Femke Hiemstra is a Netherlands-based “Neo Fabulist” visual artist who uses acrylic paint and graphite pencil to tell surrealist fables that draw you in with their imagination and meticulous skill. In our interview, we talk about the influence of location, exploring new mediums, and her favorite podcasts.
You build such complex, compelling narratives into your paintings and drawings. How fully do you plan each piece, and is there room for evolution in the paint application phase?
It differs slightly every time, but I most often don’t plan a piece completely. I start with a thumbnail-sized sketch consisting of a few lines, minimally recognizable in scene and character(s). I enlarge the sketch digitally, print it, and use it as my guide to start the piece. Atmosphere, colors, and finesse are mainly in my head and emerge as I work. This way creates room for changes which can lead to pleasant surprises.
What aspects of your childhood likely influenced these dark fairy tales and intriguing anthropomorphic animal characters?
Many creatives will probably tell you that they already had a rich imagination as a child and I was no different. That, combined with an interest in flora, fauna, and stories, is probably one of the pillars of my current work. And the dark aspect?
Perhaps you could say that my curious nature developed later in life into a fascination with contrasts and the other.
You’ve lived in a few cities around the Netherlands including Amsterdam—where are you living now, and what drew you there?
I lived in Amsterdam for about 20 years, before the hustle and bustle of an increasingly busier city started to bother me. For about five years now you can find me in the small town of Zutphen, in the east of the country, a place with more (practical) space in a varied environment with lots of greenery and beautiful old buildings. The choice is banal enough budget driven and while my metropolitan nature doesn't always click with the mentality here, I feel more relaxed. I don't rule out a return to a big city, but I can see myself hanging around here for a while.
How does your location and environment affect or influence your work?
The benefit of having an imaginative brain is that I always have my own world with me (which has always been populated by beasts, plants, and other characters). Undoubtedly, influences from my current environment creep into my work, but to really interpret them I think I need a bit more (literal) distance.
What are you listening to in your studio these days?
Depends a bit on my mood, but I mostly prefer a podcast over music; I’m a big true crime fan (Redhanded, Bad People), but also love to listen to investigative journalism (The Coming Storm, I’m Not a Monster) or shows that cover a wide range of topics (Stuff You Should Know). I tend to move/drum along with music, so to listen to a story works the best for my easily distracted brain.
Goals for 2023?
In addition to creating a number of painted pieces for various group exhibitions, I look forward to continuing my slowly progressing ceramic tile project. It is a technique that lies somewhere between intriguing and annoying/difficult to grasp and that elusiveness challenges me. The first batch of tiles of my own design recently survived the firing (at two different temperatures, to get different effects later), so I can start testing glazing techniques soon.