The Professor of Shadowology

vincent bal 2It began with a spontaneous teacup doodle, and has steadily grown into printed postcards, calendars, two excellent books (Shadowology and Shadow World), and a dedicated Instagram following! Today, we’re delighted to chat with Belgian artist Vincent Bal, who has an extraordinarily playful and unique eye for life, light, objects, and shadows.

When did your relationship with shadows first begin?

It started by accident in the spring of 2016. I was working at my desk and noticed how the shadow of a teacup looked quite like an elephant. So, I completed the image by drawing some legs and ayes and took a picture. When I shared it on social media, people reacted very enthusiastic.I thought it was funny too, so I decided to try and make 100 of these ‘shadow doodles’, I have not stopped since.

How have your interactions with light, shadow and objects changed over the past five years?

In the beginning I was happy with every image I could extract from the shadows. I was constantly looking through the drawers in the house to find new objects to work with. At this point I think I have exhausted the supplies in my own house. I must have tried everything. Also, I set the bar higher. I don’t want to repeat myself, so sometimes it takes me longer to come up with something new.

Also, I have developed little videos a bit more. It can be satisfying to see the image created before your eyes and it is fun to add an extra layer with sound effects and music.

Is there an unusual story or connection behind one particular drawing?

They are all special to me. But I remember the first time I discovered I could use the shadow as a setting for a scene. So not really use the outer shape of the shadow, but rather the nuances in the grey inside. I was sitting on a terrace of a house we rented in Italy. Every morning around seven the sun would shine on that specific place and give beautiful long shadows.

So I went there and starting experimenting with some of the glasses from the cupboard of the rental house. And suddenly I saw a beach. I just added two small silhouettes and some seagulls, and it came to life. The image was called ‘Love On Shadow Beach’. That was a wonderful discovery, and I have made a few beach scenes since then.

Many of your illustrations use natural light. But others appear to use artificial light as well. Do you also have a set of particular lamps and lights you use…similar to a painter using different types of brushes?

The Sun is definitely the best light source, she gives wonderfully crisp shadows. So in the first months I always drew with sunlight. But that has a few disadvantages as well. The sun moves, and so you must draw quick, because the shadows really change in the course of one minute. That way I could never do drawings that were a bit more elaborate.
And I live in Belgium, we don’t have a lot of sunshine here. I should have invented some way to draw with rain!

So I started working with lights, and it was quite a search to come up with the perfect light source. It had to be a very small source, so the shadows are sharp. The bigger the light source, the less focused the shadows are.

In the beginning I used a clear light bulb, but they get very hot, and I once almost burnt some cushions that way. Now I have a little LED light standing on a flexible arm and that works well. But whenever the sun shines into my office, I feel the urge to see what I can do with that light.

Is there one object you have that you can’t quite capture the shadow/concept of yet?

Maybe in the future I would like to make something bigger, but the logistics scare me a little.There is practically no planning in my work now. I discover and create at the same time, and with bigger objects and shadows that might be more difficult, but who knows?


Images courtesy of Vincent Bal

Studio Snapshots: Jarrett & Jerome Pumphrey

Today we’re visiting the studio of Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey, talented brothers with amazing combined backgrounds of creative direction, entrepreneurship, graphic design, technical writing, illustration, and fatherhood. Their delightful picture book, The Old Truck, utilized a colorful stamping technique – you can read more about it, as well as try it yourself, on their website! Based in Texas, the two are hard at work on their second picture book The Old Boat, which will be released next month.


Photo 1: We each have our own studios. This is Jarrett’s and serves as the space we use to collaborate. At the center of the space is a giant, sturdy workbench. It’s perfect for all the printmaking activities we get up to. We’re right in the middle of making a bunch of prints for preorders of our new book THE OLD BOAT.

Photo 2: We keep our flat file storage under the bench. We use some of the drawers for storing supplies, but mainly, they store all the stamps and prints we make for every project we do.

Photo 3: This is Whiskey. She’s our studio assistant. Her primary duty is to lie down right in the way so we’re constantly almost tripping as we move around the space. She keeps us on our toes.

Photo 4: We like to be surrounded by the work of creators we admire, so on one wall Jarrett has a collection of original art from illustrator friends and favorites.

Photo 5: And then on the opposing wall, he has a library of books.


Images courtesy of Jarrett & Jerome Pumphrey

One Two Books

It’s a story line, an illustration exercise, and an optical illusion all wrapped into one simple project! “One Two Books” is an activity I like to do with kids during illustration and art programs. It’s quick, easy, and fun!

You’ll need:

  • 1 piece of paper
  • Markers and/or pens

To begin, fold a piece of paper in half like a card (I use the heavier stock 9″ x 6″ paper from the inexpensive sketch books Target sells in their office supply section). Label the front of the card with a number 1:

Then open the card and, in the exact same position in the interior, label it with a number 2:

Now decide the story you want to tell. One Two Books only have 2 pages, so I encourage kids to think about a simple action, reaction, or scenario. The younger the artist, the simpler it should be. So here we have a sleeping dog and a grumpy bird on a window sill…hmmm…

Flip open the card for the action…a shouting bird and a shocked, no longer sleeping dog!

One Two Books are a great way to think sequentially, but they are also a terrific way to teach you to think logically and visually. For example, in order for the image to work, the window, rug, and floor line need to occur in the same place on both pages. If color is used, it needs to be consistent between pages. Your characters need to be in somewhat similar orientations or the story won’t make sense. And for the older kids, I show how dialogue or emotive lines adds to the scene (example: the “zzzzz” for the dog on page 1, and its surprised reaction lines on page 2).

The books are also optical illusions! Flip them quickly open and shut to see your characters in motion. Here’s the bird dog story:


And here’s a goldfish story I did with another young illustrator…


The visual action of One Two Books are similar to thaumatropes, which are fantastic optical toys from the Victorian era. Check out this post, which features our awesome Alice in Wonderland thaumatrope project, complete with instructions and printable templates!

thaumatrope demo

Unlike thaumatropes, however, One Two Books allow you more space to create. You can have several action sequences happening on the page at once, for example. Or more elaborate backgrounds. You can have dialogue between two characters as well.

Another interesting storytelling form to try is kamishibai, which originated in Japan. You can find more information about its history and instructions on how to illustrate stories here.

just the cards

There’s also a Japanese version of thaumatropes called tachi-e puppets. You’ll find instructions for those here!