Bristol Art Collective | Amsterdam Curl (Krulletter)
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Amsterdam Curl (Krulletter)

In October this year, Ben and I took our fiancee/girlfriend (respectively) on a trip to Amsterdam.
The idea was to explore all that the city had to offer, as the girls had not visited the city before. For Ben and I, this was our second outing to the City of Sin in two years and my forth trip alltogether.

Besides the inevitable visit to the red light district and local smoking holes, we were looking to experience an altogether more real side of Amsterdam; so prior to coming over I arranged for us to meet up with dutch sign painter, Jasper ‘Dr Jay’ Andries.

Jasper has had a strong foot hold in the sign trade since he started a few years ago after an already successful career as a story board artist for a local advertising firm.

Prior to this I hadn’t ever met with Jasper or even spoken to him but, as most of us sign painters like to exchange wisdom and artwork over social media, this is how I was introduced to his work.
Jasper clearly knows his letterforms and has established a style of his own, in only a short time learning the craft. He also produces incredible illustrations of hot rod cars; what seems to be a nod to his former career.

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So after doing said touristy spots on our first Thursday in the city, by Friday morning we decided to go and meet Jasper.
He had provided me with directions which indicated that his workshop was on the Eastern Docklands behind Centraal Station,
as Ben and I had previously rented an apartment in this area we knew roughly how to get there (which was helpful as Ben has the sense of direction of Finding Nemo.)

After roughly forty minutes of walking we found the spot, however I had just realised that we were not at Jasper’s workshop, we were at that of the Amsterdam Sign painters. As we walked in we were greeted by Miranda, Alex and Joroen along with Jasper Andries, all of which are extremely talented sign painters.

The workshop felt warm and inviting with its huge open space and high ceilings. The open plan space includes a small kitchen where Jasper was cooking up some lunch. He asked if we liked fresh pasta with chilli. Silly question. Of course we do! (Thankfully it wasn’t the shit sandwiches that were advertised.)

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He proceeded to cook an enormous bowl for us all and we sat at the main workspace and broke bread together. What a welcome!

I must admit, I felt a little star struck upon arriving at the workshop. This only seems to happen to me when it’s a fellow sign painter;
however, by the time we sat down together to eat, the conversation was flowing.
In particular, I wanted to know about a type of script that is specific to Amsterdam named the Krulletter or the Amsterdam Curl letter.

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Designs by Ramiro Espinoza painted by Amsterdam Sign painters.

It’s not something I had noticed on prior trips here but a good friend and fellow brush brother Tobias Newbigin had mentioned that I should look out for this style and also try to get my hands on a book that was released by a Dutch publisher on the subject.

I brought up the Krulletter
(Amsterdam Curl) at the table and saw the Amsterdam sign painter’s eyes light up. Instantly we started discussing the lettering’s origins. Jasper was telling me that this style was specific to pubs and cafés that stocked Amstel beer initially. The story goes a little like this:

From the analysis of Amsterdam’s photographic archives as well as family documents, Jan Willem (Wim) Joseph Visser (1911-1987) was clearly the man responsible for the first Krulletter in Amsterdam. With its true origins pointing towards early italian script.

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Designs by Ramiro Espinoza painted by Amsterdam Sign painters.

Being the sixth child of sign painter Johannes Augustinus Visser it was almost inevitable that he would follow his father’s trade. At the age of twelve he was doing just that. By 1941, believing that he had learned enough from his father, he decided to set up shop by himself at Da Costakade 134 in Amsterdam.
The business was quickly a success, employing as many as 24 people in its busy periods.

Not long after setting up, Wim acquired an excellent client in Amstel Brewery. Amstel would pay for lettering services to any bar that stocked the product. This meant the brewers were able to ensure a high quality job with continuing style for every bar.
It was thought that Wim was already painting these cursive style scripts in the ’40s, however, rarely seen in Amsterdam’s windows until the early ’50s.

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Designs by Ramiro Espinoza painted by Amsterdam Sign painters.

Wim was still painting bar windows long after retirement, but unfortunately he passed away from a heart attack in 1987, leaving his letters somewhat forgotten.

The next generation to take on the curly letter was Leo Beukeboom, born in 1943 into the De Pijp area of Amsterdam.
He was recognised for his artistic talents at a young age and started taking on small sign painting jobs by the time he was 16. He also enrolled himself into the Amsterdamse Grafische School and started taking extra classes in layout.

A little later on, Beukeboom was asked to paint some shop windows by his school friend who worked as a window dresser. He quickly realised that the signs he was painting for things like special offers were lacking sophistication.

Two years later he met another of his friend’s acquaintances who was also a window dresser and worked for the Heineken Brewery, he offered Beukeboom a job painting the bars that stocked the product.
As the last sign painter ‘Ome Jan’ (Uncle Jan) was close to retirement so they needed a new sign painter. After a certain amount of time of Beukeboom working for Heineken and having them pay his bills each month it was not long before the company acquired Amstel brewery too.

He was then asked to reproduce the Krulletter on many bars in the area as this was the style the bar owners were all accustomed to.
It was here that Beukeboom learned to paint the Krulletter. He worked consistently on this letters with Heineken up until 1989.

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Designs by Ramiro Espinoza painted by Amsterdam Sign painters.

As the brewer had stopped offering a free sign service for the bar owners, Beukeboom’s income took a nose dive, however he continued to paint up until 2003 having never taken on an apprentice in his entire career.

That year Leo Beukeboom suffered a serious stroke that left him paralysed on his right side. This unfortunately forced him to retire from the craft.

Today, the love and life of this Curl letter has not diminished. After Ramiro Espinoza & Rob Becker released the exceptional book ‘ De Amsterdamse Krulletter ‘ it seems more alive than ever. The book is half in Dutch and half in English and is filled with beautiful photography from Rob Becker.

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Jasper Andries mentioned, while we went with him to see his studio, that himself and the Amsterdam Sign painters have been working closely with Ramiro Espinoza as he also designs Krulletter and is a talented typographer in his own right.
He told me the aim of them working so closely was to bring the Krulletter back to Amsterdam in a big way and they were going to be the ones to do it!

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It’s a beautiful thing meeting some people who have the same love for the craft as I do, but to be restoring and reviving an alphabet that is unique to their city is just an incredible story, so I thought I would share it.

It was a true pleasure getting to meet the guys at Amsterdam Sign painters, if you would like to meet them too or even learn from them, then head to the annual letterheads meet at the Volkshotel in Amsterdam, August 26-28th 2016.

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Even the hotels walls are adorned with the group’s work. If you would like any information I have flyers in my workshop at the CID studios in Bristol.

A special thanks to Jasper Andries and the whole crew at Amsterdam Sign painters. Also to Ramiro Espinoza for producing the book on the subject and not forgetting Ben Adams, Nada Irminger and Jasper Andriesfor the photography.

Words by Bruce Crowes



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