This interview marks our first international interview and it took place in Amsterdam, NL with Vincent Sapthu. Vincent was a welcoming and friendly soul who met me at a really cool spot for beers and conversation. Unfortunately I left one of the (most important) wires for the microphone back in the hotel or in the states. My sincere apologies first to Vincent, but also to the listeners. We were able to record the interview but due to the environment and recording backup equipment decided to scrap the audio of the interview. It isn't fair to Vincent or you. Here is the self-transcribed version of our awesome sit down in Amsterdam where we learned about his process, his story and how he came to be the man behind the design and labels of Walhalla.
AJK: Alright. So, welcome to another addition of the 16oz. Canvas, our inaugural international episode featuring Vincent Sapthu. We came to learn of Vincent through his work with Walhalla Brewing based in Amsterdam, so we’re recording this one live in Amsterdam. I’m really excited and thank you. Thanks for being here, Vincent.
Vincent: Good to be here, man.
AJK: Yeah, it’s exciting.
Vincent: Thanks for having me man.
AJK: Yeah. So, Vince and I are having a drink. It’s a beautiful day here in Amsterdam and just -- yeah, I’ve -- well, probably one of the nicest things I’ve had in this country ever, so it’s pretty amazing to get to share this together so.
Vincent: And now we’re sitting here inside which is okay.
AJK: Yeah. And we did duck outside-- because of the weather and it’s extremely populated today outside.
Vincent: You will be here to have a few days to enjoy the weather.
AJK: Yeah exactly, exactly. So, as I say we learn of Vincent through his work with Walhalla. For all you Americans out there, myself included the W in Dutch is a V.
Vincent: Yeah, exactly.
AJK: That’ll throw you off when you look at it and it’s spelt Walhalla but it’s Vahalla. I learned that -- I have a friend here who’s Verner but if you look at it you would say -- I called him Werner for a long time and finally he was like it’s not Werner man, it’s Verner,
So, could you give a little background about yourself as an artist, you know, you’re an artist, designer, illustrator? You can check out Vincent’s work on Instagram and Dribble and a few other websites we’ll link those up, but yeah.
Vincent: Yeah. Well, I am a schooled art director so I started as an art director and I always used to draw a lot of course and that was mostly inspired by -- we had a lot of American shows on television and a lot of Hollywood movies of course like Jurassic Park and Aliens and stuff like that like there was always those movies where I got like the greatest inspirations to start drawing and I was very into video gaming and so I used to play a lot of Nintendo games and stuff like that and I always came up with my own concepts to expand these universes of Mario and Zeldaand stuff like that so I always do that. I drew a lot of them; it was crazy. It wasn’t just the characters; it was the layout of the game as well, you know, I was kind of, let’s say, nine, ten probably and I was already thinking about the light bars in street fighter had to be like this and stuff like that: My parents was like what’s wrong with this kid? Video games has a very crazy influence on him but yeah, I was very into that and two older brothers, much older -- like one is like seven years older than me, the other one is nine years older than me and somehow we all ended up in advertising.
Like for me because they were much older, like the oldest one who’s like nine years old, he was studying for art direction and I was 12 at that time probably and because of them I had a very selective memory because I always wanted to end up like him being an art director. I was just -- I wasn’t a drop out but I was just like picking all the relevant stuff out of it like Biology I didn't give a shit about that. It was always about 5:06 drawing and concepting and stuff like that and so very hard to pass through those years, but then I started studying graphic design in Amsterdam and at the time I was 16-17 probably and both of my brothers did the same study as well and they already finished it when I was in school, did it for four years, that’s where I really developed myself as a graphic designer. I was still very game, you know, orientated so I wanted to end up in the game industry somehow but at that time it was really difficult to -- yeah, to do that there weren't while a lot of schools weren't paying attention to art school, keep paying attention to the game design. Somehow you always had to study abroad for something like that but -- so gave up on that a bit and played it on safe and went with graphic design and after those four years I did get another school and it was just for one year so, you know, self-paid school but that was just orientated on the art direction.
