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Profile: Maarten van Aken

As a teenager Maarten van Aken used to paint with watercolors, landscapes and such, though it never occurred to him to become a painter: 

‘I started industrial design because I thought I should go to a university if I had that opportunity. Eventually, it was not the right choice for me. I needed more freedom and it was my parents actually that nudged me into going to an art academy.’

For Maarten, the industrial design at the University of Twente was a lot about using methods to find flaws in designs and coming up with new ideas to fix a problem. These methods obviously work but it made him feel trapped: 

‘I needed more freedom. I also couldn’t picture myself behind a desk all day. Switching to painting felt like a dive in the deep end. I noticed it was ‘it’, so to speak because it felt like such a relieve once I started painting. It was and is exhilarating, something I never felt during my previous study.’

Although there are some things from an industrial design that stuck to Maarten when he decided to choose art. 

For example, this experience brought him technical thinking and good depth perception (from working with 3D-programs) as well as having to construct technical drawings on paper. Partly his love for architecture and design comes from his studies too. 

Maarten van Aken previously studied in university, found the study at AKI/ArtEZ (from second-year — Fine art 2D/painting department) as a complete shock. The vibe and mentality towards life were completely different: 

‘Teachers actually told me they first need me to unlearn everything I learned, because in order to be an artist you have to let go of any restrictions you’ve put on yourself. And my time at AKI felt like a continuous process of letting go. There was a lot of freedom and I think it taught me self-reliance above all.’

Being in a constant process of self-improvement and self-reflecting helps Maarten to stay focused and be on his toes: 

‘I remember one teacher told me I was painting too much with my brain, while it’s the hands that paint. Of course, the brain controls the muscle in the hand, but I understood what he meant. Overthinking things can get in the way of a lot of things including a creative process. For me, in the painting, I found my nature and the process has been to discover and act on this nature. Before I tried to be someone I am not. This, of course, is an ongoing process. We are never done learning.’

Oil paints are a medium that requires patience as well as a bit of planning ahead which is a perfect fit for Maarten:

‘I quite like that about it though. I think being patient can also be helpful for the process if you embrace it. It gives you more time to reflect.’

Besides art and design studies there are more memorable practices that helped broaden Maarten’s horizon. For example, his trips to Finland in November 2016 (one month) and to China in October 2017 (6 weeks) were very interesting experiences for various reasons:

‘Finland was a test of being on my own. The residency took place on a small island that was mostly deserted.

I was in awe of nature and never felt so at peace, just walking on the island. When you are completely alone you can’t escape your thoughts though. I had some confrontational moments with myself which all had to do with lying to yourself and trying to be something you’re not. One of the reasons my paintings are usually deserted is because it’s in my nature to prefer being alone. Of course, that shows in the works. It doesn’t mean I’m anti-social or lonely though.

The exchange to Dalian, China has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. I had never been to Asia up to this point and it was thrilling to experience the differences and similarities. It challenged me personally and professionally and I feel I’ve learned a lot in the process. 

A new environment, out of your comfort zone, is a great place to push yourself and try new things in your work, whilst meeting new people and making friends.’

Maarten van Aken in his paintings captures sort of a transitional dimension between humans and nature as he describes it further:

‘In any painting or photo if there is a human presence your attention will naturally go towards that person. This also creates a certain physical barrier between the viewer and the image. I noticed at some point if I leave humans out of the image, space becomes the subject and as a viewer, you can feel more close, you can more easily immerse yourself in the painting and project your own stories.’

Seemingly ordinary spaces became interesting in large part because of how the light defines space and intersections. I always liked to play a bit with perception and I learned such an intersection can also be called liminal space. 

A liminal space is a time between ‘what was’ and the ‘next’. It is a place of transition, yet time seems to stand still. And it became obvious that I could use that frame of mind to play with space and perception. 

Most recently I tried to play with reflections. It started as a way to justify bringing in the nature elements into my paintings. 

If you stand in front of a window and you look inside, a cohesive image of a new space is being formed of both the interior and outside world. The reflected nature seems to take over the desolate space. I felt it as an omen, nature takes back what humans left behind.’

