INTERVIEW: Illustrator, Designer + Printmaker Michael van Kekem

michael van kekem

Michael van Kekem is name that you might just recognise, not least because he’s a very talented illustrator, designer and printmaker, but also because he’s part of our own creative collective. Based in the Netherlands, Michael creates work independently, and as part of Studio M, a collaboration between three friends. Last year he joined us in London to take part in YGT’s first event in April 2014, exhibiting a limited edition screen print and sharing our inaugural exhibition space.

We also had the pleasure of showcasing some of his fantastic Very Manly Pins at LION PAW a few months ago and gave a few away to some lucky visitors to our mini kindness festival in collaboration with This Must Be For You. It seems there’s no end to Michael’s talents and while we love to admire his work and enjoy the tales behind what we makes and designs, we weren’t content to just leave it at that. We asked Michael a few questions about his work, what he’s up to and what inspires him, and he obliged us by sharing a few tips and stories just for you.

Tell us little about yourself and what your work explores…

I have been working as an illustrative designer and printmaker since 2010. I enjoyed attending two creative schools prior to getting to where I am now. I first graduated as a graphic designer and visualiser and after that as an illustrator. In my current position as an illustrative designer I spend my days exploring different shapes and I like to play around with varying colour fields. Within my ‘Colours & Shapes’ series, I’ve enjoyed taking everyday objects or elements and portraying them in my own style. In the project ‘Format’ you can really see how I look at things. It’s all about shapes, colors and message for me.

Have you always wanted to work in the creative industries?

Thinking back on my childhood, I think I always was cut out for something creative. I used to draw characters, based on Belgian comic characters like Tin Tin or Suske & Wiske, known as Bob & Bobette or Spike & Suzy in the UK, and make up stories. I always wanted to be either a musician, a photographer or a comic book artist.

Describe a typical day in your studio or workspace…

A day at the studio is often very diverse. I am either behind my computer working on artwork for animations or editorial illustrations, or screen printing or drawing at the drawing table. Each day is different. I can start answering emails in the morning with a cup of tea, or start early and go directly to the drawing table if there’s an urgent deadline. I can work quite fast, so I often end up using all my tables during the day. My music’s always on. It’ll be mostly indie or americana, but really I can enjoy working and listening to any type of music.


What are your favourite creative tools?

The main tools I use are a squeegee and ink for screen printing, a fineliner or a pencil for drawing. Mouse and Bamboo tablet for working behind the computer and scissors, which I often used for cut-outs. I mostly use the cut-outs for screen printing.

Tell us about being a creative based in the Netherlands…

Being a creative in this small country is fun, although challenging. There are a lot of artists around. Each doing their own thing of course, but it can be frustrating not being able to get an assignment for a local job simply because 60 fellow illustrators are also right there on the spot for the job. I’m not actually sure if that is so very different to anywhere else though. Here in the Netherlands photography is usually used for popular magazines and projects, in my opinion illustration often comes second.

What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced and how do you stay motivated?

Motivation for me has to do with everything around me. Most of my friends are artists, so that is also a motivation. It’s important to keep each other going, even though it can be a struggle sometimes. Luckily, I haven’t had many huge challenges to overcome. Becoming more acknowledged for the things I do and for my work has been a slow but steady process.

What are your greatest influences and what inspires you?

Everything! Shadows on doorsteps, shapes in the sky, colours on packages, other artists, movies, music. It’s all around me. Luckily I live in an age where I can explore and see the different types of creativity and elements that inspire me every day. It also  really depends on the day. One day I can be really influenced by a TV show, or a walk in the park, or listening to some nice tunes. I am a 24/7 thinker so I am always in my head conceiving of new stuff to work on.


How vital do you think art is as a communicative cultural tool?

Art, for me, is such a big part of my life and very important. I think it can really portray or send a certain strong message to a particular crowd, and yet send off a different vibe each time something is seen or attention to it is renewed.

What are you most proud of?

I think I am most proud of the fact I can make a living out of doing what I love to do, which is creating something from scratch and working with other talented people in their own fields. Also, being happy with the life I lead, together with my girlfriend and cat, and staying healthy.

What’s next for you?

I hope to be able to continue my work as an illustrator, meet more nice people, do great collaborations and bring in the good vibes. Also to start a new hobby to actually also do stuff besides work, stay healthy and above all else keep challenging myself in my work. Right now I’m working on a visual identity for a financial advisor, which is quite fun to do because I can suggest anything illustrative.

Upcoming projects include creating commissioned screen prints and a series of etchings for a project with a photographer. I’ll also start working on album artwork for a band in the summer. Studio M recently did a pitch for a huge project, which we hope we’ll be lucky enough to work on, and we just finished a couple of animations.

I created a series of Very Manly Pins for a webshop called Says Woo this year and as for my more personal work, I’d love to do a few more residencies. I’m working on some ideas for a graphic novel, writing texts and drawing, so let’s hope I’ll get somewhere with that project. Hopefully I’ll be at another get-together with YGT soon too.


Find more here



Words: Emily Beeson | @younggoldteeth