Tim Boelaars on the importance of side projects, life in Amsterdam and why you have to keep things interesting

Tim Boelaars is an illustrator based in Amsterdam whose clean, bold and timeless work has so far attracted the attention of Apple, The New York Times and National Geographic.

Not content with working with such huge names, Tim is also the founder of Amsterdam co-working space Plant22 where he works with seven other creatives.

We love how he blends bold colour, line-work and geometry to draw simple things and clean compositions. You can even purchase some of his creations via his online shop. On a sunny August day in Amsterdam, we chatted to Tim about his life, his creativity and his career so far.

Did you always know you wanted to be an illustrator?

Not exactly. As a kid, I always had an interest in arts, crafts and drawing but I never thought I would make a living out of it. As a teenager, I became fascinated with graffiti after watching ‘Style Wars’, the holy grail of hip hop documentaries about the rise of hip hop culture in New York. This inspired me to start drawing and painting in this particular style, and my work grew from there.

At first, I thought I wanted to work in hotel management, but during my bachelor studies, I quickly learnt how much I enjoyed design, branding and illustration. Later on, I started realising I could make a living out of it and began to work as a freelance designer and later as an illustrator.

Is there anyone in your life that influenced you to pursue art?

My grandfather played a key role in my interest in art and drawing. As a child, I wasn’t particularly interested in the sports that my parents encouraged me to do. My mother decided to try a different approach and asked her father for advice.

My grandfather, who used to be a broker, made art in his free time. At that point, he was retired and he would have me over every Wednesday afternoon to teach me how to draw and paint. I was only five at the time, but I vividly remember that I enjoyed those moments.

Looking back on this period, I think my grandfather has certainly been the most influential person in my life to spark my interest in art.

Geometry seems to play a large part in your work. Tell us more

When I finished my bachelor studies I was focusing mostly on web design and logo design. As a very orderly person, I enjoyed learning more about working on a grid and got captivated over how to set up grids and how to benefit from them. I still often use a grid for illustration, as I feel it gives me strong guides on what the outcome of my work will be. Working on a grid has meant the outcome of my work is mostly geometrically based.

You're also the founder of a co-working space, Plant22. How did that come about?

Soon after becoming a freelancer, I rented space in the studio of a web design agency here in Amsterdam. I loved having my own space, and to be in a communal working environment. As they were expanding and hiring, it was time for me to move out. I worked from home for a few months and realised it wasn't for me. The distractions were too big and social encounters were scarce.

I missed having a communal workspace away from home and started looking for a co-working space where I could work from. I wasn’t able to find the right fit, as I felt they were either too big and impersonal or too far out of the city and basic.

So I decided to set one up by myself and started to look for a nice space. Quite quickly I found the right spot and together with an interior designer we put together a nice and intimate co-working space for eight creative freelancers.

A year later we completely renovated the garden, which is a huge perk in summer. Plant22 has grown into something I didn’t expect at all. It feels like a second home and many of the people that work or have worked from Plant22, are now very dear friends.

Is it important to have side projects?

For me, it is. Even though it’s not always easy to find the time, I think it’s essential and keeps work interesting. Setting up Plant22, for example, has been emotionally rewarding and a nice change from my usual work.

Apart from larger side projects, I always try and make time for personal work. For me, it has been an important aspect of keeping work enjoyable.

What's Amsterdam like, career-wise, for being based there?

Amsterdam is an amazing place to live and I’ve loved it ever since I moved here. Of course, there are exceptions but I think that overall, people who live in Amsterdam seem to have a good understanding of how to balance life and work. You’ll notice that the pace of life is a bit slower than other big cities once you have lived here for a while.

This has a good impact on my work and I’ve enjoyed living and working from here. There’s a nice community of expat creatives and plenty of startups. Nevertheless, I would say that 80% of my commercial work is for US clients.

What has worked well for you in getting your name out there?

For the most part, I just put my work out there on all sorts of websites to try and get noticed by the people that enjoy what I'm doing.

Is there anything bugging you? How will you overcome it?

Sometimes it can be hard to stay confident about my work and about the direction in which I’d like it to go. You’re always your own worst critic, and sometimes I can be quite hard on myself. I’m sure this will probably never fade and is also a sign that you’re eager to improve, but I know how it can also be discouraging or frustrating in my approach to work.

I think the main thing I’m learning is that I should also stay focused on the positives and realise that, like everything in life, work can have its ups and downs.

The other day I saw a quote by Ram Dass that struck me and describes perfectly how I would like to approach life and work a bit more: "You can do it like it’s a great weight on you, or you can do it like it’s part of the dance."

Do you think success is mainly based on hard work or luck?

It has been a combination of both for me. I’ve been very lucky that I found an interest in art and design early in life. This has allowed me to start working on my skills many years ago and continue to work on it during my studies. But it has also taken a lot of hard work and persistence to get me where I am now.

What advice would you give to those just starting their career?

Don't let the bastards grind you down. Keep at it, keep going and good things will come to you.


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