There is no time clock set on Maarten’s paintings, it just varies a lot how long each one is made. For example, bigger paintings take at least a month. 

Pictures and drawings are the starting point for new work — sketches and small watercolors on paper with gouache until he finds something that he thinks would work well on a bigger canvas. 

‘Over time I found that if the initial composition is strong, the painting will usually work out well. If I have doubts, chances are big the later stages will be a struggle because you’re trying to fix things. But both ways can be good and sometimes a seemingly failed work can suddenly surprise you.

The works are built in a lot of layers, starting out thin. Beginnings are fast once the idea is there. Then with each new layer, more thinking is required to see what the image needs. So every step takes more time in between. More than once a painting is deemed finished because I haven’t worked on it for a while.’

The light plays a big role in Maarten’s ‘art investigations’. Between February 2017 and June of 2018, every other day he would make a small painting with gouache on paper inspired by the poetry by Hans van Wijk. 

‘His poetry in many ways is also about light and they formed the starting point for each work. I started it also because I felt stuck in the bigger paintings. 

Sometimes you follow your own rules, but you forget why you made them. So I wanted to break from that. This is also the reason they are all outside and show a lot of nature, whereas most of my paintings are inside places. 

One thing I did not expect was how good it felt to finish work at the end of the day repeatedly. Sometimes you work on painting all day and in the end, it still feels like you hardly progressed. That can give a lot of pressure where you feel you haven’t done enough. 

It was very satisfying to create one finished piece every other day.  After 1,5 years though I felt the project served its purpose. I still make those gouaches, but not so strict every other day.’

As for today, the most important thing for Maarten is to keep developing himself and follow the path he is on: 

‘I’m very excited to see what work will come out of it and where it will bring me. I’m not really thinking about concrete achievements though.’

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Profile: Brandt

Essentially Brandt started as a company back in October 2016 in a small room of 12 m2 in Utrecht. At the very beginning Giselle Habraken didn’t think that her path would lead to creating the Earth-friendly soy candle business:

‘Once I went to New York to help out the maker of the candles, a friend of a friend. However only 1,5 years after that I realized how much I missed the candle-making. I come from a different background, Safety and Security Management, and after quitting my job I decided to start Brandt.’ 

Certainly, this internship was the base that lit interest and today transformed into a fast-growing company. Before getting fully into candle making, Giselle consulted her candle master who did support her business ideas. 

The memories from the first time of working with candles brought her the fascination for honeysuckle scent. Subsequently being a person who is inspired by smells and techniques, later on, Giselle introduced Kamperfoelie into her own collection. 

Fearless and charming Giselle has a lot of people supporting her beginnings and views: 

”I’m not the kind of person that plans out everything before starting something. That is to say, I just start walking and come across problems that I have to solve (which I love) along the way. So it helped me a lot, to have no fear or doubts and just see every little thing as an important part of the process.

Despite the fact that not many people around me run their own businesses, my friends and family turned out to have amazing skills that came very handy. For example, my boyfriend builds a website. While another friend is a business consultant and another one is incredibly fast and skilled as a candlemaker and so on. Also, I have two marvelous interns that are just the best with designing and branding. I have many people coming over to help me a day or two in the studio and that is just fantastic!’ — Giselle Habraken.

Throughout operating Brandt, the main struggle for Giselle was with the planning of production. Only after a year of work Giselle’s candles couldn’t fit in her room anymore — the place where everything started. During that moment she had to find another studio. Similarly soon she grew out of that one too and currently candle business is living in a studio in Utrecht, yet not for long. 

Giselle is constantly thinking of growing her business, in other words, her stock and sales: ‘I have much more stock every season. It is very important to stay sharp on how much I need or the ones to come. The last quarter is absolutely nuts so I must be prepared.’

Moreover, Brandt candles are produced sustainable: soy wax, cotton wick, and natural oils. In addition, she uses eco ink for labels, reuses all boxes and filling materials received from suppliers. Not least to mention that her website is running on green energy. 

Nowadays it is hard to stay 100% sustainable in any area of work. Nevertheless Giselle finds ways of making Brandt as close to 100% — for instance, asks suppliers not to use plastic with packaging for shipping.

