Interview with Bram Vanhaeren

Interview with Bram Vanhaeren
  • 6 July 2010
  • Articles, Web Design
  • This post was written exclusively for PV.M Garage by lukas
  • Comments (27)»

Portrait of Bram Vanhaeren

Could you please introduce yourself?

Hi, my name is Bram Vanhaeren, I’m 19 years old. Born and raised in Kapellen, peaceful town in Antwerp, Belgium. I’m going to study Cross Media Design next year. Following my older brother’s foot steps after getting kicked out of two other art schools. I’ve been developing my style since my first pen tool experiments in Illustrator about 5 years ago. My style ranges from simple illustrations and typography to mixed media artwork. Next to art I’m training atheltics with my two other brothers, running 400 & 200m sprint 5 days in the week. I can’t resist to spend money on fancy assecoires and I love to spend time with friends.

Talking about style: How would you describe your style? What distincts it from others?

Well it was always my goal to share happines; create a smile on someone’s face, you know… Make something everyone can relate with. That’s how I started: capture those happy moments, graduating from school, the experience of freedom for example. With this goal in my mind I worked on my art. I use bright colors, funky drawings and mix it up. I always knew I’m not the most skilled artist, so I try to do magic with basic tricks and try to find a way to stand out among those thousands of other amazing artists.

Crashed Ice

Illustration to thank my client. He has a close relation with Redbull and loves Crashed Ice. He gave me some amazing action photographs so I decided to make an experimental print to decorate his new office.

How did you get into design?

When I was 13, I hit that stage every kid experienced. You start to game online, meet people, join a group of people and talk on forums. On my first forum, everyone used “signatures”: Small images with your name. I loved them and asked someone how to make those. When someone explained me I needed photoshop, I searched for it and found it pretty fast. But I was only 13 and Photoshop was like Chinese to me. I didn’t understand anything. While most kids from my age give up on it, I started to test every little tool and experimented with it. I didn’t understood english back then. So go figure out how I did it… After making few signatures I started to participate in “Signature Of The Week” contests. Soon I won 50+ contests and was getting some recognition in the early art communities.
Then I started an art community myself, together with my brother. It was amazing, we were 14 and 16 years old and running a 700+ member forum with contests and an enthousiastic forum. But then you get bored from small signatures. You try to do a desktop wallpaper, it doesn’t work out well so you try to explore new things. My brother introduced me to Illustrator then. A new program to play with. I was 14 then and started to create vector art everyday and placed it on DeviantART. When I was 15, I got back to Photoshop and mixed photography with my vector skills. I received amazing feedback and it made me realize that I have to keep working on this. I never gave up since then. Now I’m 19, doing alright, I think, and love the idea I’m so close to becoming a professional. From hobby to a job. A dream.

What part of design do you like most; and what least? Why?

I love to finish a succesful project! It doesn’t has to be the million dollar project, every project that leads to a happy client and receiving that one kind of email or phone call from your client saying how happy he is, makes it so beautiful. It can turn your shitty day into something amazing. It pushes yourself to keep doing what you do and take that experience into the next projects.
What I don’t like is the part where you show the first preview and you get a negative email about the fact they found a new concept. Then I have to start all over. It happened few times and it drives me crazy. The client thinks he is the art director, which is not true. Then you have to tell him to take back few steps and let us do our job, which isn’t easy. Then good communication skills come handy. I bought some books and started to read how I have to communicate with other people and clients, and since I’m reading these books I’m having a better relation with the clients and solved some problems I couldn’t have solved a year ago. Just by communicating.


As a young artist myself I want to help as many people, if it’s by creating a smile on their face or sharing an idea. I will do anything I can. And if I can help other children by creating art, that’s like a dream come true. That’s why I created this illustration, from a child with creative dreams and wild imagination. To remind us how beautiful kids are and the fact we should protect their dreams!

You’re running a design studio (into1) together with your brother. What is this situation like? How is work spread between you?

Well, my brother, Tim (22), is the boss. He’s the art director/web programmer, while I’m the illustrator/digital artist. So when we get a briefing, we read it together, when it’s web design and branding, Tim will probably pick the job, while I get more poster and t-shirt projects. The good thing is, we are brothers. We’ve been in almost every situation before, we know how to handle things with each other. It’s also easier to accept feedback from each other, because he’s your brother, you know. But we have one little problem: We can’t work together in one room. When we worked together, and someone is checking Facebook for example, while the other one is working, he will get get distracted. So we decided to work in different rooms so we don’t distract each other on our work.

Do you review each other’s work? Are you sharp critics of eath other?

Yes, everytime I make a new work, Tim comes over and says what he thinks about it. But I almost never scrap work. Even when Tim says it’s bad, I keep going and show it to the world to proof him wrong sometimes. When he’s correct he’s correct. But you know, sometimes he can be wrong. And yes, we can be sharp against each other, but we believe that’s very important. When we work on a new project, I want to make sure I don’t waste time on a bad concept, so I have to trust if Tim likes it or not.
Of course I give critique too, but Tim isn’t really experimenting with art, so there is not much to critique. His web design is great so I don’t have to give feedback, but say “Good job Tim”. I wish he did more freestyle artworks, but I can’t blame him. He’s more busy with his girlfriend and work than I am. In our spare time, I keep playing with Photoshop, while he’s with his girlfriend. Hopefully that will change soon. Any ladies reading this? :D

Since you are Belgian: Is there a typical Belgian design style? Do you belong to it?

