Freehand-drawings & Commissions. Art is often seen as a luxury but when it comes to joyful, memorable, sad, or important events in our lives, we are in need for art. Contact me for discussing commissioned art with me. I was taught drawing and painting by Spanish-Dutch artist Charito Crahay and Dutch artist Johan Kolman. I have studied Philosophy at the University of Utrecht & Amsterdam and currently I live with my husband and daughter in the Netherlands.
Isn’t the purpose of an eraser to take away supporting lines and unwanted spots? Yes, of course, an eraser comes in handy when you make a mistake. However, you can also draw with an eraser. Imagine you want to create a texture. You can do this by drawing lines of dots that show the fabric of a pattern, for instance the nerves of a tree leaf. But you can also first fill a leaf with a dark tone and use the eraser to draw nerves. And you know what is very beautiful? Doing both, drawing highlighting lines and adding lighter areas in otherwise shaded sections. This creates beautiful illusions. Have a few different shaped erasers to help you: one that has a round top, one that is thinner and can be used to draw lines. Next to pencils and a drawing pad, invest in a few erasers as well. It will help you to create beautiful details.
Drawing is not a mathematical exercise, unless of course you are working on an architectural or archaeological drawing which is about facts, measurements and right angles. It is often charming when you are making the same mistakes again and again because this is your signature. Viewers start to recognize your style not only by your style but also by identifying (consciously or subconsciously) your mistakes. It is not that I say stop teaching and correcting yourself, stop improving your skills. It is just that tiny mistakes can be your truly charming style and why erase them? Your drawing or artwork is not made by a robot nor by Da Vinci.
How to Learn without having Botticelli around? How to improve your drawing skills? Listen to feedback by fellow artists and copy artists you admire. Make studies of artwork that you admire. By copying these, you are pushed out of your comfort zone and you will learn so much. Remember that apprentices in Renaissance workshops of respectable masters received training of several years. They started taking care of tools, moved on to doing handyman work. Later they were allowed to mix pigments, or trace artwork. Only a few and the very best worked closely to the master. How can we copy this classical training? By copying masterpieces and seeing what trouble we run into. You will notice improvements straight away.
Sometimes I take a photo of my first layer of graphite. As I use Derwent H7, the hardest of pencils for the vaguest and most subtle of layers, I can not see well how my drawing will look like. Here comes the magic trick; I take a photo and increase it in contrast and darkness. This way, I get to see ahead of my progress. I can evaluate the darker and lighter sections now with ease. I can only evaluate, I am afraid, not change anything beyond this point because the composition by now is already set. Seeing the contrasting dark-light sections, however, provides me also with an impression of the movement of the drawing. With this drawing, I am very pleased. Can you see large lotus leaves and three dynamic turtles?
How to Draw an Underlayer?
I use H7 Derwent pencils for the first layer. Do I put the leaves or turtles (or any other subject) straight on an expensive sheet of Arches paper? No. I first make some very rudimentary sketches in my diary or on the back of a payment slip, or on the inside of a carton of gluten-free cereals at breakfast. How often one sketches a beginners sketch depends on one’s self confidence. With this I do not mean that I am confident all the time; new subjects demand more pre-studies than subjects you have done many times.
Is Using Rules Fine?
Yes! I always use a ruler because I work on large Arches sheets and thus I divide my sheet in erasable sections. Should I not do that, one turtle might perhaps have too little space and thus ‘fall’ of the composition. I use a ruler also to create white space around my composition, which is aesthetically pleasing but also handy for using a mount (passepartout) or frame. By the way, with my remark to create space for all objects you like to include in your drawing, I do not mean that everything needs to be 100% included. It is kind of exciting when parts of objects fall off a canvas or sheet. This creates a bit of suspense and the illusion that the real scene the artist had in mind is much larger than what he or she has been able to express within the limits of a canvas or sheet.
Ever since corona and ordering from home, delivery services shouldn’t be bothered with taking the elevator to deliver at our door. I kindly suggest putting boxes in our elevator and I will call the elevator up to our floor. This ritual has become a routine. But now the spiritual ‘beginners’ mind’ is added to the story.
There I stand waiting for the delivery man to put boxes inside the elevator and waiting for our ever so slow elevator to reach our floor. Out of boredom I try to study the white washed walls of our apartment gallery. There is no smudge to cling to. There is no pot with flowers to empathically worry about. There is no insect trapped in our gallery that I can heroically set free. There is nothing, absolutely nothing. Because I am in a creative mood I feel a need to add wall art to these utterly dead walls. Why? Why should I want that? Why is there a need to add wall art? This need is so deep, so prehistoric, that painting walls wasn’t it human’s first expression or art. Why?
As I stand waiting, I remember a mystical remark by a Sufi master. He explained that all we see and experience is Creation creating itself to see itself, to engage with itself, to see itself being reflected back at itself. When I heard this story on creation, I felt puzzled yet fascinated. I needed some time to see Creation as a force that enjoys creating a version of itself (not really outside itself and not even separate from itself but a bit away from itself) to be able to engage with itself, to see itself as a reflection of ourselves in a mirror. The more I think about it, the more I understand God creating the world in seven days; not God’s miraculous and exhausting timeline of creation but his will to create, or his need to create to interact with his creation. After all, what is God without people believing in God?
Back to me standing bored in our apartment gallery. I felt the need to create; an overwhelming need. These dead walls are painful. I imagine to be imprisoned in a white washed cell without crayons and I know that I would grow demented in record time or I would die due to having nothing to interact with.
The Sufi’s cosmogonic myth makes sense to me; creation needs to create. Without this creative force creating itself in order to interact with itself through thousands different manifestations all would deteriorate, seeps or drain away. We need art; we need music. We need to make art and music. Go and paint the umpteenth version of Monet’s lily pond; the umpteenth print of a sunflower. Creating is a good thing.
Four fresh, colourful and charming newsletters are the fruits of the month of September. Use my newsletters to gain insight in my art, to make lovely cut-outs for your notebooks or to see whether you like to buy a few note cards with discount coupon codes.
My first newsletter narrates the story behind my (many) Koi fish drawings and paintings. It shows why I have never stopped drawing lotus ponds with big, colourful koi carp. This newsletter is free and offers you a discount coupon code for my beautiful Koi Carp note cards that I sell at Etsy.
My second newsletter explains my Four Tulips Composition and shows various tulip artwork. Lush tulips in all colours and compositions are to be admired in this colourful newsletter. There is a discount coupon code to be used whilst checking out your Four Tulip Composition note card and Etsy.
In this full coloured newsletter, Paula tells the story about mother duck calling her ducklings to make the jump. There are images of Paula’s artwork and work in progress. There is a discount coupon code too.
My Pumpkin newsletter tells the story about how I cam to drawing big, orange and beautiful pumpkins. Once you have studied all the details of an object and you see these objects again, it feels like meeting an old friend. I can draw or paint the thick, scarred skin of a pumpkin because I studied the uneven and surprising patterns on pumpkins so well. Enjoy the newsletter and use the discount coupon code for your beautiful Pumpkin note card at Etsy.
For me inspiration is related to a deep longing to beauty. My art is not political, it is not related to society or country. It is not revolutionary, innovative or economical. I want it to be beautiful and in accordance with my values. I dislike art that goes against everything I stand for. I step away from shocking, degrading, ugly, women and animal unfriendly art. Art does not die, artists do. The question therefore is what do you like to leave behind long after your studio has closed.
I have studied Golden Age Dutch Floral Painters in the past and Rachel Ruysch (1664 – 1750) was one of my favourite painters. Not only did she paint extremely well, she had ten children. How can one paint so exquisitely and go through 10 pregnancies and raise so many children, is beyond me.
Her dated works establish that she painted from the age of 15 until she was 86, a few years before her death. She had household help, which she could afford because she was a well-paid artist (another remarkable fact) and painted, before her death at the age of 86, hundreds of paintings. But I wasn’t planning on writing about my role model, I wanted to point out that Dutch floral paintings are an illusion. We tend to overlook this because we can buy lush bouquets at our local supermarkets year-round and lack knowledge about when plants bloom and where they come from. We care little about seasonal vegetables and fruits; we also have not much knowledge about where our veggies and fruits come unless we study supermarket labels saying ‘Olives from Italy’ or ‘Persimmons from Israel’.
Sketches as reference photos
Golden Age floral painters studied flowers by making meticulous sketches and writing down which colours they needed. Upon designing a large floral bouquet, they returned to their notebooks and sketches. This way they were able to put together flowers that in nature do not bloom or flourish at the same time, or at the same place, and adding seasonal butterflies and insects, showing spring, summer and autumn in one painting. How easy it is now to consult a book or photo and put together flowers from all over the world, flowers that naturally never bloom simultaneously.
The difference between the Golden Age and now is that vegetables, fruits and flowers that are flown in aren’t good for keeping a low carbon footprint. Golden Age painters created illusions and prosperous bouquets not with the help of cargo trucks, cool cells or air crafts, but with their own notes and sketches. Isn’t that wonderful? Imagine a studio with sketches. Imagine the deep focus that comes with using your sketches as a reference portfolio. Having no digital assistance did not prevent painters to paint the most wonderful, detailed and beautiful paintings.
Thank you for your lovely letter that arrived on the 1st of June. I envy your tiny living house and the limited square meter that needs homekeeping.
The name you gave to your home brought back a memory. It was during the last week of our assignment to Ireland and as I was packing boxes, I fell. I must have tripped and – as a result- I broke my wrist. My husband and I went to the First Aid Department of a local hospital. Now, you need to know that all those years living in Ireland I had never come across another Paula. Neither had my husband or my daughter at school. I never came across anything ‘Paula’, not a restaurant, not a store, nothing. However, upon entering the waiting room of the hospital, I was seated next to a woman a bit older than me. I introduced myself to her and she introduced herself to me; ‘I am Paula too’, she said kindly. She held her arm in such a way that I assumed she had broken something. It turned out that we had both broken our left wrist that morning. How about that? It makes you think astrology has a point.
Stay well and give Bonbon my love; what a beautiful horse you have.
Sending a long bear hug,
How are you? I am so sorry to hear about your flooded garden. To see your herb garden ruined must be awful. I very much hope that your new soil holds wonderful minerals. As I am Dutch I know a thing or two about floods but I have seen the most unexpected flooding of a home, not in my native country, but in Ireland. Not in a valley, but on higher grounds.
