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.
There is so much hate! Violence against women and children has increased during the pandemic and various lockdowns. There is so much road rage. I wrote about this in my blogpost on the pandemic and on how artists stay well balanced in a world that seems to resort to aggression and depression. Because of this excess of bad temper, hate and depression is important to celebrate Valentine’s Day joyously. We all know that Valentine’s Day is a bit silly, commercially driven, and for the young.
Yet, this year is different. We have not seen our friends for ages. why not send a kind card to all your friends? There is no need to limit card sending to your lover, crush or best friend. We could spread Valentine’s cards like Christmas cards. With sending a card you are saying so much; you are saying that you thought about somebody. That thought made you buy a card. You sat down to put an address on its envelope. Even without a splendid text, you show setting some time apart for making a person realize that he/she is special to you. Add to it your name or a short text, and the message of friendship, bonding or love is sledgehammer clear.
‘Oh, that is nice!’
‘Oh, look at the card from …’
Everybody’s heart will make a little jump when being confronted with a bit of unexpected kindness. Especially in pandemic times when people, collectively, suffer from anxiety, cabin-fever, stir-craziness and easily lose their equilibrium. There is nothing wrong with a bit of extra attention and love. And the beautiful thing about mandarin ducks is that they symbolize love and friendship. Like doves and swans (ignore that ornithologists have observed a bit of adultery among these sweethearts).
Mandarin ducks melt our hearts because of their background story on their life long partnership, their cute colours and shapes, and their adorable ducklings.
I have discussed the effects of the pandemic with many of my artist friends. I was wondering whether they loathed or embraced various lockdowns? I found out that long weeks or months at home brought them deep focus and a relief from the continuous time crunches they often experience combining art-making and family life.
However, I observed more. A pandemic causes many people to lose their equilibrium. Anxiety sets in and various lockdowns cause mass stir craziness and cabin-fever. People have become so aggressive! The Netherlands saw a huge increase of domestic or family violence towards women and children. There is such road rage on highways too. It is like people have become mad.
To the other end of the spectrum of mental health, people have also grown depressed. There is a radicalization of feelings due to a lack of social contact. It is not good for people to feel trapped because that easily leads to restlessness, anxiety or being agitated. Not that we should all pollute the air with kerosene again, but being cooked up at home is a hardship for most of us.
But interestingly artists, avid readers, and musicians seem to suffer less problems (disclaimer, so it seems in my social circles) because they do a lot of mind traveling. They transport themselves to artistic, literary or musical realms and go on about their days making music, painting canvases, and reading books. In fact, for many artist friends the numerous lockdowns have been productive and inspirational, (though less profitable because of closed concert halls, galleries and shops).
ARISTOTLE’S GOLDEN MEAN
How can we explain this? Let us turn to Aristotle’s Golden Mean. The golden mean, or golden middle way is the desirable middle between two extremes. If aggression is an excess of energy, depression is a deficiency of energy. Let us go back to those who lost their equilibrium and became aggressive. Aggression is a deficiency of despondency; there is too much stirring up bad energies. It is extreme to be aggressive. It shows an excess of boiled up energy. Depression is a shortage of aggression, of combativeness; it is a lack of energy. It is extreme too. One should neither be aggressive nor depressed. One should have healthy, harmonious energy. So, if aggression and depression are two extremes, what or which is the golden mean state of being? What is the middle between aggression and depression? That is initiative, or resourcefulness, or name it creativity.
This creativity, imagination, this resourcefulness and initiative, did we just describe Aristotle’s’ golden mean or did we focus on personal characteristics of artists by naming inventiveness, creativity, resourcefulness and imagination? We did both. I think that the personal traits of an artist keep an artist well balanced and resilient during lockdown. Artists will resort to their habits of creating, taking initiative, keeping their creative juices flowing. #nevernotmaking is a trending hashtag on Instagram. So is #artheals. I see it with all my creative friends: they fare well through lockdowns. Of course, there are boring days, but depression? No. Aggression? No. Creativity? Yes, plenty of it.
Open museums and concert halls
Now that is established how important art making and art is, why not open up our (Dutch) cultural sector? Why are shops now open but museums and podiums closed? Apparently, it is because our government aims to keep us local (not spreading the virus). People are discouraged to travel beyond their region to visit museums or concerts. But in the light of this hyper contagious Omicron, this is a lost fight. Omicron will come as a tsunami and nobody will be spared. Open up our creative and cultural sector because it is hugely important to collectively feel well balanced. Art should not be an afterthought; it lies at the heart of our well being.
“So how are you keeping?”
“Very well, really“
“Because I have more time for drawing!”
I hope artists inspire others becoming creative too. Prevent depression and aggression by engaging in artistic, musical, and literary activities.
