In her family home in the Dutch countryside, at age 11, Dieuwertje Matheeuwsen made the proclamation, “when I go off to study, I want to go to Amsterdam or abroad.” A curious child with a love of playing outside and big dreams, little did she know she’d be doing exactly that. Now an art director at 180 Amsterdam, she shares how she got into the industry.
“I grew up in the Dutch countryside - it’s amazing when you’re a kid. [There are] lots of opportunities to play outside and explore the little world you’re living in,” says Dieuwertje, “but I was always curious about more.” Though an outgoing, talkative child, she often spent time daydreaming, making up stories in her head and being transported somewhere else. She adds, “It was clear from an early age that I wanted to do something creative.”
With the ability to entertain herself by drawing, stacking LEGO into creations, acting and putting on performances for her family, there was no shortage of things to do. “I even tried writing a book when I was around eight years old. I would love to see that one again,” she remembers fondly. “I also loved being outdoors. I could play outside for hours building rafts, skating, and making horrible perfume from flowers. I was quite an outdoorsy kid,” – no doubt influenced by the beauty of her surroundings.
After finishing school, Dieuwertje knew creativity was in her future but wasn’t exactly sure what it looked like. She explains her initial journey, “I tried to get into the Design Academy in Eindhoven but didn’t get in. I decided to take a gap year and started working full time at a beach club. It was an amazing year but I knew I wanted more.” After that, it was clear that she wanted a more solid foundation before she embarked on her career.
“With a detour through Amsterdam Fashion Institute and a communications degree, I ended up studying art direction. This was amazing because, for the first time, I felt like I was learning everything I needed to know to become an art director.” But it wasn’t that easy, breaking into the industry was a challenge. “There was still so much to learn and I knew it was hard to get a foot in the advertising door. I started with an internship at DDB and that helped me to get to know the industry better.”
Making connections, growing her network and supporting her portfolio, her internship provided her with the opportunity to find a more full time position. “That landed me my first job at Anomaly,” she says, “It felt amazing to finally have a real, real job.” Over the years, from her childhood when she drew and learnt to sew, all the way to her studying fashion, communication and design, every moment has been a learning curve. “All these experiences will hone your craft like a never ending story,” says Dieuwertje.
Through everything, there’s one thing she learnt that will always be a lesson; “To trust your gut.” She explains further, “If you think you have a good idea, you feel it in your whole body. You feel like you’re in love. You feel the adrenaline and you get energised in a weird way. This feeling is something that’s driving me to create more and better ideas. It also taught me to always trust this feeling and fight for ideas if I feel they’re worth it.”
Dieuwertje’s first ever campaign was a project for T-Mobile, which she still remembers as if it was yesterday. The surreal experience, her time on set and the creatives around her really left a lasting impression. “Working together with this team of talented people on a mutual goal felt good. Being on set and working hard all day without sitting behind your desk. You finally see your thoughts coming to life.” But she makes sure she stays grounded, explaining how she doesn't believe she’s had a career-defining piece just yet. “To be honest I feel like that project is still to come. As a creative, having patience and working hard in the meantime, are good character traits to have. Not many of us, including me, have that. But it will soon come, I hope.”
Part of the reason Dieuwertje loves her job is down to the variety that comes from it. “From coming up with ideas for shoots, planning for casting, wardrobe, set design, grading, sound design and even designing a book. It’s something we really have the opportunity to do at 180 Amsterdam.” Working together with people from different fields, such as directors, designers and sound specialists, she says she’s constantly inspired and always learns something new.
The challenge for her comes in the form of the tension between the excitement and terror of coming up with fresh, new ideas. “There’s always that voice in your head that says, maybe this isn’t an idea this time. It scares me and it excites me,” she says, “Being creative is very personal. This makes it hard sometimes to also see it as a job and not always care too much. It’s about finding a balance between caring, but not too much. You need to care to create the best work and push yourself but if you care too much, you can start feeling anxious and taking everything too personally.”
With her passion for her job, it’s no surprise that Dieuwertje’s goal is to always come up with something new, as she further elaborates, “It can be a new product, smart insight or a new design. It can be small or big. You want to make work that people want to see.” Part of this involves looking outside of her own field, keeping an eye on the trends in art and film, watching documentaries, collecting random facts and immersing herself in interior design. She says, “It can be anything. That is where the fresh perspectives come from.”
Getting into the nitty gritty of what needs to be changed to make a more impactful difference, she says, “Too many clients are still just ticking boxes when it comes to diversity and the story they want to tell”, and poses the question, “Do they really feel this way or do they think they need to feel this way because the younger generation doesn’t buy it anymore?” Also touching on the unsustainable aspect of adland, Dieuwertje wants to see actual change, “There’s lots of greenwashing and so on happening all the time which makes me angry.”
Thankfully, things are changing and people are taking accountability for how to make a meaningful difference. “I think the younger generation thinks about the work we want to send out to the world. Does it make an impact, is it diverse and not stereotypical? It’s good to say no to certain clients and I feel as a creative, I can say no if I feel like I don’t want to work on a campaign that is persuading people to do something I think isn’t good.”
On that positive note, balancing her hobbies and interests with her passion for her job, when Dieuwertje isn’t being an art director, you’ll find her “watching weird documentaries, learning about other people’s stories and interests. The weirder the better,” she says, “like people running crazy marathons, such as the Barkley Marathons.” The same goes for film, she enjoys Miyazaki’s animated films which bring her “into a whole other dimension.”
She leaves us with what motivates her on a daily basis: “I always want to create things, in whatever form.”