One day an extraordinary amount of rain had fallen in the Wicklow Mountains area. Two days later we went for a hike. We were surprised to see how much water rushed downhill at the side of the roads. Apparently, it took longer for water to find its way to lower areas than we had anticipated. At one point we noticed a house, built with its back against a steep mountainous hill with its front door open. Out of that open door rushed so much water to the street below, finding its way further downhill we could hardly believe it. Through my mind the movie scene played of a woman in her nightgown ascending the stairs asking her sleepy husband urgently: ‘Honey, could you open the front door to see an uninvited, liquid guest leave the house, please’?
I hope your garden will grow and bloom again soon.
Sending you love,
I need to write to you about a recent sailing experience. We were sailing on Mark’s ship near Amsterdam in the direction of Gooimeer and it was glorious sailing weather. All guests to Mark’s birthday were in a happy mood and we all took in the wide open Gooimeer scenery. The elements were in our favour. The wind was utterly perfect; nobody was sea sick whilst we sailed with moderate speed. At some point I was standing alone and I noticed a clipper passing by in the distance. You know a clipper, don’t you? It is a type of mid-19th-century merchant sailing vessel, designed for speed. It has four masts and its amount of sails is impressive. Anyway, it passed us but that took 30 minutes or so because we were both sailing in a north-east direction. The clipper passing by with the sun shining, the wind in its white sails, its slowly overtaking us, the blue sky and silver water, and its dominance over us in beauty, speed, masts and sails, the whole scene mesmerized me. The longer I watched this superior ship from a distance, the more I found myself in one of the paintings by a Golden Age Dutch marine artist. In fact, I felt myself completely absorbed and I experienced a shock of beauty. By the time I let go of my efforts to take in the scene, Mark had alerted his guest on the magnificent clipper. We all seemed to realize that we were experiencing something we might never see again in our lifetime. We noticed the clipper disappearing in the distance.
I hope you are well and that your leg is healing nicely. Take good care and I hope to see you and William & Charlotte’s birthday. Till then!
‘Receiving letters makes people feel valued’.
Paula Kuitenbrouwer wrote three partly fictional and partly autobiographical letters. As a student she participated in essay competitions and won several prizes. She designed the luxurious, double and folded mandarin note cards herself and they are for sale at Etsy. (No customer account needed). Paula hopes that her letters will inspire to more snail mail.
In Ancient Greek religion, Hestia is the goddess of the hearth and of harmony within the family. She is the goddess that many mothers identify with. Perhaps women identify with Aphrodite when they are young, with Athena when they are -for instance- battling for a better education for their children, but certainly they might often feel in the role as Hestia when they work around the clock to create harmony (and health) for their family. Even fathers or home keeping men are allowed to identify with Hestia’s harmonizing and health promoting qualities.
This drawing of Hestia, however, is an ode to my beloved, late mother (who, at times, was a political active Athena as well). She was a nurse and teacher of young nurses, and she knew how to keep a person, a whole family, even a larger social circle in harmony and in good health.
I placed Hestia’s statute in a classical and elegant park. This park does not exists in real life. It is designed by me by putting together elements and thus creating an imitate and elegant scenery. Behind the fence one notices Demeter (Ceres) with her beautiful daughter Persephone (Proserpina). I placed the three women in the same garden but Hestia is on the other side of the water, slightly distanced from Demeter and Persephone, referring to two different realms, that of those alive and the other side. This is a family portrait although few will know or notice.
Should you like this classical , monochromatic work, and should you consider a family portrait, or a narrative drawn or painted in a symbolic way, contact me freely to discuss your wishes. I also accept commissions for book plates (Ex Libris), PhD graduation gifts, birthday or birth-name commissions, wedding, and mourning drawings.
There she was, a sparrow hawk, majestically sitting in a high tree top in the late evening sun. It eyed me wearily. I apologized for being in her woodlands and for disturbing her. I told her she had nothing to fear from me; I was no hunter. In fact, I apologized for being human, being a perpetual intruder.
Sparrowhawk told me that humans were suffering from their noise filled brains.
‘You,’ she said, ‘…go through great lengths to be like me. You work to go on holiday. You go on holiday in order to relax and you need this relaxation to feel happy. You even travel half the world to do spiritual retreats to feel like me, free.’
‘Can you take me with you?’ I asked Sparrowhawk.
I sat down in the long grass in the middle of the clearing and relaxing took me a good 25 minutes. When the sun was about to disappear behind the trees Sparrowhawk opened her wings and swooped over me, lifting my soul from my body. I could imagine sitting on her back, but I was equally beside her, under her, in front of her, and behind her. I soared with her over treetops. I noticed creeks under us and two hikers on a footpath. They did not seem to notice me so I flew right through one of them. Flying through a human body caused a nice, subtle electric shockwave. I climbed the skies again only to notice that it was time to return to my human body. I felt extreme fear to land in my body, and I never understood why this is so because I enjoyed being out of it.
’Sparrowhawk, do you ever experience anxiety when landing on a tree top?’ I asked Sparrowhawk to stay with me for a bit longer. Sparrowhawk looked at me and although she had no facial expression she held my attention for a while. I could see compassion in her eyes. When I felt grounded again, she flew away.
Common Teal Couple
I have no recollection of how much time passed before I became aware of a teal couple crossing the duck pond that lay in front of me.
‘Good day,’ I spoke to them. The couple seemed to be absorbed with each other but they changed their course and paddled in to my direction.
Soon they sat down near me and looked at me. I became aware they were communicating with me.
‘Do you know we are your fraternal ancestors from long ago?’ Teal Drake asked me.
I felt embarrassed not knowing this.
‘I know my grandparents and I also know the names of their grandparents but despite knowing all the ancestral names back to Medieval times, I have no idea who you are!’ I said apologetically. ‘Who are you then?’ I eagerly asked.
‘We do not have human minds any more; we reincarnated from a more cerebral to a more intuitive level’, Teal Duck said, and I understood that; their minds didn’t remember names and dates recorded through time.
‘Be us and you will know’ the Teal couple invited me.
I watched how they foraged for food. The sun caused a lovely reflection on the water behind them. I could see how wise and harmonious they were. I identified them as European teals, but as I observed them in relation to the lake, to the calm way they accepted the elements, without further judgements, I sensed how they were in acceptance with their surroundings. This stood in contrast to how I was feeling; ambitious to relax or favouring one element (the sun) over another (the cold wind). I also couldn’t let go trying to capture the moment in order to paint it later inside my studio. Was there ever not a plan, not an ambition, no clinging to something?
The teals were about to leave me.
‘Is there something you like to say or ask us maybe?’ they asked kindly.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I want to be like you.’
Ducks lack facial expression, at least I couldn’t detect a smile, but in their eyes, I noticed compassion. They plunged in the water and swam away from me. I said farewell to them as respectfully as I would do to my ancestors.
I told the Collared Dove couple whilst feeding them, that they symbolize love to humans and they should behave accordingly instead of pecking each other. That stopped them for a moment.
‘Love?’ they asked me. ‘What do you know about bird love? You have been taught at school that we experience seasonal love, hormonally induced for reproductive reasons. Humans think very low of animal love.’
‘Sit down,’ I said, after which I gave a long lecture on the dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit, Peace, and Love. I told them how I loved Picasso’s Paloma but no matter how much art history and theological knowledge I poured into my arguments, I could not accept the dove couple accepting doves symbolising love.
‘We do not symbolize love, we show love,’ said she-dove. ‘Love is there when we are together but also when we are alone. I will show you.’
She flew up and shortly after she approached my balcony. He-Dove instructed me right before her landing; ‘Watch carefully now!’
She-Dove landed and, in that moment, I saw it. I saw the Holy Spirit, I saw Peace, I saw Love in the space surrounding the wings of she-dove. I had visited many churches and I had seen so many doves represent Spiritus Sanctus with outstretched wings right above altars. But it showed in the landing; the landing was the magical moment. Maybe because at that moment the sky touches earth? Divine touches our world?
‘Thank you,’ I said, ‘Thank you very much.’
‘You saw it’, She-Dove concluded while she proudly walked up to my outstretched hand to pick sun seeds.
I thought how powerful the observation of a landing dove was and how it -in history- became a symbol of love and peace, of goodness manifesting on earth. As if divinity touches our worldly dimension.
The doves calmly ate their seeds and then said goodbye and flew off.
There are many forms of art. Perhaps the one you know best is Fine Arts (paintings, sculptures, and drawings). There is political art too, think of Guernica, a moving anti-war painting by Pablo Picasso. There is artwork related to a specific culture, timeline, or region. There is ancient art and modern art. Art that shocks us; art that soothes us.
I like to say a few words on practical arts such as needle work, woodwork, and pottery. Where fine arts are created primarily for aesthetic purposes, practical arts have an applied function. Think of Celtic Art that was, according to archaeologists, practical art. Decorated shields and swords were often made as diplomatic or status related gifts.
Inside our homes we like to surround ourselves with practical art too. We buy the nicest dinner plates and tasteful designed furniture. Fengshui, Chinese traditional practices used to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment, also uses practical art. Specific animal artworks are put up in different areas of a home; they are believed to have different functions. These animals can be shown as statutes, ceramics, paintings, etc.
When it comes to practical art, often an object that serves a practical function, holds many more qualities that fall outside the somewhat modest qualification being practical art. For instance, a beautiful religious painting inside a church is more than practical art; it might be painted by a famous Renaissance painter which makes the church a museum or a tourist attraction as well. Likewise, a dinner plate can be antique porcelain made by a famous German porcelain painter and thus a collector item. A violin can be a Stradivarius.
Practical Art is Important
The practical part of art fascinates me because it tells so much about the society in which it was bought, commissioned, used and -for instance and in case of The Night Watch by Rembrandt- dismissed for a long time. Aiming for art to have a practical function next to an aesthetic purpose is, to me, a justifiable ambition.
For all those artists working on a practical piece of artwork, art that will wear and tear, art that will be on display or stored, I would like to say; ‘Keep going’. Because when art resonates with our feelings or thoughts, we look inside and see something of us projected outside of us. This helps us to bond with the environment outside of us and by bonding we subtly work on improving our lives.
My leucistic Mandarin ducks are ready. They are currently swimming in my Etsy duck pond along with colourful mandarin ducks, wood ducks and common teals. First, let me explain the difference between albinism and leucism. Albinism is the complete absence of melanin, thus the complete absence of what gives skin and feathers and eyes colour. Leucism is a partial loss of pigmentation which is for me -as a painter- more interesting because I can add a lot of colour to the ‘white’ ducks. Never think a white duck only requires a tube of white paint. I used yellow, orange, red (bill), black (eyes), grey, soft green and blue, as well as ochre for the white, patchily coloured feathers. Unlike albino ducks, leucistic ducks do not have red eyes or red feet.
