Graphic designer Stephanie Specht lives in Antwerp, in an apartment on the 6th floor. And from there she sees the world. She sees things that you and I don’t see at first sight. Letters on buildings for example. She has a talent to make everything better and stronger. Not only her career, but also herself. This woman travelled, saw and felt amazing things and she started all over again. Since then her life fits in a suitcase. Her feeling of being home depends on the people surrounding her. To all graphic lovers, here’s to you: a conversation about feeling home, spirituality, beauty and people.
Call it intuition. The feeling of knowing something that you could not know about rationally. It’s not easy in a society where people keep rushing, where only performance counts and matter is prioritized to feelings. Although it’s still a part of every human being, not everyone can feel it. But Stephanie and her sister do. “My parents got divorced when I was 12 years old. On my mother’s side of the family everyone was interested in spirituality and intuition. I grew up with it and I notice that intuition is something that is getting a place in our society only since a few years. But to us, following our gut had always been normal.”
Kunstmuseum, Basel, iArt, Leucht Fassade
As an independent at her own design bureau, Stephanie mainly works with smaller businesses and individuals. This inner compass shows the directions to go. Like it did when she started to work as an independent. Stephanie didn’t grow up in a family full of entrepreneurs. Working as an independent had never been something she actually longed for. But it did become her path. The freedom that comes with it, is worth a lot to her and she wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
My work is my life and my life is my work. Work and life are one. My work is my passion.
Back in the days, she would have answered ‘architect’ when someone asked her “what would you like to become when you’re older?” “But I’ve never been good at maths. I finally ended up doing graphic design but I actually got my inspiration from non-graphic-design sources like for example arts and architecture”. The sightseeing of buildings, lectures and books about architecture always have been unfailing sources of inspiration for her work when it comes to spaces, shapes and surfaces. Ever since she was young, Stephanie had an incredible fascination for letters and, yes, letters on buildings. Especially buildings dating from the ‘40’s. “Earlier, architects used to put their names – or signature – on buildings. Often at eye height but apparently, people hardly notice it. But I do. And I love it!”
Unrest and love. The two ingredients that drove Stephanie abroad a few years ago. New York eventually became her new home where she quickly built up a new life, also professionally. Traveling forced her to live with less. "It's healthy to have as little as possible." The essence of her life fits in a suitcase: laptop, some clothing, music - especially music - and a few books. She doesn’t need much to adapt. Wherever she is.
I couldn’t constantly just take everything with me. Due to moving several times, I needed the freedom to own nothing.
New York. The city where anything goes. The city that gives and takes. Same with Stephanie. A relationship breakup brought her back home. Back to Belgium. She had to leave everything there and had to rebuild everything here. Until then, Stephanie had always been busy with other people and their work. Trying to fit in. After that breakup she had to lean on herself. Only herself: “As a person, you’re in your purest form at the very moment when you have nothing left and when you can’t go any deeper. When everything has slipped away, only the “real you”, your true soul of being a human remains. When there’s nothing you can hide any longer. Believe me, that’s the moment when you reach the essence.” A big clean up, so to speak.
This attitude still influences her life philosophy nowadays. The result? Applying this philosophy more than ever before. Yes, the earlier restless feeling is gone. She doesn’t feel the urge to go to other places anymore. “I probably won’t be staying here forever, but for the first time in a very long time, I can say that I like to live and work here, at this place. I’m feeling good. Not just because of the amazing atmosphere of the city but because of the people surrounding me.”
I like clean and ‘free’ spaces. Too much clutter limits my creativity. A chair, some greenery and a lantern. There’s actually nothing more I need.
The picture is perfect
Stephanie’s visual expression has strongly evolved throughout the years. In the beginning of her carreer, there was a strong urge to survive as an independent to refuse as few tasks and jobs assignments as possible. That same urge to survive was replaced by assignments in which she could express herself more. Her current imagery mainly reflects a typographic style. Not by accident are “corporate identity and book design” her favourite areas of interest in which she has specialized throughout the years.
Back in the days my drawings weren’t full, but there was simply too much on it. Illustrative work – free work – is my way to express my ideas and it’s mostly the result of pre-designs of assignments for a customer.
Basic shapes determine the essential style of Stephanie. Currently she uses a symmetric or asymmetric construction. A seemingly stable construction on paper that would instantly collapse if it was 3D.
I do not consider my free work as art. I prefer to see it as research. Many designers make illustrations that stand on itself. According to me, this merely agrees with the definition of art”. Stephanie mainly observes art with an aesthetic eye. The message isn’t the priority. The same is valid for her own illustrations. They are what they are. “Me, myself, I can see something in it, but it is mainly the aesthetic aspect that has to be good. The message is of less importance.” The image just has to be right. Only then the image is finished.
My current work is a lot more simplistic and minimalistic than back in the days. I’ve started to put more and more attention into the essence and purification of the image.
Her motivation? “To make things stronger. Better. Better in a sense of ‘what’s the essence’? Also on this level, I applied a big clean-up.”
It wasn’t love. It was the city that forced Stephanie to live with a half heart since she came back to Belgium. “’Half Heart’ describes a feeling of belonging everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The feeling that you belong to more than one place and how you try to handle this feeling.” This ‘half heart’ has inspired Stephanie to search for people who share this feeling. Once she has collected enough stories, she will publish them in a book “Half Heart”. (Do you recognize yourself in this feeling of having a “half heart”? Share your story here)
Lonely? No way. I do miss my neighbours of my time in Studio Specht – we became real friends – but whenever I walk outside here, I’m all surrounded by people again. So actually I’m never alone you know.
I’ve seen it already 3 times since my visit to the 6th floor. Letters on buildings. In the meantime I continue thinking about what I would put in my suitcase. What I do know is which text I will put on the its outside: ‘detach from the outcome’.