Thijs van Buuren’s main weapons of choice are his needles and thread in all colors imaginable. As Tegendraads he’s mastering the art of embroidery, taking over the world one stitch at a time. We had a good talk at his home in downtown Rotterdam, big up for Thijs!
So, let’s begin with a quick introduction. Who are you, and what’s your drive?
Hi there, my name is Thijs and I run a company called ‘Tegendraads’. Tegendraads is specialized in embroidery, in its broadest sense. So I guess my biggest passion is designing and embroiding.
When and how did your love for needles and thread started?
I guess it all started way back, when I first touched the sewing-machine that belonged to my mother. From that very second, I was hooked on not only designing clothes, but producing them as well. At first I started working on all kinds of pants, and soon after that I started making tee’s.
In the meanwhile I went to art-school to study graphic design in Arnhem. That wasn’t a big success, so after a year I dropped out of school and went to the big city, Rotterdam. Here I started an other college, called ‘Industrial Product Design’, in which I’m graduating in a few months. School never was my biggest interest anyway, so I’m glad I took a big leap of faith by leaving Arnhem and look where I’m standing now.
Do you have any rolemodels? And if you do, can you name a few?
In the great land of embroidery there are basically only a few productional embroiders who only produce logo’s and stuff for student-clubs, not really worth mentioning… One brand that I really dig, is Karl Kani. Back in the days I used to wear this brand a lot, because they pushed quality and quantity at the same time. Karl Kani worked with silk a lot, with double embroidered outlines around the fabric. From my point of view, those techniques are pure eyecandy, even nowadays.
It seems like you are constantly creating ideas in your head. How and when do you collect your inspiration?
First of all, how would you define inspiration? Inspiration is, just like creativity, a pretty big concept. Movies inspire me as well, for example American Beauty. I move a lot, take my inspiration from every little detail I see. Linking those small details with my imagination are a crucial part of the process. Sometimes when you’re a bit tipsy and you take the subway down home you see something and you immediately write it down. If it’s still picking my brain the next morning, then it’s probably worth to make some more research about it.
It’s also a process. You think of something, you think a little bit deeper, you put it away, you sketch something and there you have it; a crispy fresh new concept.
Do you have any specific music to work with? Some rough drum ‘n bass or some calm jazzy sounds or something?
The music I listen to while I’m working is very different from time to time, as long at is has some steady flow and it has to get my mind pumping. It’s also based on my mindset and the time of day.
I also like to listen to hiphop, from really oldschool to fresh newschool. Artists like Opgezwolle, Tyler the Creator, Kubus & Bangbang, that kind of stuff. By the way, in the video of Kubus and Bangbang’s ‘Ey’, Kubus is wearing the Venour-tee on which I did the embroidery!
For some deeper thoughts I usually listen to some Duke Ellington and Joy Division, and when I’m into experimenting I’ll throw on some Glitch Mob.
Tell me what a perfect day in the life of Thijs looks like.
Slowly waking up around ten in the morning, inhaling the smell of some cups of coffee. After that a good breakfast, usually a few slices of freshly baked bread and a fried egg or two.When I’m stuffed I power on my machine to do some assignments, and if I don’t have any serious stuff laying around, I’ll work on some Tegendraads-tee’s, as long as the machine is pumping.
Until around 13:00 I’ll do some programming and drawing for embroidery, play some music and answer my emails. On the better days I’ll take some hot food in the afternoon, and take some time to eat it. You can’t rush food right?
After that sometimes I’ll take a short nap, but usually I keep on working. Around 17:00 I try to pull myself away from the computer and do some domestic stuff, like cleaning, smoking, thinking and sketching. When it’s time for dinner I hook up with some buddies to have a decent meal somewhere.
How many different colours of thread do you have, and what’s your favorite colour?
A few years ago I went to the Slade School of Fine Arts in London to take a class called ‘Color in Practice’. In this class, I pretty much learned everything I needed to know about colours, how they work individually but also how they work when you combine them. I really think they made me understand the whole concept of colour, so thanks again Slade School!
In my workspace downstairs I have about four-hundred different colours of thread. For me it’s the combination of fabric combined with the thread that’s very important. In that way, I don’t really have a favourite colour, it’s the combination that makes the work shine.I also never work with a preset of colours, only if the work has to be black and white, or if it has something to do with a assignment for a client.
What kind of work would you like to make in collaboration with Los Bangeles?
What I really would like to do is hook up with some other artist you’ve interviewed for Los Bangeles, so we could team up to make some artist x artist x Los Bangeles thingy. Something like that would be really sick!
When you take a look at your work, you’ll notice a lot of textual jokes. How do you make up these kind of jokes?
I’m kind of offended by the word ‘textual jokes’. When I’m thinking of textual jokes I see those really bad tee’s at tourist-shops in Amsterdam, like the ones with SHELL’S HELL, know what I mean?