Leucism occurs in other wild animals besides ducks but the occurrence is very rare in all species. As beautiful as this lovely couple is, this couple’s lack of pigment makes them an easy catch for predators. Thus, give them a nice place in your living or bedroom. Make them feel safe and while they swim happily in the duck pond surrounded by bamboo, you can enjoy their serenity and loveliness.
Should this gouache painting be sold, fear not, just contact me and I will add more beautiful white ducks to my Etsy duck pond.
Honeysuckle plants are both delicate and very strong. I drew this branch because it grew in our Belgium garden. The former owner of our house had planted a few honeysuckle plants for his blind friend. Upon saying: ‘I don’t mind whether we sit in or outside because I can’t see your garden’, the former owner would reply; ‘You can’t see the garden but you will be able to enjoy its scent’. Honeysuckle plants have a lovely fragrance that is best smelled later in the evening when a garden gets a bit damp. The damp morning and evening air carries the perfume of the plant.
Woodcocks are remarkable birds. They are rare in the Netherlands. Recently, I found a dead one in Nienhof, near Utrecht. It was at the end of a bitterly cold week and the woodcock probably suffered from not being able to dig for food in the hard soil. Next to that, woodcocks have a long list of enemies. Cats, martens, hawks, sparrow hawks, falcons, jays, magpies and humans who like to hunt and eat them. Imagine how hard it is for woodcocks to raise a successful nest despite its awesome camouflage colours that resemble tree bark beautifully. With so many enemies, surrounding you 360 degrees, it is said that woodcocks can transport their fledgeling from place to place. The woodcock will lift up its young with its long legs and transports it to a better place. Apart from starlings reported to lift up their fledgeling by their bill to a higher branch, I have not heard birds are capable keep their fluff balls away from prowling cats, rats and squirrels.
This drawing of a Bullfinch couple was inspired by observing a couple of bullfinches foraging through trees while staying together physically and conversationally. ‘Are you still near, sweetheart?’, ‘Yes, darling, right behind you’. ‘Aren’t the seeds and tiny bugs of this restaurant not wonderful, sweetheart?’, ‘Oh, yes, sweetie pie, just amazing and look how the sun filters through the branches’. ‘Glad you like it, honey’. The sun indeed showed beautifully on the plumage of the male bullfinch. His red chest stands out. For observing the well camouflaged female, I needed my binoculars. When she sat still, she blended in so amazingly. But their constant chatting, thus maintaining their bond, gave away that there was a female. Finding her felt like winning a price. ‘There she is!’ I drew them how I observed them; happily going about their day.
Remember Wet Canvas? That huge platform for artists to participate in challenges, receiving help and feedback, advising fellow artists, and just having fun?
I regretted its decision to stop and I had the feeling this unfavourable decision had to do with Facebook starting ‘discussions’. But for somebody not active on Facebook, I missed WetCanvas. Now, it is back and I see artists signing up every minute.
Dutch Post saw a daily increase to delivering 14 million letters and cards per day in 2020. A few of these envelopes contained my Mandarin Duck note-cards or greeting cards. I hope that every time somebody opened my note card, seeing my mandarin ducks felt that their hearts made a tiny, happy jump. Because that is what Mandarin ducks stand for; they symbolise love and happiness. Seeing these cute and colourful ducks makes people feel less lonely, more connected to a beloved person, whether close by or far away. It is therefore that in Asia mandarin ducks are seen in parks, as little statutes in window sills, and as wall art paintings.
There are many benefits of sending snail mail. There are many good reasons, my life philosophy on handwritten letter, for sending a card to a friend. Let me give you a few:
Writing a handwritten note or letter feels like a meditation,
Writing with ink means detoxing from your smart phone, computer screen and keyboard, (plus exercising and reviving your handwriting),
Buying a card helps to support local shops and/or artists,
Knowing these colourful birds are Mandarin Ducks or in Latin Aix galericulata helps people to grow their knowledge about birds and their names,
. Spreading a bit of love won’t harm. In fact it might help people to feel less lonely or forgotten.
Let 2020 not be an exception but let us keep up with sending letters and cards in 2021. It has given people a feeling of being connected during the pandemic and it has given many an extra reason to make a walk to a nearby mailbox.
P.S. I kept an exquisite Korean art calender given by a friend for years. The quality of paper and the art images were of such quality that the calender simply could not be thrown away. I finally came up with a solution to the old calender; I made sturdy envelopes out of 12 months of visual pleasure and art appreciation. The envelopes I embellished with stickers resembling postal stamps and now I will use these visually, engaging envelopes. They are still too pretty for scribbling down an address. I will put them inside a protective plastic folio and on that folio I will glue an address label. I hope the envelopes will be re-used many times more.
Ducks have an elongated and broad body. Their round shape varies and their bills are broad and perfect for filtering salt and food. Ducks have strong and scaled legs. Their wings are short and muscular for carrying their heavy body. Ducks use their webbed feet not for swimming alone but also, like aeroplane flaps, for flying. A clever circulatory system keeps ducks warm in icy cold water.
Under water ducks can swim 300 feet and they can dive down 100 feet. They can fly very long distances, up to 30-70 miles an hour, depending on the wind. That is as fast as your car. Ducks spend most of their time in the water.
Clumsy on land, yes, but ducks deserve respect. If all above facts fail to impress, perhaps knowing their sleep with half their brains awake, like dolphins, will change your perspective on ducks?
Keen to learn more? Ducks can become 10-20 years of age and they see colour. Do you think their beautiful plumage is for attracting a female only or is it perhaps also an attempt to impress humans? Are not ducks… simply dazzling and delightful?
What are your thoughts when you read or hear the words ‘Family Portrait’? A painting in your grandparent’s house? Or a sepia vintage photo? Are you thinking of a window sill of your local photographer showing a family looking their best?
DEFINING A FAMILY PORTRAIT
Most of us think of a visit to a photographer when they are asked about a family portrait. But equally many of us never get that done because of the logistics of having all family members at the same moment looking their best and being in front of one camera. Many portraits therefore remain a dream. There is not so much you can do about that other than perhaps reformulating what a family portrait is.
What happens when we change the definition of a family portrait? What happens if we take away the physical absence of family members and replace members with animals or flowers carrying a symbolic meaning? I did this because during the pandemic lockdown of 2021, I wished for a family portrait. Going through a pandemic is not every day business, it is a anxious time that we will remember for decades to come. But instead of visiting a photographer (which was closed due to the lockdown anyway), I set out to draw our family portrait.
I chose to paint a Kumamoto Japanese inspired hanging scroll as a way to organize all the symbols that I would use. These Kumamoto hanging scrolls have special designed border areas in which I would add symbolic messages. I chose a Japanese wave pattern for the Tenchi section to show the pandemic because was not the pandemic throwing wave after wave of scary news to us? And wasn’t the pandemic showing us wave after wave gratitude that we were healthy, safe and strong? For the Chumawashi border, I chose flowers. With this I wanted to emphasise that the pandemic lasted several seasons. That despite all scary news, there were many blessed moments too. And for the Tenchi border, I used butterflies. Butterflies symbolise hope and hope is a precious emotion during a pandemic.
What kind of symbolism do I use? Animals offer symbolism. For instance, Koi carp stand for prosperity; mandarin ducks for love and loyalty. Butterflies symbolise hope. Surnames often offer a reference or a clue. In the borders and in the main painting animals and vegetation will play this symbolic role.
To portrait our family, I shape-shifted my family in a family of Koi carp. Koi fish symbolise prosperity. If there was one thing during the pandemic that we were acutely aware of, it was that we had each other’s love and that we were able to continue working and studying.
COMMISSIONING YOUR PORTRAIT
Should you like to have a painting of a hanging scroll that symbolises your family or your life, I can work with you. We need to discuss symbols, colours and patterns but then you will have your (family) life’s narrative hanging on your wall. Nobody will know its symbolism; visitors will see a beautiful, highly detailed hanging scroll drawing/painting. You will have a choice to tell or not disclose all hidden symbolism in your hanging scroll. Put in front of it an Ikebana flower arrangement and one corner in your home will look exquisite.
Here is my family portrait. I worked on it during the winter 2021. There were many grey days which made the lockdown harder but there were also beautiful snowy days with clear blue skies that made me so happy looking outside. My husband and daughter wondered who was who in this portrait. I considered giving them the answers but decided to leave the questions open. Don’t we all take centre stage in turns? Do we not all play a big role and the next day a small role? Life is like that and it should be like that to create harmony.
The Floating World (ukiyo) was an expression of the new economy and social ambitions of the common townspeople of the Edo period (1615-1868). It was, specifically, a world of play and entertainment in Japan’s three main cities (Edo [now called Tokyo], Osaka, and Kyoto).
During our series of lock-downs, de-cluttering has become a beneficial home bound activity. I found an old diary that I had forgotten about. Being in full de-cluttering mode, I was about to throw it away. But before I knew, I sat down reading a few entries. Surprisingly, I enjoyed reading my own musings. That is interesting because when I was young I read A.S. Byatt’s warning against diary whining which instilled a fear to keep daily notes. But encouraged by my old diary entries, I decided to start a lockdown diary assuming that years from now I -again- would find it interesting to read back about how we lived during this unusual time.
A Home Bound Life
I bought a New Romantic 1980s Paperblanks. But soon after, I felt again apprehensive to keep a diary, afraid that my writing would be irrelevant, a waste of time. But then, how can one expect grand and compelling entries when one is living a lockdown life? I opposed the self-sabotaging thoughts by remembering Etty Hillesum’s diary. I also remembered Brother Lawrence, a monk in the 1600s, who wrote on mindfulness whilst being confined to a monastery. (Not that I compare myself to Hillesum or Lawrence). I concluded that a diary does not have to report an epic and sweeping life. A home bound life amidst a clear and present danger that shakes our society, like the 2020/21 pandemic, is equally of value.
An old diary entry that I found at the time we were travelling abroad: ‘Exotic lands offer challenges and strangeness, a feeling of anxiety and excitement. Against the background of a new landscape we project ourselves as vulnerable, which results in a sense of awe and wonder. We dwell in new landscapes testing ourselves and feel an urge to settle and domesticate the land in order to feel free of anxiety, to feel safe. When we explore new lands, we feel so vulnerable and lonely that we search for gods or goddesses in pools, on the tops of mountains, in caves, near old trees, like prehistoric peoples did. We do all this to feel less naked, less exposed, more at home. We create sanctuaries but the land itself and all that comes with it was sacred before we arrived. We set up altars, shrines, and hang flags in trees. We feel a need for divine or ancestral support when we feel exposed to new horizons’.