To clarify Brandt candles are born out of love to candle making itself and plan to stay the same way. So don’t get fooled by its meticulous business approach. With this in mind Giselle’s happiness is dependant on the production process itself:

I love this part! I have a 50-liter wax-melter and firstly I pour about 1,5 liters in a jar where I mix it with the oils. Further, I pour it into the jars. To make sure the wicks are centered I use clothespins. Then while it is drying I can prepare the wicks for upcoming batches and in the end, I pack orders or do some computer work. I used to play guitar for the candle when I made them at home but that is a luxury I can’t afford. After they dried, I clean them, label them and they are ready for shipping!

The botanical-inspired, Brandt’s scents were developed to be recognizable, to trigger memories. Scents of candles vary by its complexity. For example, the Woodcollection (Houtcollectie) is more difficult than Apothecary ones. At Brandt, the ingredients must be complementary and have a good top-heart-base* structure. 

*The middle notes, or the heart notes, appear once the top notes evaporate. Not only the middle notes are considered the heart of the fragrance but also they last longer than the top notes and have a strong influence on the base notes to come. 

Giselle loves to travel and it is needless to say that those memories brought a lot to Brandt’s collection of scents. For example, from France, she brought Coconut & Aloe Vera. Capturing mood and feeling of her summer surfing trips — she tried to recreate the surf wax (which you put on a surfing board) scent: 

‘Every time I’m making a batch of that scent I am back in the water. And I just love to listen to my customers’ memories and associations while they are sniffing the candle.’

The idea of creating scents that bring back memories is addictive by itself. The scents captured in each Brandt product makes you think of happy moments. While in everyday life these moments bring Giselle a solid group of customers which she actually loves to talk to. Brandt is open to ideas and thoughts of its consumers, which helps to stay in a constant process of self-improvement.

Concerning future plans of transferring scents into memories, the upcoming collection Nomad will be inspired by Giselle’s cycle tour of 4 months through Europe: ‘This collection will be an ode to our beautiful continent, with its forests, flowers, herbs and spices. It is going to be a real struggle to choose scents. The most popular ones are Honeysuckle, Sandalwood & Patchouli and Green Tea Lime.’

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Profile: Willem van Hooff

Willem van Hooff grew up in Eindhoven the Netherlands. It was a big inspiration for him to see every year the Dutch Design Week. Already at the age of 16 years old, he went for an internship at Piet Hein Eek in Geldrop, the Netherlands (where he was based before 2010). In fact, Willem remembers it as the first experience in design thinking.

By all means, during this internship at Piet Hein Eek, Willem learned a lot of workshop skills and observed how he brings his products to the people: 

‘He has a very big range of sales from big unique art pieces, to a simple cup. I think it was very interesting that he does all of these things in the same place. His products have a rough look but a very clean finish, which has to be executed always in the same way that makes his ‘image’ coming back.’

Moreover, Hooff studied in the department ‘Public Private’ at the Design Academy Eindhoven. As he describes as a ‘mix of public space and living’. 

‘I’ve learned to work extremely hard and it is the general vibe off the school to be there from morning till evening. There are so many different nationalities come together to do very free assignments. Mostly you learn from each other — the different ways of looking and working on a design. For example, I’m very ‘hands-on’ in working!’

Willem continues: Design Academy Eindhoven lets you discover yourself. Which can be very difficult if you always need to ask yourself ‘What do I like, what do I want to do?’. It helped me a lot to find my own style.

I always work with the opposites. I start with my hands, feeling the material and possibilities. Only afterward, I continue with research — to give it the right meaning.’

Similarly, work on new designs for Willem can start with sketches of the ideas, brainstorming — deciding in which direction he wants to go.

While working directly with materials, almost all the time the idea is developed during the phase when he is experimenting. It can be the technique or look that feels interesting for the materials. Only after manipulating with materials and exploring their possibilities, Willem brings back the starting point of his concept.

‘In my designs, I love to bring materials, colors, and functions, together. To surprise people with these connections. 

Last year I started one of my researches which led to ‘the grid’ with the word ‘contrast’. I’ve made sketches about contrast and material samples of very big contrasting materials and placed them next to each other. Then I also grouped grid and concrete — even though these two materials always work well together they are opposites from each other.’