At that time I was 21 probably and when I graduated there I found a teammate into the art direction as well and we went working for an advertising agency, just outside of Amsterdam and I did that for three years and I was just into advertising, advertising, advertising because it’s a business, it's crazy ---when you get into it, easily like ten years will pass like this (Snap Fingers). So about a year and a half ago I quit my job in Utrecht to work for myself and that’s when I came back in touch with illustration again, that’s where my heart is like I always used to draw and I didn’t develop myself as an illustrator at the advertising agencies of course because you have to do sketches and stuff like that where your concepts get a lot of -- that went hand-in-hand with developed graphic design but now I was working for myself and easily pay attention to what I love most; illustration.
It goes really fast because this goes to Walhalla right away and so Walhalla was one of my first clients, was really interested in my illustrations and my brother he introduced me to Aart, because my brother is more like a strategic designer, a strategic director -- an Art Director. So, yeah he didn’t want to do the branding for Aart but that was his mission of course to come up with the branding for Walhalla -- this new beer brand I have. That's why he passed it to me because I was way more into branding, like building brands from scratch, making logos and stuff like that. I love that, especially when I can combine it with my drawing skills so, yeah, I mean that was love at first sight with Aart so yeah, it’s just the two of us and, you know, a year later he has like ten beers -- it's crazy. A lot of breweries here have four or five beers in a year or something but he has a lot of experience with the brewer -- brewing he had before and he did that for five years and it was gone through with a _____9:38 a friendship, that friendship just -- it just died, it was just two friends, they were brewing at home, you know, and somehow that didn’t work out like financial problems and stuff like that so they separated and then Aart went his own way and he came up with Walhalla, so that’s why he wanted to work -- he didn’t want to work with another brewer anymore because he wanted to work with someone -- get a guy who came up with concepts like something he couldn’t..
AJK: Focus on strengths. That’s exciting so your brothers -- because a lot of people tell their parents they want to be artists -- they already had to have those awkward conversations years ago so it made your life a lot easier.
Vincent: Yeah. No, my parents, I love them but they have no clue what we’re doing. Advertising; what is it you know especially my father because he wasn’t born here.
Which is very crazy like he grew up in the jungle so they don’t know about commercial stuff like that and so the only question he asked, do you make enough money? Yeah, dad, don’t worry about it.
Okay, and I don’t know what you’re doing but as long as you’re making very good money it’s good.
AJK: That’s excellent. Yeah, that’s good. Now what do your brothers do; they’re still art direction?
Vincent: Yeah, yeah. I’m actually in the same -- well, it’s not a company, it’s more like a collective, like it’s a formation of different discipline -- creatives. My middle brother he’s a hardcore art director and he always wants strategic minded and he runs the entire collective and we’re ten creatives now and everyone can start his own project and can use other creatives from the same collective, you know, to realize the project. No, but I’m working with them now so.
AJK: That’s awesome. What is that called?
Vincent: Less Agency.
I found through one of your things it was like Wall --
Vincent: Wall Dizzy.
I didn’t mention it but -- yeah, Wall Dizzy I used to do it with two good friends of mine but, yeah, running a business with two good friends is -- it’s fun for the first few years but after then it -- you have to be careful.
AJK: Yeah. Aart’s probably like I told you so.
Vincent: Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
We had this time collective of the three of us and working on wall pieces like murals and stuff like that.
AJK: Yeah. There’s some beautiful work I saw. Very creative.
Vincent: And those two friends of mine were already working together as a tiny graphic design agency somewhere in the north of Amsterdam and they -- as a sie service they had murals and I was really interested in that because they triggered me to think about illustration again as well.
AJK: So, it was kind of like you’re getting out of the corporate world and getting back into it.
Vincent: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And I hit it up with them like during the time I was working for other advertising agencies so -- but that was a part-time job so I used to -- in all those days off I worked with them but they really triggered me to work for myself, start to think about illustration again, but it is quite a niche probably like murals like it’s cool to do but yeah, like not everyone, not every company is willing to pay a lot of money for them
AJK: Alright, I think that’s the -- the big rub is --- people love art. They you say you want this much and they say oh...