Ever since the pandemic I have been reading and reading. Of course, when there is plenty of natural light, I prioritize drawing. But since consecutive lockdowns came into effect and meeting friends, running errands, and going for a walk were pushed to the background, literature took its rightful place. I kept a list of books in my diary and every time I finished a book, I proudly ticked off a book title. I like to share the moment with you that within the time-span of two days I came across a book title and a harrowing painting. Let me first give you the book title. It stopped me dead in my tracks.
Generals die lying on beds
I thought the title was brilliant (disclaimer: I did not read the book). It rang so true to me. I have seen it again and again, those who have struggled in life have died an untimely, painful or medicine induced death whilst those who have ruled, manipulated, or were in charge, Machiavellians, lived a long, happy life and died a peaceful, luxuriously death neatly tugged between crisp white bed linen. But foot-soldiers die on battlefields, in the dirt, at a too young age. ‘Comes with the job, an occasional ‘habit’, collateral damage, kind of thing‘. But generals die at a high age on luxurious beds.
Next, the painting of a dead soldier. It made me wonder whether it is a detail of a larger painting because of its unusual angle that is a bit uncomfortable for a viewer. But perhaps, this uncomfortable perspective was something the painter precisely sought? I imagine the soldier has most likely fought for someone else’s cause, principles, or power games and now dies an anonymous, early death. Maybe he ends up in a mass grave, unlike the general.
The book title and the painting made me wonder what battles we fight and for who? Who are foot soldiers and who are generals? Do you know them in your life, amongst your friends, at your work? Who is dying for who? I thought of Machiavelli’s philosophy. But also of a very old flyer of a political party that I vaguely remembered. It showed a sweet, little girl, standing all alone in a desert whilst you are asked the question: What if there is a war and nobody is willing to participate? Nobody shows up on the battlefield?
Art and literature make us evaluate the roles we take up in life. Art and literature offer us endless inspiration to ask questions in our lives that need to be asked.
Next blogpost will focus on Aristotle’s Golden Mean in relation to lockdown/quarantine and living the artist life.
How to Write a Bio or About section Truthfully and Modestly?
Do you feel uncomfortable with the social media ‘Bio’ or ‘About’ section? Do you feel hesitant when a social media platform encourages you ‘…to tell something about yourself’? Is it because seldomly you are given enough space for introducing yourself thoroughly and adding a sense of modesty to your self-promotion too? Those exasperating collapsing menus offering prelisted choices: you are an artist or a designer or illustrator! They leave you no room for ifs, ands, or buts.
It is not easy to strike the right tone in a world in which all and sundry proclaim to be writers, artists, cooks and models. All that ego aggrandizing, all that fake it till you make it. So, when is somebody an artist? When one is talented, or selling or awarded? I see artists on Instagram having thousands of followers but when you click to their shops, not many have bought their art. But in case somebody is selling well, does that make them an artist even when they have no significant talent? And vice versa, perhaps an extremely talented person has no passion to pursue a career in the arts does that person make less of an artist? It is a confusing world in which we do not take something at face value anymore. This huge herd yelling about their talents and achievements only befuddles us and fills us with captious questions. ‘Is he really that talented? Did she copy art?’
Could this overheated market cool down a little when we would describe ourselves in a calm fashion? I do not suggest to chronicle oneself as a coffee lover because that has lost its light touch and sounds more like escapism. Let us at least attempt to capture oneself modestly and truly.
Let me shepherd you through some steps
An unpretentious Bio can be achieved by comparing and contrasting oneself to the masters of the arts. Do some self inquiry; ‘I am very inspired by artwork of ….’ Or ‘If I ever reach the level of…, I would be utterly delighted’, or ‘I aim to draw like …’ or ‘I draw in the style of the famous and I hope one day my work will reach the technical level of…’.
Who are your role models? Which artwork do you admire and why? Because of technical skills? Because of its emotional intensity? How feverish is your passion to pursue art-making compared to that of, for instance, Camille Claudel? What is your relation to the world of art? What do you aspire; which artist is your (long dead) master? Where do you like to be ten years from now?
This examination could be done regularly or annually. The answers will change because you, who is busying yourself with art, will change. The fact that your Bio or About will need some tweaks here and there so now and then testifies of your explorations of the world of art and bears witness to your growing skills.
Have no anxieties; to put yourself side by side with the Great Masters will not dwarf you into oblivion, but will put your ego into perspective. It will not be intimidating because you allude to inspiration, to being a self-proclaimed apprentice. Describing your identity in respectful relation to those who contributed to the history of art is -to me- a good method for writing a modest but impressive ‘About’ section.
