Creative culture in the bicycle capital of the world with Karan Singh.

Creative culture in the bicycle capital of the world with Karan Singh.

Karan Singh has impressive flyer miles. Born in New Delhi, Karan grew up in Oman and Australia, and his professional career has seen him based in New York, Malmo, Tokyo and now Amsterdam. Known for his bold and vibrant work, his creativity is just as eclectic as both an exhibiting artist and collaborations with clients including Instagram, Apple, AirBnb, Nike and OK Go. We spoke to Karan about creative culture, adjusting from a Japanese to Dutch work ethic and a few inside tips for life in Amsterdam.

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ON WHERE YOU’RE FROM

I was born in New Delhi, raised in Muscat, Oman before resettling in Sydney just before high school.

ON WHY YOU MOVED TO AMSTERDAM

Aside from the abundance of cheese and stroopwaffels, we were drawn to it because it’s a small walkable city. The majority of Dutch people speak English which helped us settle in relatively quickly and it’s also home to a major airport which means we can travel home or around Europe fairly effortlessly.

ON WHAT NEIGHBORHOOD YOU’RE IN

We’re currently in Oud West. It’s a quiet little oasis a short ride from main center with lots of nice food and drink.

ON THE BEST DUTCH PHRASE YOU’VE HEARD

‘Helaas pinda kaas’ which is the Dutch equivalent of ‘too bad’ or ‘C’est la vie’. It’s my favourite not only because the literal English translation is ‘Unfortunately, Peanut Cheese’ but because the Dutch call Peanut Butter, Peanut Cheese.

 

Collaboration for latest OK Go music video, ‘Obsession’

ON AMSTERDAM IN ONE WORD

Cosy.

ON CURRENT PROJECTS

I’m really excited to share an upcoming project with the Nike for a project in Korea. It was a challenge and I learnt so many new skills along the way — those are always the most memorable.

ON WHO INSPIRES YOU IN CULTURE RIGHT NOW

Solange & Colin Kaepernick.

It’s something that happens slowly and subconsciously but looking back I can often bookmark where my approach has shifted as a result of my environment.

ON YOUR MOST RECENT FLIGHT

London > Amsterdam

ON THE BEST THING ABOUT LIFE ABROAD

Every day is an adventure and the most innocuous aspects of day to day life become the most memorable.

ON HOW NEW CULTURES INFLUENCE YOUR WORK

It’s had a pretty big impact. It’s so much more than visual stimulus too. I’ve found that cultures, history, locals’ disposition, and also the location’s effect on your mind set play a big factor. It’s something that happens slowly and subconsciously but looking back I can often bookmark where my approach has shifted as a result of my environment.

 

Artwork for Nike Air Vapor Max European launch

ON LIFE IN DUTCH CULTURE

In my experience, I’ve found Dutch people are just as friendly and laid back as Australians. Sometimes they’re described as blunt, but I’m beginning to appreciate it’s all in the spirit of honesty and efficiency. They may also love the sun a little bit more because they get less of it.

ON AMSTERDAM’S CREATIVE COMMUNITY

The interesting thing about the Dutch directness is that it lays the foundations for a pretty honest and open dialogue about the industry.

ON WHETHER YOU WOULD RECOMMEND LIFE ABROAD

Definitely, and not just for creatives. I think living abroad helps you develop a better perspective of the world around you. It makes you more aware and attuned to the nuances of people by learning about their culture and discourse. You develop an indispensable sensitivity and appreciation for the world and the people, and realise we’re all cut from the same cloth and want the same things.

ON CREATIVE INSPIRATION

I really enjoy visiting galleries and museums. I think there’s something really precious about the act of simply walking around a space and learning about other’s work. I think amidst all the distractions even the act of visiting these quiet spaces is pretty therapeutic.

One thing I’m still adapting to is shifting from a Japanese work ethic to a Dutch one. The Dutch appreciate a healthy work life balance so adapting the same disciplines used in your work to your down time is a nice habit to develop.

ON YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS

It’s pretty flexible as every project and team is different. I really enjoy working together with agencies or design teams to discuss an idea and see how we could push things further. Personally the conceptual side is the most enjoyable and it’s nice to have time to sketch and let an idea marinade and evolve.

ON SOMETHING PEOPLE SHOULD DO WHEN THEY ARRIVE

Explore the city on foot, ideally not in a bike lane. They don’t like that. Better still, buy a bike.

ON FINDING A PLACE TO LIVE

Lots of places seem to change hands through friends of friends before even reaching real estate sites so try and make some connections before you arrive. Amsterdam is a growing city with a limited amount of accommodation — finding a place is a rite of passage which lots of expats are happy to trade stories on.

ON ADVICE FOR CREATIVE PEOPLE MOVING TO AMSTERDAM

One thing I’m still adapting to is shifting from a Japanese work ethic to a Dutch one. The Dutch appreciate a healthy work life balance so adapting the same disciplines used in your work to your down time is a nice habit to develop.

 

Above: Artwork created for IMAX Melbourne. Below: Artwork for The Tokyoiter Project featuring artists living in Japan.

ON VISAS

The freelance model is pretty common here —a lot of my local friends may have full time jobs but still operate as contractors on a long term basis. The entrepreneurial/self-employed visa aligns with this approach pretty well.

ON A FAVOURITE ARTIST

Andrew Archer is making beautiful things right now.

ON GOOD FOOD

Couki is a little tantanmen shop in our old neighbourhood of Kyodo in Tokyo, Japan.

ON A FAVOURITE GALLERY

Chichu Art Museum in Naoshima, Japan.

ON A GOOD STORE

Right now I’m loving Tenue de Nîmes here in Amsterdam.

ON A FAVOURITE PLACE TO BE

Dimly lit places with familiar faces.

ON GOOD COFFEE

Scandinavian Embassy in Amsterdam, Café Kitsune in Tokyo, City of Saints or La Colombe in NY.

ON SOMETHING FROM AUSTRALIA YOU NEED TO FIND A FIX OF IN AMSTERDAM

I think Australia does the best breakfasts. The tastiest alternative I’ve found locally is The Avocado Show. The food not only looks stunning but tastes great too.

 

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Nuggets in this interview

food and drink

The Avocado Show, Amsterdam

"The Avocado Show. The food not only looks stunning but tastes great too".

–Karan Singh

neighborhoods

Oud West, Amsterdam

"We’re currently in Oud West. It’s a quiet little oasis a short ride from main center with lots of nice food and drink".

–Karan Singh

need to know

Tenue de Nimes, Amsterdam

"Right now I’m loving Tenue de Nîmes here in Amsterdam".

–Karan Singh

food and drink

Scandinavian Embassy, Amsterdam

"Good coffee..Scandinavian Embassy".

–Karan Singh

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