It’s happening right under my nose: a smile, memories, anecdotes, a critical remark go back and forth. And there is love and respect. For each other and their profession. And I observe, with amusement and a lot of admiration. In front of me is sitting the graphic duo Sanny Winters & Tim Oeyen. For years a phenomenon within the graphics domain. At the end of 2016, I appealed to them for an image for the “LECHAPERON & Friends” book. And I fell in love. With the apparent simplicity with which they create and tell stories, their critical and creative mind. And the humor. That, too. Sufficient reasons to give these two artists, and their work a special place in the LECHAPERON Gallery.
Sanny + Tim = Tim + Sanny
Have you ever thought about the font, color and size while reading a book? Have you ever felt the book cover or the paper inside? Have you wondered why a picture is to the left and not the right, with only white space around it? For many of us, it’s so evident that you forget that you look at true craftsmanship, knowledge, and expertise. It seems simple, but is actually complex. Similarly, so are the designs of Oeyen & Winters.
With Sanny, there is no compromise. She goes straight to the core, making everything perfectly clear. Myself, I tend to devote more to it (Tim)
Oeyen & Winters’ work is smart. Thoughtful and bold. The boundary between book or object, lecture or artwork, beautiful images or a statement, is thin. Nothing is just that: everything has been considered. And nothing is just 'Sanny' or 'Tim', although especially Sanny is the face of the duo, and is better known to a wider audience. Her colorful typographic illustrations are very recognizable. And yet, for each design, counts the power of two. While she concentrates on the visual contents, he adds more to the structure and determination of the project, a trait that has reached fruition during Tim's role as art director for various magazines over the past 10 years (Knack, Weekend Knack, Humo, de Morgen, …). These ventures were in addition to their own agency. In order to have some financial security, but also because it is fun to do. “I just like to do a lot of things," said Tim.
At the end of 2016 it was decided to spend somewhat less time per week on such projects and to focus especially on the Oeyen & Winters agency. Everyone’s talents, and everyone’s interests. And in this case, their variety of talents is also perfectly complementary.
Tim always looks for and sees what is possible and what could still be better, and allows no challenge to stand in the way. He can assemble the right people for a job, instill them with confidence, and allow them the necessary freedom (Sanny )
New place, new approach
Previously, they simply lived and worked together in one house. This changed in 2016. “We have always been able to combine our work and private lives fairly well, but the children have grown up and ask more of us. The work never stops. We've been thinking about moving to another place for a long time, but now we finally cut the knot”. For some months now, the new Oeyen & Winters location has been a reality. At the end of the workday, family time is nog awaiting them only a few streets away. They love this new work environment, and feel it compels them to work even more efficiently.
“The Cafe", Tim and Sanny respond simultaneously to my question about whether they have a particular pattern for obtaining a final idea or result. Apparently the answer is yes. Next to their new workplace, the cafe is the best place for them to air their first ideas. For both, the growth of those ideas is the most enjoyable phase in the whole process. “The basic idea is to always try to tell a message in its simplest form as possible. Only a setting or a time spirit is stipulated, but not much more than this.”
During that creative phase, both use their critical, creative mind as the primary tool that directs and shapes. Together, each is greater than the sum of their individual parts . “I get better by working a lot", Tim says."Previously, you had the tennis players John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. Well, I am the Ivan Lendl of us both. The result comes only by first working hard. Sanny steps in on day 3 and does something no one else can. That has always been the case. She is quicker in purifying the message and thinking about the form that comes along”. “Yes, but I stress a lot more than Tim!”, laughs Sanny.
I need a reference. For example I need that bookcase as a source of inspiration. Sanny doesn’t. It’s just in her. (Tim)
Oeyen & Winters already have an impressive record and won a lot of awards. But they downplay this recognition. “There are a lot of talented people who don’t win the prizes because they happen not to be part of the circuit. You can only win a prize when you registered for the award. It’s much more pleasurable, however, if, for example your work is positively assessed by an independent newspaper”, says Winters. What brings us immediately to a sensitive topic.
What follows is a fervent plea for the love of the profession: In the fashion industry or in product design, talented designers become involved with awards and a budget recognized and supported in order to mold their fame (inter)nationally. As far as graphic design in Belgium is concerned, such a broader level of support appears to be inadequate. That step-motherly treatment of the graphic world is, according to Oeyen, typical Belgian, and is based on the undervaluation of the graphic illustrator in the craft industry.
Tim : “Ensor and Magritte are recognized and known as important Belgian painters, but did you know that they were also graphic artists? We have such a rich history (i.e. the 300 years of book printing and family history in the Plantin Moretus Museum), but, unfortunately, do little with it. There is no or little support for graphic design in Belgium. In The Netherlands, such a thing is inconceivable. And just because there is no recognition or forum for graphic design in Belgium, a kind of DIY mentality has arisen, whereby people think that our work is no longer necessary. In Belgium people soon think "we’ll just do it ourselves", while those in Netherlands go to a graphic designer. And that’s a pity. An upgrade of our profession is badly needed.”
Everything we see is hiding something else (Magritte)
Time goes by. Various examples of designs and assignments are brought up during our conversation. And each time again I’m surprised by their personal style and critical and committed approach. “Our work must be relevant in the sense that it does something, or we should be able to support something useful. It’s in little things you know. And the question or assignment may not be interchangeable. We always start with a blank sheet of paper. And yes, there must be a story: who are these people, what do they like, etc. Again, this is important to us.” When it comes to their own work, each image tells another story, contains a message or a reflection. Behold a glimpse of social commitment.
A vision, a critical view of the world, a frustration is always beautifully wrapped and imaged. It’s up to you, as a reader, to determine what you see or read. “That is as it should be," says Sanny. And so a bit of surrealism sneaks into their designs, challenging the spectators to discover a meaning themselves.
Yes, there is much that binds the Winters & Oeyen duo: memories of a student life together (and also, later, as husband and wife), their two children, and the search for the essence of the message. But, above all, the drive to create something more beautiful every time. For the customer and for themselves. But above all, for the profession. Because it deserves it.