Vincent: Yeah, exactly, yeah. And of course it’s not always about it’s not about the money. I love to do creative stuff of course and when your stuff is out there like that’s the true salary. It shouldn’t be about the money so -- but if you want to create a business around that -- it is difficult so we’re still doing it but yeah, not so much.
AJK: Yeah. Even finding the space to do a proper mural is difficult also.
Vincent: Yeah. At some point it was -- we were quite out there -- Wall Dizzy, we used Behance - I hadn't used before. It is very quick and easy to use tool and its International so we had questions from International too, but I couldn’t live from that so I still had to do advertising, I hate advertising, I can’t go back into that space, no, fuck no, no more --- I’m completely free now. Like of course I’m still working for advertising agencies but just for three weeks probably and I don’t have to care about like how things run and internally. I could easily like close my eyes --
AJK: Yeah, the project management, your life-cycle --
Vincent: Yeah. Do do this and do this and this and this. Okay, whatever.
AJK: By this time and this thing. Yeah.
Vincent: Yeah. Just three more weeks you know. I can ask dad like I can use the money to facilitate something different, because Walhalla, it doesn’t pay much yeah, so I’m thankful that he gives me the stage to shine with my illustrations.
That’s what it’s all about for me because without him my -- I just wasn’t out there with my illustrations you know. That’s something I have to blame myself for because I don’t have a website or whatever I have my Instagram or Behance so I could get more business out of it.
AJK: Well, if you need help let me know. I mean I do -- I use Squarespace for mine and it’s super easy to use.
Vincent: Thanks a lot. I use my Instagram as my portfolio. It’s not just on the phone. If you go to the website would be there. You have like a very nice overview of our work and so it’s exactly how it needs to be for me.
AJK: Now, how you -- what mediums do you use, how do you create your illustrations?
Vincent: It starts with Aart:24. He comes up with a new beer and he has some suggestions for the Gods because every beer at Walhalla is a new God like entering Walhalla. It can be -- it’s just not the -- like not just the Nordic stuff, you know, it’s not just the Vikings or Norich. Like Shakti, like -- the second beer is from India and he came up with Shakti because that beer was a medium Pale Ale so yeah, he wanted to come up with an Indian God and he came up with Shakti and Osiris, it was like a farmhouse ale so okay, can we find a God which is somehow into farming and like -- so, that’s just how he starts the process actually.
AJK: Do you draw them from scratch and scan them in or do you use Illustrator?
Vincent: Yeah. I draw them from scratch. I have a little black book, that’s where I start sketching
AJK: Do you have it with you?
Vincent: Yeah, definitely but this is a new one like Walhalla just, this is the latest one, the latest one.
Nidhoggr; a Nordic Dragon but this is how we ended up. First I just always look for different kind of positions and like -- or yeah, I was like I love character design so to highlight the sketches from different kind of angles and create an entire world around it, you know, like what does he do and --
AJK: Make a little story board. That’s a good part from your advertising.
Vincent: Yeah, I think so.
AJK: And that helps.
Vincent: Yeah, definitely. It’s not just for the concept, it’s not just about the picture, you know, like okay, it’s going to end up somehow like this but at first I just created -- have this God and this -- used to live there and that God is about this and just explore that entire spectrum of that that God , and translate it.
AJK: So, do you -- you’ll scan that in and then you’d color and then --
Vincent: Yeah. I scan it and then I completely trace it in Photoshop that’s where I color it as well and then I translate it to an illustrator to -- yeah, all the layouts and the gradients so that’s where the label is -- it’s creative but no, it starts with Aart and he comes up with a God and we have this shared Pinterest page so -- like Pinterest board he calls like okay, nice interpretation of the God because he can follow the entire process but he can’t look and see inside my head, you know, like he can see what I’m posting on Pinterest but what are you up to man -- there's picture of Prince and Iggy Pop. These are the inspirations for the new God so --
AJK: And there’s how many?