Nothing Grand or Epic
Now I write an entry almost every day and instead of writing epic and sweeping reports of meeting remarkable people, being chased by Ceberus, surviving Odysseus’ ship-wrecking storms, or discovering a new Lascaux, I report progress on drawings, on the joy of reading, and the small pleasures and setbacks of a lockdown life.
Should you have doubts whether or not to record your lockdown or pandemic life, please take my advice and do it because it is fun. Like me, you might find pleasure it in and it might be of use as a primary source for further family members who wonder what the Covid-19 pandemic felt like ‘back then’.
In 2012, I set up a website named ‘Mindfuldrawing’ and over time I have added and deleted many posts. Several times I came close to deleting everything out of frustration with stolen artwork, difficult updating processes, and customizing challenges. Years later I can say ‘good’ that I took away posts that weren’t visited often enough to be of significance. What stayed were valuable articles that are frequently visited from all over the world. My website matured to something that goes beyond an artist portfolio; there are written pieces on art appreciation, essays, art musings, freehand and commissioned artwork.
Sometimes I was allowed to publish privately commissioned book-plates of which some are situated in past times, Medieval times, or the Jugendstil period. Other times it was requested to keep commissions private.
Lastly, there are many Mandarin duck drawings and aquarelles, because people, like me, love these sweet and colourful ducks. It is said that mandarin ducks attract love and loyalty. Since my return to the Netherlands in 2018, I discovered two couples in nearby parks and estates. Therefore, I can confirm that mandarin ducks do attract …well, lovely mandarin ducks.
I like to invite you to my website. It isn’t a sleek, frequently updated website. Instead it is a calm and thoughtful little place of the Internet like one of those tiny, intimate window seats inside an old library where you can snuggle up for a few hours of mindful reading and viewing art.
Have you come across mini libraries in your area? I came across one and found this highly inspiring book ‘The Floating World’ on Japanese hanging scrolls from Kumamoto’ published by Rijksmuseum/Waanders. I took it home and next day dropped off two books because that is how these street libraries work. These free, mini libraries are particularly important now that we are in a lockdown and most libraries, galleries, and museums are closed.
I was so grateful! I learned so much from the book. It was such an aesthetically pleasure to study its many colourful illustrations. Consequently, I decided to design a hanging-scroll with traditional Sashiko wave patterns and floral designs. For the floral patterns I use the cute ‘Japanese Style Labels, Stickers & Tapes’ by Pepin Press. I do not copy; I do not enjoy spending time copying. By just leafing through these books I sense a reservoir of inspiration that will last for ages.
I will post regular updates of my work on my hanging scroll. What I aim for is a perfect composition of the painting within the Ichimonji (border), Chûmawashi (another decorative border), and for Tenchi (the background border). I am glad to know these names now. What I do not know is the name of the previous owner of my book. A huge thank-you to the anonymous person who left this book on a table in Utrecht’s shopping mall Hoog Catharijne. You made my day (well weeks, most likely years). May you enjoy the books that I left on the table. To all: put a table outside with books that have to make room for new ones. But take care; I read funny column named ‘Ikje’ in our Dutch @nrcnl newspaper that one person didn’t grab the concept of street libraries; he/she took the bookcase and left behind stack of vintage books.
Return here so now and then and enjoy new updates photos of my work in progress. I will add many fine details in the borders. I am undecided yet about the main painting. Perhaps this could become your commission and you like me to add doves, mandarin ducks, trees or fruits in the main section?
P.S. I checked the book-table two days later and my donated books were gone.
Commissions for your MA-Bird or your Kumamoto inspired Hanging Scroll with symbols of your family are open.
I have drawn in an illustrative way a Muskox and added prehistoric spirals to its thick coat. The spirals symbolize ‘time’ and the passing of time as time most likely was experienced more circular than linear in ancient times.
The year of the Ox starts from February 12th, 2021 (Chinese lunar New Year Day) and lasts until January 30th, 2022. Because it will be a Metal Ox year, I have assembled a golden postcard. If we associate one characteristic to an ox it is surely its strength. May 2021 offer you strength to catch up with all you planned for 2020 but fell through due to the pandemic. May 2021 offer strength to create a ‘new normal’ that is both enjoyable for you and promising for future generations. The 2020 pandemic has showed us how we have overstepped in liberalism, hedonism and consumerism. Lock-down made us feel like we were on a forced spiritual retreat. The year 2021 requires strength and determination to make our world a better place.
I have only a few of these art cards at Etsy. They are heavy cards. I offer to address them to your family or friends, thus saving time which is important now that there are many worldwide, postal delays. I suggest the following text: ‘Happy Lunar New Year of the Ox’ followed by your name.
There is always something in a museum that inspires. At least, that counts for me. Whether I visit an exhibition on shamans, a scientific department with preserved animals, an insectarium, planetarium, or aquarium, fine arts, or an anthropological exhibition, something will speak to me.
The interesting thing is that you have no idea beforehand which object, story or atmosphere, or even a part of a building, will grab your attention and fill you with inspiration. All you have to do is visit a museum and open up. Inspiration might be overwhelming when you stand in front of the eminently displayed Nike of Samothrace in Paris Louvre. Equally so, it can be kindled by an object as small as the Alfred Jewel in the Ashmolean, Oxford. Sometimes inspiration is not presented through the storyline or ancient objects of an exhibition. It might be the museum building itself that emerges you in an Art Deco atmosphere and consequently inspires you.
HOW TO VISIT A MUSEUM FOR INSPIRATION?
There is something essential you have to do, or perhaps, do not. You should not refrain yourself from feeling happy to visit a museum instead, you should feel grateful for being able to enjoy a carefully curated exhibition. Yes, gratitude and excitement are perfect emotions that do not interfere with inspiration. But what does interfere with inspiration are pre-existing ideas of what you are going to gain from visiting a museum, a gallery or exhibition. Leave all expectations at home. Step into the Medieval mindset that inspiration comes from God or is whispered in your ears by angels. Museums often are quiet, mindful places that make a visitor susceptible to ‘hearing’ angels’ whispers or to feel touched by an object or the perfect execution of fine art skills by one of a well experienced or highly trained artisan or artist.
Even when you have visited many floors, enjoyed a lunch in the museum café, or sauntered through the museum shop, you might not have an idea what inspired you. The whispers might be very subtle and not easily detectable amidst the excitement to be confronted with art, excellence, or originality. But just before you are about to put on your coat ask yourself; ‘What spoke to me?’ or ‘Where in the museum should I have lingered longer?’
There…there you sensed inspiration. Something interesting or beautiful ‘spoke’ to you. It whispers in your mind; ‘Will you stay with me a bit longer next time?’
Inspiration is a beautiful thing. To me it isn’t a thought or a feeling. It is a whisper that can become rather loud once it has sunken into your soul. It has a timeless quality; some whispers stay for weeks, others ignite your artistic fires for years. See here how art inspires to art (making). How art lives on weeks, decades, years after those who practise highly developed artistic skills left behind their artwork. Art seems to be born from this never-ending stream of inspiration, enhanced and carried by those willing to learn skills and deep focus.
This Asian ceramic plate in Leiden’s Museum of Ethnology grabbed my attention and with much joy and interested it inspired me to draw two large mandarin duck compositions. Perhaps you can find the elements that inspired me in my mandarin duck paintings? (Click to enlarge the pictures)
After returning to my home country, I find myself looking back at living abroad as a diplomatic spouse. By writing fictional stories, I play with the idea how different my diplomatic memories could have been.
Prehistoric Diplomatic Dinner Party
Whilst enjoying tea in our local tearoom, Suzanne asked me how the dinner party last Saturday had been.
‘It was lovely’, I smiled and my mischievous giggle didn’t escape her. A gentle smile appeared; ‘Tell me!’
The barista brought us coffee and nut cakes.
‘Well, the party was very well organized and the Finish Embassy is just so lovely. You know that, don’t you?’ Suzanne nodded and reminded me that she had a National Day reception there last year, so there was no need for me to describe the dining room.
‘I sat between two quiet people. I tried to make conversation, you know; the usual polite opening questions. On my left sat Mr. Park from South-Korea. This was his last party before moving to Genève. He gave the most polite answers possible which hindered my attempts to engage him in conversation. You know these parties, don’t you? Everything is utterly perfect but there is no esprit’. Of course, Suzanne knew. She had been, like me, a diplomatic spouse for ages. ‘And on my right side, I had a Latin-American lady of about 60-65. Initially, she was very withdrawn and reluctant to tell about herself. I forgot to find out to whom she was partnered.’ Suzanne encouraged me to get to the point.
‘It seemed like ages before the second serving arrived. I felt so desperate for some enthusiasm. I felt my mood change and..’
‘Yes, yes… so what did you do?’ Suzanne asked impatiently knowing that not much was possible because I was well educated, well prepared, well balanced…basically a lot of ‘well’s’, and thus caught in a web of well behaving-ness.
‘My mind wandered to my prehistory course, you know; my all time favourite subject, but I could not just blurt out something Neolithic and expect them to be interested. And yet, that was exactly what I longed for to do. Just for once! So, ……I made up a recent archaeological discovery. Yes, I just did that by drawing inspiration from the prehistoric excavation in France of the Lady of Vix, Germany’s Hochdorf Chieftan’s grave, combined with the famous British Amesbury Archer, all real graves but no one knows about these anyway?’
‘I have never heard of these famous individuals. Are you telling me you just made up a whole story?’ Suzanne asked with a mixture of disbelief and amusement.
‘Yes! By the time the second serving was finished, I had enthusiastically explained highly significant artifacts, linguistic evidence supporting archaeology, carbon dating accuracy, rituals, and battles. I impressed my listeners with throwing in lots of names, locations, Celtic styles, Viking trade routes, even names of highly respected archaeologists like Barry Cunliffe. He is real, by the way. I talked myself through dessert. If no-one inspires you, you basically have to inspire yourself!’
‘So true’, Suzanne said. I could tell she was eager to hear more.
‘Mr. Park, the Asian man, politely endured my monologue but the Latin American lady became livelier even eager to learn more about prehistoric battle victims. The more I went into this imaginary world, any inhibition to stick to scientific evidence left me. I even became theatrical and emotional as I described Iron Age superstition and reenacted some funerary rituals focusing on the cause of death of famous shamans.
‘They had not the foggiest idea you were …uhm…. ‘storytelling’, shall I call it?’ I loved Suzanne for her unwavering diplomatic word choice.