We are all standing on the shoulders of giants. We owe them to be remembered. When we feel inspired by them, when we learn from them, we honour them by referring to their achievements.
P.S. It won’t do harm referring to female artists. So many have been marginalized or written out of history. Should you feel inspired by female artists, say so, ignore that their names are probably more obscure than Rembrandt, Vermeer or Picasso.
P.S. I received a question how my Instagram profile looks like. Squeezing ‘myself’ into a ridiculously small letter-count, I currently have: I aim to paint as beautifully as Dutch Golden age painters, especially as Rachel Ruysch, and I dream of drawing as skillfully as 17-century Dutch artists. I used beautifully to define my artistic aspirations (adding beauty to the world). I referred to Rachel Ruysch because she had many children and nevertheless painted till she was very old. And I used the verb ‘dream‘ to express my aspirations. This bio is truthful, will most likely undergo some changes in the future, but narrates of the driving forces behind my creativity. That said, I wish I could have squeezed in my love for Asian art too.
Paula Kuitenbrouwer combines a book title and a painting whilst musing about living, dying and battling. Art and literature make us evaluate the roles we take up in life. Art and literature offer us endless inspiration to ask questions in our lives that need to be asked.
You have seen him in fine art paintings, or in cartoons. He, Sisyphus, is as strong as Atlas who holds the globe on his shoulders. But Sisyphus is not carrying the globe on his shoulders but a huge boulder. He is a character in Homer’s Iliad, and it is said he was the reputed founder of the Isthmian Games, a festival of athletic and musical competitions in honour of the sea god Poseidon.
We are talking about an exceptionally strong man fit to complete a physical demanding chore. See, Sisyphus tricked death, he outsmarted death, and was therefore everlastingly punished by Hades, the Greek god of the Underworld (the Greek god of Death). Sisyphus is ordered to roll a great boulder uphill. Approaching the summit, the stone drops and rolls down. This happens over and over, repeat after repeat. A Sisyphean task therefore is characterized by that it is a demanding as well as a completely fruitless challenge.
What is your Sisyphean task? Read on….
Tiziano Vecellio (c 1488-1576) a.k.a. Titian was one of the most famous artists of the Venetian School. He is categorized in the art-movement known as the Late Renaissance or Mannerism. Mannerism would later be replaced by the Baroque. Titan shows Sisyphus in his youthful strength. His arms, legs, torso and back are muscular. Titan achieves a rich effect of light using deep contrasting colours. We, viewers, are encouraged to emotionally interact with this painting. We are invited to feel empathy for Sisyphus’s endurance, strength, and suffering. We are invited to feel what he feels and thus enrich ourselves with deep understanding what a Sisyphean task is.
What is Your Sisyphean Task?
Are you taking care of children during lockdown? Are you in quarantine with energetic, young children that need to burn off their wild energies in playgrounds but are not allowed outdoors and are having meltdowns at home? You are trying to stay calm but at the end of the day you feel drained and discouraged?
Do you have shielding friends who are in cancer treatment or remission and you are therefore not able to meet them face to face due to their vulnerability? You try to be a good friend but Covid restrictions make your efforts fruitless?
Are you taking care of an ill or elderly person and whilst their brain is undergoing alterations due to medication, illness or old age, you are -fruitlessly- trying to take away their confusion and anxieties? Are you fruitlessly trying to improve living conditions but you only see the quality of life becoming less and less?
When a Sisyphean task affects your life, it can make you feel hollowed out. When life throws a Sisyphean task to you, all you can do is to accept that life never comes without hardship. We are not Sisyphus, luckily, we are mortals and all suffering will end because, unlike Sisyphus, we haven’t tricked death. We may try to carry a boulder uphill for a year, ten years perhaps, but eventually we will stop, sit down, and do some deep thinking. That sets us, mortals, apart from the everlasting, suffering Sisyphus.
Test you Knowledge, Questions & Lesson Ideas
What is the difference between a Sisyphean and a Herculean task?
Is Sisyphus preforming a Herculean task?
Compare and contrast Sisyphus, Atlas and Herculean using pictures of statues and painted artworks.
Which beetle reminds you of Sisyphus? And why is this beetle not preforming a Sisyphean task but a Herculean task?
Explore the mythologies telling you why Sisyphus was punished to carry a boulder uphill for eternity, and why Atlas is condemned to hold up the heavens and sky for eternity. Explore the multifaceted character and adventures of Hercules.
As from now you will remember Sisyphus and Titian’s painting. And perhaps you will see that art is able to comfort us. One feels understood by artwork or musical pieces that resonate with our predicament. That alone is comforting: art inspires and heals us.
I designed new Sympathy Condolence note cards. They are double folded and professionally printed. The details are amazingly clear.
