Michael van Kekem is an illustrative designer, printmaker and founder of Rotterdam-based Studio Michael van Kekem. He creates playful, sharp and colourful editorial illustrations, brand identities, handmade products, screen printed poster design and typography. Michael also runs screen printing and design workshops for people of all ages, both on location at events, and in printmaking studios.

Tell us a little bit about you and what are you working on at the moment

I work in the field of illustration, graphic design and printmaking. This is my ninth year working as an illustrator and printmaker, and I’ve been full-time for the last three years.

My week always looks quite diverse. I can be working on an editorial illustration, a logo or promotional material for clients (like flyers or booklets) behind the computer on Monday. On Tuesday I can be found behind the screen printing table or riso printer, and that varies throughout the week. I also teach screen printing on Monday and Wednesday nights. I do my own administration, contact with clients and suppliers. I have worked my way into a job that requires lots of multitasking. But it’s what I like, that way each day is different.

At the moment, I’m working on various commissioned jobs; a programme booklet, a t-shirt and tote bag design for a festival, which I will be screen printing soon. I also just finished curating and making work for an exhibition. As for my printmaking practice, I hope to publish a book featuring a series of linocuts and poetic texts, telling a story about grief and recovery. I want to do more letterpress prints, but also some larger prints. Anyway, loads going on, as always.

What are your favourite techniques to use?

As I work very intuitively, I actually pick the medium that best suits the idea I have. Screen printing used to always have my preference, so I would think like a screen printer in terms of prepping the print. Like everyone, I have my own ways of using the medium, often the challenge comes with the design. How to get the right colours for the print, the right paper, what size to make it?

What influences your work?

Nature, art, music, experiences, loss. Life, mostly.

Tell us about your process

I’d like to say I start out playfully every time I approach a project, but that’s not always the case to be honest. If I do a linocut, I often already have a sketch or thought or even a written poetic text ready. For a client, I always write out the brief for myself, and thoughts that go along with that. Then I briefly sketch drafts, mainly in my sketchbook. What do you do if you get creative block?

When I get stuck, I often get frustrated at first, but I have learned to allow myself to start over again from a fresh point of view. Sometimes right away, and sometimes the next day after a good night of sleep. This applies to my self-initiated projects, as well as with clients.

Good feedback is key when you’re working for clients. When there’s no or little feedback, or they just like whatever you make, then there’s no challenge in it for you as a designer, and the work will be of lower quality as you will keep creating for this client. So, if the client doesn’t give you much feedback, give yourself the challenge instead.

With printmaking, it’s often much more personal. Sometimes the urge to develop this print is enormous, and you just have to let it out. Sometimes I just feel like making a print, and I just start. I do that by cutting shapes, play with compositions and colours.

Interview by Utrecht Print Exchange, as published in December 2019

Portrait by Loes van Duijvendijk