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Ootje Oxenaar - The Art and Application of Banknote Design

After years of establishing himself as an innovative designer, particularly with his bold modernistic drawings, wry caricatures, and the deft typography of his bookwork, Ootje was accepted into the prestigious, if not stodgy, Association of Practitioners of Applied Arts (GKf) in the mid-1960s. Here, there was opportunity outside of commercial work like books, and into more the governmental and cultural applications of graphic design – for example, the layout and appearance of bank checks, or the design and public awareness campaign of a census forms. It was also in this time that he began a decades-long stint designing postage stamps. This was a spark that led him to his most enduring legacy: his banknotes. “I like color, I like typography, I like the rhythm of lettering and playing around in pages, I like textures very much, and I like to work on a small scale. Banknotes and stamps work very well for me.”

Ootje had the opportunity to design his first banknote for De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) in 1964 when the bank commissioned three designers to submit sketches for their new 5 Guilder note featuring poet and playwright Joost van den Vondel. Having won against his competitors with a design he initially thought was good, he commenced work with the DNB in the autumn of 1965 on what must have seemed like an exciting project. “[It] was a real failure.” Ootje later recalled. “It was an awful design. Why? Because it was all new to me and I found myself in a strange position with the printing works, not the bank which develops the techniques, but the printing works.” The printers left Ootje in the dark, told him certain things had to be a certain way, and ultimately totally compromised his initial design for the sake of “security reasons.” But this was an important lesson for Oxenaar: He now knew how to make a banknote.

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