Futurism, Gucci and car washes: the inspiration behind Maaike Canne’s paintings of an imaginary city

In the first project of our ongoing partnership with Pinterest, Thread of Inspiration, illustrator Maaike Canne investigates a wide range of subjects, resulting in seven paintings of imagined buildings.


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Pinterest is all about bringing creative inspiration to people’s lives. Graphic design. Photography. Boozy vegan breakfast... Whether you’re wooing a tricky client or feeding your friends, Pinterest has ideas to spark you into action.

Thread of Inspiration is a series in partnership with Pinterest which explores how inspiration can come from unexpected places. Throughout the year we'll be inviting a host of creatives to create amazing artworks, and sharing the intriguing stories behind how they come up with new ideas. Every other month a new creative will be introduced, tasked with creating new works inspired by the artist who came before them in the chain.

In her work as an illustrator, Rotterdam-based creative Maaike Canne often looks to unusual realms for inspiration. Never placing limits on herself for possible influences, her work – which often includes architectural structures – follows a process of “placing objects out of context” in order to “look at shapes and spaces differently,” she tells It’s Nice That. “For instance, if you want to draw a clock and you look at clocks for inspiration, chances are it’s going to be a pretty straightforward design. But, drawing a clock inspired by cars, skyscrapers and boxing rings will lead to new connections, and a new way of thinking.”

It was exactly this way of thinking that made us believe Maaike would be the perfect contributor for our first project in collaboration with Pinterest: Thread of Inspiration. A project that sees a creative explore an idea via Pinterest, Maaike took her first seed of inspiration from animator Ricardo Bessa’s Nicer Tuesdays talk in January. Discussing his work for the television show The End of the F***ing World, Maaike interpreted his use of fantasy as an opportunity to redesign a city in her own creative vision.

Developing into a series of fantasy architectural paintings, inspired by the likes of Nathalie du Pasquier and car washes, how Maaike found herself at this outcome demonstrates how inspiration can often lead creatives down unexpected paths.


Thread of Inspiration


Splitting the project into four phases – inspiration, discovery, planning and create – initially it was Ricardo’s references to spaceships and a “deserted feeling” which piqued Maaike’s interest. It led her to think of control rooms, power plants and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, an area of fantasy-filled creative thinking which began to populate her Pinterest board. Following this futuristic lead, it was artistic movements Maaike found herself investigating next. She began reading up on artistic movements like “futurism, googie architecture, archigram, metabolism, purism and utopian architecture,” referencing Le Corbuiser’s quote, “A house is a machine for living in”, as a key inspiration during this early stage.

At this stage in a project, when her brain is swimming with ideas, Maaike often utilises Pinterest. She tells us how the platform is useful “as a tool to collect, and structure your images and thoughts,” and the illustrator appreciates the way it allows for easy order when dealing with “the chaos of different images.” In general, this allows her to have “more of a birds eye view of what’s happening in my mind,” she describes. “It helps you understand what images have in common, and what attracts you to it and understand your own taste, interests and the way you look at the world.” As a result, Maaike never resists saving an image she finds visually interesting, saving everything and anything that catches her eye. “Even though I may not need it right now,” she says, “it’s nice to be able to come back to it.”

With an aesthetic and overarching theme of futuristic architecture saved in her own mind, Maaike then took herself away from Pinterest to draw a mind map of routes for where the project could turn next. Enforcing some structure on her idea by hand, this worked in the same way to her process of saving imagery, helping to “discover new relationships among seemingly unrelated ideas and information.” She then uploaded this hands-on idea generation back to her on-going digital board, creating space to look deeper into certain areas, moving into the discovery phase of the project, while still featuring in her “birds eye view” of ideas.


Thread of Inspiration: Investigation phase

Delve into Maaike’s world of inspiration

From bowling alleys to opera houses, circuit boards and art deco furniture, head over to Maaike’s Thread of Inspiration board to discover the vast array of images which inspired her paintings, and some behind the scenes sketches too.

Check it out!


Despite the vast amount of references within this project, it’s easy to spot the reoccurring influence of architectural forms in Maaike’s work, even if she’s saving references to it subconsciously. Viewing her inspiration pins as an outsider, particularly as she moved into the discovery stage of investigating certain ideas, you can see that even when Maaike wheels off into a different tangent – such as the large section of her board featuring motherboards from computers – some architectural reference will pull her back in again. For instance, at one stage she saves satellite images of buildings, bearing resemblance to the neat lines of electrical circuits.

