Lisette Appeldorn insists that she is not very good with words, preferring to express her thoughts and feelings through her artistic language. But learning from her experiences and tips in the talk she gave a few weeks ago at In Motion Rotterdam was a real privilege. The versatile creative, who has a background in fashion, product design, and photography, and whose artistic practice is characterised by bringing characters to life starting from everyday objects, took the stage at the Dutch festival. And we were in awe.
From her first big assignment by Tush Magazine to collaborations with Ace & Tate, Burberry Beauty or one of her most exciting projects with Balmain, Lisette shared many very interesting experiences with the audience in the last edition of In Motion, and we wanted to delve deeper into some of the topics she addressed. So now it’s time to talk to her and solve our doubts! How and when did she create her first character? Was it easy to find a recognisable personal style? Why does she dream of working with Balenciaga? She responds!
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Lisette, I enjoyed a lot your talk at In Motion Rotterdam some weeks ago. It was really inspiring, how did you feel on stage?
Much appreciated, thanks! The moment I step onstage I felt quite comfortable and confident, luckily! But offstage before going on, I was really nervous. As I mentioned during my presentation, this was the first time for such a big audience. Standing in front of so many people was a huge achievement for me personally. Also, standing next to all these amazing filmmakers and animators was a real honour.
Some artists prefer to express themselves through their own visual or aesthetic language, regardless of words. On the other hand, others enjoy speaking about their work and sharing their personal experiences, generating an interesting dialogue with the audience whose feedback they take into account when creating. What group do you belong to?
Definitely the first group! That’s why this was a good opportunity for me to step outside my studio, reflect on my work process, and get the reactions of the audience. It was really inspiring. Not letting myself come out to the public may also have to do with a bit of insecurity, being too afraid of negative reactions. So these kinds of events teach you to become more confident with yourself.
You started your presentation by talking about your educational background and the first steps you took before starting to develop your personal style. Could you tell us more about this first stage?
At the beginning of my time at the art academy in Utrecht, I was really searching for my personal signature and work. I was fascinated by all the disciplines within the art academy. From the beginning, I didn’t want to specialise in one course, I wanted to explore, discover and search for my personal identity. I believe an art school should start offering that much more. Put together your package of courses and explore who you are as an artist/designer and where your unique signature lies.
I started my studies in the direction of Fashion. This was a learning experience where I gained a lot of love for fabrics, patterns, the human body, and fashion shoots. I just didn’t have the same passion for sewing and pattern-making. So I decided to continue my studies in Photography, where it ended up being too documentary and I missed the design process. Eventually, I graduated as a Product Designer, where I was given space to delve into different materials. I always found myself in the wood workshop or delving into metal techniques. If you look at my graduation project, you are able to recognise the exact path I took within art school. All facets come back – fashion, photography and design.
After my studies, it took a long time before I started working on my characters. I was too worried with the rules in my head. I had the idea that I had to specialise in one profession. And since that was hard for me, it seemed like I didn’t belong in any field. In order to solve this, I allowed myself some time to think about completely different things than wrestling with myself about who I am as a designer. I spent a long time travelling, getting to know different cultures and enjoying simple life. This helped me break free enormously from the rules in my head. After this period, I started experimenting freely and my characters came to life.
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Did you always feel the need to express yourself through art, or did this desire become more noticeable over the years?
I think so. I’m not really good with words. My mom told me a few weeks ago that I started talking a bit later than my sister. I was that kid who was dreamy and imaginative, and I was fine playing with myself building and constructing cars, cranes, garages and Lego. During my high school, it became clear that I was only having fun during art classes, working in the wood workshop and doing all kinds of outside activities/sports. Still wasn’t sure what to do with it, but luckily found a study specialised in styling, graphics and set design. This was a great first step to developing myself as a young seventeen-year-old student and building up my experiences to get started at the Art Academy.
If there is something that fines your artwork, it’s the reconversion of everyday elements by giving them identity and personality. Daily objects are transformed in a very surprising way. Do you remember the first character you created and what elements you used to bring it to life?
The first one that I created was during the Art Academy. I was interested in geometric forms and building a mask with really thin plywood. I folded the pattern into a cool mask. I made a whole series with this technique and graduated with this project. I loved the transformation of our human body, using all kinds of materials that shape the face into this weird creature.
I am very interested in the process of collecting the elements you use to create your futuristic characters. Where do you start and where do you find all these objects?
My sketches start by exploring outside of my studio. I visit secondhand, DIY and hardware stores. It also just happens on the street, where I find waste materials or bulky household trash just around the corner. I especially like secondhand shops because you will find these weird objects and equipment that you won’t find on the internet. That’s the fun part, you keep surprising yourself by strolling around these shops.
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I’m a big fan of your collaboration with Hema focusing on their basic fashion collection, Goed. From hangers to caps and toiletry bags, your characters are born from elements that we all have at home and that we use every day. How did this collaboration come about?
