As an artist, there’s no guarantee that your work will be lauded by millions and your career will be a healthy and steady one. For many, freelance is the way to go and it’s often done to supplement their full-time job. There are plenty of very talented individuals, however, who manage to break out and make a name for themselves.
One such person is Belgian artist Bram Vanhaeren.
Bram was listed as one of Adobe’s 25 most creatives under 25 #PS25Under25, and has worked with the likes of ESPN, Coke, BBC, Entertainment Weekly, Bleacher Report and more. He’s now an Adobe Fellow and found some time in his busy schedule of traveling the world, delivering motivational speeches and creating art to sit down with us for a chat. So, without further ado, we present to your our exclusive #Captain’sQuarters interview with Bram Vanhaeren.
Thanks, Bram, for joining us aboard the ship! First off, we’d like to delve a bit deeper into your education as an artist. At 17 you decided to follow your own path and began working for three major magazines. Tell us about what you learned by shrugging off your detractors and embracing digital art.
Simple – I listen and appreciate their concerns. But I don’t give a shit to be honest. I have my goals in life and I am doing everything I can to be the best version of me 😀 Everyone has their own life – I respect everyone’s opinion. But it doesn’t affect me at all in what I do, if you know what I mean. Focus on the goals and make it happen step by step.
How do you think digital art communities help to foster talent that otherwise might not have seen the light of day?
What I have experienced is a time frame before any social media you know today. We had some forums and starting platforms such as the Behance Network. As a 17-year-old, you can’t simply take your car and go to events and conferences. It was all up to you to connect with people you like and ask for help. It’s all up to you — the communities are simply looking for interesting work that gives their website more hits, which means more revenue. Don’t bullshit us 😀
So they mean nothing if you don’t do your work. It’s that simple, nothing special happens if you’re terrible in design. It happens by years and years of exploring and working your ass of. By you. Only you can do the work. Communities can’t find those who’re working hard in their room and not upload shit for instance. We as artists must choose to find people to help us and find ways to connect with people.
For me – if you are creating, and it makes you happy then you’re winning! End of story.
How does speaking multiple languages affect your creative process (if at all), and what physical places do you draw the most inspiration from?
They do not affect my creative process, they affect my ability to sell my stuff 😀 Life – cliché as always. If you’re a natural creative like me, I don’t need anything. It happens all the time, anywhere, anyhow. Everything is able to inspire me.
Your love for athletics, specifically track and field, heavily influences your work. How did you get into running track and what about it gets your creative juices flowing?
That’s right, I have been competing in track and field since I was 5-years-old alongside my older brother and my younger brother as well. The three of us competed on a high level for over 15 years. Everyday we would train together – it’s was amazing!
Yet – track and field is like being a creative. A selfish passion, you can’t share how you feel during the process. The years you spend to beat your record by one tenth of a second in a sprint. It taught me to work super hard and never give up, because I had learned from a young age, every minute you spend – you get in return. You always should improve yourself and keep on working. When you get older, you learn to look at different aspects.
When you run, in the beginning you focus on actual sprinting, later you discover there is a mental element (focus / stress) and core stability and specific muscles to train. It’s the same with art. In the beginning you focus on the obvious. After 12 years I have learned to look at other things and spend time on other elements in life to improve my work.
That said, the most important thing is happiness. I quit track and field out of the blue, since I didn’t feel the joy anymore. I am constantly working on my self awareness and where I am going. Happiness is key!
You have wonderful videos on your YouTube channel that show how you create some of your work. How do you think that similar content is helping to develop a new wave of digital artists?
I can’t show anybody how long it took before I understood how to draw eyes, noses, lips or how to interpret a portrait and make it my own. But at least people understand that I actually draw – for years people thought I used a filter in Adobe Photoshop to create my portraits.
Who are some of your favorite artists and what about them and their work really stands out to you?
Too many — for me it’s not really about their work. It’s more about how they balance their life, how they think and handle themselves. A good old friend, Archann Nair creates insane work – I love him. Not for his work, but his attitude. It means so much more! Work is work, it doesn’t mean much to me without a story. It’s when I meet them and read about them that I truly connect with them.
