Steve Brouwers: Creatives on Creativity
By Alixandra Rutnik on Aug 23, 2021
“A novel was never on my agenda.”
I never knew the word “creativity” sparked so much debate before reading Creatives on Creativity, the new book by Belgian Creative Director Steve Brouwers. According to the 44 artists Steve interviewed for his first-ever publication, the overall consensus is that creativity means nothing or creativity means everything or creativity is a dumb word...
With that said, this book is a conversation about creativity, and it just happens to feature a handful of artists who have ties to The One Club for Creativity: The legendary double-Hall of Fame lauraete George Lois was president of the Art Directors Club in the early 70s, and joined forces witrh the Copy Club to create The One Show. Iconic designer Stefan Sagmeister was a winner of the very first Young Guns class, while Gemma O’Brien and Leta Sobrerajski won YG13 and YG15 respectively. And of course Paula Scher and Maira Kalman also have hallowed spots within the ADC Hall of Fame.
After Steve spoke with 44 artists and creators, and decided to compile the interviews and their work into a book, it is now time to interview Steve on his findings.
Congrats on penning your first book! As a Creative Director what prompted you to interview 44 masterminds in the industry and compile them into a book?
The main objective for me was not about making a book. A novel was never on my agenda. I’m not a writer. I’m a Creative Director.
I work for Ads & Data and my daily work is always inside a brief looking for solutions for advertisers. So I was curious to know, what happens when people don’t have these boundaries?
If an artist has a white page in front of them and no one tells them what to do– how do they cope with it? If someone has a white canvas in front of them– how will they fill it in? How do they cope within boundaries and without boundaries?
Before the pandemic, I was doing a lot of international talks at marketing conferences about creativity and failure. These topics have interested me for a long time now. I was meeting all types of creative people, so I asked some of them to sit down with me to talk about creativity and inspiration.
Ultimately, this project started out as a personal quest to get answers and to to see if other people struggle with the idea of being creative and feeling like an imposter.
"Ultimately, this project started out as a personal quest to get answers and to to see if other people struggle with the idea of being creative and feeling like an imposter."
And how did you decide on the cover design and visuals in the book?
I asked Paul Boudens– a Belgium Designer I admire a lot– to design the book. He can be a very stubborn guy and if he doesn’t like you as a person he doesn’t want to work with you. So I was happy when I asked him to design the book and he said yes, but he initially said no to the interview.
I told Paul, “I like bold. I like forward in your face. I like color. I want the book to be a visual orgasm.”
"I like bold. I like forward in your face. I like color. I want the book to be a visual orgasm."
We didn’t want to make a coffee table book. I wanted a book that was easy to hold and read. After a while Paul told me that I was missing a Belgium Designer in the book and he wanted to do the interview. It was a big compliment that he liked what he was working on.
George Lois was the first person I interviewed and photographed in his apartment in Manhattan. All the photos were out of focus and under exposed, so I couldn't do anything with them. Since I am not a photographer, I asked my best friend Joost Joosen to tag along and take the pictures for the book– and we ended up traveling the world together just the two of us. We revisted George so Joost could take better photographs for the book.
There’s so much talent out there, so how did you determine who you wanted to interview?
It was never my intention to think commercially about which people would work well in a book and wich wouldn’t work. The artists I interviewed are a personal list of people I met, admire, and look up to.
I started interviewing people at the end of 2018 and into the beginning of 2019. I called, emailed, and Instagram dmed everyone to see if they were interested in speaking with me. The lockdown triggered me to finish the book. I filmed all the interviews, so I had a lot of transcribing to do. Every interview was an hour and a half and about 15,000 words, so I had to cut down a lot for the book.
Mental health is a big buzz word and priority these days. Do you find there is a link between creativity and mental health?
I admire all of the people I interviewed. They all have an inner passion for what they do. They see where they want to go and nothing can distract them from where they are going. They all live for their art and their work. Although they all have the same fears about slowing down.
I learned that writers block does not really exist– it is all based on anxieties and having a fear of creating.
"I learned that writers block does not really exist– it is all based on anxieties and having a fear of creating."
When I interviewed American Designer Tad Carpenter I learned that he wakes up and draws the sun every Sunday at 6am and then posts it on Instagram. It’s his time alone to clear his mind.
A lot of people in this book have ties to The One Club for Creativity, woo! Young Guns Winners, Cube & Pencil Winners, Founders, Hall of Famers, etc. How do you feel The One Club helps shape creativity?
We have this saying in Belgium that if I translated directly it would be, “Finger on the pulse.” Essentially, it means “right on the spot.” And that’s The One Club. The One Club is a go to place where a lot of talent gets discovered.
Which person did you find to be the most surprising — that in interviewing them, they defied your expectations the most?
Navid Nuur is an Iranian Dutch artist. He’s a guy who questions everything in life– not only in his art. He discovered that if you burn a tree and heat up its ashes above 1250 degrees, the ashes will become a rock. So the tree is therefore a rock.
Then he heated up the rock and tried to blow a bubble out of it. Navid said to me, “I tried to make a bubble out of a tree, and that is for me like physically going through poetry.” I’m fascinated and mind-blown about how the mind of an artist works, because how do you go from a tree to a rock?
And in every book there is an original artwork of Navid Nuur where the physical page is his art piece.
When someone picks up their copy of Creatives on Creativity for the first time, what do you want them to be thinking about?
On the one hand, I hope it inspires people and makes them think about their own practice and inspiration. They will see that everyone has insecurities and fears of failing. I hope they discover new artists, and learn more about the creators they already know.
And for the question that you asked everyone in the book– “What is creativity to you?”
Creativity seems to be the “go-to” word at the moment. It brings change. It doesn’t just apply to the field we are in, it’s in everything it’s how we cope with problems and find solutions in life. It’s about creating something that wasn’t there and bringing something new into the world.
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Book Cover by Paul Boudens
David Uzochukwu "Regrowth"
Debbie Millman "Print Cover"
Debbie Millman "Stress"
Gemma O'Brien "Studio View"
Harry Gruyaert "Las Vegas 1982"
George Lois Portrait
James Dive "Hot with Chance"
Maira Kalman "Principles of Uncertainty 2007"
Matt Clark "Massive Attack"
Paul Fuentes "Giraffe Palm Springs"
Shawna X "Self Love"
Wade & Leta "ROW DTLA"