Artist Talks: Vanessa Vanderhaven

An interview with a beauty, fashion, pencil, and graphic illustrator

Creativity 5 min read Sep 25, 2019

Vanessa Vanderhaven is an award-winning, self-taught illustrator and designer based in Melbourne. We love her unique style: monochrome illustrations with a pop of colour adding a fun feel to the otherwise serious black and white.

For Vanessa, the discovery of her passion for illustration and design didn’t magically surface on its own. She started out as a fashion student wanting to become nothing else but a fashion designer, until life steered her into another direction, and she hasn’t looked back since. Vanessa recently put up her first Portrait Illustration Masterclass, wherein aspiring artists, illustrators, and early professionals can come in to learn about portrait drawing in a realistic fashion. The course is jam-packed, with an intense four weeks of lessons, demonstrations, as well as industry tips and secrets.

We’re excited to share her reflections on becoming a full-time artist and art instructor, and absolutely appreciate the wisdom she shares below. Don’t miss her brilliant tip on how to stay creatively inspired. (Hint: You don’t need an app for it!)

Can you tell us about your path to becoming an illustrator and graphic designer?

Creativity has been in my blood since the very beginning. My mum was a couturier, so my upbringing was always around fabric, trimmings, buttons, the sound of sewing machines, and clients twirling in new dresses. My dad is a hobbyist too, and was always on computers. He taught me the basics of Photoshop when I was around 14 and that got me into graphic design (and teaching myself everything else).

I guess my idea of ‘work’ was quite a free spirited and magical one. It followed me all through school where I started my first business, selling screen-printed shirts at 16. I had this yearning to make awesome looking things to sell, and whilst fashion didn’t quite turn out to be my thing, through fashion school, I discovered illustration - which was a great compliment to my growing love for design. Fast forward a few years and it is still the biggest passion of my life. I love to create beautiful, high-quality, and emotive work.

What has been your greatest struggle in this career path so far?

Can I only pick one? Haha.

Probably putting in hard work to grow someone else’s business. I think I’m an entrepreneur at heart. There were a million things I learnt whilst working full time and contributing to other successful businesses, which I fully appreciate, but I want everything I create to be fully in line with my morals and beliefs.

I want the message I send out to the world to be true to me and delivered in a very specific way, which is why freelancing works so well for me. It’s the best way for me to visually communicate through businesses that are aligned with what I believe.

What is your favourite thing about working as an artist?

Oh my, where do I begin? So many great things. I love the flexibility and choice. For example, I love waking up whenever I want and not being tied to a certain timeline. Some days I wake up at 7am, do yoga for an hour, get started at 8:15am and work till 7pm.

Some days I wake up late, start my day at 10am and finish up at 3pm. I can take a day off whenever I want (which is rare… but I love not having to ask for permission) and I can have a 2-hour lunch, if I’m feeling sluggish. I can play music all day, wear whatever I feel like, talk to myself (which is often) and do Instagram stories without feeling like people are judging me haha. It’s just fantastic. I’m born for this!

Do you have any tips for being creatively inspired?

Yes - get offline! You will find an abundance of inspiration in your everyday life that will trump the monotony of your Instagram feed. It’s so important to get off the ‘trending train’ and look elsewhere.

Self-discovery is honey to the creative soul, so appreciating all the little great moments that life gifts you every day is going to open your mind and allow ideas to flow.

To what 3 things do you attribute your success?

One: Blind confidence and absolute belief in yourself. Two: Hustling and asking for help (and allow people to help you!), and Three: Gratitude; reminding myself each day of the positive stuff, which gives me drive for the following day.

Can you tell us a bit about your decision to start the art classes?

I love the idea that I can help people realise their full potential, and I love how excited people get when they learn something new and feel great about the work they are creating. I just want to make people happy and the best way I know how is by sharing what makes me happy too - art!

What is the one thing you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?

You can do it. Yes it’s hard, but hard doesn’t mean not fun! You can have a really great time doing something difficult - never shy away from a challenge.

Anything else that you’d like to share?

Above all, I think creativity is about adding enrichment to your life. If my illustration work and teachings make a difference to at least one person, then that’s my job done.

Learn portrait illustration from an industry expert!

Portrait Illustration Masterclasses

Realistic drawing course for all skill levels