As a matter of fact, Willem got inspired for a concept of the ‘Elements of construction’ by simply looking at the city around him:

‘At one point in Eindhoven, there was a construction of a big concrete parking lot in front of the airport. And by a mistake, the parking lot collapsed on one side… When I saw that broke open building I took pictures of it — there was this grid structure coming out of the concrete.

Above all, I thought this was interesting and started looking at buildings before they would get covered in concrete. Therefore the transparent graphical structures became a big inspiration in showing the aesthetics of the grid. Also giving it a new function, not only strength inside the concrete.’

In order to achieve a neat look and a soft touch for a pleasant use, colors are powder-coated on the grid.

Not to mention that the color palette for this project also resembles the city:

‘I tried to make an Urban vibe when the pieces stand tougher. Gray, red, blue, black colors were my first choices. Now I’m also very curious about working with more colors. In reality, every piece is custom made and I’m open to changes.’

Production-wise grid parts are first to be made. Willem starts with a plain sheet of the grid which he bends and welds till the desired shape is there. Afterward, he powder-coats metal parts at a Dutch company. As soon as all parts are ready for ‘use’, Hooff moves to the next stage which is quite fascinating.

In particular, Willem has created a little ‘beach’ in his studio! It is an island of sand that he uses to dig objects under the sand. Basically he sand-shapes each mold with bare hands. While the grid is buried halfway in the sand he has the opportunity to pour concrete shapes in the middle of the grid.

In addition, see the sneak peek of the process making (video) 👉 

Play Video

One of the recent favorite projects that Willem participated in is from the Dutch Invertuals (the example of work is below on the left photo). He was invited to join their exhibition to design for less:

‘The world is over-consuming so what can we do as designers? With an exaggeration, I tried to make the most useless and ridiculous objects that we as humans really don’t need. I’ve made altars referring to our human basic historic needs’,

Hoff continues,It was my first project out of school. I saw that it is not necessary to think of the function or use of the product. So the outcome could be very different when you think in that way.

For example, in my grid series, I’ve discovered a new technique of turning the materials of the reinforced concrete inside out which gives it a new function.’

Willem’s ongoing play with contrasting materials and techniques helps him to create a finished look for his objects. To emphasize, the most intriguing part for his customers is the process of making, which creates a ‘wow’ factor.

Important to realize that Willem van Hooff launched his brand only a month ago! 

‘I always wanted to create my own design studio, and now I feel it is the right time to make this step. I’m done studying, of course, I can still learn though I believe I learn from experience. I hope that I can focus more and more on my own business where I want to enjoy myself with my work and continuing new projects.’

Mostly affected by his off-study time, Willem is sure that ‘at one point at life it’s okay to start taking a risk’

That is exactly what he does now — takes a risk as an artist and designer, focusing on professional growth. After all it is the reason for existence of yet small, but the professional company — Willem van Hoff.

Willem thinks ahead into the future and stays focused on visual quality. He hopes to share his functional art to many homes to share his view on a new Dutch style. For now, he continues to experiment and to investigate different shapes for his series ‘Elements of construction’ (see products below).

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Profile: Tim Teven

The studio of product designer Tim Teven is a calm space mainly filled with inspiring materials in different textures and with various tools. It is located in Eindhoven the Netherlands in a quiet neighborhood. 

Tim had the urge to make things since when he was a kid. This curiosity about how things are made pushed him to join Sint Lucas Design school at the age of 17 years old. For him, four years in this school were quite basic, he didn’t perceive it as a ‘high-end’ studies. At the same time, it was a good base for further studies in arts and design. As a sort of a pre-school before he joined studies at Design Academie Eindhoven. He graduated in 2018 with projects Recycling Reject and Ductile Assembly.

Being focused on the making process includes researching and understanding the different purposes and properties of the material. So it is natural that Tim Teven chooses to work with materials, industry and production methods as a starting point. 

Handling materials in an unconventional way are expanding possibilities and opening up the horizon of undiscovered textures and applications (of that new material). Tim translates these ‘surprises’ which were created by countless experiments into technical and visually attractive detail. He combines the technique into sustainable and attractive looking products throughout the beginning of the design process and research.