‘That’s right. Instead, I found the Latin-American lady asking me stimulating questions, many reflecting on the cause of death of Iron Age shamans. I sat through a jolly good dinner after all, in the company of a lovely, enduring audience.’ We laughed like young girls about my silliness and got ready to leave the tearoom.
We were well on our way to the parking garage when Suzanne inquired whether I had first checked the background of my dinner companions. Of course, I had. The Asian man was a publisher; the Latin American woman was a doctor.
‘Imagine, telling your fantastic story to an archaeologist and finding yourself debunked!’ Suzanne giggled with the prospect of my making an unforgettable blunder.
‘How clever do you think I am?’, I boasted.
Before we stepped into our cars, Suzanne asked whether I would come over a bit earlier the next day to help lay the coffee table for her guests.
‘I particularly look forward to meeting Natalia again’, Suzanne said.
‘Why?’, I inquired absent-mindedly, getting into my car.
‘I met her a few days ago at that Swedish Santa Lucia reception -which you sadly missed- and she told me she felt lonely. She is older, you see. This is their last posting abroad. Apparently, she feels somewhat inhibited to tell about her job that she held till a few years ago. She is the second partner of the Peruvian ambassador and her job is often regarded as somewhat gruesome’.
‘Suzanne, could she be the woman who sat next to me last night?’, I asked disbelieving.
‘Well, she has very straight, thick black hair, a bob’, Suzanne mentioned. I started to feel uncomfortable; I had counted on never seeing my audience again!
‘Could she be the Latin-American doctor? No, it can’t be, that would be too coincidental. But darn-it, she had a bob too’, I said, placing my handbag on the car’s passenger seat.
‘I must have Natalia’s name card…, Suzanne said; ‘It is a bit of a mouthful but wait..’. Suzanne grabbed in her pocket and lifted out some name cards. After checking a few, she said; ’Here it is. She told me…. till recently she was internationally renowned … she is…here it says; a paleo-pathologist’. I gasped. Suzanne saw all my colours disappearing from my face.
The next day, Natalia cancelled tea at Suzanne’s house and I felt enormously relieved. But, inevitable as it was, I met the formerly renowned doctor in the study of diseases of ancient man a month later at the Presidential New Year’s reception. She smiled at me as we shook hands.
‘I had hoped you would not remember me’, I said with a growing blush of shame on my cheeks.
‘I never forget faces. See, I remember somebody’s skull’s features’, she replied. And just when I was about to make a prolonged excuse, she took me by the arm.
‘Stop apologizing. You were wrong by about 5000 years on the timeline regarding a few burials, but otherwise you warmed my paleo-pathologist’s heart’.
‘You are very forgiving’, I said softly. ‘When I learned that I had been blabbing to a professional, I felt an Iron Age axe landing on my head’. Natalia smiled very kindly: ‘I was just pleasantly waiting for you to drown in a misty, prehistoric peat-land full factual and fictional sedges and shrubs.
‘To become a famous bog body on display in a national Museum of Ethnology?’, I asked. We both laughed. For as long as we were together en poste we would never skip a chance to meet at receptions and have a passionate, prehistoric chit-chat.
There is a tender beauty and quality in the ritual a shaman visiting Nuliajuk (also known by the name ‘Sedna’) performs when this fierce goddess is angry. Nuliajuk is the sea-deity on which Netsilik Inuit depend for food and living. When hunters cannot find food, Netsilik Inuit believe that their food is tangled up in Nuliajuk’s hair. A shaman will have to travel to the bottom of the icy cold sea where he or she will find the goddess upset with anger. The animals that have once been her fingers before they morphed into sea mammals are itching! They urgently need to be freed from her long hair.
When the sea is mildly wild, Nuliajuk grows irritated. Her hair becomes tangled up with sea creatures. If only Nuliajuk could de-tangle her hair all would be well again. But she cannot because her father chopped off her fingers. Her fingers dropped next to her to the bottom of the sea where they grew into sea animals. The story of why her fingers got chopped up by her desperate father is another one, which a reader might like to research. For here, the focus lies on a tender and caring task an Inuit shaman has to perform in order to help calming down a frustrated sea goddess.
Nuliajuk has grown so upset with itching and annoying animals, she tries wildly to release them by running her fingers through her hair. To no avail, Nuliajuk can only wildly shake her arms and head, stirring up high waves and as a result the sea becomes wilder and wilder. Hunters cannot find food or bring something edible home and even the sled dogs grow hungry. Animals cannot be hunted, hides cannot get preserved, and the health of the people is declining. It feels like spiralling down: Nuliajuk is so angry, one cannot hunt. And because the wild waves tangle up Nuliajuk’s hair even more, she grows increasingly vexed. Nuliajuk’s powers are thus either life giving when she is calm. But when she is not, people face starvation.
Here a shaman needs to step in. He or she needs to tidy up Nuliajuk’s hair, set free animals after which Inuit are able to regain their hunt. All the shaman needs to do is reach Nuliajuk in a spiritual realm and take care of her hair. Often people relax when their hair is tenderly brushed and for Nuliajuk it is no different. This is the shaman’s task; calming down Nuliajuk, freeing sea mammals, and restoring an equilibrium that is both beneficial for the sea-goddess and for her people.
Can we see Nuliajuk’s mesmerizing hair? Yes, by looking in an ocean or sea. When you sit on a boat and you lean over, look under the surface and you will see movements. These undercurrents are Nuliajuk’s long strands of hair. Isn’t that beautiful? When we are confronted with plastic pollution (tangled up in Nuliajuk’s hair), we feel alarmed which is a good thing because – like in Nuliajuk’s tale -, plastic pollution kills sea animals; discarded fishing nets traps fish and sea mammals like Nuliajuk’s hair.
What does the Inuit shaman look like? Well, just like any other Inuit except that he or she might dress up in a special coat. In 2015, the fashion label KTZ copied a unique shamanic Canadian Arctic garment that dated back to the early 1900s. According to Smithsonian researcher Sima Sahar Zerehi this garment was the ‘most unique garment known to have been created in the Canadian Arctic’. The design was used without the consent of the shaman’s descendants in Nunavut and thus it was pulled from stores. KTZ apologized to the family. But by then it had sparked interest in the origins of the parka and the meaning behind its symbolic designs. Do the large hands on the chest of the garment represent the hands of the shaman that help Nuliajuk with de-tangling her hair, a vital act to restore her mood?
Nuliajuk is a timeless goddess but by now we have trade Nuliajuk’s mood for the Beaufort scale, an empirical measure that relates wind speed to observed sea conditions. When sea animals get trapped in fishing nets, we need people interfering, like shamans calming Nuliajuk. When sea-weeds, which remarkably look like Nuliajuk’s hair, disappear, we find food resources depleting. Taking care of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia by replenishing its coral feels like scientists stepping in for shamans taking care of Nuliajuk’s world.
No matter how we tell a story about our seas and oceans, mythologically or environmentally, we know that the sea takes care of us when we take care of her.
When ancient people of Island of Man prayed to their Celtic sea god, Manannán (or Manann) to shroud their island in thick mists to protect it from marauding Vikings, people had to pray. Gods like communicating with men, they like offerings and prayers. According to mythological stories they also like to be properly thanked. In the story of Nuliajuk one sees this element of reciprocity: she takes care of her peoples, they need to help her because of her missing ability to run her fingers through her hair and thus keep it tidy. This reciprocity can be extended to all nature gods, in fact to Nature herself. We have very few shamans left but, wisely, our children are educated on environmental issues at school. Beach cleaning school trips raise lasting awareness of pollution (and contributes to ‘keeping Nuliajuk’s hair well kept).
This illustration is for sale. It could be used as a book cover or a book illustration. Or a lesson plan illustration. Contact me should you like to use it. The link is here. Its price is negotiable in relation to its copyright.
How can we educate our children on Nuliajuk? When trying to buy a book on this goddess, I find only one title: ‘Nuliajuk’ by the explorer Knud Rasmussen, published in 2017 for Grade 3 readers. This is great for young children for learning about the interaction between nature and man by anthropomorphizing nature forces. When these children become high school students, they will remember their mythological education and see stories morphing into environmental science. They might even recognize the small Nuliajuk statute in Leiden’s National Museum of Ethnology (Netherlands). Her small, soapstone statute carries a beautiful historical, environmental, and mythological tale of nature’s power over peoples and over healing reciprocity.
Some lesson ideas are:
Explain the role of the shaman and compare him/her to priests, doctors and environmental activists. Look up the four animals that are trapped in Nuliajuk’s hair. Explain why they are mammals and not fish. Explain why Nuliajuk has become an environmental goddess who needs our help; explain on a larger scale taking care of our environment. Explain why we need seas and oceans for food and future food (seaweeds and algae). Compare Nuliajuk’s hair with discarded fishing nets. Explain why we need nature and why nature needs our care.
One day I was admiring our local herbal garden and found myself in William Morris’ Trellis wallpaper design. To celebrate this moment of seeing artwork by the most famous Arts and Crafts Movement artist being alive right in front of me, I set out making a large watercolour painting. I believe the Arts and Crafts Movement and especially William Morris’ designs strengthened the human-nature connection.
This watercolour makes a lovely wink to past artisan times. Morris designed a simplified trellis with perfect squares, which I stayed true to. But instead of climbing roses and bluebirds, I have chosen passionflowers as host plants to a hummingbird and a butterfly. I have paid much attention to drawing an Arts and Crafts frame, in dark wood with embellishments.
Morris used different ground colours including blue, dark grey, taupe, and the off-white which I will do too. Blue symbolizing heavens, the ethereal part of life and dark, wood brown representing our earthly life. I have used some gold and iridescent paint so that light offers an enriching effect on this watercolour painting.
Size is 46 by 61 cm or 18 by 24 inches. Horizontally oriented. I always use Arches High Quality Art Paper, satin because of its soft satin feel and because, to me, it is simply the best. This artwork will need an off-white or softly coloured passe-partout (mount) and a frame. You will cherish this original artwork for years to come!
‘Trellis with lush Acanthus and Passionflowers, a Hummingbird and a Butterfly.’ (Passionflower is the host plant for hummingbirds and fritillary butterflies).
Should you like artwork that matches your William Morris wallpaper, consider commissioning me. I look forward to work with you.
A chalk and ink drawing by Joachim von Sandrart of ‘Baden van Diocletianus’ Rome 1631, owned by Neurenberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum prompted me to make a graphite drawing. I replaced Sandrart’s human figures with resting sheep. Two of the human figures were so small, I only noticed them whilst drawing the third arch. I drew the two sheep as small as Sandrart drew his human figures emphasizing the grand scale of the ruins.
