Markies Marac (Olidin #5, 1960)

Niek Hiemstra is a Dutch graphic designer, illustrator and painter. In the 1960s and 1970s he worked in a steady collaboration with the designers Jacques Bouthoorn and Jan Mulder through their HBM Design studio. The three men and their staff specialized in illustration, typography and photography, and operated from Amsterdam, Paris and Tel Aviv. Hiemstra and Bouthoorn were also responsible for the comic strip 'Markies Marac', which appeared on the frontpage of Olidin in 1960.

Nicolaas Johan Hiemstra was born in 1932 in The Hague. His talent was already noted at age 14, when he was invited to study sculpting at the Royal Academy in that city. After five years, he continued his studies at the Art Academy of Amsterdam, where he also specialized in Art History. In the same period he was nominated to do the The Prix de Rome and lived in Italy for one year. Sculpting however became more and more difficult for the young artist, who had been suffering from a foot problem since his childhood. Hiemstra therefore switched to graphic design, illustration and painting.


Markies Marac from Olidin #2, 1960. The second panel has the signature "Niek" and the Swan Features imprint.

By the late 1950s, Hiemstra started working with Jacques Bouthoorn. One of their first assignments was the comic strip 'Markies Marac', which was distributed through Ton de Zwaan's Swan Features Syndicate to Olidin, the children's magazine of the Shell Junior Club. The comic is about a nobleman who heads for the Indies with a prospector called Cules, in search of a substance with which they can make gold. Shell's promotional comics magazine ran the story in the first 19 issues of 1960. Most pages had the byline "Hiemstra & Bouthoorn", so the comic was apparently teamwork. Some panels have the signature "Niek", which leads to believe that Hiemstra was the main illustrator however. Other important contributors to Olidin were Jan Kruis, Jan van der Voo, Chris Roodbeen and Friso Henstra. In the 1960-1961 period, Hiemstra and Bouthoorn furthermore designed covers for pocket books published by Meulenhoff (a.o. 'Telemachus in het dorp' by Marnix Gijsen and 'Het kamp Allerheiligen' by Tadeusz Nowakowski). Another one of Hiemstra's early designs was a floorlamp for Evolux.


Markies Marac from Olidin #18, 1960, with the "Hiemstra & Bouthoorn" credit

The duo was joined by Jan Th. Mulder in 1962, and the trio started working under the banner of "Ontwerpstudio HBM" (Hiemstra, Bouthoorn, Mulder), which later became HBM Design. Bouthoorn headed for Paris shortly aftwards, where he eventually set up a French division of the studio. Hiemstra started working more closely with Mulder in Amsterdam and by 1967, about 18 people were employed by their studio. One of them, David Arnon, later opened another HBM division in Tel Aviv. The studio worked mainly on designs for advertisements and other commercial clients. In 1974 they designed forteen covers for the sci-fi pocketbook collection Poche 2000 of the French publisher Marabout-Gérard. These included five books starring the German hero 'Perry Rhodan'. Hiemstra and Mulder were also involved in the layout of a supplement for newspaper Algemeen Dagblad.


Book cover designs by Hiemstra/Bouthoorn (1961) and by Hiemstra/Mulder (1965)

An exhibition of design work by Hiemstra, Bouthoorn and Mulder travelled through Germany (Frankfurt and Bremen) and then from France to Israel in the summer of 1967. In January 1982, HBM Studio was the victim of a misunderstanding. Squatters were protesting against the construction of a hotel. They mistook the HBM Design studio at the Leliegracht for the office of the contractor, the Hollandse Beton Maatschappij (HBM). The protesters stormed the office and wreaked havoc. In that same year, Hiemstra and Mulder had to file for bankruptcy and the partnership was dissolved.

Niek Hiemstra eventually focused on painting. He has painted and exhibited in many countries around the world. In 1999 he discovered South Africa, and worked every half year in Gonubie, just outside East London. Since 2006, he lives permanently in South Africa, where he and his wife Judy have their own small gallery for twenty paintings. Jacques Bouthoorn continued to work as a cartoonist and illustrator until his death in Uzès, France, on 29 March 2009.


The HBM Studio in 1967 with Hiemstra on the left (Algemeen Handelsblad, 24 June 1967)

Niek Hiemstra's site

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