This healthy obsession with design and art for Tim just happens naturally. He describes his childhood friends as ‘artsy’: ‘You know, we were this group of skateboarders. One — photographer, another — graphic designer. We did a lot of graffiti and going to a design school was a very natural outcome.’ 

It’s interesting that Tim’s parents are not connected to the design industry directly. Both of them are working at a steel company. His dad was always very handy and creative by making things for the house, for example, chairs, garden construction, and etc. Perhaps this was a bridge to Tim Teven’s creative future.

Nevertheless, both parents supported their kid’s dream: 

If this kind of study would be available to them like it was available to me, they would both do it. But my parents came from a different era and a different part of the Netherlands. Kind of area where you go to school which is within a 20 km radius around your village and there was no design or art school. Then you couldn’t just go there and there was no internet to find it.

I think it’s very interesting to make objects that end up in peoples lives. I think in a quite industrial and technical way.’ as Tim explains.

A chance to work with diverse companies and industries gives him an opportunity to bring different techniques and materials from the industrial field into a domestic environment.

This process works well for all connected parties. It gives him new insights into big production industries as well as the customer and the design itself. It’s a fascinating process of involving people around Tim’s passion to create that finalized minimalistic well-made product.

This ability connecting the industry, materials, and techniques to the domestic domain keeps Tim moving. The process of the endless search for opportunities within industries brought him all of the products he has ever made. 

For example, by using waste material from a paper factory or a technique used for making washing machine panels he has produced a unique furniture and introduced it into a new user field. 

In terms of production Tim does a lot himself, including the developing of new tools and tricks to get to the desired result. With this way of production, learning comes by doing. Therefore it is easier to further develop the product especially when other people are involved.

‘Recycling Reject’ is a popular project from Tim Teven. It came to him when he visited one of the Dutch factories and saw how many paper fibers go to waste. 

The paper can be recycled up to 5-6 times only, afterward, it is a waste. Of course, Tim had ‘the urge to start looking for a purpose’ for this particular material waste. Eventually, the purpose formed in a series of furniture pieces that were participating in many exhibitions throughout the Netherlands. The experiment demonstrates one of the new ways of solution to their waste problem. 

‘If you compare this material to pressed cheap wood, it is an expensive material. However, comparing it to natural stone — makes it a cheap material. Although it’s not that simple, there are a lot of different components in it. Currently, I’m trying to get to this level of the material properties so it would be possible to compare it. For example, to marble, because then you’ll have a good competition.

Marble is indeed a natural material. At the same time taking a marble out of the mountain is of course absolutely not a sustainable way of gaining this material plus it takes a lot of energy. So it would be very good if you could switch from marble to a recycled look-alike which is produced efficiently.’

— Tim Teven talking about his project Recycling Reject (photo above).

Future of this sustainable material for Tim looks bright, he would like to use it in different shapes and maybe work on more durable properties.

Tim got the idea to make the series of Pressure Vases when he became interested in forces applied to the material:

‘By applying force and using it in a controlled way you can influence the behavior of a material. I was doing several experiments connected to this. One of the experiments was to press tubes until they start to yield so that beautiful folds and shapes appear. As a result, emphasizing the plasticity of the usually very solid and hard steel.

The technique is not only for aesthetics. It also holds in the bottom disc, in other words, it closes the bottom of the vase. In the end, the steel is protected from damage or corrosion with powder coating. Thankfully to colors, the shape of the vases is more visible.’

Surely Tim selected the colors specifically to work well together with the shape. Some colors give products a very soft look and others give extra shine to the folded shapes.

Two years ago Tim aimed to open a platform to help with the production of other designers in need. He wanted to help factories with new views on their own capabilities. But currently, Tim enjoys more the developing of his own projects in which he finally saw potential worth pursuing: 

‘For now, I’ve got very enthusiastic about starting my own design studio. Of course, I’ll gain a lot of knowledge along the way which I can use later on, for example helping other designers with their production’.

‘I don’t consider myself a brand. I’m a designer and I work and want to work with different people in the design field. Maybe one day I will have my own brand.’ — Tim Teven