The ink drawing interested me because the ruins show – from the perspective art-historian and painter Sandrart took- a series of arches. This repetitive perspective creates depth but also creates a drawing full symbolism. We feel that some significant events are like passing a gate. We have replaced one place or lifestyle for another, never to return. Our lives consist of walking from one place to another, transforming ourselves, accepting changes.
When I was young the characteristic Romantic element of downscaling humans and exaggerating nature, felt a bit disturbing. Now, 2020, I love it. We should go back to feeling smaller in importance and respect nature and natural forces more. The idea that we are dwarfed by nature is a good one, much better than the illusion that we can dominate nature. We have to accept that changes are inevitable and are often felt as something life throws as us, something big, and overarching”.
This drawing serves as a perfect gift for somebody who loves classical drawings or the Dutch Golden Age in which artists left their studios to travel to Mediterranean landscapes. Also, for somebody going through life changes, transformations, or spiritual growth. The two resting sheep show is that we do not have to hurry through live. Times passes; we should relax even admits life’s turbulences.
Should you have any questions, feel free to contact Paula.
“Een krijt- en inkttekening door Joachim von Sandrart van ‘Baden van Diocletianus’ Rome 1631, eigendom van Neurenberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum zette me aan deze grafiet-tekening te maken. Ik verving Sandrarts’ menselijke figuren door rustende schapen. Twee van de menselijke figuren waren zo klein, ik merkte ze pas op tijdens het tekenen van de derde boog. Ik tekende de twee schapen even klein als Sandrart zijn menselijke figuren tekende en benadruk zo de grote schaal van de ruïnes. De inkttekening interesseerde me omdat de ruïnes laten zien – vanuit het perspectief van de kunsthistoricus en schilder Sandrart – een reeks bogen. Dit repetitieve perspectief creëert diepte en ook een tekening vol symboliek. We voelen dat sommige belangrijke gebeurtenissen zijn als het passeren van een poort. We hebben de ene plaats of levensstijl vervangen door een andere, om nooit meer terug te keren.
Toen ik jong was, voelde het karakteristieke romantische element van het verkleinen van mensen en het overdrijven van de natuur een beetje verontrustend, overweldigend. Nu, 2020, ik vind het geweldig. We zouden ons weer kleiner moeten voelen en meer respect hebben voor de natuur en natuurlijke krachten. Het idee dat we bij de natuur in het niet vallen, is prima, veel beter dan de illusie dat we de natuur kunnen domineren. We moeten accepteren dat veranderingen onvermijdelijk zijn en vaak worden ervaren als iets groots en overkoepelends.”
De originele tekening heeft een Kadinski passe-partout. Het is een passend cadeau voor iemand die van klassieke tekeningen houdt, of van de Nederlandse Gouden Eeuw waarin kunstenaars hun ateliers verlieten om naar Mediterrane landschappen af te reizen. Ook voor iemand die door een verandering of transformatie, of spirituele groei gaat is het een passend cadeau. De twee rustende schapen laten zien dat we ons niet hoeven te haasten. Mocht u nog vragen hebben, neem dan gerust contact op met Paula.
With much pleasure I have designed and drawn a Christmas card that looks like a Medieval illuminated manuscript. After buying and leafing through a wonderful book on Dutch artists painting Italy in the 17th century, I felt inspired by Pieter Monickx and Karel Dujardin’s artwork to create a border in which Josef and Maria travel on a donkey through a pastoral landscape.
For its centre, I drew Noah’s dove holding an olive branch. My wish for Christmas 2020 is hope and peace, symbolized by Noah’s dove and pregnant Maria. On the back of the postcard there are Christmas wishes in five languages as well as my name. There is enough room for a short Christmas wish.
This is an A5 card that comes with a creamy coloured envelope. It was a long time ago that I drew a Christmas card. I have done pagan Yule cards and bible based Christmas cards. It is always a pleasure to send a card that is made from start to end. Please, support local artists, small shops or Etsy sellers this year. They need you.
Colourful mandarin duck watercolour paintings have been added to my Etsy shop.
The large composition consisting of an Asian landscape, a lotus pond, a turtle pond, and mandarin ducks was lovely to make. I felt inspired to make it after visiting the Volkenkundig Museum in Leiden, where I enjoyed the Asian department. As always, I was charmed by how Asian artist harmoniously combine natural and abstract representations of their surroundings.
Ochre is a natural clay earth pigment which is a mixture of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand. It ranges in colour from yellow to deep orange or brown and I use it a lot in my studio. It goes by different names: Yellow Ochre, Gold Ochre, Brown Ochre, Naples Ochre, or Burnt ochre, to name a few. Ochre is an important find for archaeologists too. In prehistoric times this pigment had a variety of functions: as soap, paint, grave goods, and for embalming the dead. It may even have been sunblock 50+ for as long as it did not flake off.
Otjize is a mixture of butterfat and ochre pigment used by Himba people of Namibia to protect themselves from the harsh desert climate. And for prehistoric people ochre was perhaps what Clorox and make-up is to us now. People perhaps used it as body paint, ideal for hygienic purposes too due to water scarcity. When it flakes off it removes skin and dirt.
Prehistoric hand stencils have been made with red and yellow ochre. Did red hands symbolize the living and white the dead? I wrote a short essay on this on my website.
Yellow Pale Ochre is part of my favourite standard colour palette. It is a much-used pigment in whatever painting I make using water paints, gouache paints, or oils.
Ochre is many things. It has many colours, it has many functions. Archaeologists link it to our way of thinking. When prehistoric peoples started colour processing they were showing colour preferences. As one thing represents something else, we are in the business of symbolic thinking. Red for ‘blood’, yellow ochre for ‘sun’, brownish ochre for ‘earth’. We do not know because we can’t ask our long dead ancestors. But what we know for sure is that many colours of ochre were important to them.
Ochre is a constant companion in my studio because I work with paints all the time. And when I take a break from painting, I love to read books on prehistory. Interestingly, the more I use it and the more I learn about it, the more fascinating this pigment becomes.
At Etsy as Paula Kuitenbrouwer & at Instagram as mindfuldrawing
What better than receiving a request to draw a floral triptych of lush spring flowers during the Corona lockdown? After the monochromatic under layer, working on these large Arches sheets (41- 61 cm), adding many layers of colour, felt like wandering through a lush garden.
The contrary was true. We were home most of the time, our city turning into a ghost town with museums and botanical gardens keeping their doors locked. Going to the supermarket and making a daily walk through greener parts of our area was all we did. I bought new green plants and planted some extra flowers on our balcony. But my real garden was on my drawing station and it was full irises, tulips, and daffodils. Before giving the sheets a protective spray, I added bugs and bees.
Packing up an commission always makes me nervous. But it worked by using an XL artist tube and three protective folios. By the time I brought the artist tube to the post office, our lockdown was almost over. Only our botanical gardens keep their gates closed till the 1st of July. Although I long to visit them, I understand that they can do very well without us, humans. They might even have had a jolly good time!
I love drawing and painting mandarin ducks. I am always pleasantly surprised how sweet they look no matter how I change their position or background. They look lovely when bobbing on the Great Wave off Kanagawa or when they rest on a riverbank. My most favourite, however, is the graphite drawing of my mandarin ducks resting on a river bank in a forest area. The sun is setting and birds fly over in the background.
I love working with colours but making a 19-century style graphite drawing that is full texture, detail and depth is a wonderful thing to do.
Having said this, it always adds colour to my day when I can use my whole range of coloured pencils or Derwent watercolours to work on the drake’s outrageously colourful plumage. But take away all colours, like I did for the Albino mandarin ducks, you still find yourself in awe of probably the cutest water-bird.
Resting Mandarin Duck by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
Mandarin Ducks in Lotus Pond by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
Albino Mandarin Ducks art cards by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
Marvellous Mandarin Ducks art card
Mandarin Ducks Bobbing on The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
Follow the progress that I make drawing three lovely houses located at the Nieuwe Gracht, Utrecht. This large drawing demands much patience because these three pearls are full details. I will update this blogpost regularly. For videos on this project, visit my Instagram account @mindfuldrawing. Contact me for questions and commissions.
Let me introduce The Sorcerer discovered in 1960 in Ariège, France. He has been regarded a mythical figure, a shaman, leading a ritual dance. The fact that he directly looks at us as if he is interrupted, is remarkable. Why is he doing that? My method of getting to know him better is through drawing him and paying attention to what I observe during the process of drawing. This I combine with research. I will never be able to see the Sorcerer, thus I fully depend on reference photos and interpretations by the man who set out to show the world all cave painting by sketching, Henri Breuil.
By looking at these two images, a controversy becomes immediately manifest; is Henri Breuil’s drawing a reliable copy or is it his interpretation? This has been hotly debated but I won’t go into this. I trust Jean Clottes who has asserts Breuil’s drawing after having seen the original perhaps over 20 times over many years.
Breuil’s drawing is however problematic, even if it is a truthful copy of the original rock art drawing. I start to draw the Sorcerer, scaling it up in size, working on his head. It is said that the sorcerer isn’t a shaman, it isn’t a human; it is a composite figure bringing together many drawings of Ariège cave. Here we see, the antlers of a stag, the ears of a wolf, the face of a deer, the eyes of an owl, the beard of a bison, the claws of a bear, the pose and the tail of a rearing horse, and the (hind) legs and genitalia of a man.
Drawing Sorcerer’s deer face, I run into trouble with the position of his eyes and ears. The position of the neck in relation to the head and ears is flawed. Equally flawed is the neck of the body in relation to the en-profile position of the face. A face that looks at us over one shoulder would show only one ear, the other would be obscured, visually missing, which is not the case with the Sorcerer. The antlers seem to be incorrectly positioned as well; in case a (horse or human) body is rearing to the front and the head is turned, looking to the viewer full face, then the front antler would seem bigger and the antler more positioned to the back would look a tiny bit smaller, as is not the case with Breuil’s drawing. In fact, the back antler looks bigger! This leads to the conclusion that the head is distorted. Either the painter had this in mind or as cave art is palimpsest art, meaning that painting are re-used, altered and traces of early paintings are often visible in later versions, the compositional flaws could be caused by more than one artists working at this piece of rock art over a long period of time.
