#ARTLIFE 2: Create your own ecosystem

Meet Dieuwke Spaans, an artist, educator and power woman. She may be recognized for her collage works, but Dieuwke is much more than a collage artist. I traveled to her studio in Amsterdam, to find out more about the person behind the artwork: how could her story inspire us and give us new perspectives?

UTOPIA

On my way to my appointment with Dieuwke, I wondered what her studio would look like. Knowing her mostly as my former teacher at the University of the Arts Utrecht (HKU),
I was excited to meet the artist this time.

 

It was only a 15-minute bus ride from Schiphol, but I got out in the middle of something that looked much like a nature reserve, feeling like I was nowhere near Amsterdam. She picked me up at the bus stop accompanied by Teun the dog, and together we walked through a beautiful forest that led up to her studio complex. There were not only studio spaces, it was more like a community, with an actual street where people lived and an exhibition space surrounded by apple trees and sculptures.

 

Utopia, that’s what it looked like. Her beautiful studio space, coffee, and inspiring artwork were the ingredients for our date that morning. What was her journey after graduation and what choices did she make to be where she is now: a successful visual artist.

1. THE MENTOR

I think it’s important to have at least one mentor, not only in your artistic practice, but also just in life. A person who you kind of look up to, and speak the same language with. Someone who is further down the road, who can help you get a little closer to that point on your horizon. For me, Anno Dijkstra and Dieuwke Spaans were those mentor figures during the years at the academy.

As an art-student, lots of opinions get thrown your way, which can be overwhelming sometimes.
I remember having a hard time finding the confidence to trust my guts with all the different opinions around me. At the same time, it’s an excellent exercise to prepare yourself for the world behind the university walls. Let’s face it: people are always going to have an opinion, start growing your balls at school.

Years after graduation, we drank coffee now as colleagues, discussing my process and the choices I’ve made, laughed about the drama and shared our future plans with each other. Looking back at the struggles I’ve had as a student, made me curious hearing about Dieuwke’s journey.

My years at the academy were a disaster. The professors and I didn’t understand each other. Luckily I had one teacher, Servaas Schoone, who pulled me through the finals. He, together with two guest teachers; Nan Hoover and Aernout Mik, gave me the confidence not to let others’ expectations, influence my work. They also taught me how to trust, reflect and to be persistent in order to survive within the art world.'

After graduation Dieuwke studied at Ateliers Arnhem. The art world rewarded the drawings she made during this year with the Koninklijke Prijs voor vrije Schilderkunst – which she won twice in a row. The price was much more than a recognition. It gave her the opportunity to start shaping her long-lasting career within the art scene. In 2001-2002 she was a participant at the Rijksakademie. But it’s during her residence in Delfina, London, in 2004 where she found her own voice.

2. ARTREPRENEURSHIP

Dieuwke works together with gallery tegenboschvanvreden in Amsterdam. A good gallery understands an artist's work and together you’ll make a long term plan to represent the work both nationally and internationally. A gallery also takes care of things like transportation, website, payments, collectors, contracts and much more. If you and your gallery are on the same page, you will have the freedom and time to focus on your artistic practice.

Is it possible to do it yourself, both the artistic and the business part – Can you be an artrepreneur?

Dieuwke: 'Of course you can do it yourself. But working together as a team, in my case together with my two gallerists, is giving me mental and physical space to do what I do best: Spending time in the studio, doing research and make new work. Having said that, it’s best to delegate all tasks that are outside your expertise to a professional. I’ve learned not to lose time trying to figure something out, if others can help’.

3. ASK FOR HELP

This brings us to the next piece of advice that I thought was really important: Ask for help.

You have more people in your network that can help you than you think you do. It’s not only ok to ask for help, it’s smart to do so. Someone may know someone, who might just be the right person at the right place and at the right time.  Ask for help.

4. GET A PET

This is by far my favorite art life-hack: Get a pet at your studio.

Dieuwkes’ first studio space wasn’t as comfortable as her current paradise; it was a 40-minute ride on her bike to an old bakery storage space. One of the first things she did to make sure to go to work was getting two bunnies in her studio. That way, even if she didn’t feel like making anything, she would still need to go there to feed the bunnies. And when your there anyway, you as well can start working.

Nowadays she still uses this “discipline” technique at her current studio, Dieuwke has a beautiful aquarium with its own mini-ecosystem: japonica shrimps, two dwarf claw frogs and a lot of aquatic plants. Nowadays the animals are there for a slightly different reason. No matter the weather, she still needs to go to her studio without any excuses. But Dieuwke loves taking care of her aquarium and having this rhythm at her studio. Using her love for animals as a discipline technique is so smart and inspirational, We can only learn from that.

5. GIVING BACK

Besides her professional practice at the studio, Dieuwke is a mentor at the University of the Arts in Utrecht.
She teaches drawing and printing in the second year and is one of the teachers in the third and fourth year.
 

I remember attending her painting class when she still was a teacher in the first year and having her as one of my main mentors in my graduation year. Ever since the beginning, I’ve admired her for her honest opinion and the ability to stimulate individual growth.

 

Having conversations that were mere psychological, Dieuwke knows how to pass on her knowledge helping you understand your own artistic process. I think this comes from her own experiences during the academy, wanting to awaken a level of understanding your work and trusting your gut-feeling.

 

This brings us full circle of her self- created and maintained ecosystem.

6. CREATE YOUR OWN ECOSYSTEM

An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in combination with the non-living elements of their environment, interacting as a system. That’s exactly how Dieuwke Spaans designed the art world around her, creating a sustainable environment for her professional practice.

Not only planning and deliberate choices led her way to success. A strong gut-feeling, discipline, persistence, and awareness within her playfield, were all a part of the world she created. I think it’s only fair to say that she’s a remarkable artrepreneur.

Dieuwke is currently working on her upcoming solo-exhibition with new interdisciplinary work. Make sure you follow her to stay updated @dieuwkespaans