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FEMKE HIEMSTRA: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Hello, my name is Femke, I’m from The Netherlands, and I paint and draw for a living. I grew up in Zaanstad, a commuter town close to Amsterdam, nearby fields and cattle, in nature and animal loving family. As a kid I wanted to pursue a career as a veterinarian. Then a forest ranger. Then ‘something’ with horses. But I ended up taking the creative route, following the artistic call inside. Before I switched to making art I was a freelance illustrator for about 10 years. Today I live and work in Amsterdam.


OMG     2012


In what ways does your environment influence your work (present and/or past)

The environment of my childhood is something that stayed with me and found its way into my work. Not only the obvious subjects like animals and nature but also the childhood mystery and adventure book things, so to say; spying on duck hunters in the reed lands, taking monopoly money and trying to buy candy, walking on thin iced ditches by myself, trying to force open locks to enter abandoned sheds… The atmosphere from that time is the soil on which my painted stories grow on today. And being in Amsterdam is a good place for me to complete those tales with the inspiration I find in the city’s museums, book shops and library.


The Liar   2011

What is the best part about being an artist?   Being boss of my own time.

 What is the worst ?  Err, ditto. I tend to overdo my working hours.

Also, being an artist is not only happily painting but you have to run a business as well. The latter can force its way into my artistic flow and that I find hard to deal with every now and then.

        MarineroN-fullMarinero     2012

What inspires you?

It can be all sorts of things… flora & fauna, other art and other artists, stories from audiobooks or radio shows like This American Life or Radiolab, foreign languages, music (both in atmosphere and lyrics), old timey typography and design, found objects with unexpected anthropomorphic qualities, collectables -like display material or postcards for example- from era’s with a different standards and values or foreign countries, folk art, Japanese woodblock prints, etc.



El Gigante     2011


How would you describe the initial impulse to make a new piece?

It’s simply there. It can be absent for a while and if needed, it can be summoned up, but it comes back. I never really questioned its how or why, ever since I was a child it was there and I just go with it.


Cherry Cookie   2006

How closely do you follow your original idea in the process of making a piece?

It depends. It can be spot on, a 100% like my sketch or the idea can be reduced to a small story on the side, overtaken by a new idea that popped into my mind along the way.


Do you typically work on one piece at a time or have several going at once?

Usually one at a time. But once a week I go to a shared studio space and on that day I work on one particular piece, often a drawing. The studio can sometimes be too lively and working in graphite, with only gradients and no colour decisions to make, fits that better.

afterlife web small copy


afterlife web small copy2

How does the internet affect your work?

It’s ideal for reference, of course. Before I used books and now I work with print outs and have much more room on my drawing table.

On a more personal level it has a shadow side as well. A few years back I found myself being awfully distracted by the social sites I was on. It messed up my concentration and at one point I decided to quit. I love the peace and quiet of the social site-less life but the price of that is missing out on a lot of other things as well.


Image 2

Femke’s worktable

Can you talk a bit about balancing being an artist with romantic relationships/family?

Im not in a relationship at the moment. My family lives nearby and see them on a regular basis.

My social life and hobbies and work now mostly flow together in a natural way and if I get into a relationship again I hope to be able to maintain that course.

How do you get through artist’s blocks?

By forcing myself to pause and reflect, by going through my old sketchbooks, by talking to colleagues and friends about it or by grabbing the block by its tail, take it to the library, pull out a few books and start sketching all things interesting. That usually teaches it.


How do you deal with the disappointment/despair when your work isn’t selling well?  How do find the strength to continue?

So far I can’t complain.


What are your vices?

Motorbikes, collectible markets, old postcards, stroopwafels (Dutch sugar waffle cookies), (veggie) bitterballen (a fried, ragout filled Dutch snack) with mustard, dark chocolate, recipes by Yotam Ottolenghi (and talking about the greatness that are the recipes by Yotam Ottolenghi), heels by Irregular Choice, (vintage styled) buttons and badges, tattoo’s. Does work count too?

What kind of pets do you have?

I have a cat named Noodles. A small, hard-headed, but very funny tabby.

What is the last wild animal you saw?

A deer.



Holi Cow    2013

Pick one of your pieces and describe the inspiration/inclination to make it and some of the process.

‘Holi cow’ is  one of my last works. A triptych, acrylics on panel. The outside has a grisaille of a asian styled nature scene, with three intertwining twirls of smoke in black, grey and white in the foreground.

Inside the triptych is loud and colourful. In the centre of the piece a blue bull, the ‘holy cow’ of the title (btw; holy cows can be cows and bulls). He’s the spirit of Holi Phagwa, the hindu feast of colours. He is surrounded by other animals that share the festivities, they dance and cover themselves with the Holi colours.

For long I had the wish to translate the Holi festival to my own world. I always had this energetic bull or cow on my mind, head down, charging forward, eyes somewhat wild. The idea of painting all these Indian details on the cow came to me while working. I found this book about the hand painted busses in India and thought that would a good fit for my main character as well. It adds another layer to the story but it’s also a humoristic touch. Furthermore I love how the group with the felines on the left and the elephants on the right turned out. Their faces and overall feel is what I had in mind.

Details from Holi Cow




Femke’s work will be part of a group show at   Feinkunst Kruger  December 2013

Find out more about Femke’s artwork here:

Image 1

photo: Lukas Gobel

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  1. Wonderful! Thank you both for making this beautiful and informative page appear, so much to see and it’s great to have such good questions and answers in between. Going back for more…

  2. Mary Hanley

    Femke Hiemstra’s work is so imaginative and dream like! Really interesting and mysterious. I loved reading about how childhood with all of it’s own mysteries and vivid imagination was a big influence. You can really see that here – like the essence of a dream where animals talk and walk on their hind legs. Gorgeous and rich!

  3. What thoroughly engaging work! It has joy, imagination and mystery and is beautifully executed. I would love to know more about the grounds Femke paints on. Some are clearly canvas but she seems to work on a variety of interesting surfaces. Thanks so much for posting this!

  4. Ellen Coffin

    Thank you!!!! Enjoyed this work so much! It looks opulent, almost jewelry like in its effect. The sculptural drawing,delicate tints and play of light off everything, the amazing sense of texture…all make me Love it! Beautiful!!!!!

  5. I love these visions of complex animal sympathies. . seems brought to the best of human sensibilities. The artist portrait and the work-table photo are so wonderful to see. I wish we could all explore Amsterdam with Hiemstra.

  6. Jenny

    Would love to follow your blog. :)


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