The second feeling of unease that I experience whilst drawing the Sorcerer is related to the difference in style and skill regarding the head and the body. The body of the Sorcerer is very well done, technically and anatomically. We see a well proportioned horse body with a waving tail and strong human legs. But what about the head? The bison beard has no movement; the antlers seems to be done by somebody lacking drawing skills. Thus I wonder how this composite head would look like (drawn by me in this case, but I invite you to do the same). Whilst drawing all the animal attributes, I observe that this composite figure has portrayed very well chosen and formidable animal qualities. Is this portrait then an obituary to a beloved and charismatic shaman? ‘He had formidable eyesight like the eyes of an owl’. It is almost as if we hear somebody remembering him during his funeral. ‘He wore antlers of a stag and could hear with the ears of a wolf’. ‘He had such a kind face, like that of a deer’. ‘He had a well groomed beard as one of a bison’. ‘He could run like a horse, but despite his superior qualities, he was just a man’ (hence the human genitalia).
The Sorcerer shape-shifts in many animals, most of them mammals. With the superior eyes of an owl, he perhaps isn’t looking at us, but trying to find his way back, through the dark, to his human body and to his community who has gathered deep inside Ariège cave. A community that thought high of him and went through huge efforts to make an intriguing portrait of him.
In my hometown of Utrecht, on two Rococo houses alongside the ‘Nieuwe Gracht’, stands Hercules holding the sky onto his shoulders. The ancient story goes that Hercules has taken up the firmament for Atlas allowing the old Titan a brief moment of respite to take up one of his labours.
I had to correct Hercules’ legs because all reference photos are taken from street level, and Hercules stands on top of a four story house, and it therefore the statute showed too short legs. I’ve elongated Hercules’ legs to create a level frontal view.
Hercules looks strong, but he is a demigod and demigods can do things we mortals can not. Yet, the maker of this statute, the Dutch sculptor Ton Mooy, has given Hercules a tormented expression.
I kept wondering why I like this Hercules. When I was about to draw his hair and face, I remembered. I had seen this kind of hair and facial expression before. Hercules has the same hair as Vercingetorix (see photo) and a similar tormented expression as the statute of the Dying Gaul (see photo), an Ancient Roman Hellenistic sculpture. There is beauty in showing that extraordinary strength and bravery often comes with pain.
Hercules Utrecht Statute by Ton Mooy, drawing by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
Herculus in Utrecht City Centre, drawing by Paula Kuitenbrouwer, Statute by Ton Mooij.
Herculus/Aardkloot/Nieuwe Gracht Utrecht by Ton Mooy
Holly has a strong cultural resonance. We use it as a Christmas decoration since the Victorian times. In pagan times, it was customary to bring holly boughs in to decorate the house. Holly was a powerful fertility symbol and was supposed to protect a family against ill-fortunes. Holly planted near a home was regarded as a safe guard against poisoning. It also provided protection from lightening. During Yule, we bring holly in our homes to remind us that green foliage will return when the darker days grow shorter.
Every year I send so many Yule or Christmas cards and every year less are returning seasonal wishes. On the one hand I understand; sending cards costs time, energy, and paper. On the other hand, this tradition that dates back to Victorian times, reminds us that in the middle of the long North-European winter, when winter brought hardship, we would send each other well wishes. It was to let people know that you were thinking about them, that you were keeping a person in the light, that you would pray for his/her well-being, or that you wanted to give a sign of life and hoped to receive a sign of life in return. It is a lovely tradition that has many variations. There were messengers bridging long distances with a message of hope or well being, there were powerful musical instruments being able to be heard miles away that informed villagers miles away of a message depending on which melodies were used, there were postal doves, and now there is email. A dressed up card never loses its charm and although I am too scaling back my list, I hope this tradition will survive text-messages and email.
In 2017, I followed ‘Who were the Celts?’ at Oxford Department for Continuing Education. I enjoyed reading an essay on Iron Age mirrors. ‘Mirrors in the British Iron Age: Performance, Revelation and Power, by Melanie Giles and Jody Joy. It inspired me immensely.
Iron Age 50 BC – AD 50
Found in 1908 near Desborough
After reading about Iron Age mirrors, I set out to draw the Iron Age Desborough mirror. Through drawing I would gain more insights into its decorations and its function. Iron Age mirrors that were beautifully decorated and made of bronze and iron were found in graves of high status Iron Age women.
I like to say something about high status Iron Age women. One might think ‘high status’ refers to rich women or wives of rulers or kings. But although both accounts can be correct, high status refers in the Iron Age more to women being leaders or shamans themselves.
Working on the patterns of Desborough Iron Ago Mirror
Detail of Desborough Iron Age Mirror
The essay discusses how Iron Age metallurgy and how a whole community was involved in the making process. Also, it discusses social relations, grave goods, and the compass drawn motifs of repeated and distinctive forms arranged into intricate and flee flowing designs. Fascinating, to say in the least. The question begs why were mirrors used as grave goods? The easiest answer does not always work, one being that the Iron Age lady was buried with her belongings. Perhaps the mirrors were not possessions but (diplomatic) gifts. And why would a deceased lady take a mirror, she wouldn’t need it in her afterlife, or would she?
Imagine looking into this mirror. The effect of seeing your face in the reflective properties of the plate, disrupted or enhanced by its La Tene decorations would …yes, what would you see?
Giles and Joy describe how the decorations on the mirrors are not only used to deceive the eye, but also to reinforce the reflective qualities of the mirror plate. The anthropologist Alfred Gell points out that Iron Age mirrors could have expressed political power and legitimise associations with the supernatural. This is hard for us to understand but in order to understand what Gell states requires us to imagine a time in which you only saw your reflection in (restless or calm) water, in shiny objects, like copper, bronze, silver or gold. How special such mirrors would be! Imagine now that next to not frequently seeing your reflection, you were raised to notice all sorts of shapes in water, smoke, old trees, and rocks. We have a clear sense of what we see is real and what is imagination, but for ancient people perhaps seeing was just seeing, whether it was imagination or fact. If the under-upper and middle world aren’t having hard borders, perhaps seeing imaginative, hallucinative and factual weren’t compartmentalised either.
When I suffer a migraine aura, I see things that do not exist and things that I need to see are gone. I can be passed in the streets by somebody who is missing his head. Perhaps looking into an Iron Age mirror yields a similar effect as having a migraine aura because Iron Age mirrors have blanked out spaces and thus provide viewers with a disorienting and distorted image of themselves. Yet, an Iron Age mirror has not only missing parts (blanked out spaces, decorated with a basket woven texture) but carefully chosen synchronised but flow-like playful, witty, and mischievous botanical and animal patterns. What effect would looking into a shiny plate, with a deliberate disorienting pattern have? Here the essay explains more about the ‘technology of enchantment‘ and goes deeper into psychological war-fare though powerful visceral and visual effects. It informs the reader about the Fang People of Gabon who used hallucinogens before looking into mirrors, and states that these Iron Age mirrors were not real mirrors (not for checking hair or make-up). In fact, the mirrors played a role in rituals to release the soul to its afterlife.
During the time that I spent drawing this Iron age mirror, I tried many things. I tried to project my face behind the decorations, fusing my face and the decorations and then see all sorts of animals. Of course, this is a very poor attempt to understand its magic. But I have to do it with a large doses of imagination and hours of drawing as there is no way I would be able to hold the mirror up and have a look in it. And even if I could do that, there wouldn’t be a ritual that would be helpful performed by an Iron Age shaman who would be experienced in travelling between worlds. (Or brainwaves, or different stages of consciousness, whatever way you might define shamanistic journeying).
My concluding thoughts are that by looking into this mirror, in an Iron Age ritual ceremony, with an Iron Age cognitive mindset, maybe, as a dying lady of high status, I would find great comfort in seeing my old face being obscured with these splendid swirling decorations. I would be calm as I have seen, thanks for my migraines, often enough things that aren’t there and fail to notice things that are there. I would probably enter theta brainwaves the same way as after sitting down for a longer time in meditation or -more Iron Age style- looking into the smoky swirls of an open campfire. I might start seeing my face, combined with the swirly flowing embellishments turning into animal and ancestral spirits. One has to understand that the Iron Age was full of spirits, spirits we have carefully abandoned from our modern life. But just as they have been forgotten, it doesn’t mean these spirits aren’t there. I would most certainly find an ancestral spirit that would ‘present’ itself as so much of my own face would be blanked out, and only essential and familiar facial lines would still linger in the reflective image. Or perhaps, I would see a beautiful stag or other horned mammal, and experience it as my guiding spirit animal. Perhaps I would see the hybrid human-animal dressed-up shaman of the village giving me instructions to journey to the Other-world.
All in all, it would perhaps release my soul into an in-between world in which I would be able to project comfortably to what I would need to see. I would probably have been fasting during the last days of my life, I would be susceptible for my imaginative mind to dominate and thus the softly and dreamily reflecting mirror would get a transitional quality and function. Or perhaps I would look and whisper some wise words, like Tibetan shamans who look into mirrors to see the future and the past, wise words that would be helpful to my tribe. The Fang people of Gabon use mirrors to contact their ancestors. Do Iron Age mirrors have a similar function?
Obviously, many things become possible should such a highly valued mirror be available to a tribe. It is therefore that there many more than this Desborough mirror only. One by one these mirrors and their fascinating embellishments are showing us that Iron Age metallurgy and shamanism practises were interrelated and that highly decorated ‘magic’ Iron Age mirrors were much appreciated by Iron Age peoples.
P.S. During the hours that I was my drawing of the Desborough mirror, I travelled between worlds too. I had to descend from my creative, spiritual plane of manifesting ideas to the mundane world of running errands. As the trees were shedding their leaves, I noticed many decomposed leaves with open parts resembling mini Iron Age mirrors scattered on the street. If you can not enjoy looking into the Desborough Iron Age mirror at the British Museum, do not despair, mini versions are freely available every autumn.
Art cards are available at Etsy (and can be framed as small memories to this exquisite mirror):
I like to show you two different mandarin duck drawings. In traditional Asian culture, mandarin ducks are believed to be lifelong couples, unlike other species of ducks. Hence they are regarded as a symbol of love, affection, and fidelity.
The first drawing is titled Matchmaking in Heaven. It shows a mandarin duck couple in a lotus pond. It is a softly rendered watercolour drawing. The pond is calm, lotus flowers are growing and so is the bond between this duck and drake deepening. The duck and drake have just decided to take a swim. They will look for food, synchronized as they are. They are life long partners and, like swans, will stay together. Lotus flowers are symbols of purity, enlightenment, self-regeneration and rebirth. In Asia, mandarin ducks represent love and loyalty. Seeing bonding ducks, seeing how synchronised they are, makes people long for a deep belonging, a deep bond between lovers. Love renews itself every day; it grows, it deepens and sometimes we need to stand still and take time to say ‘I love you’ to our beloved ones. Because, although we know it, expressing this during a day that is full of obligations, commitments, and ambitions is a good thing. Combining the Lotus symbol with the Mandarin ducks, this couple stays together to grow old and wise together. They feel reborn in their deepening love every season.
