Remko Heemskerk is a freelance illustrator and designer based out of Haarlem, Netherlands. In 2012, Remko took a 6-month sabbatical from his 15 yearlong career at a Dutch advertising agency and ventured west with his wife to the Big Apple. Loud sirens, big crowds, and tall buildings quickly became an oasis of creative inspiration. Remko began taking pictures around the city – buildings, water towers and entire streets – to later illustrate them, but with a new vibe. Using Photoshop and Illustrator as his main tools and the energy of the city as motivation, he rediscovered his passion to create without deadlines or marketing schemes. He added vibrant color to normally grey buildings and imagined new perspectives for the bustling city streets. After finishing the series Remko published his works on Behance, where his bright interpretation of the City of Dreams quickly captured the attention of artists and urban lovers around the world. Now back in the Netherlands, Remko still illustrates the city for NYCgo (NY’s tourism office), all the while working on diverse projects for clients and friends.
1. So many people love NYC. But we think you really, really love NYC! Can you tell us how your passion for the Big Apple turned into a vibrant collection of the city’s greatest landmarks?
I don’t know what it is; I sleep better when there are fire trucks driving through the street with loud sirens. It probably has something to do with my trauma :-). I was born and raised in a small town in the Netherlands that was so quiet and peaceful that I got stressed out…NYC is the filthiest city I’ve ever seen, the most chaotic too. It is noisy and crowded; you’re never alone, even when you’re in the comfort of your own apartment. But I love it. The high-rise buildings, the long avenues, the people - it never stops, there is always more. I live in the Netherlands but when I talk with New Yorkers I still get the vibe.
Some illustrations I made have a personal story. East 10th street was the street that we lived on. When I was smoking out of the window I saw basically that picture. Every morning my wife and I walked to our offices. At a specific crossing on Park Avenue we kissed each other goodbye facing the Chrysler building. It was beautifully highlighted in the morning sun. My wife worked in an office building next to the Chrysler building on the 19th floor. When I visited her I was staring at it through the window always thinking: I have to draw this one, all those details, those lines… fascinating.
For other pieces I just liked the building or the layers (for example, “the Village”) and the water towers. Or like in “Tribeca”, some old townhouses with the fire escapes that transform into the higher and modern skyscrapers, like waves of bricks and concrete.
“Flatiron Building 2” | Numbered Fine Art Print
2. You’re currently based out of Haarlem, Netherlands, on the outskirts of Amsterdam. You are therefore surrounded by museums (Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum, and more) teeming with some of the most famous artworks of all time. Has this influenced your own creations/techniques?
Oh yes indeed. I’m blessed to be surrounded by the most amazing museums. I’d go walking in the Rijksmuseum at a very young age with my parents or with school. I’ve been there so many times. We had a good education about how good the Dutch artists are in art and design. I always wanted to paint like Rembrandt or Vermeer. I’ve tried and then I began to understand van Gogh. The struggle to make a good art piece is so recognizable. Van Gogh taught me that you cannot finish an art piece without blood, sweat and tears. If I see a van Gogh in real life I start to cry… even from a large distance surrounded by 21 buses of people taking pictures with their Ipads. And so I learned that Art isn’t just a perfect picture, it’s a deep feeling, something personal.
Also, some big Dutch influencers who formed me as an artist: Mondrian (a game changer), Escher (messes with your mind), and Toorop (combines commercial work and art, the same as I do right now).
“Highline” | Limited Edition Aluminum Print
3. Speaking of techniques, how do you do what you do? What software/tools do you use to transform a blank space into an awesome artwork?
I took a lot of photos during my time in NYC, always with the idea that I could illustrate. I don’t import photos in Illustrator and just trace them. A striking composition is more important then reality. I like to change the real world. Sometimes I put equal photos in Photoshop and copy/paste everything until I have the perfect picture. Those Photoshop files can be a base for the illustration file. But even then I change everything in Illustrator. Sometimes the perspective isn’t right or shadows don’t fit. That is what I like about being an illustrator, I play god and create my own world.
I wanted to use color as well. How grey or boring some buildings are, I couldn’t see them without color. I always say that my artwork is pure architectural, but the color represents the vibe and the people in the city.
“Manhattan Bridge” | Limited Edition Acrylic Glass Print
4. Now, a question every cityscape fan is asking, are there more cities to come? Maybe one day you’ll illustrate the canals of Amsterdam? the London Bridge? the TV Tower of Berlin? We want more!
Hahaha, yes I want more too. It’s an addiction. You love what you do and get recognized… All the attention is very motivating!
At the end of this year I’m planning to go somewhere and create more work. I have something in mind that is quite the same as I did but then slightly different as well…I need to challenge myself. So I cannot say anything yet but the sure thing is: there’s more to come!
“5th Avenue” | Limited Edition Aluminum Print
5. What is your day job? Are you currently working somewhere that allows you to exercise your artistic talents?
I’m a freelance Illustrator and Designer. I do a lot of work for NYCgo, New York’s Tourism office. I still make the same illustrations, but also work with some good creatives who push me in the right direction. So I still have a connection with NYC. In the past I worked for WIRED magazine, Disney ESPN, Houston Downtown District, Schüco international and my big friends in Amsterdam: Wetransfer. Right now I’m practicing my hand drawn typo skills for a Dutch Gallery. My life is pretty full of creating and meeting new friends.
“The Village” | Numbered Canvas Print
6. A Freelance Illustrator and Designer by day, and a ________by night. What other hobbies or interests do you have that you’d like to share with the online world?
There is no day and night for me. I can’t call what I do work…
“West Village” | Limited Edition Aluminum Print
7. If you could go back in time and meet any artist you’d like, who would it be and why? What would your talk about?
I don’t have to go back in time. Jeff Koons is still alive and I really adore his work. I’d want to talk about inspiration, making art, his balloon creatures and, of course, I’d want to talk about New York… a lot!
“Park Avenue 2” | Limited Edition Acrylic Glass Print