When I’m making a design with typography, I spend a lot time making research in understanding the image, and how it’s going to work with the embroidery. I think you’re aiming on my work that says ‘Geen woorden maar draden’. To me it’s not a textual joke. I live in Rotterdam, and I’m very proud of this city. ‘Geen woorden maar daden’ is a very common phrase around town, and I just put my own twist into it. All the letters used in this piece I hand-drawed myself. My sketchbooks are filled with research on letters and images.
Just like my piece called ‘Barre Tijden’, it’s a phrase me and my friends back in high-school in Amersfoort happen to use a lot. They wanted me to make a tee for it, so I went looking for the right font to use on it. At first I started sketching on a piece of cardboard, but it turned out to be a really classical serif, just to point out the contrast between ‘Barre Tijden’ and the power of that font.
Until now, what work has turned out to be your personal masterpiece?
Back when those guys from Venour where still located at the Meent, I did a twelve-coloured piece called’ Haute Couture Venour’. When it comes to my embroidery-skills I think that would be my masterpiece. AlsoI recently designed a shirt for Ben Saunders, with a picture of his girl’s face on it, two-sided embroidery. I put the outlines on the tee, and cut everything away around the face. It was a hell of a job but the result is stunning.
In my own work I think my ‘Hexagon’ tee is brilliant. The way that tree-dimensional feeling is working on a two-dimensional object is just beautiful. The colours I used on the tee look so different than they looked initially. It’s fascinating how our brain mixes the thread with the the negative space of the tee, so that we see a ‘different’ colour. Pretty cool I guess.
I’m also pretty proud of C’est une Catastrophe’, because it was my first solid’ -a full colour area printed / embroidered from a smooth block unbroken by dots or other texture patterns- work. It was also embroidered in four different colours, what’s kind of a piece of cake for me now, but can take up a lot of time for, let’s say, screenprinters.
It seems like you’re a multi-talented guy. Do you have any other talents nobody knows of?
Next to this embroidery thing I’m also pretty handy with clothing. I can turn a piece of fabric into a decent pair of pants, including zippers, buttons, a waistband, the full monty. That’s also how it all started out for me, by making pants.I also play some nice tunes on my acoustic guitar, not often enough though.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this kind of work?
I have really no clue. I sometimes thought of working in a clothingstore, but I’m too honest to tell someone they look good in those clothes, when they really don’t.
Right now I’m almost a graduate in Industrial Product Design, but thinking out products is not really my kind of thing. I’m grateful though, this education learned me how to think in a specific kind of way and how to do research, which is also one of the basics in everything I do. It also taught me how to speed up certain processes, like making a design.
Maybe I would start a music-label. Back when I designed some flyers for Catwalk -club in Rotterdam- I met a few guys who make some pretty awesome music. They could produce some music under my label, so I can do the promotion and stuff. I could also do some graphic design jobs, but I don’t want to stare at a computerscreen for too long, so I guess I’m not build for that type of work.
Imagine your house on fire.
What are the few things that you just can’t leave behind?
I would take my laptop, my security-key that works with my embroidering-program and my electric guitar. I wish I could take my machine too, but it takes at least two guys to carry it, heavy stuff.
'Karl Kani worked with silk a lot, with double embroidered outlines around the fabric. From my point of view, those techniques are pure eyecandy, even nowadays.'
What are you currently working on?
Usually I work on a thousand things at the same time. I really, really want to make another series for Tegendraads, but I got a lot of other stuff in my head right now. So we’ll just have to postpone that into the near future. Recently Eastpak asked me to do a bag for their ‘artist collection’. It consist of three bags; those oldschool padded bags you had in highschool, but those are releasing next year.
Next to the clothing-thing, what kind of other stuff would you like to make?
I would like to design a new lifestyle, a way of living. Currently I’m setting up a new project called ‘Lifesaving Hero’, together with a good friend of mine. The core of this project is about textual tee’s which are give-aways for the true ‘heroes, people with a good heart and sincere motives, like those boys who help out a granny to cross the street.
Maybe a party where the focus is on art or something. I get a lot of request in which they ask me to attend a party with my machine. Nine times out of ten they won’t pay me anything, but they can pay a random DJ hundreds of euros you know? That kind of pissed me off. With that in the back of my head I want to do a festival, where the main focus is on the artist itself, and where the music is only there to support the artist. The complete opposite of what’s happening nowadays. My friends tell me I’m a little bit idealistic, but there’s nothing wrong with some wishful thinking right?
Untill now, with which brand or artist did you had the finest collaboration?
Eastpak, without a doubt! A really nice brand to cooperate with!
With which brand or artist would you be dying to work with someday?
A few weeks ago I programmed the logo of Plastikman (aka Richie Hawtin) into my machine. I didn’t even make a test-piece, but I would love to make something together with him. Calligraffiti a.k.a. Niels Schoeman is also an artist who gives me loads of inspiration. A collaboration with this guy would also be fantastic!