WE ARE OUT OF OFFICE,

UTRECHT

“It sounds harsh but when you start your business nobody will know you, nobody is going to call you. If you want something to happen, make it happen.”

Winneke de Groot and Felix van Dam work together as ‘We are out of office’, designing bold & colourful artworks from their studio in a cherry orchard in Utrecht. Starting off with screen- and risograph printing, their collection has expanded with amazing textiles, ceramics, sculptures & more. We got in touch and got to hear the story behind the brand. 

Hi guys! How are you and how’ve the last few weeks of lockdown been for you?
Hi! Thanks, we’re doing fine. The last few weeks have been weird but didn’t affect us that much to be honest. We have the luxury to be living and working in an old cherry orchard just outside of Utrecht. We live on top of our studio so we’re used to be working from home. If the weather is nice we can hang out, eat and have coffees in the garden/orchard. There are also living some friends in this ‘complex’ so we have had several coffee and diner parties when the sun came out, of course with an eye on the 1,5 meter distance.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you originally from and where are you now?
We’re both born in Utrecht. Winneke grew up in the city and I grew up about twenty minutes away in a little town. We met on an island called ‘Vlieland’ and met again a couple of years later in art school, also in Utrecht. (Utrecht school of the arts). We both studied graphic design, but figured out we wanted to do something else. Winneke graduated two years before me, as I travelled around a bit before I went to art school. We never really plannend on working together it just somehow happened to be this way.

How did your print adventure start? 
When we where still in art school we really liked screen printing. We liked the idea of being independent and started printing on a home made vacuum table at my old student room, using the shower as cleaning booth and the bed as drying rack. (We still use the same table). The first thing we printed together was a poster of a pepper and a Thai text we designed for a small restaurant on one of Thailands beautiful islands. We planned to send them the print as a present because we liked their food so much but in the end we unfortunately never did. We liked the style of the poster as it was something completely new for both of us and we joined forces on a series of screen printed postcards of fruits and vegetables. From there on we never stopped making things together.

Tell us about New York: you designed in exchange for food and goods, what brought you there and what was it like?
We had been in New York for a couple of weeks in the summer and we really, really liked it. We would love to spend some more time there but we couldn’t work there as we’re not from the States. I’ve been surfing for half of my life and when traveling around we sometimes got some food in exchanges for doing the dishes or something like that. We both really liked the idea of this barter based living and we figured we could do that in New York. Give people design in exchange for whatever they were offering. So we went to Brooklyn with a screen print studio the size of a suitcase. We made posters for laundrettes, pizza joints, deli’s thrift stores and so on. It was a great way to get to know a city and it’s people! Also this project gave us our name, it was called ‘We are out of office’, we liked it so much that we decided to stick with it.

Your work is inspired by existing objects and design, is there something particular you look for before you decide to create something? 
As we said before our first collaborative thing was a poster of a pepper with some Thai text. We loved all the markets in Thailand and their characters are in our eyes very pretty and decorative. This made us decide to make this print at the time. I think this is still how we get inspired. We look around, collect, and of course all these things have to do with us and how we see the world. All things we use in our work have an emotional value for us. We really like day to day things like a weird looking cup or a nice piece of packaging design. Our house is stuffed with things we collected during the years. (Our friends sometimes mention our house as ‘the museum’ ) The reasons can be different, the colour, or a nice character, or just a shape we feel somehow connected to. But it can also be a piece of coloured plastic we found on a beach while having a nice day in the sun. In almost all our work we can point out where and when we found certain shapes, colour ways or pieces of typography. So if we are working on something and we’re stuck we walk around the house, dig into some crates filled with stuff and most of the time we’ll find the answer. 

What is it about risograph printing that appeals to you?
We’ve been into screen printing for a long time, it kind of shaped the way we work and also played a big role in our signature I guess. Our work is very bold and colourful. This is something which is not really possible using CMYK printing. We also want to be independent and like to make small editions. With the risograph we’re able to use bolt colours like fluor pink and very bright blue. This makes a fun technique which works a bit like screen printing. We also like to play around with mixing colours by printing them on top of each other. Having our own machine with 9 different colours makes it really easy to make prints and fine tune them until we think they’re perfect.

What was it like to start for yourself? Any tips for other creatives out there that are thinking of going for it?
I’ve always imagined myself being my own boss, there just was no other way. After art school we refused to take a job in a coffee bar or something like that, not because we don’t like it but because we were afraid it would be too easy to get stuck. We both freelanced a bit and in our spare time we created prints working evenings and weekends. We discovered we could sell them to shops and we started attending craft markets at that time. After a while we figured we could pay the rent with the money we earned with our prints and we decided to focus for 100% on We are out of office from then. I think we’re both quite assertive and I think you really need that starting as an independent designer. When we started this we reached out to so many people and brands. We sent packages with prints and little notes about our work to publishers, brands and design agencies. We did many commissions because we reached out to these people telling them we wanted to work for them. It sounds harsh but when you start your business nobody will know you, nobody is going to call you. If you want something to happen, make it happen. 

Do you think there will be any positives for the world moving forward from the current situation?
We hope so! What I really, really hope is that people see the value of video calls. It’s completely unnecessary to catch an airplane to another country every week to attend a meeting. I hope that people see how well it works now they’re forced to use these services. I think people are a bit more relaxed at the moment because they’re forced to take some time off. When we go outside the vibe is a bit more relaxed. People seem to look a bit more after each other, I like that. But on high level, I think there won’t change that much, I don’t really believe in goof intentions from governments, money will alway be the number one concern unfortunately..

Finally, any future dreams?
We have this dream buying a village with friends and start living a bit more in peace with nature. Having beautiful studio’s, our own restaurant and pub and the possibility to organise cultural events. And yes, this village can be in the south of Europe so we have more sunny days than in Holland!

UT Final Five…

Most inspiring artist or designer?
Hard question. There is not just one person we like most. We do so many different things and we like so many different artists and of course this also changes all the time. For painting it’s Jonas Wood at the moment, when we first saw his work we were both like wow this guy is painting pots and plants and it’s gorgeous, maybe we’re doing just fine drawing vases and pots For approach it’s Misaki Kawaii, we adore here approach to art. We really like her childish way of painting and are quite jealous of that. She also makes things which are accessible for everyone and we really love that. Ceramics it’s definitely Makoto Kagoshima, his work is just stunning. 

Book you love?
We recently bought new shelving units for our studio and all our books are still in crates since then, so it’s hard to tell without seeing them at the moment. We just bought the Japanese cookbook: ‘Vegan Japaneasy’ which is beautifully designed by Eve-O. We really like that at the moment as we really like books and we really like to cook food.

Favourite object in your house?
We don’t even know what it is, it’s from Mexico (we bought it somewhere between SF and LA) and it’s a smal landscape from clay including a palmtree and a bird.  

Best inspiration/find ever during your travels?
A can of watermelon seeds we bought in Vietnam years ago, this was the inspiration for one of the first packaging prints we made.

Insider’s tip to Utrecht?
For pizza: Punkpizza.
For swimming in the summer: De Munt.
For having a beer and a party: Filmcafé.
For nice books: De Boekenbar.

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