Keeping a Diary

WHY KEEPING A DIARY?

I found an old diary that I had forgotten about. Being in a zealous decluttering mood, I was about to throw it away but leafing through some pages made me sit down to read a few old entries. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it. I had mistakenly assumed that I had fallen prey to what A.S. Byatt warns against: diary whining. Encouraged by my old diary entries (it showed no whining) I decided to keeping a pandemic/lockdown diary assuming that years from now I -again- would find it interesting to read back how my loved ones and I sailed through this unusual time.

My Paperblanks Diaries

I bought a pretty Paperblanks notebook (which is such fun because oh-my-God- there are so many beautiful Paperblanks notebooks). However, as soon as I sat down with a blank page staring at me, I felt again apprehensive about keeping a diary, afraid that my writing would be seen as pathetic. And I had good reasons for that, because of the Corona pandemic! (What on earth is not whiny and negative about living through a pandemic?) How can one expect grand and compelling entries when one is living a lockdown life? I opposed self-sabotaging doubts by remembering Brother Lawrence, a monk in the 1600s, who wrote on mindfulness whilst being confined to a monastery. (Not that I compare myself to Lawrence, only comparing and contrasting our voluntary and involuntary ‘lockdown’ in a monastery and at home).

I concluded that for a diary one does not have to have an epic and sweeping life. A confined life amidst a clear and present danger that shakes our world, the corona-pandemic, has intrinsic value. So, no reports on being chased by the three-headed Cerberus, I am not surviving Odysseus’ ship-wrecking storms, and I am not discovering prehistoric cave paintings, but -instead- I report on thoughts, progress on drawings, on the joy of reading, and setbacks during lockdown. Also, on the growing anger in our society, cutting ties, the intensity of lockdowns, the pressure of staying at home, a home that has turned into an office, studio and library. Just the best solitary scribbles I can think of. The beautiful thing about writing diary entries is that one is part of the world but one is also a distant observer, reporting on the human predicament.

Book cover of Dorothy Wordsworth by Edmund Lee. This painting shows the two main actions involved in keeping a diary: the thinking part consisting of evaluating, musing, playing with memories, and the second part, finding a voice and penning down diary entries.

And what blessings are there to report! It makes you cringe realizing how many have been affected by the pandemic far more severe than me and my family. This leads to gratitude. That said, nobody is the same anymore; we all have changed profoundly. Our lives have changed and our priorities have changed. I have seen ill people becoming more ill; angry people become more angry, despondent people growing depressed, ambitious people becoming overworked. Everything has been or felt exaggerated, hyperbole I dare to say, due to a lack of social engagement.

Should you have doubts whether or not to keep a diary, please take my advice and do it. Do not think big; think about the small pleasures of life.

So, how does my diary look like? I write in my diary most days, often before the day draws to a close. I have a stash of washi tape that I use to support pages that I often use. These pages I use for recording my book list, new vocabulary that I pick up from reading, how much Iron, Vitamin D & Vitamin B12 I supplement I take (I am vegan for 12 years now), and here and there inspirational pen sketches for new compositions. I mark some pages (like my book list) with stickers as tabs. Sometimes I let my daughter or husband write a line, like a Twitter tweet, when they have a witty remark or a smart one-liner. All in all, a colourful and engaging diary. Make it a handy dandy notebook. Make it your best friend.

Diary keeping is not working on a book. It is nothing big. It is one of the small pleasures of life.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

At Etsy

At Instagram

At Linktree

Valentine’s Day equals Mandarin Ducks

There is so much aggression and hate! I wrote about this before in my blogpost on the pandemic and on how artists stay well balanced in a world that seems to resort to aggression and depression. Stop the hating and dwelling on disagreeable occurrences. Let us celebrate Valentine’s Day joyously despite the fact that we easily dismiss Valentine’s Day as a bit silly, commercially driven, and only for the young.

