Moments of Fernweh with Femke Hiemstra September 11 2018

Femke Hiemstra is a Dutch painter based in Zutphen, Netherlands. Born in Zaanstand, her childhood was filled with explorations of nearby fields, building tree houses and rafts, reading comics and picture books, and drawing horses and birds of prey. Femke went on to study at the School of Graphic Arts in Amsterdam, and then the School of Arts in Utrecht. Upon graduating, she pursued a career as a freelance illustrator for several years. Around 2006, she began focusing on making personal work – elaborate paintings filled with her unique characters. Her works were so well received that she turned to fine art full time, and has since exhibited in galleries worldwide.

Ahead of her show Fernweh at Outré Gallery – in tandem with Nick Sheehy's show Cloaked – Femke set aside some time to speak with us.

Miser by Femke Hiemstra. Original artwork, acrylic on panel.

How has your past in illustration informed your current practice as a fine artist?

In the narrative and figurative style of my current personal work, you can still see where I originally came from. I find my illustration background especially helpful with creating stories. Deadlines were often short and briefings could be minimalistic and you had to come up with something. Other than with illustration, the deadlines with art/exhibitions are longer and the scene is just a little bit more different and more focussed on the person (both artist, gallery owner/curator and appreciator/buyer).

The worlds of your artworks are so rich with storytelling and lively characters. What do you do to nourish your inner world and creativity?

By stepping away from the hermit-like, introvert space that can be my creativity, I go to other playgrounds to let the air go through my brain. To me, breaking loose from a work is necessary to look at it with fresh eyes. Therefore I love to be in nature or do sport. You can find me on an MX or Enduro track, at a (motor)trials area or on a bicycle. To fuel my creativity I visit (large) cities (that often have more creative buzz than smaller towns), exhibitions and libraries. The latter is an all time favourite. I pick a book on a subject and start sketching all that I find interesting. It keeps my sketching hand in check and I learn about new shapes of plants, patterns, animals, or whatever is in front of me. 

Le Dernier Poursuivant du Dragon by Femke Hiemstra. Limited edition giclee.

Your paintings are often accompanied by elegant and expressive lettering. Where does your fascination with typography and languages come from?

Being raised by a comic-reading, penmanship-writing dad, the use of text and text in images have been around me from the start and continued to fascinate me as well. I like the shape of lettering and often look for excuses to put it in my work. The lines and graphic-ness create a nice tension with the rest of the painted scene.

What is your workspace like? Do you have a clear delineation between your art practice and your personal life, or is it an ever-changing blend of the two?

Half a year ago I moved to another city and I now have a separate studio, but the boundaries between work and private space can be fluent. The studio in my garden is not a huge place, just a table and some shelfs, but it contains all of my sketchbooks (they go way back to art school), my print out folder with reference material of whatever I want to create, my painting and drawing stuff, of course, and a radio.

The name of your upcoming show is Fernweh, which means wanderlust, or the feeling of lethargy and melancholy when someone is home too long. What was the catalyst for this body of work? What has been your personal experience with fernweh?

As a bit of a loner, I'm quite content to be in my house and garden, so I don't experience it often – but it can catch me by surprise. Last experience was in Romania, earlier this year. I was there for a sportive long weekend and was very impressed by the rough landscape and contrasts of the country, both in people (rich vs poor) and in nature. It wasn't creatively very inspiring per se, but it had an edge which I often couldn't quite grasp and therefore it stuck. And because of my recent move from Amsterdam to the smaller town of Zutphen, on the other side of the Netherlands, I do experience some light fernweh on a daily basis.

Can you take us through the narrative/concept of one your pieces for the upcoming show?

There are three works for this exhibition with three different stories. One is a painted book cover called A Espera ('the waiting'), a romantic/melancholic setting with a twist, inspired by a 'lady waving from a window' old black & white postcard from my collection. Then there are two panels. One is a fireworks inspired piece called Freestyler, and one larger panel in a beautiful handmade tramp art frame called Les Ambianceurs, inspired by the dandy, like 'sapeurs'.

Candymaker by Femke Hiemstra. Limited edition giclee.

Your painting technique involves layering thin washes of acrylics and water, with the addition of colour pencils upon occasion. This must be a very time consuming process.


Do you listen to music, podcasts or audiobooks while you work such long hours? What are your favourite audibles?

I listen to radio a lot; news, interviews, background stories. Furthermore I like podcasts such as This American Life, Radiolab, Savage Lovecast and some Dutch titles. I'm a fan of audiobooks too. And although I'd love to brush up my Shakespeare, the easier to follow crime or ghost stories work best in combination with creating.

I hear that you’re an avid flea market peruser. What has been your most delightfully absurd find?

Some time ago, I went to a fleamarket in the Amsterdam area and was a bit bummed to find the overall pricing was everything but 'flea' or 'little'. (I believe it's part of the sport to find something nice for a nice price on fleamarkets, otherwise I could just as well go to Ebay.) But at one of the last booths I found a monkey puppet, about 3" tall. Its body a knitted cotton onesie and with a stern looking face from a material I couldn't place. It's one of my flea market treasures because its origin is a mystery. Was it another puppet's puppet? Is it a one-off? Why the stern face? It breathes a story and was certainly worth those few euros.

Thank you for your time, Femke! We cannot wait to see your paintings.

Fernweh by Femke Hiemstra
21 September – 9 October
Opening night Friday, 21 September at 6:00pm
Facebook Event