Camberwell Beauty Butterflies fluttering nearby an autumn tree that shows old leaves and new beginnings (seeds). Camberwell butterflies –Nymphalis antiopa, are also known as Mourning cloak butterflies.
There is inter-religious symbolism in this elegant but solemn note card. My butterfly composition shows seasonal change and the cycle of life, in a realistic way. The autumn leaves and seed pods strongly suggest that, a new life will start, again, somewhere, somehow. This happens to the butterfly, too. A butterflies lays eggs, the eggs become caterpillars and the caterpillar becomes a chrysalis. The chrysalis turns into a butterfly. Everything lives on, although in another form.
The composition alludes to transformation and rebirth, to earth and heaven. It shows hope, or functions as a mindful and artistic reminder of impermanence and transformation. It is also a multi-religious condolence message in three languages open to your personal symbolic or religious interpretation.
More to announce…….’Work in Progress’ & ‘William Morris home improvement’ ….read on!
WORK IN PROGRESS
Leaf by leaf I am making progress with this large graphite drawing. I have to weave several plants (Ivy, Honeysuckle and Hydrangea) and thus build a nest for this sweet blackbird couple. By spring, surely this large drawing will be ready. I am intended to keep the blackbirds hidden from predators by filling my large drawing sheet with all sorts of lush plants. There will be no open spaces which makes this drawing so laborious. Or maximalist, one could say, which brings me to more maximalist designs: designs by William Morris.
LAYING A TABLE
Being inspired by William Morris, I surprised my family and guests with a William Morris themed Christmas dinner table. Combining family gifts with home-improvement is a clever thing to do because you end up with a dazzling table that inspires your family and guests. Please, before you think this was expensive, it was not. William Morris products are very popular and there is always something is on sale. Just start months a birthday or festive holiday by collecting bits here and there. All William Morris designs fit wonderfully together and since his designs often are maximalists, there is nothing wrong overdoing your home improvement by combining various designs. In fact, putting various Morris’s designs together, results in rich and rather pleasant visual joy.
Stay well! Keep yourself in your best possible health and joyful mindset.
Obviously, I was in one of my Celtic, shapeshifting moods when I drew these mandarin ducks morphing into koi fish. The mandarin drake shapeshift into a blue Asagi koi carp and the duck keeps her camouflage colours by shapeshifting into a regular orange koi. I used a graphite under-layer and various colours of ink to make the ducks and fish stand out: gold, black, blue, silver, and glittery grey.
What I like about Celtic art is its deliberately illusion. One is guided into a realm where one might see faces or animals but the next thing is doubting yourself. Did I see a duck or a fish? A deer or an owl? Perhaps both? It is a world of shapeshifting faces and animals inviting stories and poems, bearing testimonies to ancestral knowledge.
In an oral culture there is a need for imagery that has double, perhaps triple the amount of illustrations than prima facie noticeable. This makes Celtic art often clever art. It is practical art but it is also mysterious, enchanting, and engaging. But most of all, it is cunning and imaginative, a testimony of a time of great artists and craftsmen that were extraordinarily mathematically, psychologically, and mythological skillful.
Shapeshift with me and notice the mandarin ducks and koi carps in their fluid realm. I have blended the koi carp and mandarin ducks, but in order to qualify for ‘Celtic’ art, I should push this concept to a higher geometrical and abstract level and add more illusions along the way. Till the moment the viewer sees and not-sees ducks, fishes, or faces, and questions his/her own perception. Then and there a Celtic shaman would step in to guide you to new levels of observing and understanding, aiming for healing, passing on knowledge, and bonding between tribal members. Like a nowadays art teacher or museum guides does. Isn’t viewing art not always an enriching experience?
How do the seemingly unrelated quotes above interconnect? They conjure up memories of my annus horriblis (Latin phrase, meaning “horrible year”). Misery sometimes comes down like torrential rain. However, I can now look back and see how literature and art brought me valuable insights.
Acceptance is a powerful emotion. Acceptance causes less suffering than trying to change the unchangeable. But how does one reach this stage? That question -of course- requires a highly personal response. Some take to sporting, others to long nature walks. But art has been my method. This year, I worked harder than ever, and, luckily, inspiration kept coming and coming. I felt so blessed to be at my desk with its workstation and Arches sketchbook. No matter what happened, I always returned to my drawing pad. I would pour a cup of tea and work on various projects. The more hours I worked, the easier my deep focus would became and blissful moments would follow in which I forgot about all and sundry. Only my art would exist; more exactly, only art-making would exist (and my loving and supportive husband and wonderful daughter, of course). The world around me and myself would simply disappear. These moments of non-existing were nourishing and healing, offering me a transformation from sadness to acceptance.