The other mandarin duck couple drawing has a longer story. I was about to add a new couple to my portfolio when I noticed the Fibonacci Sequence in one of my old sketches. I immediately set out to make a circular composition, adding two ducks shaped as in the well-know Fibonacci fashion. And after having done that successfully, I couldn’t stop and added parts of The Great Wave off Kanagawa by the Japanese artist Hokusai next to the mandarin ducks.
Now I had four Fibonacci elements in one drawing, as I recognized the Fibonacci sequence in Hokusai’s wave too. This mandarin duck couple, deeply in love with each other, is bathing in wild waters. In fact, they are so deeply bonded, they have no idea where they individually begin or end. They have become one in emotion and routine. They are also one with the waters they live in.
The beautiful Hokusai wave, which could be interpreted as the pleasant and unpleasant high waves life throws at every couple, can’t separate them. They will stay together during their whole life; in high tide and low tide, in calm and difficult times, through day and night, till the end.
This circular composition is available at Etsy. The original drawing of the ducks in the lotus pond is available here. Should you not like Etsy and you need cards or a commission or this original drawing, contact me freely and without obligation by using the contact form.
The mandarin ducks (Aix galericulata) have carefully chosen a place to rest. They seems to blend in with the dark background, thus if necessary, they will respond quickly by taking to the waters and thus escape predators. The river is calm, the forest is rich in sounds and smells, and all is well. The reflection of the lovely couple is visible in the calm water. Birds are flying over.
The duck and drake have just decided to take a rest and have already positioned themselves on the bank. The duck is checking the left, the drake checks the right, if all feels safe they will soon tuck their bills into their wings and take a nap. After that they will look for food again, synchronized as they are. They are life long partners, like swans. In Asia mandarin ducks represent love and loyalty. On the photos of this drawing, you will notice a few wooden ducks. They are used, in Asia, like drawings, prints and paintings, to enhance feelings of love and loyalty in homes and rooms between couples. Seeing bonding ducks, seeing how synchronised they are, makes people long for a deep belonging, a deep bond between lovers.
This is a softly rendered graphite drawing. On my Etsy home page and Instagram you can watch a video of the making of this drawing. I have done many Mandarin duck commissions for homes, weddings, engagements, stationary, or meditation/sleeping rooms. Contact me should you have specific wishes regarding a mandarin duck drawing. Also, have a look at my shop where you will find mandarin duck mini-prints, cards, and full colour drawings. May I advise to have a full colour drawing of mandarin ducks in a monochromatic coloured room and a softly rendered graphite drawing in a colourful room?
Artist information: Derwent graphite H-series pencils on Arches hot press paper 31-41 cm. Winsor & Newton Varnish Spray.
Ornithological information: Although Mandarin ducks are Asian ducks, Dutch park and estate owners buy these ducks to add some bright colours to their duck ponds or castle moats. Mandarin ducks then need nesting facilities because in nature they breed inside tree cavities. They seem to do well in Dutch weather. I am very lucky to have spotted them nearby my home town. One thinks that they stand out splendidly, but I can assure you that even the very colourful drake often seems to blend in its surroundings perfectly.
My ‘Gate to Heaven’, a lovely gate is located not too far away from my home, at Bruntenhof, Museumkwartier in Utrecht.
In real, there is no flower vase, just pavement in front of this gate. I received some feedback, stating: ‘There is a great difference between a photo of this gate and your drawing. A photo shows beautiful stonework but you have drawn something dreamy and poetic. The gate has become a portal to another world. You can walk through it and find yourself in a Medieval landscape with knights and dryads‘. I think the feedback itself is rather poetical, don’t you think? Such sensitive feedback stimulates me to make even more progress.
This gate can be found at Bruntenhof, Museumkwartier in Utrecht, in the centre of the Netherlands. It dates back to 1620. But it could be any gate, a dream gate, a portal to heaven, to another world. Gates are symbolic and often stand for a transformation or travelling between worlds. Gardens are set apart from manor houses by a gate. People drive through gates to enter an estate. Gates impress, transform, and show style; Roman, Art Nouveau, Classical, Medieval or gates are used for defence purposes. Drawings of gates can mean so much and are open to your interpretation.
Commissions are welcome for drawing a favourite place be it a gate home, residence, manor house, hotel, garden, holiday-home, estate, or apartment. Contact me for discussing your preferences.
Participating in a creative challenge is about exploring new drawing skills. A challenge needs to be a challenge, doesn’t it? I found Three Inches, at #mindfulartstudio of Amy Maricle, which is about working on 3 square inches. I decided to do a study of Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel’s artwork. The insight that I gained confirms that I am not fascinated enough by human anatomy, despite hugely admiring Rodin and Claudel’s work. Nevertheless, I liked the challenge as a welcome break from my current obsession with antique drawings of beautiful classical buildings and romantic landscapes.
Thank you & till next posting,
Three Inches Challenge on Instagram at #incheschallenge2019.
The two bison of Lascaux (Dordogne, France) are eye-catching cave paintings made about 17,000 years ago. I liked them because they are testosterone filled beasts but at the same time, they look cute with their large, round bodies and skinny legs.
During my study of this painting, I found five interesting features. First, the two bison have open mouths. Their open mouths play a big role in the story that is portrayed. Combined with their posture, one almost must conclude that the bison are running away with great urgency. Their open mouths seem to be the result of a fight or a sudden shock that makes them stampede in the opposite direction. For what they are running away, we don’t know for sure, but we may assume they run away from each other, hence the opposite directions, perhaps after a fight over dominance.
But perhaps not. Very few of us see bison frequently or for a long time. Nature documentaries on which most of us rely to see these magnificent beasts often focus on fighting bison because their fights are epic. That fighting picture is imprinted in our minds. But surely most of their lifetime bison do not fight. An alternative thought could be that the shaman/artist, being in a trance state, has seen the bison appearing from the same place of the wall, appearing from a ‘thin place’, a portal from and to the Other-or Underworld, hence the overlapping backsides of the bison.
Another aspect that is perhaps only visible to a trained artist eye is that of foreshortening. Foreshortening is a technical and artistic skill that is clearly visible here. Should you not know what foreshortening is, have a look at God by Michelangelo. Foreshortening is to portray or show (an object or view) as closer than it is or as having less depth or distance, as an effect of perspective or the angle of vision.
Now have a look at how the shaman/artist has drawn the bison, running in the opposite direction. Clearly, they are running towards the viewer, to both sides of the viewer, not away from the viewer. Their back-bodies are smaller in proportion than their front bodies; this is done to enhance the impression that the bison are running towards the viewer. Also, look at their hind legs. The bull on the left stands closer to the viewer than the bull on the right; his legs are a bit lower positioned creating the illusion he is closer to the front. In addition, the right bison’s back is visible above the left bison, which adds to the impression that the right bison is further away. This is very well executed and in full respect of the shape of the legs of the bison.
But this is not all. The shaman/artist has used not only anatomical positioning (legs and tails) and foreshortening to create spatial depth, he/she has also used red pigments on the body (hexagon) as to create a highlight which enhances the foreshortening technique in creating depth.
I like to mention another feature, however I am not in the position to check this in vivo. The two front legs of both bison that do the stampeding are distanced by a small unpainted area from the front bodies of the bison. Such detached front legs add to the impression of wild stampeding beasts. It is as if their front leg is moving so quickly that the shaman/artist can only suggest the wild movements by positioning the leg a bit away from the body. Last, have a look at the heavy fur of the wild beasts. The hair streams in the wind due to their escape from danger.
The shaman/artist who has painted the two bison has done it splendidly. Only the sound of the stampeding seems to be missing but perhaps the shaman created that sound with the help of drums or prehistoric peoples created the sound of stampeding inside the cave themselves. Both drum and stampeding people must have sounded impressive inside a cave, especially when the cave walls throw back the echoes.
For my first study I have focussed on colours; prehistoric cave paintings have beautiful ochre colours. I made a rough pastel sketch to get insight in which colours I needed.
My next study was about finding essential lines. Which are the most essential lines that make up a bison? Which lines shape a bison and set it apart from an ox, or from a Przewalski’s horse? Playing with the lines has resulted in an abstract version of Lascaux’s ‘Crossed Bison’.
For my final drawing, I have built the beasts with layers of heavy pigment coloured pencils (Faber-Castle and Luminance).
After finishing my third drawing, the result surprised me because my bison resemble Lascaux’s ‘Crossed Bison’ but are very different. So, let’s talk about how this study led to a different drawing despite applying foreshortening techniques and staying close to Lascaux’s Crossed Bison composition. Why does my drawing differ so much? The answers lie in the open mouths and the fur of the bison.
My bison haven’t stopped fighting because their mouths are peacefully closed mouths and their fur isn’t wildly shaken by their stampeding. One might assume that an open or closed mouth should not make such difference, but it certainly does. My bison don’t seem to run away for each other or for danger. On the contrary, they look at you naughty and even innocently, like two playing brothers or friends.
The open mouths of the Lascaux bison thus are essential to the story told by the cave painting. The skilful and admirable Lascaux’s artists drew perfect anatomy, showed highly developed artistic techniques, and even better, they told a story of two animals full urgency, perhaps because of hunting or fighting. The gasping for air during a fight or flight, due to running away with their heavy bodies make Lascaux’s bison seem to be in great and urgent stress. By closing their mouths and neglecting shaken-up fur -I only altered two details- I have created bison that seem to prance and romp about happily, perhaps even playfully.
Paintings as stories
All paintings tell stories. What a difference small changes make! To me, this supports the thesis that the shamans/artists of Lascaux painted all details of their cave paintings intentionally. They painted a story with supporting details. Change the details; change the story. By studying this cave painting, by re-creating it, and changing two details, I have brought to light how detailed this cave painting is and how essential details are for the story that is graphically told by Lascaux’s artists. The story itself remains a mystery. But at least we can guess a bit better by paying attention to all deliberately added details. Details are the building blocks of stories that are told from one generation to the next. Details safeguard us for altering stories due to forgetfulness, preferences, or imagination.
Bison of Lascaux by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
Kuitenbrouwer’s Bison art study was published in Daub Poetry & Art Inspired by Prehistory, a publication by Simon de Courcey. Out of sale.