 

The very early concept art me and Saverio produced (one hour speedpaints) were cool, but definitely not the right look yet.
But that’s great about the process, Leo (the director), has such a strong vision. And he can easily guide us and give feedback. 

Right now we are at a point that we have designs, and a style look, that we are quite happy about.
And I’m excited to keep developing it in 2024. 

Concept art by Joey Pool and Saverio Wielkens for Monk and the Dragon, an 2D animated short film by Blauw Films. The character is a monk wearing simple red robes. The landscape en environment is the calm mountain range Huangshan in China. There is a little bit of fog between the mountain tops.

You first met Leo at THU 2021, and we met the year after. Sometimes we talk about how going to events can be especially tiring for introverts.
Any hacks for us introverts that want to connect and recharge? 

Oh for sure! I love big art related events. It is such an opportunity to meet wonderful people. But yes, it can be really tiring as well, especially for us introverts!

For me having breaks and short alone time helps.

I, for example, love to take 20 minute naps in the afternoon.
It helps my body and brain relax and shut down for a moment.
I always feel refreshed afterwards. 

Also going on walks alone, or taking a long shower, helps. At these events you’re always around people, even in the accommodation.
Just a small pause every now and then helps tremendously in reconnecting with my own energy and vibe.

And that in turn helps with having fun and connecting to other people. 

Landscape and environment illustration by Joey Poel. Fan art for Avatar the Last Airbender, the city of Ba Sing Se. The city is lit by the setting sun.

My closing question: any life-changing life-advice for our audience?
(good book, things to do, things to see, food to eat, artist to watch, hours of sleep to get?)

Ha! Nothing too big. But like I mentioned before, I’m a big fan of short naps.

So if you’re someone that has low energy often, I would advise you to try it out.

In the beginning use an alarm, because if you go longer than 20 minutes it loses all benefits.
But the cool thing is, after a while your body will automatically wake up!

The second thing I would like to mention is to keep on pursuing what you truly love to do.
Sometimes I lose sight of the art I want to make, due to freelance work or other expectations of myself.

But returning to that core, and sharing that work with the world, will ultimately only speed up the journey to doing it more, and doing it more professionally.

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Joey's Work