Interview with Utrecht-based graphic designer Lyanne Tonk

During my exchange studies in Nederlands, Utrecht I tried to find something typical for its art scene, what could be interesting to write about. After few months spending there, I realized, that I was totally surrounded by designers everywhere around me. Yes, Nederlands, as the country where modern design was born, offered me the best opportunity to do interview with someone from this part of its tradition. And I think I found pretty good example of young, initiative person, who presented me Dutch graphic design community from really opened and objective point of view.

Lyanne Tonk is Dutch graphic designer based in Utrecht. After introduction school in north of Nederland, where she comes from, she started to study graphic design in Utrecht’s art school- HKU. All over her studies she did two summer schools in Italy and Estonia, taught in art school in China and led some design seminars in HKU School. Lyanne is also one of the co-founders of creative working space KAPITAAL and part of the team of Utrecht magazine DE DAKHAAS.

Now she works as a freelancer involved in plenty of projects. She is interested in visual as well as social part of graphic design. Her works are depended on experimenting with many graphic techniques, mostly including different materials and typography.

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Foto: Fontanel

I see that in your works there are always pink shades and subtle colours, which create really calm and gently effect. I think that this kind of represents your style and yourself in overall. Is it important for you to always put a part of yourself into your assignments? Or do you sometimes create it just in absolutely professional way? Like, ok, this is only a job, so I will do it the way my customers will like it.

I think it’s a mix of both. I think I have a little bit of specific style, so yeah, now people also ask me to make things, because they know other works from me. But I always start working from the idea. It is kind of impossible for me to make just something what is nice, but I always start with something that I am interested in or that I am researching for. And with assignments I do the same. I dive into the assignments to find what is specific and special about it and then I find the most important elements for my work.

So it is kind of your process of working that you always start from research and then you continue in visual part of it, right?

Yes, I always try to get the idea and a concept based on these assignments and from there I start working and create the visible, visual part. And I often work partly manual, partly digital. It is mixed up with that both things and there are always elements returning my work. Lots came also from the inspiration of assignment itself actually.

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Where your general inspiration is coming from? I mean, what is your main source of inspiration?

It can be anything, but there are certain things… I am fascinated in people and their behaviour. Maybe, that is also part that mixes well with graphic design, because graphic design is about communication, so I am interested in how people can see things in completely different way, while it is still the same object. But it also can be something what I see in a news or what I see in a streets. What is around me. That inspires me as well.

Do you have some preferences, as a graphic designer, on which you like work more? Something like publications, posters, books… Or does it depend on particular project itself?

Yeah I do have my preferences. I like to do a lot of different things, so not always just same kind of projects. I think I have a preference for books or at least something that can be more like an object. I think I’m interested in more spatial things. And books are also interesting for me, because I like typography and It is kind of mix of making an object and using typography, so that is why I like it a lot. And on the other hand, books are still some kind of old fashion things so… Yeah, but I’m also interested in many other things, haha.

Do you have some favourite graphic technique or the one you are using the most? Do you use more manual techniques or do you prefer digital way of creating graphic design?

I really like to mix things and explore. But I can say that the tool I use the most is the scanner. Not in some specific way, but I’m always experimenting. I always try to do something real and then get it to a digital way again. Because it’s digital time, so you need to be aware of that somehow. And same with books!

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You are really Dutch based artist, but you can still compare, because you travel a lot, you have studied and worked around a world. So how do you see graphic design in Netherlands as a country with really strong design tradition?

I think that it is really about background. Netherlands has a big history of graphic design and it’s gonna continue. But I think that also for other countries people somehow overrate the Dutch design a bit. Since now I can compare, I think that there is a lot of more interesting things happening in other countries, but yeah, I know that lot of people from other countries are coming to Netherlands to study or to work or do an internship. So I think nowadays Dutch graphic design is hugely influenced by other countries, it is not just clear anymore. There is more interaction, but sometimes people think that it’s high standard or something. I think that nowadays it is more international.

Is it difficult to make your own name here in Netherlands? Do you feel you have to compete?

Yes, it is not so easy, but I think it’s not easy in general.

Ok, but is there some difference between Dutch culture, Dutch “graphic design standard” and other countries? Is it more difficult to be a graphic designer in Netherlands?

Yeah! Maybe yeah! Designers can make more experimental works since people are used to be more open to it. So they can solve even more experimental graphic design, I guess. But at the same time, there is a lot of graphic designers. So the market is also flourishing. Especially in Amsterdam there are perfect designers, so I think that it makes it more difficult. But then, there are still jobs in different levels. You can do commercial jobs. For me it’s more interesting to be in cultural field, but it’s definitely also harder to get job in there. And actually to get job where they pay well.

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When I was stalking your Instagram, I found that you were in Brno. What did you do there?

Aaah! I was in Brno, because I was in graphic design Biennial there. And I went there to see exhibitions and lectures. Because I still try to promote my view on graphic design, since I studied in Netherlands and I am based in Netherlands, I mostly see only Dutch graphic design.  I think they had a really good programme there actually! That’s why I was there…to see it!

