5 Questions with graphic designer Pieter Boels

Quite a few of my (Pieter Boels) family members work in creative fields: art, product design, architecture. My parents are interior architects. Looking back I think growing up in consciously designed environments really shaped my view of the world and my aesthetic sensibilities. Like most children, I drew a lot, and I attended weekly art classes throughout my entire youth until I went to college. There were always more drawings than notes in my school books. After a failed year at law school (no clue why I tried it, but I did end up with a lot of drawings) my eyes opened and I enrolled at graphic design at St-Lucas Antwerpen.

After graduating in 2008 I worked at a design agency for a couple of years. And for a short while as an in-house designer at M HKA (Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp) before starting to work freelance in 2013.

When did you first get into design?

It was only after visiting an open school day at St-Lucas Antwerpen in my early twenties that I realised I could actually pursue a career as a creative professional. Subconsciously I was always a graphic designer. Back in the days when CD-Rs were still a thing, I used to make (horrible, mostly R&B) music compilations with custom – also horrible but even more hilarious – artwork. And before that, around the age of twelve or thirteen, I tried to set up a business in selling drawings I made of The Simpsons characters at school. Surprisingly unsuccessful.

Is there any work you’re particularly proud of?

One of my first big projects as a freelancer was designing the collection catalogue for M HKA, an overview of 25 years of collecting contemporary art. I had never before designed an entire book, especially not of that magnitude – both figuratively and literally – so it was quite a challenge. I learned a lot during that project and made a lot of mistakes too. Being my first proper book it will always remain special.

Also, when someone gets something I’ve designed tattooed on his or her body, that humbles the shit out of me.

In your view, what were your biggest challenges?

Deciding what to make for dinner is the biggest hurdle I face, Every. Single. Day.

Other than that there’s the struggle most designers can relate to. Finding interesting jobs, educating clients, delivering excellent work with non-existent budgets and unrealistic deadlines. Not to mention that you get undervalued as an expert. Because everybody’s fifteen-year-old nephew/neighbour knows how to open Photoshop too.

But in the end, the ultimate challenge for me has nothing to do with these exterior factors. It’s overcoming the limitations I have made up in my mind. I believe that everything I want to achieve is within reach. And that it’s not confined to what most people think is ’realistic’. In the words of Rodney Mullen: — The biggest obstacle to creativity is breaking through the barrier of disbelief.

What inspires you?

A huge cliché but so very true. People who are driven by a passion for what they do, it’s contagious. When I was younger I was jealous when I saw someone create amazing things (and make it look easy). Nowadays it fires up my engine and makes me practice harder so I can become better. At the same time, I try not to look around too much for inspiration. Instead, I search within myself for ideas and solutions. That’s not easy in a world where we are continuously bombarded with visuals. However, I’ve learned it makes my work more authentic.

Discover the work of Pieter Boels



Published by

Timothy Helmer

Designer, curator of Let's Talk Design and founder of Creative Network.