Hema started collaborating with Linda Magazine, which is the largest lifestyle women’s glossy in the Netherlands. They contacted me asking if I wanted to collaborate with their new magazine, Goed, a small publication attached to Linda. They asked a few artists from Holland to work with the typical basic products from our beloved Hema brand. I created new characters with those products, such as a kettle or storage crates. It was a perfect fit and we ended up working together a few times now.
Which was the first brand that reached out to work together? How did you feel?
Tush Magazine was my first big assignment. It was an amazing project where they gave me a lot of freedom. That’s so important in my process because my designs don’t come to life with sketches on a piece of paper, I am limited by the objects that I find.
You’ve also collaborated with Ace & Tate, Burberry Beauty or the just-mentioned Tush Magazine, who asked you to create new characters inspired by masterpieces from famous artists around the world. Could you tell us more about this project?
The theme of the new Tush Magazine edition was Masterpieces. They asked a lot of amazing make-up artists to create new work inspired by a masterpiece of their choice. You could choose between artists, film, photography, philosophers, music, etc. My process was a bit different, I first started searching for objects/materials and matched this with the masterpiece that popped up in my mind. Looking at the shapes, colours and expressions in the objects. For example, the Balloon Dog by Jeff Koons, where I found these chrome game controllers. I created a connection with his work. It brings back memories of playing/gaming and also the smooth curves and slick colour had a connection with the masterpiece.
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And there is an alliance that we cannot fail to mention, one of the greatest milestones in your career: your collaboration with Balmain. You created headpieces inspired by Olivier Rousteing’s Fall/Winter 2022 collection. How did you face this huge challenge?
It was indeed a big challenge. Just a simple DM popped up on my Instagram. The Creative Director asked me if I could make new headpieces for their show. We had some calls with Olivier Rousteing and shared our ideas. Once it became clear I had to design around fourteen headpieces in just two weeks, the rollercoaster started.
I slept around five hours a day and even stayed a few nights in my studio. I was so nervous, just thinking, what do they expect?, or, is this the perfect quality? I usually work in my safe studio space and only use photography to present my characters, dealing with nobody around me and having the time to create new work. This was a huge challenge, dealing with strict deadlines and so many expectations. But so worth it!
You said in your talk at In Motion that the headpieces were supposed to be worn by the models on the runway, but they changed plans at the last minute since there was a risk that they would trip over or fall, didn’t they?
Correct. On the same day of the show I got a phone call. The Art Director told me the risk was too high for all the models. The dresses were huge and they wore high platform shoes. Some models could hardly walk. There were a few other reasons. For example, risk of getting injured because they had to run a lot of shows for which they had already signed a contract. I was definitely disappointed, but they arranged a really beautiful shoot with Danielle Levitt. And I remember one of the staff members of Balmain, Bruno, said to me these photos will live longer and they will be more widely used.
You also said you’d like to work with Balenciaga. What do you like the most about the brand?
Balenciaga isn’t only a fashion brand, their shows are such an inspiration for me. The whole feeling, atmosphere and the various types of models are just a form of art. Also, there is one designer I totally forgot to mention. I am so over the moon with his designs and I have been following him for years. If Craig Green knocks on the door I would probably cry (laughs). This guy is so talented and he keeps amazing me with his constructions, colours, patterns and set designs.
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You’ve shaped a very recognisable style, your artwork seems to have pleased many brands and the projects in which you have collaborated prove it. Do you sometimes feel too confined to a specific artistic style? Would you like to experiment with other formats?
No, I don’t want to specify my artistic style. Though it sometimes is difficult to pronounce myself as an artist because, which of the three or four disciplines should I choose? I am enjoying my work and want to keep on producing new characters, finding weird interesting objects and continuing the ongoing series. To do this, I’m currently already researching new methods to go back to 3D designs. Right now, my final work is in 2D photography, but it starts with my 3D objects. In order to make the 3D objects more adjustable/workable, I want to use 3D modelling. With this I want to create character sculptures, using the objects/materials that I used in my characters. Trying to create moulds with my products and using new resources to build wall sculptures. I’m planning on posting this research process on my Instagram, so look me up if you’re interested!
Can you tell us anything about the projects you’re working on now? Have you ever thought of an exhibition showing your personal artwork?
As I mentioned before, I am working on bringing my characters to life even more. I want to work on a new method that turns my headpieces into 3D sculptures, eventually working towards an exhibition. In this exhibition, people can really experience the characters in a different dimension. By experimenting with these different materials, I add depth, variety, and complexity to my sculptures. It is no longer just a three-dimensional object but rather a multidimensional art form. Adding new dimensions to my work, not only in terms of physical, but also emotionally and conceptually. This gives it a deeper eloquence and expression.
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