Based in the coastal city of The Hague, Netherlands, designer Maaike Boot often bikes from the city to the beach to get away from the hustle and bustle. The plants, trees, rocks, abstract lines she spies along the way? These are all fair game to be conveyed into surface patterns in her Spoonflower shop under her designer name littlesmilemakers. “All drawings and artwork I create are very personal,” she said. “There is always a certain feeling or situation attached to it.”
“I don’t really like routines, which might seem a little counterintuitive coming from someone who creates repeats on my computer all day,” says Maaike. She values maintaining space in her agenda for the creative flow, which led her to her latest hobby: bouldering, also known as free climbing. Soon, inspiration struck. “Many of my newest designs echo the beautiful geometric shapes of the climbing gym walls or the colorful pops of color on the grips,” she said.
Maaike started drawing as soon as she could hold a pencil. “I was four years old when I went to school, and each morning I just had to create something before heading out,” she said. “My school was very focused on developing creativity, and I only stopped drawing briefly when I was a teen and discovered boys,” she recalls, bemusedly. She took a 9-to-5 job as a graphic designer at age 21, but felt stifled creatively. Seven years ago she had enough and made a gutsy move to start her own business. In 2012, she discovered Spoonflower, and realized that her massive print portfolio had a place to call home.
“There is no hack to success. It is hard work. You also have to be smart and think business if you want to turn your creations into an income.”
Opening her littlesmilemakers shop with a few prints that were current and on trend, Maaike gradually expanded her offerings to over 4,700 designs. From elegant cranes and cheerful beach parasols to fun hedgehogs and Kawaii-cute vikings, her designs often evoke Scandinavian-style minimalism with their bright, bold illustrations on solid backgrounds. Most drawings begin with a Sharpie or brushes and India ink, with the black and white renderings transformed into prints through Adobe Illustrator. Occasionally Maaike will make a purely vector art design or dabble in watercolors, while her signature love of whimsy always shines through.
Today her work is seen on handmade products from laptop sleeves to baby shoes to swimwear. “I never expected Spoonflower to be such an important part of my business,” Maaike said. “It has become a great way to connect to customers and feel part of a community—plus it has been a fantastic extra income.”
“I love seeing how customers make my designs come alive in their creations. Selling designs through Spoonflower is much more fulfilling than licensing artwork to large corporations because it is more personal and direct. I love it!”
What inspires your designs?
“Part of my work is doing trend research and creating visual signatures for large retailers in fashion and home décor. I also travel a lot and study different cultures: their food, vegetation, animals, bustling cities, traditions, even how different sunlight is in another country. Even the impact their environment plays into their lifestyle, fashion and interiors. Everything can be an inspiration to me and can be translated into something visual. When you understand how trends evolve, it is pretty simple to implement this into creative work that also sells.”
What kinds of designs have you recently released?
“We recently moved the studio, and I had to move all notebooks and files with sketches. This resulted into making lots of new prints from old sketches. Drawings that were not necessarily commercial enough years ago can be very useful now. I have been working on some new wildlife designs, a series of designs inspired by my travels through Asia, and illustrations I have made years ago. It is lovely to see these old drawings turned into new prints; it is like going through a photo album with memories.”
What advice do you have for new designers?
” I want to tell every starting designer: trust your own skills. Don’t compare yourself. It is your own uniqueness that is the foundation of your creations. Your creativity, skills and your handwriting is something that no one can ever re-create. It makes you stand out from the crowd. If your art is honest, it will be picked up and loved by others. Ask yourself what is important to you, and with every decision you make, ask yourself if this meets your beliefs. It will reflect in your creations.”
Founded in 2011 by Maaike Boot, Little Smilemakers is an illustration and surface pattern design studio based out of The Hague, Netherlands. Maaike’s whimsical design studio was featured in the 2018 Spoonflower Fall Magazine, and have been a long-time favorite in the Spoonflower Marketplace. Keep up with Maaike on Instagram and browse her designs via her Spoonflower shop, littlesmilemakers.