This year Valentine’s Day is different. We have not seen our best friends for ages and there is nothing wrong with sending Valentine’s cards to more than your best friend, your crush, or your lover. Why not spread Valentine’s cards like Christmas cards? By sending a card you are saying so much; you are saying that you thought about somebody. That thought made you buy a card. You sat down to add a text to the card and an address on its envelope. But even without a splendid text, you show somebody that you took some time apart for making this person realize how special he/she is to you.

Oh, that is nice!

Oh, look at the card from …’

How kind!’

Everybody’s heart makes a little jump when receiving a bit of kindness. Especially in pandemic times when people, collectively, suffer from anxiety, cabin-fever, stir-craziness, and easily lose their equilibrium.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of extra attention and love. And the beautiful thing about mandarin ducks is that they symbolize love and friendship, just like doves and swans although ornithologists have observed occasional adultery among doves and swans (just ignore that).

Mandarin ducks melt our hearts because of their stories on life long partnerships, their cute colours and shapes, and their adorable ducklings.

Paula Kuitenbrower

At Etsy

At Linktree

At Instagram

Artists Stay Well Balanced

“How are things going creatively?”

“Very well, thank you”

And how about your creative energy?”

“Actually…really well, surprisingly”.

THE PANDEMIC AND ARTISTS

I have discussed the effects of the pandemic with many of my artist friends. I was wondering whether they loathed or embraced various lockdowns? I found out that long weeks or months at home brought them deep focus and a relief from the continuous time crunches they often experience combining art-making and family life.

However, I observed more. A pandemic causes many people to lose their equilibrium. Anxiety sets in and various lockdowns cause mass stir craziness and cabin-fever. People have become so aggressive! The Netherlands saw a huge increase of domestic or family violence towards women and children. There is such road rage on highways too. It is like people have become mad.

To the other end of the spectrum of mental health, people have also grown depressed. There is a radicalization of feelings due to a lack of social contact. It is not good for people to feel trapped because that easily leads to restlessness, anxiety or being agitated. Not that we should all pollute the air with kerosene again, but being cooked up at home is a hardship for most of us.

WELL BALANCED

But interestingly artists, avid readers, and musicians seem to suffer less problems (disclaimer, so it seems in my social circles) because they do a lot of mind traveling. They transport themselves to artistic, literary or musical realms and go on about their days making music, painting canvases, and reading books. In fact, for many artist friends the numerous lockdowns have been productive and inspirational, (though less profitable because of closed concert halls, galleries and shops).

ARISTOTLE’S GOLDEN MEAN

How can we explain this? Let us turn to Aristotle’s Golden Mean. The golden mean, or golden middle way is the desirable middle between two extremes. If aggression is an excess of energy, depression is a deficiency of energy. Let us go back to those who lost their equilibrium and became aggressive. Aggression is a deficiency of despondency; there is too much stirring up bad energies. It is extreme to be aggressive. It shows an excess of boiled up energy.  Depression is a shortage of aggression, of combativeness; it is a lack of energy. It is extreme too. One should neither be aggressive nor depressed. One should have healthy, harmonious energy. So, if aggression and depression are two extremes, what or which is the golden mean state of being? What is the middle between aggression and depression? That is initiative, or resourcefulness, or name it creativity.

Take a difficult meeting in which compromises must be made. Those with too much aggressive energy walk out. Those who give up, look hollow-eyed. But those who have healthy energy show creativity, offering creative ways out of a deadlock.

#Artheals #Nevernotmaking

This creativity, imagination, this resourcefulness and initiative, did we just describe Aristotle’s’ golden mean or did we focus on personal characteristics of artists by naming inventiveness, creativity, resourcefulness and imagination? We did both. I think that the personal traits of an artist keep an artist well balanced and resilient during lockdown. Artists will resort to their habits of creating, taking initiative, keeping their creative juices flowing. #nevernotmaking is a trending hashtag on Instagram. So is #artheals. I see it with all my creative friends: they fare well through lockdowns. Of course, there are boring days, but depression? No. Aggression? No. Creativity? Yes, plenty of it.

