Time stored in drawings: endless details in Nikki’s Teeming Illustrations
Nikki Roosma, graduate of Illustration Design in Zwolle, likes to think big. To her, a graduation project is not a single work but a lively collage of designs, techniques, colours and details. She can pretty much do everything – filming, drawing, knitting – and what she can't do, she wants to learn. Weaving is on her wish list and she is also thinking about doing silk-screen printing.
Her illustrations are often zoomed-out stories, large plates containing innumerable details. Of swimming pools, say, or a block of flats during the pandemic. Nikki collects everything she sees, puts it in a jar in her head, leaves it for a while and then wonderful works flow from it. She calls them Teeming Illustrations (Wemelplaten in Dutch), large works you can look at for hours. “As a child I had a shoebox which I collected stamps and passport photos and flattened chocolate coins in. It felt very important. I still have something of that feeling with my work now. I can store things I find in my environment in my works."
Nikki has always drawn. She attended a Steiner primary school in Groningen and a Steiner secondary school in Meppel. “There was lots of room to do creative things there. If you made a report that looked really great, you got a good mark for it. So I always saw my drawings as a skill, not just as a hobby." The question of whether I would do something with art was quickly answered. “It was never in doubt."
But then what?
Illustrating felt like a safe choice, because she'd been doing it all her life. “I thought: should I be bolder? Should I go to the Design Academy in Eindhoven, for example? Illustration was almost too right, it didn't feel like a challenge, more like something that just suited me." The homely and safe environment of Illustration Design in Zwolle clinched it for her. “It was such a wonderful, friendly place. Truly a safe haven. It was so lovely to be able to say that I had been working at the academy all day, when all I'd been doing was sitting drawing."
Nikki loved it: working and developing her skills with like-minded people. For example, on the travel projects, which involved going travelling for a month with her classmates and immersing herself in a single assignment. Or in the individual research, which Illustration Design students begin right from the first year. “You are given space to research things you find interesting. You can go beyond your own discipline. That's great, because the illustration discipline is pretty applied. As a freelancer, which many graduates are likely to become, you often work on commission. But commissions aren't always easy to come by. So in our individual research, we learned to set up projects ourselves." Everyone approaches the research in their own way. “It doesn't have to have a really clear theme. I spent a semester making a zoo, but often the theme is more overarching. It taught us to transform things we noticed into images."
What Nikki notices above all are places. A zoo, in this case, but also a circus, or swimming pools. “In my drawings, I like to create places where you can go. I noticed all kinds of details in swimming pools and I turned them into Teeming Illustrations. When the swimming pools closed due to the coronavirus, that almost made the illustrations even more valuable. As if time was stored in my drawings." The swimming pool was the start of her final, which would eventually become a large collection of Teeming Illustrations – along with lots of ‘merchandise’. But first those illustrations, because Nikki also drew a block of flats during the pandemic, full of people sitting indoors, in which time stands still. “Everyone is looking for ways to entertain themselves – one is building a tower out of toilet rolls, others are hanging out the washing or gardening. We are all alone, but because everyone is, in a sense we're all in it together too." That quickly led to a scarf, self-designed knitted sweaters, plus little books in which she reflected on subjects such as the death of her cat. “Those smaller elements of my final zoom in on my own experiences. They are less universal than my plates, but I hope that people can still relate to them. All the elements are different, but they are all about my own environment and the things I take from it. In music terms, you could see my final as an album, not a single or an EP, plus lots of ‘merchandise’."
One of the most striking Teeming Illustrations is an illustration of cows in a gigantic cowshed. “During my course, I was often asked to what extent my work was socially relevant. I am politically engaged, but it's hard to incorporate that into my work. I'd had the idea of the cowshed for a while, but I hadn’t quite dared to do it. I was afraid that it would seem too nice, that it would glorify the bio industry. But I tried it anyway and it turned out that that niceness had a function. They are pleasing-looking cows, and they allow the viewer to attach their own meaning to the cowshed. The worst thing about that illustration was the inner resistance I had to overcome. Now I'm thinking, ‘why not investigate silkworms or laboratory mice?’"
Illustration is really broad
Nikki demonstrates that illustration is more than just drawing. It can also be knitting sweaters, or making videos. “There are all kinds of directions you can go in. Not all illustrators work in two dimensions. Above all, it's about making an image to go with a narrative. You can do that with a performance, an installation or, like one of my classmates did, with a really big garlic bulb." And when you’re finished with the course, you can start work as a freelancer, or work for a big animation studio. I have classmates who want to do that, but you can also become a teacher or continue with your studies. Illustration is really broad.” And so Nikki will continue to collect stuff, even now that she has graduated. She will certainly carry on illustrating. “Perhaps I can turn the bio industry plate into a series, or travel through the country drawing swimming pools for people. I’d love to do that."