Vincent: Yeah, so there are six -- like six beers from Walhalla and they return every year and we have to get a story -- excuse of why it’s more creative, it’s just a one-time batch. He brews like 1500 of them and then sells them and if it’s gone it’s gone.
And then those are the Daemons so you have the gods and the daemons and the daemons is the very premium, like it’s the heavy, heavy beers almost like 11.
AJK: Wow, okay. Like stouts and heavier like --
Vincent: Yeah --
AJK: Yeah. The Barleywine - the Wuldor right that was pretty strong too. That was like Nine and a half, yeah. That guy is a bad-ass, yeah. You can tell you had fun with that one, the character creation like.
Vincent: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, because --
AJK: He's like a trouble maker.
Vincent: Yeah. He’s originally from Wales or something and like when Britain wasn’t just one country. He was a Archer and also British, I also think about British and then tough guys, I think about hooligans you know. So, I was looking at Arsenal and hooligans and stuff --
AJK: Funny -- yeah, he’s got that look
Vincent: Yeah. Like they’re just all -- mix them together and Wuldor came out, so that one was very fun to do definitely but Minverva is one of the latest beers -- it’s made for the summer, it’s only 4.14, it's a spelt white beer so he wanted to do something light and like a Greek Goddess --
AJK: -- sexy, that’s cool, yeah. I do like even before when it was cold and dark, you had artwork of her with her hoody on and in the rain.
AJK: It’s kind of nice -- Minvera is coming.
Vincent: Oh, yeah exactly. Wwhen one beer comes out he wants to do a teaser for Facebook and every time it’s something different, you know, like when the Daemons were introduced Mephistopheles was the first Daemon and a very -- like a GIF animation of a very dark face and just saw him in a cool.
AJK: I love Greek mythology and found that I was drawn to it because of Gods and why would this go with this one and I was going down a hole and an hour later I was like where am I?
Vincent: Yeah. But it’s quite ambitious to come up with a concept for the new Gods because some people don’t give a shit about it, it’s just beer, you know. Craft beer is huge and it’s everywhere, US as well --- especially in the US. But here in Holland there are like 300 local breweries, so it’s hard to try to stand out with the labels.
AJK: Yeah. I think that for whatever reason like the European style and Dutch, the labels are very traditional, it’s very type, font and topography where in the US we got a little more of that illustration and cartoon at times so I think that’s why I think it also stood out to me was like here it’s usually just like the name of the beer and it’s almost like ancestral font, it’s like a big letter and that was it and I was like oh, okay so that was always hard for me.
Vincent: Yeah, and that’s how I started here of course and I think we got this typical language for beer labels sort of like it has to be in some sort of style to recognize it as a beer.
AJK: But even the fonts are like -- they don’t use modern fonts, it’s very much with the Seriffs, so it’s kind of nice to see that.
Vincent: He wanted to stand out of course so I gave him something very -- my style happens to be very vibrant and some people consider it childish and very simple, like a simple but very iconic, which is a compliment to me -- it communicates.
AJK: Yeah, I would agree.
Vincent: It’s almost like graphic design...
AJK: I wouldn’t say it’s childish I just think people will -- I guess like you were saying you talk to your dad right like you’ve told him you’re doing cartoons, like cartoon stuff that’s -- just because it’s a style it doesn’t mean it’s easy to do it’s like -- yeah, I always have that when I say that about work -- and when it’s very like line based and simple like -- probably, like it’s easy to do but like it’s just kind of like now you get to see how it came together which I really like.
Vincent: Yeah and for the medium -- it’s a beer label you can't give it too much of much detail, you know, like it has to be like very powerful and you can see it on an instance like standing between all the other beers like it has to appeal --
AJK: No, this is good too because the rest of their labels are fairly dark and then you use vibrant colors like kind of like especially for a God it’s like coming through.
Vincent: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, definitely.
That’s why I love the dark beers and I like the styles and stuff because the bottle just turns out to be black and you don't see the background of the label, you just see the God or -- so that’s awesome.
AJK: Good. Do you remember like the first one you did I mean or what did it have like a wow factor or because you’ve done so much advertising work it wasn’t as interesting?