Admitting that while it never “really happens on purpose,” the illustrator often finds herself wandering around architectural worlds when thinking about projects. “I just find myself drifting off into that direction for almost every project I work on.” This is due to the fact that, for Maaike, architecture represents a different kind of visual language, one constructed of “shape and space,” as she describes. “I like to translate a lot of principles of Japanese architecture into my own work as well,” she explains. “Like the emphasis on horizontal lines, simplicity, a meeting of the ancient and the modern, and the blending of outdoor with indoor.”

Using this artistic research as a backbone, Maaike’s tendency to look outside of usual areas of creativity then came into play. She began to creatively notice the shape and function of all kinds of products like clocks, radios, and old toys “but also a lot of technology, like the first computers.” Playing around with how these smaller structures could contribute to a fantasy building of Maaike’s own creation, this research then allowed for further jumping off points. At this stage, on her Pinterest board you also see her pulling from a variety of even wider sources, like the colour palette and structure of container ships to Gucci’s Spring Summer 2020 collection.


Thread of Inspiration: Discovery phase


With plenty of visual stimuli to pull from at this stage, Maaike began sketching possible outcomes. Across these sketches, several of her references can be spotted by an eagle eyed viewer, such as the art deco-like shape of lamps in the curves of possible structures, or neatly stacked lines resembling the architectural approach to bridges. With these elements plotted out in her own style, they appear back on her Pinterest board, creating a new break in the project’s development.

From here too, we no longer see any reference imagery, instead Maaike stacks possible colour palettes high and tests them with certain structures. Annotating each of her experiments and always jumping between her references and her own work, the illustrator describes that “most of the time I had two screens open and some sketches on the table while painting,” she says. “One screen with my Pinterest board, and one with the digital sketch that I was planning on painting.” And, in being able to flit between each of her previous processes, “seeing all of this together led to some changes in the final paintings as well.”


Thread of Inspiration: Planning stage


Now, Maaike was at the stage of finally having a structural idea decided and a colour palette whittled down, so she began the process of creating her own imagined buildings. With seven in total, the results depict a number of imagined versions of buildings you may recognise, either via their exterior or her detailed interpretations of their interiors.

For instance, the outside buildings Maaike has developed include a hotel, a bank, a theatre and her version of a CIA building. Journeying inside, viewers will begin to clock the familiar structure of a library, a bowling alley and a casino, too. Each is an artwork in its own right, but when viewed together, the illustrator describes them almost as a city built like “a journey through my mind,” built from “mundane objects, old technology and some less evident inspirations.”

The final work is one of “playful and vibrant representations” which blurs “the lines between abstraction and figuration, and connects the ordinary with the extraordinary,” Maaike describes. Purposefully “defying the laws of perspective” in her painterly viewpoints, each piece is summed up by the illustrator as having “a sense of stillness, and a distorted sense of scale and debt.”


Thread of Inspiration: Create stage

This is also enhanced by Maaike’s decision to create the work by hand instead of digitally, adopting “a flat, silk-screen-like approach and a sculptural point of view,” she says. To draw viewers in even further, she’s also written carefully considered captions for each piece in order to “give a warmer, more human perspective and make you connected to the work in a different way.”

Each piece also pulls from a varied pool of references taken from Maaike’s Pinterest board, such as the bank referencing the Cray 1 Computer in its structure, whereas the CIA building is a mix of 2001: A Space Odyssey, water towers and pinball games. Particular references are also dotted throughout each of her paintings too, such as the colour palette directly relating to Gucci’s SS20 show as mentioned, and details from Art Deco radios, Fortunato Depero and Amédée Ozenfant’s paintings. Finally, she concludes that while the work is inline with her usual creative output in terms of topics, “I’ve never really used this combination of texts with images to trigger new fantasies.”

Moving forward, the ideas explored by Maaike will now be handed to another creative to dive into, before they pass on their interpretation too, with Maaike adding, “I hope the next contributor has just as much fun working on this project as I did!”


Thread of Inspiration: Create stage

GalleryMaaike’s final artworks

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) is the senior editor at Insights, a research-driven department with It's Nice That. Get in contact with her for potential Insights collaborations or to discuss Insights' fortnightly column, POV. Lucy has been a part of the team at It's Nice That since 2016, first joining as a staff writer after graduating from Chelsea College of Art with a degree in Graphic Design Communication.


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