Everyday millions of new pieces of work pop up — it means less and less. I love to hear how my creative friends work months to improve something — small details, their vision. The process is so much more appealing than some work.
Tell us a bit about what it has been like to be a brand ambassador for Adobe and what you’ve learned along the way.
It’s an absolute honor, no way to describe it. I have been traveling the world thanks to them! I have met so many interesting people because of them. The coolest thing is how they approached me and why they work with me. We’re so true to eachother and truly wish eachother the best.
From our interviews to get to know each other and the team, I learned from day 1 what it was all about: Be you Bram, we love your attitude, would you like to share your ideas and stay true. It’s absolutely amazing how a brand can put themselves second and embrace an artist. For me personally, I learned to open my eyes – realize anyting is possible and stop giving a fuck about what I create and focus more on why. To do more in life and improve myself by watching other people do the amazing things they do. I started to create with my girl, for instance, after 5 years of being in a relationship, thereby setting her free, failing together and learning together to explore new kind of work.
We started Bram&Ella this summer – which is the most lovely project I have done to date!
What is the creative process like when working with someone else, especially someone you’re so close to?
A fantastic experience, since she has no experience at all in art. I see all the hurdles I had to take 12 years ago and help her through the struggles. The known fear of failure – which can easily stifle anyone just starting out. I make sure she keeps going and accept the failures with ease and learns quicker.
But simply sharing the experience of running an exhibition together, going to creative conferences together… it’s awesome to have someone who understands your thought process and supports you all the way!
If you weren’t an artist and brand ambassador, what would you be?
No idea – I always have been into public speaking / motivational speaking. I would have loved to get really good at that and do speeches. Also as a coach – motivate a team or something. That’s why I am doing more and more talks about my work lately – love it!
What kind of projects are you currently working on that you’re most excited about?
I am currently working on a huge project – during my secret career almost nobody knows about. I am a full-time art director at a Bank in Belgium (most valuable Brand in Belgium) and improve the online experience for over a million users. Running a design team and pushing innovation. I prefer not to mention it too much, but at this moment this is it. As an artist I am looking forward to sharing the stage at #OFFF17 In Barcelona and working with a world-class soccer team!
Your work makes brilliant use of the pen tool to create a new kind of vector portrait. How did you develop this style of work and what’s the most challenging part of employing this method?
Thank you! That’s super kind! Nothing challenging about it in my opinion. I have tried to draw a new portrait every 2-3 days, for the last 6 years. Over time you develop new techniques and get better at it. I do see a repeating pattern — every 3 months I tend to pick up a new kind of style, which is nice to provide to my clients.
What advice would you give to aspiring creatives like you who maybe need a little push to get going?
If you are working and got distracted and got to read this – get back to what you’re doing. Be patient and believe in yourself. Work on your self awareness.. Ask your dear friends to be honest and open about what they think about you (how you handle situations, take this seriously or not, who you are…) This might sound crazy, but I have been asking so many people I work with to be super honest and tell me what they think about me.
The first time I did this, (when I was 17) six other students from my class simply said they can’t stand my arrogance. I wasn’t aware of that. My communication style was terrible. Ever since I have tried to work on myself and ask myself to be honest.
It’s when you truly face who you are that know your srengths and weaknesses. Then you can push forward and improve! Be open about your weakness. Every meeting when I have to give feedback I open with the fact I can come over as an arrogant fuck, apologies, tell them I truly care about the matter and listen to them. You learn a lot from this!
Finally, we’ll give you the floor to shout out whomever and spread your message!
Thank you for your time! Have a lovely day
And there you have it, folks! Being an artist is tough and sometimes you just need some tough love to really know whether or not it’s something you want to do.
Massive thanks to Bram for agreeing to be interviewed by a bunch of pirates and we’re looking forward to seeing what he produces next. Be sure to follow Bram on Twitter, Instagram and Behance and like him on Facebook to stay up to date with all of his latest work!
You can also read more about his work with Adobe right here.