Ellis van der Does’ textural illustrations feature a cast of oddball characters

With commissions from Disney, the BBC and Cambridge University, Ellis van der Does focuses on people and the interactions between her characters

Dutch illustrator Ellis van der Does started on her creative journey when she was just 16 after deciding to enrol in a foundation course at the HKU University of the Arts Utrecht. At the time van der Does was in the Dutch equivalent of sixth form, and as the course was taught on Saturdays she could combine it with her regular studies easily. “I started the course without a plan,” she says. “But I just knew I really enjoyed making things.”

At the time, her understanding of illustration only stretched to cartoons and comics but towards the end of the course she specialised in visual communication, which was taught by one of the illustration tutors. “He showed us the variety of illustration styles and the ways of communicating within the medium,” explains van der Does. “After completing the foundation course I enrolled in the BA Illustration course at the same school.” After a gap year, van der Does came to London in 2015 to study on the MA Graphic Design course at Chelsea College of Art, and had remained there up until recently. She’s now back in Amsterdam working across an array of personal and commercial projects.  

With a diverse client list including Vice, Disney, BBC, Medium, Royal Academy of Dance London and Cambridge University, van der Does describes her style as graphic, colourful and full of texture. Often creating illustrations about people and the way we interact with the world around us, her work lends itself well to editorial commissions.

“Working on editorial briefs is a really fun part of the job for me,” says the illustrator. “Often these projects have a tight deadline and I really like the thrill of coming up with concepts quickly and developing the final work rapidly.” For van der Does, the more open the brief the better as it allows her to reflect a bit more on the topic and come up with more concepts for the art director. “It’s great to have a conversation together about what works best and some suggestions to make it even better before I start on the final artwork.” 

When starting a new project van der Does often writes down words linked to the theme in mind and then scribbles sketches using A4 paper and a fineliner pen. These early notions are often kept in black and white. “When I’ve settled on ideas I use Procreate to do the line drawings and also the colouring later on,” explains van der Does. “Then I move to Photoshop to add textures.” 

The varying patterns and finishes within van der Does’ illustrations provide depth to her 2D works and over the years the illustrator says her scenes have become more complicated, by using gradients and also adding in more animated elements into her practice. 

Though being freelance has provided the illustrator with a number of great opportunities, she says she found it difficult to know what to do, having not had any guidance while at art school. “I think it would have been great to learn more about the business side of a creative practice,” she says. “But most importantly to learn how to price and market your work. These are very essential skills and after graduating it took me a while to get the hang of it.” 

Since the pandemic began, the influx of jobs has been fairly quiet and van der Does has been spending her time doing more self-initiated work and learning more about animation. “Also I started working on a project with a friend before the pandemic, and as it’s a passion project for both of us we can now invest some extra time in it,” says van der Does. “But I’m also reading books, watching films and documentaries, and trying to stay active by doing at-home yoga.”