Since you visited the Biennial, you probably could see some differences between Czech/ Slovak and Dutch design. What do you think about it? What was your impression?

Yes, it is difficult to say, because I don’t know about it that much. I think it is quite funny, because in Netherlands people start to use more typeface font, which is more stretched one, and when I was in Czech Republic, I saw that there is it lot of more! Because I think you used these types for longer and here it’s more like a hype thing now. For you it is more common and bit old fashioned I guess. So that was interesting to see the mix of cultures.

You are co-founder of KAPITAAL which is a creative place for young graphic designers in Utrecht. Could you present it somehow? What are its main ideas?

So, when I was graduating I founded, together with fourteen other people, a silkscreen place in Utrecht. That place was closed down and all the machines were left, so we started to make a plan and to do something with it and we ended up with a big working space of 300sqares metres.  So, for one and half year I was kind of involved in that project. We were together with a lot of different people and worked together. It was many events happening there! We had a shop and I did some projects of my own as well. For example I organized few lecture series about graphic design there.

Do you see it as an important place for graphic designers in Utrecht?

Yes, I think that those kinds of things are important, but also those kinds of initiatives. Because when I was graduating there was no place like this in Utrecht. So it started to change already little bit. For the people who founded KAPITAAL it was a chance, because silk screen machines were disappearing and we wanted to save them. Because it was a good technique, which we could use for graphic design, and it was no other place where we could do it. But for me and most of the people that founded KAPITAAL, the most important part of it was to create a place where people could meet. Since when you are graduated everyone kind of went their own way and there was a huge gap about – where do you start from? How do you share knowledge? Since you finished studies you are ready already, but you are not completely done with studying. It is interesting for graphic designers to meet illustrators or people who write, although it is mostly graphic based there. I think it also gave a good example for other initiatives to start. There were more and more things going on after that, and still there are new things popping up everywhere.

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Could you say something more about DE DAKHAAS as well? What is it? How does it work?

So this is a project I didn’t start, but I joined it a little bit later. The DE DAKHAAS is magazine about Utrecht as the city, but it tells stories and publishes articles that are not standard, like tourist-based kind of articles, but more interesting stories. For example one of the main interviews was with a toilet lady of the music place that we had in Utrecht. All of people living here and came there would know her and had small talk with her. She always was there, but we didn’t really know anything about her, so those kind of stories are interesting for DE DAKHAAS to tell. To find something unexpected in the city. And it works with team, since it has existed, but there are also external people like writers, photographers or illustrators that always change. The funny thing about DE DAKHAAS is that it changes every time. It’s going quite well now, but next one will be the tenth issue already, so we are looking for a change to keep it still interesting for us as well as it’s whole free project.

But you guys want to move it further.

Yes, exactly. And we do have also plans to have a little bit more budget to make it also lit a bit better and be more critical about content itself, so yeah. That’s what’s going to happen.

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Ok, now little bit more personal question. Where do you see yourself in few years? Do you intend to stay in Nederlands? And what would you like to concentrate on mostly? What is your dream job?

I have no idea where I would be. I don’t think I will be in Nederlands and my goal is to have few fixed clients that make it possible for me to go anywhere, so I don’t know where I will be, but that would be interesting for me. I think the mix that I do is kind of interesting, but I hope that then maybe it would be nice to work on a few bigger projects. Also I think It’s difficult to think about it, because graphic design is changing so much. I have no idea how it will look like in ten years. Maybe it won’t exist anymore or it will but in completely different way. Yeah it is also possible. So difficult one, but I know for sure that it won’t be the same as now.

It’s nice you always think in this way, like everything’s changing and everything is relative in future.

Yes, but I think that it’s also part of my personality and also how I like to work – I get bored very easy . When something stays same for a long time it always pushes me to keep involving and exploring and changing things. It’s also my way how to go further.

But your visual style still stays kind of same.

Yes, but I also try to find some collaboration. Because that gives me also inspiration and that’s how I’m trying to evolve my ‘style’ as well. For example, last time I did a project with one illustrator.

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So do you prefer to work in group or individually?

Both. I really try to mix. Normally, graphic designer would do typeface and you would get the image for illustrator and combine it and that’s it, but we tried to mix it more to make a leader outwork together. So we discussed the typography together, we made a concept together. I gave him a partly designed piece with typography and he would put something in it. So it was really mixed up. That’s also that I always try to change it lot of time and keep it interesting.

I like that you are not trying to push yourself to some clear, strictly defined position, but you are always developing yourself in many directions.

Yes, I think that it is also good to question what kind of designer am I? But it’s not necessary to answer it. I think it’s good to keep looking for the answer. It is good to still be specific, but not to be stuck in it.

Follow Lyanne Tonk on Instagram and check out her website.

Questions: Klára Mamojková

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