Recently, I read Wintering by Katherine May. May defines winter not only as a season, but also as the process of going through an emotional winter. Author May resorts to walking. She pulls herself through a yearlong suffering by long distance walking, and unsurprisingly, she guides herself to a better (mental) place. Even though I have always liked Aristotle’s peripatētikos (‘philosophizing is best done whilst walking’) as to prevent stagnation of emotions and thoughts, for me art-making has been more crucial than my daily walks. For me, it has always been art-making, drawing and painting, that has pulled me through any hardship home or abroad, and through any winter, be it a seasonal winter, or a year full of farewells. One better accepts farewells; there is no use in fighting. Because winter, seasonally and emotionally, is a part of life, one can better sooner than later wrap one’s head around it.
Wintering, May describes, is also about preparing, stocking up stuff, or finding coping methods that help one endure the cold. And so, I did, and whilst I found great pleasure in stocking up crafts-tools, sketchbooks, graphite pencils, I came to experience my annus horriblis as a coming to terms with (a sudden and accelerated) ageing of beloved ones, ‘friends’ turning into foes, and family members falling ill to cancer.
I rigorously de-cluttered my house of memories, of stuff that till recently were reminders of pleasant ties, but now seemed to trigger vexatious feelings or sad memories of estranged ones. Letting go of all of that didn’t hold up eventually became a rewarding and deliberating exercise. And not only that, I have friends describing beneficial effects of the Corona pandemic and its various lock-downs as an exploration of what actually and really matters and of letting go of unnecessary frills of life. Apparently, vintage shops are more stocked than ever and employees have walked away from underpaid jobs in the thousands, giving new directions to their lives.
The Pandemic’s Battle for Life
The year 2021, the corona pandemic, obviously has been a battle for life. Literally, metaphorically, and personally. Worldwide, there has been a collective fight to prevent mortality numbers from accelerating. On an individual level, people battled with corona, with stress, with people falling ill or ageing beyond recognition, with their bosses, with siblings, or their landlords, and so on. In these fights, much was lost but those who took lock-downs as spiritual retreats reported gaining much wisdom. And isn’t a pandemic a ‘winter’, with being advised to stay indoors, scaling down social contacts, hibernating and living a postponed life?
I highly recommend literature and art at such wintry times. Literature offers a whole spectrum of pleasant effects from enchanting escapism to tapping into sources of wisdom. Art offers nourishment for the soul and healing from the pain that life sometimes throws at us.
Is my ‘winter’ over? Am I enjoying the merry months of May? Winter is about hibernating, withdrawing, decaying, dying. It is part of life. Is it possible to feel spring whilst there still are subzero temperatures? Yes. One can arrive at spring amidst a cold winter. For me, making art has been instrumental for working through a challenging time. I highly recommend seeking refuge in the realms of literature and arts where you will find much wisdom and inspiration.
Commission artist living in the Netherlands (see contact form below).
CHARLOTTE MASON, EEN TIJDLOZE ONDERWIJSHERVORMSTER
Wat Florence Nightingale was voor de gezondheidszorg, was Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) voor het onderwijs: een zorgzame hervormster. Wie was Mason en waarom is haar visie zo tijdloos? 
Charlotte Maria Saw Mason wordt op 1 Januari 1842 geboren te Bangor (Noord Wales). Ze is enig kind. Wanneer Charlotte 16 is, sterft haar moeder en een jaar later haar vader. Charlotte wordt naar een docentenopleiding gestuurd en behaalt haar onderwijs-certificaat. In de jaren die volgen, ontwikkelt Charlotte haar ideeën. Mason verhuist naar Chichester alwaar ze de samenhang begint te zien tussen opvoeding en onderwijs. Ouders moeten meer betrokken worden bij het onderwijs. Mason geeft daarover lezingen die later gepubliceerd worden onder de naam ‘home-education’ (thuisonderwijs). Opvoeding en onderwijs hangen samen, stelt ze. In 1891 verhuist ze naar Ambleside alwaar ze gouvernantes opleidt. Ze wordt 81 jaar oud. Na haar dood wordt haar opleidingscentrum te Ambleside het Charlotte Mason College. Dit college bestaat niet meer. Maar Masons onderwijsvisie geniet hernieuwde belangstelling. Met name in Europa en de V.S. Wat is zo bijzonder aan Masons visie? Wat kan een Victoriaanse ongehuwde en kinderloze vrouw ons te vertellen hebben over opvoeding en onderwijs?
