Aniek Bartels is an illustrator and designer with a big heart for sustainability, the environment and the creatures in it (us included). You might know her work from our shelves; she sells cards, prints and books, mostly depicting cool and cute animals. Anna dropped by Aniek’s studio in Hilversum to give us an insight into her creative process and motivations.
Hello Aniek! It’s wonderful to be here with you. Can you share a bit about your background and how you developed your passion for illustration?
Aniek: Hi there! Sure, my love for illustration started when I was a child. I was always drawing and my parents supported my interest by enrolling me in drawing lessons after school. It was a way for me to relax amid the intensity of childhood emotions. In high school I also learned graphic design. When it became time to choose a program in college I found a good fit in the graphic design school in Utrecht. Later I studied illustration at Willem de Kooning in Rotterdam. It was a mix of traditional art and painting along with using computer programs. My time there helped me discover my style and secure a job after graduation.
Your journey from childhood to your career is inspiring. What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs, especially those in the creative field?
Aniek: I’d say the best way to learn is by trying things out. Your style will naturally develop as you work on your craft. You don’t necessarily need to define your style in school; it will come to you through experience. Also, don’t underestimate the power of selling products with your name on them, like cards. While you may not earn much from these items themselves, they can expose you to potential customers who might reach out to you for larger design projects. Finally, when you have a dream, go for it. Don’t get caught up in the little things. Make choices that bring you closer to your goals. If you want it, pursue it.
Wise advice, especially the part about pursuing one’s dreams. Could you tell us about your favorite products that you’ve created?
Aniek: I have a couple of favorites. One is the “Bliss Kids Cards”, which help children talk about their emotions through simple prompts. They are used a lot in schools and yoga studios. I love that I can help children express themselves and learn from these cards. Another favorite is my book, Vleertje Muis. This project started with the drawings and the theme developed later, which is the opposite of the usual process. The stories revolve around a bat named Vleertje who sees the world from a different perspective by hanging upside down. It’s based on a personal situation involving someone dealing with depression and learning to look at things in a more positive light. Each of Vleertje’s friends are nocturnal animals like foxes, owls and snails. Creating a children’s book has always been a dream of mine.
Your dedication to helping children and your personal connection to your work are heartwarming. What drives you in your career today?
Aniek: My drive comes from my own experiences as a child and learning how to deal with my emotions. I understand what it’s like to struggle with self-doubt and insecurities and I want to help kids overcome these challenges. Whenever I achieve something significant in my business today I feel like I’m making my younger self proud. It takes a moment to grasp the emotions and realize how far I’ve come.
Also, I think it’s important to celebrate your own achievements and focus on your unique path. Be content with what you have. It’s natural to have moments of doubt, but use that as motivation to do more and continue expressing yourself.
Great advice for maintaining a positive and productive mindset. Can you share any plans you have for the future of your career?
Aniek: Absolutely! I’m currently working on ways to help children develop themselves further. I’m taking a course at an organization for artists to create a clearer mission for themselves and understand where their drive comes from. Additionally, my book, Vleertje Muis, will be part of a series. I just released the second book!
It sounds like you have exciting plans ahead. We wish you all the best in your mission to help children and your creative endeavors. Thank you for sharing your inspiring journey with us, Aniek!
Text and photos by Anna Cleveland