Mirthe Blussé | Designer & Illustrator
There are several locations in Amsterdam where creatives gather to work and inspire one another. The former Volkskrant building (where the much-anticipated
will open its doors next week) in the east of Amsterdam is one of those. Talented designer and illustrator
was one of the building's first tenants in 2007. After studying law, Mirthe realized her passion for the arts was something she
couldn't ignore. Working for herself in a studio she considers her own playground, Mirthe has developed a style that exudes an unconstrained freeness and wholeheartedly embraces the
handmade. We caught up with Mirthe in the midst of the building's last renovations to talk about her work and her desire to get her hands dirty.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I first studied law – just a slight detour! I then started working at a design agency, Lost Boys. When I walked in the door I was immediately drawn to the work of the graphic designers so on the first day I asked, what do I have to do in order to do that? They told me, you actually have to go to an art academy, which is exactly what I wanted to hear. While working there I changed positions from a project manager to creative copywriter, allowing me to work more closely with graphic designers. In the evenings I studied graphic design at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in The Hague. It’s really the best thing I have ever decided to do for myself. Completing the evening course took about five years, with classes four to five nights a week. It was a lot, but it didn’t feel like it because I enjoyed every second. While the other students were discovering all the latest techniques and perfecting their every design, I was more interested in traditional printing techniques and the letterpress machines in the print workshop. It was great to bring together the new things I had learnt with old hand techniques. When I graduated from the academy I knew that I wanted to continue designing and needed to have my own studio space to do so. I wanted to have the freedom to do a range of different things, from graphic design to product design, styling and illustration. I found a studio space here in the Volksgebouw and have been here ever since. It has taken me some time to develop my style and figure out what I’m good at and what I want to do, but for a little while now I feel like everything has fallen into place. It’s a great feeling.
What are some examples of work you’ve done recently?
I feel lucky to have worked on so many different projects, which is exactly what I set out to do when I graduated from the academy. I’ve created sets for the Boekenbal (or ‘Book Ball’) with several other artists. I’ve worked with the Van Gogh Museum for their Friday late night openings during the Snapshot exhibition. It was really a dream come true. The exhibition itself was about the very first photographs taken by artists, which they used for their paintings. So I decided to work in the same way and created a modern collage based on a photograph by Breitner for the Friday night poster. Right now I’m working with the Volkshotel to create t-shirts and stationery items before they open next week. It’s great to be involved in something that’s actually happening right here. I’ve also designed several book covers, made illustrations for articles in magazines and children’s magazines, and created my own lines of postcards and posters. And you’ll find me in the printing workshop from time to time. My work really varies but I enjoy that. I still wake up every day and think to myself, how lucky am I to be doing what I’m doing!
And what defines your aesthetic?
Personally I’m most touched by the work of artists and designers in which you can trace their handwork. And that’s probably why I can’t do anything else but start making things by hand. I work with many different techniques. I’m always making small drawings of things I see and experience. I think what it comes down to is that I’m an observer, and those observations are translated into drawings and collages. My recent set of postcards is actually a series of collages. I paint them first, then cut out the different pieces, and assemble them. That’s when I realize the funniest mistakes, which result in the most spontaneous images. You can’t achieve that effect with a computer. I love that from a distance, the postcards looks like a clear image, but up close it’s not like that. You can see the rips in the cardboard and the strokes of paint. That’s how I work.
Would you say that the city of Amsterdam inspires you?
I have only ever wanted to move to Amsterdam because the city inspired me so much. I remember the posters of Anton Beeke and Jan Bons all over the streets... They were so intriguing. In the city there’s so much to see. The people are beautiful in their diversity. They are expressive which is incredibly inspiring. And there’s always something to do, hundreds of exhibitions, concerts and theater performances every month. I love that. Sometimes, though, I feel I need to escape from it all, and there are great places to do that. The Hortus Botanicus is an oasis in the city. I can really find peace there and spend hours reading a book in the comfort of the gardens. And of course, all the people who are starting up their own projects. Over the past few years we’ve really been able to find each other. I used to think that I was the only one who liked old printing techniques, the odd one out, if you will. But now so many people are interested in it. That’s great!
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m actually incredibly disciplined. People think, oh you work for yourself, you can do whatever you want. But I enjoy leaving my house early in the morning for the studio, it’s just three streets away from here. I always have something to do. One minute I’m drawing or painting, the next I’m digitalizing work I’ve done by hand on the computer or meeting with clients for design projects. When the sun is shining I call the shops that sell my postcards and posters and jump on my bike for a few deliveries. But there are also days that I spend hours in the printing workshop. That’s incredibly hard work and at the end of the day I’m exhausted but it’s so worth it.
How do you separate your work and your private life?
I try to keep them separate, but lately it’s not working so well! I meet people all the time and sometimes those encounters turn into collaborations or projects. It doesn’t feel like work, in that sense. And work never stops for me. I’m always thinking about new projects or working out new ideas. I carry around notebooks and leave them around the house, even next to my bed, to write down my thoughts and try to move on from them. It’s important to distance yourself from your work from time to time, to enjoy the little things like cooking a delicious meal or watching a great film or going out for a few drinks with your friends. Otherwise you’ll go stir crazy!
Can you name a few of your favorite places in Amsterdam?
There are so many great places in the city, I’ll try to name just a few. Van Beek Art Supplies and Vlieger are real danger zone for me, haha. I really appreciate the Albert Cuyp market – the diversity of the food is wonderful, and I love the typical Amsterdam humor of the market sellers. The Amstel, at every hour of the day, is incredibly beautiful, no matter if you’re there for a picnic, a long walk, a boat ride or a swim (yes, I swim in the Amstel!) There’s one bridge over the river and when you cross it, you see the old city on one side and the modern city on the other. Sometimes I catch myself just standing there to take it all in. Also, I love treasure hunting. You’ll find me at the IJ Hallen flea market every month and at second hand shops about twice a week, I should really stop! I’m also very happy that the Stedelijk Museum is open again and I’m a regular at photography museum Foam.
I want to continue doing different things. I’m excited to be working with the Volkshotel and hope to continue doing so. In a few weeks I’ll be traveling to Spain for a workshop with the Japanese illustrator Katsumi Komagata – one of my heroes – to work out my plans for a children’s book. Coming fall I will work as an artist in residence in Barcelona. I will continue illustrating for magazines. Ever since I illustrated recipe cards for a German publisher I would love to illustrate a cookbook. Right now I’m very excited to be illustrating a series of Travel Guides for German newspaper Die Zeit. I say, never a dull moment!
Thank you Mirthe for this interview! Find out more about Mirthe on her website , check out her Etsy shop , and be sure to follow along on Facebook .