Open museums and concert halls

Now that is established how important art making and art is, why not open up our (Dutch) cultural sector? Why are shops now open but museums and podiums closed? Apparently, it is because our government aims to keep us local (not spreading the virus). People are discouraged to travel beyond their region to visit museums or concerts. But in the light of this hyper contagious Omicron, this is a lost fight. Omicron will come as a tsunami and nobody will be spared. Open up our creative and cultural sector because it is hugely important to collectively feel well balanced. Art should not be an afterthought; it lies at the heart of our well being.

So how are you keeping?”

Very well, really

“How come?”

“Because I have more time for drawing!”

I hope artists inspire others becoming creative too. Prevent depression and aggression by engaging in artistic, musical, and literary activities.

Love,

Paula

Paula at Etsy

Paula at Instagram

Paula at Linktree

Living Dying Battling

Ever since the pandemic I have been reading and reading. Of course, when there is plenty of natural light, I prioritize drawing. But since consecutive lockdowns came into effect and meeting friends, running errands, and going for a walk were pushed to the background, literature took its rightful place. I kept a list of books in my diary and every time I finished a book, I proudly ticked off a book title. I like to share the moment with you that within the time-span of two days I came across a book title and a harrowing painting. Let me first give you the book title. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

‘Generaals Sterven in Bed’, a Dutch book on WWII. Generals die lying in beds.

Generals die lying on beds

I thought the title was brilliant (disclaimer: I did not read the book). It rang so true to me. I have seen it again and again, those who have struggled in life have died an untimely, painful or medicine induced death whilst those who have ruled, manipulated, or were in charge, Machiavellians, lived a long, happy life and died a peaceful, luxuriously death neatly tugged between crisp white bed linen. But foot-soldiers die on battlefields, in the dirt, at a too young age. ‘Comes with the job, an occasional ‘habit’, collateral damage, kind of thing‘. But generals die at a high age on luxurious beds.

Dead Soldier, unknown (Italian) painter. Notice the skull and bones that symbolize death in case you overlooked the bloodless colour of the soldier’s face.

Next, the painting of a dead soldier. It made me wonder whether it is a detail of a larger painting because of its unusual angle that is a bit uncomfortable for a viewer. But perhaps, this uncomfortable perspective was something the painter precisely sought? I imagine the soldier has most likely fought for someone else’s cause, principles, or power games and now dies an anonymous, early death. Maybe he ends up in a mass grave, unlike the general.

The book title and the painting made me wonder what battles we fight and for who? Who are foot soldiers and who are generals? Do you know them in your life, amongst your friends, at your work? Who is dying for who? I thought of Machiavelli’s philosophy. But also of a very old flyer of a political party that I vaguely remembered. It showed a sweet, little girl, standing all alone in a desert whilst you are asked the question: What if there is a war and nobody is willing to participate? Nobody shows up on the battlefield?

Art and literature make us evaluate the roles we take up in life. Art and literature offer us endless inspiration to ask questions in our lives that need to be asked.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Next blogpost will focus on Aristotle’s Golden Mean in relation to lockdown/quarantine and living the artist life.

At Etsy

At Linktree

At Instagram

But above all, @ her workstation drawing, drawing and drawing.

‘Bio’ and ‘About’ Reflections

How to Write a Bio or About section Truthfully and Modestly?

Ex Libris or Bookplate drawn by Paula Kuitenbrouwer symbolizing a tree of knowledge deeply rooted in ancestral wisdom. (Ink and Graphite)

Do you feel uncomfortable with the social media ‘Bio’ or ‘About’ section? Do you feel hesitant when a social media platform encourages you ‘…to tell something about yourself’? Is it because seldomly you are given enough space for introducing yourself thoroughly and adding a sense of modesty to your self-promotion too? Those exasperating collapsing menus offering prelisted choices: you are an artist or a designer or illustrator! They leave you no room for ifs, ands, or buts.