ONDERWIJS IS OMGEVING EN DISCIPLINE
Mason hanteert een brede definitie van onderwijs. Onderwijs, zegt ze, is een omgeving, een discipline en een leven (‘Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life’). Onderwijs is een omgeving. Wat bedoelt Mason daarmee? Een kind groeit op in een omgeving en in deze omgeving vindt het leren plaats. Onderwijs is dus niet synoniem aan school. Leerlingen leren binnen een gezin, buiten een gezin, in een dorp, een stad, op de boerderij, binnen de muren van een school, een museum, een sporthal en vooral in de natuur. Jongeren doen overal kennis op, leren overal regels en gedrag. Leren is daarom een omgeving. Deze leerzame omgeving definieert Mason beduidend omvangrijker dan de beperkte ruimte van een klaslokaal.
‘Onderwijs is a discipline.’, meent Mason. Met discipline bedoelt Mason een juiste opvoeding door aangeleerde goede gewoonten en goed gedrag. Mason stelt dat hoe meer je goede gewoonten aanleert, hoe beter het leven zal gaan. Zo word je gewaardeerd als je ‘dank je’ en ‘pardon’ zegt. Ouders mogen slecht gedrag niet door de vingers zien. Hoe jonger het kind is, hoe makkelijker het nog te beïnvloeden is. Een jong kind reageert nog op een afkeurende blik, een ouder kind heeft correctie nodig. Kun je niets kindvriendelijk zien in Masons Victoriaans accent op goed gedrag, dan ben je bij haar niet aan het juiste adres. Echter, heb je geen respect voor een kind, dan zal Mason je eveneens niet aanspreken. Mason stelt namelijk dat een kind niet gemanipuleerd mag worden met angst, liefde, straf of complimenten. In een tijd waarin kinderen gezien maar niet gehoord mogen worden, is Masons nadruk op respect voor een kind opmerkelijk.
Mason bepleit samenwerking tussen de docent en de ouder bij het aanleren van goede gewoonten. Ouders en docenten kunnen hierover controle pas laten varen wanneer een leerling in ruime en betrouwbare mate over goed gedrag beschikt. Masons onderwijsvisie past in deze tijd waarin men roept om goed gedrag. Denk alleen al aan onveilige scholen waarin een kleine groep vechters de leeromgeving van goedwillende leerlingen verpesten. Mason schenkt in perioden van 4 tot 6 weken aandacht aan het verwerven van goede gewoonten zoals netheid en beleefdheid. Mason weet een juiste balans te vinden tussen een ruime mate van vrijheid in de vroege jeugd en een juiste mate van autoritaire invloed van docenten en ouders. Vrijheid, formuleert Mason, is het resultaat van goede begeleiding, niet het gevolg van een ongecorrigeerde natuur.
LEVENDE OF BEZIELDE BOEKEN
Hoe kreeg Masons visie handen en voeten? Eén van de opvallendste en bekendste aspecten van haar onderwijs betreft haar voorliefde voor ‘levende boeken’ (living books). Mason houdt van betekenisvolle boeken, niet van saaie, feit-georiënteerde werkboeken waaraan leerlingen lees- noch leerplezier beleven. Wat kenmerkt een levend boek? Een levend boek is geschreven door een bezielde auteur. Deze hanteert een verhalende of sprekende schrijfstijl die getuigt van passie voor het onderwerp. Levende boeken voeden leerlingen met verhalen, ideeën en nobele gedachten, meent Mason. Een levend boek genereert leergierigheid, zelfs voor onderwerpen waarvoor de leerling op voorhand geen interesse opbrengt. Waarom gebeurt dat? Omdat het boek de leerling respecteert. Het boek zendt niet de verborgen boodschap uit: ‘Jij bent dom en ik zal je wel even leren’. Het boek daagt uit, prikkelt het denken, stelt de leerling vragen en weet vragen in de leerling op te roepen. Het is aan de ouders, docenten en leerlingen om te zoeken naar levende boeken. En dat is door de opkomst van de markt voor jeugdboeken geen ondoenlijke opgave. Integendeel. Wat is leuker dan een groep een Top 10 ‘Living Books’ te laten bijhouden? Mason schenkt vervolgens aandacht aan het navertellen van teksten, essays of boeken. De leerling wordt door de narratieve inspanning gestimuleerd de verhaallijn te ontdekken, nieuwe woorden te gebruiken en zijn geheugen te trainen. Een Mason-leerling zal niet snel verzuchten ‘Nou ja, dat vind ik nou eenmaal….’
Charlotte schenkt uiteraard ook aandacht aan vaardigheden zoals spelling, grammatica en schrijven door het dictee. Een leerling krijgt een tekst (of aantal zinnen) te bestuderen waarna deze zin voor zin gedicteerd wordt. Aan de hand van deze teksten worden de woorden, grammatica, spellingsfouten en zinsopbouw besproken. Zo blijft spelling contextueel en wordt direct aandacht geschonken aan handschrift-training. Maar daar blijft het niet bij. Op zo’n moment is het interessanter ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’ of het ‘Cogito ergo sum’ te kopiëren en te bespreken dan ‘De theepot staat op de tafel’. Mason integreert zo geschiedenis, aardrijkskunde en literatuur.