Vincent: No, there was definitely a wow factor because --
AJK: You were on your own?
Vincent: Yeah, definitely; yeah, that’s one reason but it doesn’t happen so much like you can’t come up with a good idea or a perfect design or whatever, then you see your final product and you have it in your hands, you know, like most of the times it’s like advertising agencies, you come up with this and you get super psyched about it and then for whatever dumb reason --
AJK: No, that’s not what I started with.
Look oh, there’s my nose. Where’s the arm, I mean where’s the rest of it?
Vincent: Yeah, exactly.
So, it was very nice to have like the first beer like it was Osiris and Shakti like started with two and at that time I knew -- it was in my head to come up with a concept which will last for like many years and so I had to keep that in mind to come up with two characters that wouldn't be too detailed and can still recognize them, you know, a couple of years later because now there are ten of them and an entire family coming to life but at that time I didn’t just -- I didn’t know I would -- it was going to end up being -- so I just do a beer where I was very happy about it. This is by far the best client I’ve ever had.
AJK: Right. And what I like too is -- like you’re part of the brand in a way like I think that with Aart -- like even with the social if you are there, you're not just a guy that's drawing in the back room.
Vincent: No, no it goes very hand-in-hand you know. He’s the brewer and he does all the distribution stuff and of course and the brewing, selling and whatever but he is a very creative guy as well, just like the same for me it has to stand out from the crowd in his own profession, you know, like he has to come up with very clever beers and use very unique ingredients and stuff like that so he is creative as well so you can trust him in what he does and get your way around so I do branding. So, if I come up with a cool illustration that I didn’t use for the label eventually then it’s going to end up like a teaser or like a reminder post or a post for like an upcoming event or whatnot
AJK: Some of the signs and the banners you made like they’re very -- they’re vibrant, it makes people want to go and see what’s going on.
Vincent: Yeah. And I need those, I need those things because of that. It’s a shame if it -- yeah, if it just ends up with a beer label, you know, I’d love to tell the entire story around it like.
AJK: Yeah. There was a tap over recently and you had the take-away box that was excellent. The whole -- it was like the wrapper; yeah, that was excellent. And you’re saying you’re going to eventually have a physical space it’s like for you a dream with your murals and such.
Vincent: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I’m still waiting for it like he just bought his own bus, you know, to like deliver the beer to clients and stuff like that. Yesterday I just painted all over the -- made some sort of Wallhalla, a kind of beer clash --- that was very fun to do you know.
It’s a medium as well so I get to see the bus riding around that you can easily recognize it as Walhalla so.
AJK: That’s excellent.
Vincent: It’s nothing like for -- of course it’s the perfect balance between illustration and what I learned at the advertising agency so now like to be an art director because I’m still thinking about different ways to give more meaning to the brand.
AJK: Now do you have any Gods that you’re like hoping that it will become a beer like you found yourself researching Gods that you never thought before?
Vincent: No. Like just from -- till now he’s doing a very good, good job at coming up with Gods because he’s very into Greek mythology and stuff like that so yeah, the things he comes up with it’s spot on. It’s -- when I have to -- I don’t know I think Kratos, is Kratos -- isn’t he like the God of war?
Like I am into gaming so like I wanted to create Kratos, one God of war but I don’t know if I can say too much about what he’s coming up with.
AJK: Now what is that process from when he comes up with the beer names, the way it has to be labeled how much time does he give you?
Vincent: It is quite fast. Now -- like in the beginning it was about the entire branding of course so I had to be very careful about when I come up with something it has to be right because, you know, it has to be strategic like -- but now it’s just a year later and he comes up with a God and only three days or four days later the label is going to the press.
AJK: Wow, okay.
Vincent: Yeah, it goes quite fast, yeah.
AJK: Just show your sketches and say where do we go with it and?
Vincent: Yeah. And if he sees the sketches like in the beginning I had to approach him as a client but like now I can approach him as a friend like he knows my style and I know how he thinks so just show ideas and I was thinking about like maybe it should be fine-tuned like here and there but this is what I was thinking about and he sees the Pinterest page and he sees like photos because he was very inspired by Amanda Seyfriend this one is going to end up very well like without knowing how the label was going to look like so yeah, I have his trust and we got a way around so things go very smoothly and quite fast now.