Oh, I have no idea, but I went to two art schools in Belgium, the only art schools in Belgium. And everytime I see the final works from the last year students, they’re so similar that I can pick them out from the web and tell you they’re from here. Which isn’t a good thing in my opinion. They’re a little bit behind. Sounds hard, but that’s just my opinion, I can be wrong. I’ve been wrong before, so feel free to correct me. They’re very traditional. 90’s, typography…

So, in fact, you are trying to avoid designing like most of the Belgian designers?

Yes. Just having fun, it works. I got kicked out of both schools for a reason :P

What reason?

I had some dificulties with almost the half of all the teachers. Being me wasn’t a good plan. I wasn’t ready to accept critism from older teachers, when I tried to stay fresh and young. So almost everything I did received many negative criticism. I also had troubles in sharing my ideas, because everything I said was in their eyes, not original and useless. I started this school with already some experience and I’ve already had build an idea about the industry, how it should work and I had to learn. When I said that to my teachers, because I wanted to be honest and know what they thought about it, they laughed at me and said I knew nothing. Pretty hard to hear, because just at that time I started to get my first clients and recognition. They’re plan was to break me down, at first I didn’t knew, I just felt really bad because everything I showed got broken down. They kept repeating, Everything you did till today was not good. You have to change, accept it. I was so down, some teachers were concerned about me and said that’s how we handle students who think they know everything, break them down so we can build them up again. When I heard this, I was so disappointed. Two months they have just been breaking me down, so they could build me!? I don’t let that happen, only few people can really influence me. So I left the school because if I wanted to continue there, I had to do everything said, and ignore what I want and think. I just can’t do that. I picked up some freelance projects, worked for a while and decided to do an application for the other art school. When I entered I saw so many younger students, with a totally different vision about the industry then I had. They literally had no experience at all, they didn’t knew what Photoshop was, for example. Anyway I talked with few teachers, showed my work, had a talk. Make a long story short, they didn’t believe I made the works I’ve shown from my portfolio. If, “if” they said, I made these artworks, they asked me why I didn’t freelance or searched a job already. So bye school, I wasn’t welcome there either. That’s my story so far. I’m going to study Cross Media Design now, to study everything about web design and print. Technical stuff, so they don’t rate me on my artistic skills.

I know there are more students like me, stuck in school. I hope I can help few students to show it isn’t the worst thing to drop out of school as long as you keep working and believing in your ability. If you’re having troubles in school, I would love to talk with you, you can find me on Facebook. For me, leaving school was the best decision I’ve ever made. At least I’m happy now.

Panda I

Panda IV

Panda is a series of experimental artworks, where I 100% freestyle and expand my horizon. Panda is my secret playground.

What’s your opinion about the general impact of design? How is design able to influence a message’s absorption?

Sometimes I have the feeling that design can break down a message very easily when it’s not well executed, but I’ve also seen amazing messages which didn’t need any good design. Because the message – the way it communicated – was so strong. So I would say, design can be important, but nothing can top good communication. You don’t need to be a design pro to make “Yes we can” more powerful.

Where do you draw your inspiration from? Who are your design-related idols?

I easily get inspired by lyrics & quotations from books lately. But back in the days, I studied the art scene: which projects scored well, why they did so well. Which styles are hot or not. And because I was studying other artists I have this huge database of artworks in my head which I can use everytime to find a solution. Back in these days, Douglas Alves really pushed me to mix photography and illustration. So he will be my idol forever! I also appreciate the colorful works of Radim Malinic. And of course I really like the work of Dan Tobin Smith. He’s got some amazing photographs!

What are your expectations for the future?

I can hopefully finish my studies in 3 years. I hope into1 is bigger at that time, so I can jump back into action or join another great design studio. But the upcoming years will be me and school. I can hopefully pick up some nice clients on the way, that would be nice. As long I have fun and do what I love, that’s the most important thing. Don’t dream your life, live your dreams, people.

Be sure to check out Bram’s recently redesigned portfolio/blog:

Author: lukas

Lukas is an Austrian writer who ldoes his best to provide quality content and original article to the community. A young, fresh and versatile mind who writes for design-related magazines and blogs. Follow him on Twitter or be his friend on Facebook if you want to know more about him

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  1. Davy Kestens

    I don’t know about the major art schools, but claiming that Belgian designers are ‘a little bit behind’ is completely wrong :)

    There are multiple Belgians in the list of great graphic and web artists.

    (But hey, you said we were allowed to feel free to correct you)

  2. Jason

    Nice work on the interview.

  3. Geir Steinar

    Awesome interview, and a really interesting read.

    You’re a clever guy, Bram. You did a smart move to believe in yourself – and look now. You’re amazing people from all over the world with your art.

    Keep up the good work – and your hobby just might be your job before you know a word of it!

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