Kunst, muziek en dichtkunst zijn ook een belangrijk onderdeel van het Mason-curriculum. Kunst wordt gegeven door leerlingen enkele meesterwerken te laten bestuderen. Van de vijf middagen op school wordt er één steevast buiten doorgebracht voor natuurstudie, natuurschetsen en om op deze directe wijze de studie van wetenschappen te introduceren. Mason plaatst de leerling graag en veel in de natuur. De natuur, zegt ze, is één grote onderwijzer. Mason laat leerlingen een Nature-Notebook maken. En dat niet alleen. Oudere leerlingen maken hun eigen dagboek waarin zij hun interesses uitwerken. Masons leerlingen krijgen aan het einde van de week tijd om in hun dagboek te schrijven. Zo ontwikkelen zij creatief schrijven. ‘Never a dull moment’ zou je kunnen zeggen. Althans, mentale overconcentratie wordt vermeden of afgewisseld met sport en spel.
Mason stichtte een meisjesschool en bepleit onderwijs voor iedereen, jongens én meisjes. Dat was progressief in haar tijd. Mason wilde de totale leerling zo evenwichtig mogelijk onderwijzen. Het aspect ‘leven’ (‘Education is a life’) verdient dan ook nog enige toelichting. Mason bedoelde niet dat onderwijs leven is in de zin dat een leerling vanzelf leert. Al leert een leerling elke dag door intrinsieke motivatie, Mason legde veel verantwoording bij ouders en docenten. Leerlingen leren door hen gedachten aan te reiken en hen met ideeën te voeden. Stel de juiste vragen die de jonge hersenen prikkelen. Vertel aan hen interessante verhalen waardoor de nieuwsgierigheid en de leergierigheid aangewakkerd wordt. Leerlingen bestoken met droge feiten is onvoldoende. Zoals je een kind moet voeden met voeding, zo moeten ouders en docenten hun leerlingen ook cognitief voeden. Leven en leren zijn met elkaar verbonden, aldus Mason. En dit wordt wel eens vergeten in Nederland alwaar de schoolplicht de indruk geeft dat scholen voor al het onderwijs verantwoordelijk zijn. Ouders vragen steeds meer van scholen: naschoolse opvang, seksuele voorlichting, lessen over goed burgerschap, maar is dat opvoeding of onderwijs? Masons pleit voor een actieve rol van de ouder in het onderwijs en een actieve rol van de school in de opvoeding van de leerling. Samenwerking, daar gaat het volgens Mason om.
Mason schreef veel boeken, leefde een tijd van de opbrengst van vijf door haar geschreven geografie-boeken en gaf veel lezingen. Ook stichtte ze de Onderwijs Society Parents National Education Union (PNEU) en was redacteur van het maandelijkse tijdschrift ‘Parent’s Review’. Ze gaf les aan ouders en stichtte behalve een meisjesschool ook diverse basisscholen. Dit zijn opvallende ambities voor een vrouw uit haar tijd. Maar waarom kent haast niemand Charlotte Mason terwijl we wel Montessori kennen? Deze vraag doet er gelukkig niet meer toe, immers Masons onderwijsvisie geniet hernieuwde belangstelling. Docenten en ouders die teleurgesteld zijn in het huidige onderwijs herontdekken Charlotte Mason. Haar onderwijsvisie is buitengewoon kindvriendelijk. Elke docent en ouder ziet met eigen ogen dat levende (onderwijs)boeken het leerproces versnellen. Ook onderschrijven docenten het belang van natuurstudies en benadrukken zij hoe belangrijk goed gedrag is. Masons onderwijsvisie is een toegepaste visie die aan elke school, gezin of leerling aangepast kan worden. En dus ook aan deze tijd. Hoeveel ‘Mason’ je in de praktijk brengt, zal van school tot school, van land tot land en gezin tot gezin verschillen. Onderwijs is een middel tot een bepaald doel en dat doel is voor Mason niet een geslaagde cito-test maar een gelukkige, evenwichtige leerling met goede gewoonten en een gezonde en blijvende leergierigheid.
Dankzij Mason’s inspiratie om op zoek te gaan naar levende (of levendige) boeken heeft de schrijftster van dit stuk, Paula Kuitenbrouwer, nog steeds prachtige educatieve kunstboeken op haar plank die wachten op de volgende generatie. De boeken zijn simpelweg te fantastisch om weg te doen. Ook gaf Paula tien jaren thuisonderwijs. Haar dochter is inmiddels student aan een Nederlandse universiteit.
