In Amsterdam, underneath a bridge and near Centraal Station is an artwork by Regina Verhagen from 2006. It’s a quote from Belle van Zuylen, originally written in a letter from 1764 and it reads: “Terugkomen is niet hetzelfde als blijven” which translated to English means “coming back isn’t the same as staying”.
I moved to Amsterdam, the Netherlands in August 2016 for a graphic design internship and when I first saw this artwork after living there for a while, I felt a connection and understanding to it. Now that I’ve decided to leave Amsterdam and return to the UK it only feels more relevant and relatable.
Originally only meant as a five-month internship abroad, it ended up being almost a five year stay thanks to contract extensions, new job opportunities and promotions (from intern to junior designer and mid-weight designer) in what was an incredible journey that has taught me so much, both professionally through working and personally through my experiences.
My original internship was my first taste of the design industry straight out of university which was at first a strange experience going from doing whatever I wanted alongside like-minded people of the same age, to then go into an agency filled with more people, of different ages and levels and having to work on very specific briefs for clients. I can remember going from making a book about fixed gear cycling culture at uni to my first day in the agency making price stickers for a Nikon campaign; it took a while to understand this but eventually over time I was tasked with more briefs which allowed me to explore more and bring in that university style of exploration and trying things.
Something invaluable though was the experience of working in a team as at university everyone is the same level and doing the same thing but in an agency, I was able to learn from fellow designers but also senior designers, design directors, creative directors, art directors, copywriters, strategists, PR, media analysts, producers, account managers and many more.
I have to give a shoutout to design director Anthony Ford at Superunion who was my mentor during my internship and someone who pushed me to experiment and try new things. We worked on numerous projects together with each and every being a great experience and with some great outcomes.
Equally thanks to Graham Sturt for giving me my initial opportunity at VBAT/Superunion and Tolga Büyükdoganay for my opportunity at Ogilvy Social.Lab along with all the teams I worked with at both agencies.
As good as the work was though; it was the times outside of work that have been my most memorable and important experiences of living in Amsterdam. As you can imagine, and with any city really, living somewhere for a long period of time is nothing like visiting for a few days or a week on a holiday. No matter if you try and have a “non-tourist” kind of holiday, it isn’t the same as staying.
Spending evenings and weekends with friends or alone, going to the latest cool coffee spot opening, getting drunk in new bars, chilling in parks, visiting obscure shops, cycling in the rain, checking out weird exhibitions, nightclubs, festivals, dinners and all-round good vibes. I’ve always said that this time felt like a really long holiday, just one where I had to work.
Most of these experiences have been with my three main friends; fellow interns at the agency we worked who came and left and moved onto bigger things in the city. Ellis Sargeant-Long, Harry Hobbs and Joe Faulding aka a crack team of art direction/design/illustration/animation/photography; I’m fairly certain if we had ever teamed up it would be have been a success.
Despite this though, a large amount of my time here has been spent solitary and in my own space on my own, which hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing. Throughout time alone, I discovered a love of writing which only spurred me to explore new things and to learn more. I pushed my previously narrow-minded interests beyond graphic design and art towards music, film, fashion, architecture, product design and more through the almost 100 blog posts I’ve written since living here. It was something I had to do for my internship and I remember hating it but it has since become important to me as I not only use it as a way to learn but as a way for me to express myself and my interests through a different medium than design to a wider audience.
As I mentioned earlier, we/I would visit these slightly more obscure shops in the city; looking for those Amsterdam specific brands that have the Amsterdam vibe. Shops that embrace a specific culture or even create their own. Record shops like Rush Hour, Red Light Records and Bordello A Parigi and record labels like Dekmantel, Voyage Direct and Music from Memory introduced me to many Dutch musicians, along with the likes of ADE and nightclubs like De School and Shelter, made me realise how important the city is to dance music and vice-versa.
The first record I bought from Rush Hour was on the Dekmantel label in collaboration with Patta (big shoutout for representing Amsterdam in the streetwear world) by the Amsterdam artist Young Marco: The Best I Could Do (With What I Had). I remember I loved the song on the first listen, but also the record sleeve design and still, to this day, I associate that song with the city.
Patta is probably the most important clothing brand of the city to me; when I first got here I was spending every internship pay-check on new t-shirts, hoodies and shoes from there; I spent way too much money there on their collaborations with Carhartt WIP too. Despite not buying anything from Patta in a while; I’ve never stopped following what they do through their many collaborations and partnerships. I was even fortunate to invite the founder of Patta, Edson Sabajo, to give an informal talk at my work building which was great.
Through these friendships, my writing, work projects, obscure shops and my own sense of curiosity and exploration I tried to experience more than just Amsterdam during my time in the Netherlands and to see more of the country in general. Eindhoven five times, Den Haag four times, Utrecht, Breda and Groningen each twice and just the once for Haarlem, Leiden, Amsersfoort and Den Bosch.
By far the most visited place though was Rotterdam with ten different trips there; often to check out exhibitions or museums but sometimes it was just to get out of Amsterdam and try something different. Rotterdam is everything Amsterdam isn’t, and that was why I loved it. I visited Eindhoven so many times due to the annual Dutch Design Week event that takes place; it was one of the highlights of the year for me and it’s definitely something I will miss but also possibly come back to check out again.
How Hip-Hop took over and transformed Fashion, at the Kunsthal, Rotterdam.
Daan Roosegaarde – Presence
A unique art exhibition and experience at the Groninger Museum, exploring interaction.
If there’s one thing that stands out to me about the country (it’s anything but the stereotypical cheese/windmills/clogs nonsense) is the Dutch mentality and commitment to architecture and design. When visiting these new cities and places I was always amazed by the buildings and infrastructure, every major city has an incredible train station, beautifully designed modern and old buildings and museums and spread throughout the streets are great pieces of art and sculpture.
This Dutch recognition of design is something that I knew about before coming here through a very minimal amount of graphic design history knowledge but has only grown over time by learning about the likes of legends like Wim Crouwel and Gert Dumbar but also perhaps lesser-known (in the UK at least) icons like Ootje Oxenaar, Jurriaan Schrofer, Paul Mijksenaar, Anthon Beeke, Ben Bos or Otto Treumann. I was also fortunate to discover and connect with younger graphic designers in the Netherlands too; specifically, Daan Rietbergen with whom I have a shared love of mid-century, modernist typography and graphic design and is someone who is keeping that alive and well today.
For sure, I will miss many more people, many more places and many more things about Amsterdam but I now want to look forward not backwards. I’ve made the decision to move back to the UK and to continue my life and career in London, living with my fiancé and future wife.
Peace out Amsterdam, it’s been a ride.
FYI if you made it this far, here are my tips for the best places to check out in Amsterdam if you visit.
Cover photo story: I took this photo of the Herengracht canal on my last day in Amsterdam. It matches a photo I took on my very first day, thus completing the journey.