Kay van Bellen from the UK is a fashion reportage illustrator based in Amsterdam. Currently, she’s working at the famous Amsterdam Fashion Institute where she’s teaching Fashion Illustration and Printed Textile DesignDuring one of the Denim Days events, she was live sketching denim people from all over the world. This inspired her to publish her own magazine, called ‘The Visual Anthropologist’. It is fully dedicated to blue-blooded people and it captures the denim style and culture. And how it is adapted and shaped through the community.

Time to sit down with Kay van Bellen to talk about this exciting new adventure and hear more about the first issue of ‘The Visual Anthropologist’.

LJ: Kay van Bellen, can you introduce yourself and share a bit of your background? Who are you and what are you doing?

KvB: Great to talk, I’m Kay van Bellen. I’m originally from the UK but have made the Netherlands my home for the last eight years. My background is a creative blend of fashion, illustration, design, and art.

Most recently I have launched the magazine ‘The Visual Anthropologist’. This is a fashion reportage and media brand that celebrates today’s style and culture through the drawn image. Passionate about drawing as an art form and its ability to revitalize fashion narratives.

kay van bellen

Kay van Bellen at denim fabric show Kingpins in Amsterdam.

LJ: Are you working full-time as a (graphic)designer/artist?

KvB: I combine my fashion illustration practice with lecturing at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute where I teach Fashion Illustration and Printed Textile Design. These two areas of my work nourish and inspire each other, it’s great to give something back to young creative minds and be inspired by today’s future talent.

LJ: How did the idea started to create your magazine? And can you share a bit of the process?

KvB: For as long as I can remember I sketched people in the streets, in cafes, anywhere really. It was and still is about recording people who are confident about their style;  from old people to youth subcultures.  I have piles of sketchbooks with sketches of people who I am drawn to.

I wanted to share my work with a wider audience, and in today’s hyper-mediated landscape, it is time to represent style and culture through drawing. My magazine, ‘The Visual Anthropologist’ evolved from this passion to report on fashion, style,  and culture through the drawn image.

My magazine is about engaging people to re-observe and reconnect to fashion narratives differently. Fashion drawings offer something new and refreshing capturing the nuances and emotions that are absent in today’s digital landscape. The outcome are always captured through observation and what I am witnessing in real time, these are created through live sketching at events, interviews, and on the streets. The Visual Anthropologist magazine is a platform to disseminate these stories to a broader audience.

This issue is dedicated to denim, and especially, Amsterdam blue-blooded people. Why (or when) did you decide to dedicate it to denim?

Since moving to Amsterdam 8 years ago the city has become my muse. I began teaching at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute and taught print to the denim students, I soon became acquainted with the denim world and the denim community.

At the same time, I was sketching people’s unique styles that I saw on my journey to work. I started to sketch people on the tram, around the institute, and in my local café Yusu. Post-COVID I realized an acceleration of cultural expression where people were using fashion as a playground to express their identity, and the streets became a huge inspiration for my work.

Through sketching and talking to people, I became aware of Amsterdam’s rich denim history and culture which is reflected in notable denim brands that have laid down their blue routes here.

When I was invited to sketch at Denim Days, Amsterdam I was super inspired by the rich denim community and denim styles that flocked to the event. Through conversations, interviews, and observations, I became hooked and wanted to dedicate my first issue to this amazing community.

kay van bellen

kay van bellen

LJ: Are you a blue-blooded type yourself? In other words, is jeans part of your daily outfits too?

KvB: I have always loved denim!

Growing up in the 1980s UK, I spent my weekends searching for the perfect pair of vintage Levi’s at Manchester’s Affleck’s Palace. I was drawn to the oversized menswear jeans which I wore with a vintage shirt and Dr. Martins. Hugely inspired by the Manchester music scene at the time, my big baggy Levi’s allowed me to dance for hours on end.

I must confess drawing at Denim Days reignited my passion for denim again and I have recently bought my first pair of Levi’s selvedge jeans! I love the community and the longevity of denim, it is a symbol of self-expression, and the more you wear it the more it becomes a living history of you. As my colleague Guido Kerssens at Amsterdam Fashion Institute says, “I’m starting to turn blue”.

kay van bellen

LJ: And how did you select the topics and persons that are included in the magazine?

KvB: Through observations I filtered out several key denim trends that were happening at the heart of Amsterdam’s denim street scene; repair does not replace culture, repurposing, heritage, and archival. Wanted to conduct interviews and drawings that depicted a cross-section of people who appreciated and valued the future of denim.

kay van bellen

LJ: What materials are you using for your creations? Do you use other materials in previous work too, or is this your kind of signature?

KvB: Ink is a great material to represent the diverse hues of denim. I love the spontaneity of the material. It kind of has its mind. Layer the material or water it down to create faded hues. So, I’m starting to experiment with indigo in my artwork which is very exciting for me. In contrast to my artwork on paper, I also use the iPad to draw, I enjoy its immediacy.

kay van bellen

LJ: When did you come up with the idea to make a magazine with your work?

KvB: Through research, I realized that fashion reportage illustration does not yet have a platform to disseminate fashion stories. I wanted to give a voice to my illustrations and give the audience something new and refreshing!

Although I work with a digital-first approach, I realize the importance and authenticity of the drawn image in today’s fast-paced digital landscape. The concept of the magazine is to invite the viewer to slow down. And to allow them to revisit and turn the pages again and again at their own pace.

LJ: As this is issue 1, can we expect an issue 2 as well? And would this also be about denim, or do you already have a topic in mind?

KvB: Over the past few months I have been drawn to sketching the ‘unyoung’ I feel their effortless style should be celebrated. I am also exploring people’s relationships with their clothes. And how thrifting is shifting more towards specialized niche finds that embed historical narratives.

kay van bellen

All images provided by Kay van Bellen.

LJ: Lastly, when and where can people order the magazine?

KvB: The magazine can now be purchased through my website: kayvanbellen.com

Written by Wouter Munnichs
I'm the founder of Long John. Next to running this daily magazine, I'm working as a freelance denim specialist for the industry. Titled as 'Denim Influencer 2020' by Rivet 50. Celebrated my 10th anniversary with Long John in 2021.