Artist Interview: Erwin Kho

Buck Off is tipping its hat at another creative individual in this little place we call Earth. Editor-in-Chief S. McClory had the pleasure to Q&A Netherlands’ own artist, Erwin Kho, whose talent in the realm of illustration and graphic design inspires as it is skillful.

meiboom1000x1000Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into graphic designing/illustrating. Did you receive formal training? What was your first ever piece?


I studied visual communication at the AKI School of Fine Arts in Enschede, The Netherlands, which was primarily focussed on graphic/web/motion design. During my final year I interned at a graphic design studio in Amsterdam where I started working right after graduating. I learned a lot there about dealing with big corporate clients and communicating with their marketing people. But after 5 years of that kind of work (in Amsterdam and in The Hague) I decided it wasn’t quite the career path I wanted to take so I quit and started doing freelance design work.

Making illustrations came up a bit after that, after a friend (& fellow illustrator) saw my personal work and suggested I should do commissions with it. I think my first big illustration piece was ‘Bad Sun’, which I started doing while still figuring out more about low-poly modeling.

rootsdetail04Q: Take us through the process from idea to final piece—what exactly is involved and creating a set of designs that you have so wonderfully done already?

A: For the process I start with pen sketches and reference images. It’s still easier to quickly draw out compositions and shapes on paper, rather than to start building shapes in 3D. These sketches are used as a guide for the images, but are in no means definite. Sometimes during modeling some idea doesn’t work out as well, or a happy accident might steer the work in a different direction. Over the years I have gotten faster and more comfortable with modeling so my sketches now are much more bare-bone than they were some years ago.

During modeling I will assign some grey scale color values to parts of the models, to block out certain materials or parts. The actual coloring will happen quite late in the process when the final setup is almost done and I get a better view of the full picture. Minor color balancing is done in Photoshop and sometimes Illustrator is used for 2D vector elements.


Q: What are the benefits and struggles of being a graphic designer? Mistakes learned etc.

A: I guess the most obvious benefit of having a freelance career is being able to set your own schedule. Not that I sleep in though! Businesses of course still have their set times for when they are available so I make sure I’m available at those times. But I’ve found it very liberating to be able to switch between commissioned and personal work while waiting for feedback, for example. That’s not something you could do easily when working at a studio (although some studios do allow this). The down-side is that you don’t have a steady income, so you’ll always need to be on the look out for new jobs.

Q: Do you use any specific software with your designs or multiple?

A: All the modeling is done in Cinema4D, and some post-production in Photoshop and Illustrator.

mermaidsmall1000x1000Q: What type of design ideas/projects interests you the most?

A: A lot of my personal work is heavily inspired by artificial biomes, like aquariums, or those dioramas of animals in their environments you can see in museums and zoos. I also played with LEGO a lot as a kid, so the idea of building miniature worlds really stuck with me. I’ve found it informs a lot of my visual language.

Q: Being creative can be a fulfilling career though sometimes difficult, do you give yourself a strict deadline for your projects or go with the creative flow?

A: For any commissioned pieces I need to stick to a strict deadline set by the clients of course. But for personal pieces I also do like to keep track of how the development goes and try to have some deadline. It’s not always very fixed, but at least it will prevent me from never ending iterations on a piece. And with game development -as I’ve recently found out- small adjustments to ideas, adding new ideas, or simply getting mechanics to work properly, can take much more time than you anticipated, so in those cases timelines are definitely very much subject to change.


Q: How do you handle criticism for your work and the best tips for beginner graphic designers just starting out?

A: First of all, it helps to recognize any valuable criticism from irrelevant ones, which is of course very context dependent. But any good criticism isn’t personal, so you shouldn’t take it personal either. It helps to view a work (whether personal or commissioned) as a product, that during the design and creation process requires fine-tuning to make it better and better.arubafridge-partys

I started my career at design studios and learned a lot from my colleagues there, who had many more years of experience than me, so working at a studio is something I’d definitely recommend to beginners. There’s also a lot more to learn outside of the creative aspect of the job like time management, communication, working with other people, etc. Other than that, it’s great to have some peers you respect and whom you can approach and ask for feedback.

Remember that you don’t need to be best friends with them per se; it’s about the work, not about you!

stivoroanimsc1Q: You have a lot of excellent illustration sets on your website—which would you say is your favorite? And what companies have you commissioned for were your favorite, and why?

A: That’s a difficult one! I guess I’m very happy with the new Islands II series that’s on my Behance page ( They’re much more quirky and free than the previous Islands set.

In terms of companies; I had a lot of fun working with two indie game companies doing the 3D designs for their games. One was an educational strategy game called ‘WaterWorks’ that I worked on for UK-based Mudvark. And the other one is called ‘Sentree’ for Glitchnap in Denmark, which is still in development. The 3D aesthetic of my work is heavily influenced by game design so it was great to have that come full circle.

islandstilllifeno3Q: Future designs coming soon?

A: Currently I’m finishing my own little indie game called ‘Noodles’. I’ve been working on it in my spare time over the past year to learn Unity (a popular 3D game engine) and coding in C#. It’s a sorta poetic puzzle adventure inspired by Berlin, friendship, dreams and -of course- noodles.

Q: Anything else not covered you would like to share with our readers?

A: I sell some prints of the Islands series at Etsy. You can find them here:

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