It is not easy to strike the right tone in a world in which all and sundry proclaim to be writers, artists, cooks and models. All that ego aggrandizing, all that fake it till you make it. So, when is somebody an artist? When one is talented, or selling or awarded? I see artists on Instagram having thousands of followers but when you click to their shops, not many have bought their art. But in case somebody is selling well, does that make them an artist even when they have no significant talent? And vice versa, perhaps an extremely talented person has no passion to pursue a career in the arts does that person make less of an artist? It is a confusing world in which we do not take something at face value anymore. This huge herd yelling about their talents and achievements only befuddles us and fills us with captious questions. ‘Is he really that talented? Did she copy art?’

Could this overheated market cool down a little when we would describe ourselves in a calm fashion? I do not suggest to chronicle oneself as a coffee lover because that has lost its light touch and sounds more like escapism. Let us at least attempt to capture oneself modestly and truly.

Let me shepherd you through some steps

An unpretentious Bio can be achieved by comparing and contrasting oneself to the masters of the arts. Do some self inquiry; ‘I am very inspired by artwork of ….’ Or ‘If I ever reach the level of…, I would be utterly delighted’, or ‘I aim to draw like …’ or ‘I draw in the style of the famous and I hope one day my work will reach the technical level of…’.

Who are your role models? Which artwork do you admire and why? Because of technical skills? Because of its emotional intensity? How feverish is your passion to pursue art-making compared to that of, for instance, Camille Claudel? What is your relation to the world of art? What do you aspire; which artist is your (long dead) master? Where do you like to be ten years from now?

This examination could be done regularly or annually. The answers will change because you, who is busying yourself with art, will change. The fact that your Bio or About will need some tweaks here and there so now and then testifies of your explorations of the world of art and bears witness to your growing skills.

Three generations of turtles sitting on each other’s back symbolizing that successes of one generation are the foundation for the successes of the next generation and so on. Watercolor painting by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Have no anxieties; to put yourself side by side with the Great Masters will not dwarf you into oblivion, but will put your ego into perspective. It will not be intimidating because you allude to inspiration, to being a self-proclaimed apprentice. Describing your identity in respectful relation to those who contributed to the history of art is -to me- a good method for writing a modest but impressive ‘About’ section.

We are all standing on the shoulders of giants. We owe them to be remembered. When we feel inspired by them, when we learn from them, we honour them by referring to their achievements.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

P.S. It won’t do harm referring to female artists. So many have been marginalized or written out of history. Should you feel inspired by female artists, say so, ignore that their names are probably more obscure than Rembrandt, Vermeer or Picasso.

P.S. I received a question how my Instagram profile looks like. Squeezing ‘myself’ into a ridiculously small letter-count, I currently have: I aim to paint as beautifully as Dutch Golden age painters, especially as Rachel Ruysch, and I dream of drawing as skillfully as 17-century Dutch artists. I used beautifully to define my artistic aspirations (adding beauty to the world). I referred to Rachel Ruysch because she had many children and nevertheless painted till she was very old. And I used the verb ‘dream‘ to express my aspirations. This bio is truthful, will most likely undergo some changes in the future, but narrates of the driving forces behind my creativity. That said, I wish I could have squeezed in my love for Asian art too.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

At Etsy

At Instagram

At Linktree

Mandarin Duck Art Card Set

They always come in handy, mandarin duck art cards. They are perfect for weddings, marriage anniversaries, engagements, Valentine’s Day, to reaffirm friendship, or to renew wedding vows, or just to express a bit of kindness to a wonderful friend. Look no further; they are here.

Traditional Palette Colours

Paula Kuitenbrouwer write a short piece on the traditional palette colours and warns against buying unnecessary fancy colours.

Postal Stamp Commission Postzegel Tekenopdracht

Ook zo’n hekel aan die lelijke digitale postzegelcodes? Paula Kuitenbrouwer helpt u aan een prachtige gepersionaliseerde postzegel.

No more ugly digital postal stamps! Paula Kuitenbrouwer designs an inspiring personalized postage stamp for you.