AJK: I could see an event where everyone has to dress up according to the mythology or Greek style.
Vincent: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
AJK: Always a good excuse to have a toga party right?
Vincent: Yeah, exactly.
AJK: Excellent. And from a branding perspective they would look great as a T-shirt or merchandise as well.
Vincent: Yeah. He has some T-shirts that he wears at the events or like festivals where we have the beer.
AJK: So, when you’re creating do you have music you’re listening to what’s your process like do -- or because of your sketch book are you always just kind of on
Vincent: Like for the first five labels there was a lot of weed involved probably.
With weed comes a lot of psychedelic kind of music probably like whatever it takes to get into that vibe like not so much like the -- with the last labels because it’s getting quite easy now for me with something new but at the beginning I was just like headphones on and like listening to Tico probably or like mix tapes on Sound Cloud from Tico - mellow and a spliff with me. Music is definitely very important to bring me to that certain place that comes over - I can lose myself in my thoughts so music really helps with it so yeah, it’s definitely important.
AJK: That’s great. Now is this always -- is this kind of like your best friend that you’re always carrying your little sketchbook with you?
Vincent: Yeah, everywhere. Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I just started with this one but like everything that comes up, you know, like a dick sun bathing, I don’t know why but everything -- now this one is -- this is my Holy Bible one, definitely need it.
AJK: Yeah. My nephew’s an artist and like I’m his older uncle so like I was like -- I love all his stuff so that moment where he like it passes across the table I was accepted and he just let me sit with it and I was just like this is awesome - he kept looking over like this is awesome so it was good. Yeah, it was very intimate like I knew that like -- because I always knew and it was like this big and so I knew he had it, he was looking at it and I said that’s it and he was like yeah, and I was like alright.
Vincent: Yeah. And it’s cool to give him credits for that, you know, like --
AJK: Oh yeah, it’s awesome. Like he’s only like 18-17 but he’s really talented but he’s at that age where he doesn’t think he’s talented, you know, like -- where it’s like oh, you know, it’s just like --
Vincent: He probably doesn’t know how to apply it as well.
AJK: Yeah. Yeah, like we -- even when I started doing this I reached out to him and he was kind of like felt intimated to be a part of it so I didn’t push it but as he goes, you know, he’s kind of always hinting like hey, you want to look at these artists, you can, you know, you can do this. No, it’s cool.
Vincent: Yeah, that’s the thing right. Like references and stuff like that, you know, he has to know which people that inspire you it’s like does he know how to -- how you can apply your style. Because if I look back to the -- like to the younger me and it’s very difficult and I mean I was just into gaming, it was all I had and I didn't know how to apply it like in different kind of ways.
AJK: Yeah. But the younger you right, your creativity got going and you’ve got to open your head to non-traditional -- ideas or like visuals, that helped.
Vincent: Yeah, definitely. I was really struggling with it like people who don’t know anything about advertising or graphic design are always like you’re creative you must be doing something with drawing. You must be drawing like that’s the creative job; it’s the most creative thing I can come up with and my father thought things like that as well. In the end I’m -- I mean I was like drawing so that’s what I do for a living and it would be cool to meet up with kids from the lower school. You're probably going to end up drawing stuff, you know, like that’s what I do now but I was struggling with it. It’s not the person who I am, I'm more than that I can work a real job and stuff like that but at the end.
AJK: I think at this point, you know, all the crazy shit that goes on but I think at this point in time to be creative is one of the best times ever because the -- like your business model, you don’t have to have a proper big office; you can through the internet and you can sell your stuff. Yeah, like music-wise you don’t have to be on a major label anymore like I think it pushes the normal to new levels, like I think it’s exciting.
Vincent: Definitely. Yeah, especially in our generation.
AJK: Awesome. Thanks so much Vincent.
Vincent: No problem.
AJK: That was excellent.