 Met dank aan Henny van Dongen en Pascale Hoek voor hun adviezen. The Original Home Schooling Series by Charlotte Mason. Dit zijn zes boeken. Voor de basisschool begint men met deel I. Voor leerlingen vanaf 9 jaar begint men met deel 3. Voorgezet onderwijs begint met deel 6. Zie amblesideonline.org voor meer over Charlotte Mason.
I received a few interesting comments and questions after posting ‘Donating, Renewing, Inspiration’. As a result, here is Donating Renewing Inspiration Part II.
There were two similar questions relating to giving away artwork that sits in an online shop or portfolio for too long. I can relate. There will always be artwork that doesn’t sell easily. Why is this the case? Without drawing any parallel between Rembrandt and me, why was the commissioned masterpiece The Night Watch turned down and stored behind a wall? Quality is not always the reason. More likely motivations to buy or reject art are price, style, fashion, or it could be that an artwork is too complex (for an online shop). For me, especially, this counts for my large graphite drawings. They have an unmistakable artistic quality and are technically above average, but monochromatic drawings are notoriously difficult to photograph and therefore selling is not easy. What to do? As always, when we are short of ideas, we should turn to literature for inspiration
The writer Chaim Potok in his ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’ offers a good idea. He describes a scene in which his main character, the artist Asher Lev, feels responsible for a poor widow with children. As Asher Lev himself is a young artist and not wealthy at all, Potok has Lev donating a painting every (so many) months to the widow. The first painting is accompanied with a letter by Lev in which the artist explains that perhaps one day his artworks will be sought after by art collectors and then the widow should sell off her Lev collection.
Another comment came from somebody who promotes giving intangible gifts. The lady follows Marie Kondo’s advice and desires a minimalist home. Gifts, she experienced, seldomly match her home and despite her appreciation for the act of giving, she often perceives gifts as unwanted items. We can all relate to a lesser or greater extent. Gifts like walking somebodies’ dog, or reading aloud to somebody, or babysitting, a handwritten poem are often very valuable gifts.
For a long time the Financial Times had a column in which a famous and wealthy person would be asked about his or her relation to donating. The first question would always be ‘Should we, to your opinion, donate money or time to charity’. Donating time is as much a valuable gift as money.
A FLOW OF THINGS
As to what is ‘a flow of things’. My household has seen many, many occasions of donating and renewing. Having gone through so many international moves, I’ve developed a rather detached attitude to (most) objects. After the first moves (and first decluttering and donating sessions), I woke up at night, sweating from anxiety, panicking; ‘What have I done!’ But as with so much in life, one gets used to letting go. I grew confident over the years knowing that objects are not the memories of those objects; you can donate an object whilst keeping your memories.
There is a flow of things from one household to another. It brings a smile to my face knowing the pink slide that was used by me and my siblings as children, and later by my young daughter, I donated to a Kindergarten for chronically ill children. Objects should be used and enjoyed; they make fond memories.
As for things that hold bad memories… goodness…you should not have these in your homes. Your home should not only have things that have your love, you find beautiful or useful, but also radiate happy memories. Home is the one place that allows you to relax, to feel right at all times. Cleaning means not only dusting things off, it also means tidying up, making changes to something in order to make it better.
At primary school ‘Crafts Class’ was organized as an after-school activity and these ‘lessons’ were -at this level- more about doing crafts than learning about fine arts. Hammering, sawing, making ceramic pots or tiles, doing wood work, I still remember the sense of freedom whilst working on various projects. The name of the creative teacher organizing these after school courses I might probably remember the rest of my life and that is telling.
Classroom queens lined up for my help at middle school. That made me very nervous but I did my best and hoped that by helping them out with drawing a penguin or a dove, they would treat me kinder, which, of course, was not the case. There is an order to all things, especially regarding classroom popularity.
My fellow high school students were a rare mix. There were drugs and alcohol using flower-power like students as well as conservative students who were dressed too stiffly for school. The whole social and political spectrum was represented creating a special tension and tolerance. Our teacher taught us art-history as well as drawing and painting. She did this with infectious enthusiasm. She taught various art movements by studying various artworks. Whilst the darkness in the classroom made us all sleepy, our eyes were solidly glued to the wall on which large artworks were projected.
It was our teacher’s unwavering love for the arts that made us feel ignited. The visual stimulation and learning to identify art stopped about halfway through the lesson; during the remaining time our teacher challenged us to make art. It was not about being good at drawing technically, but about being refreshingly creative or extraordinarily artistic. I can say hand on heart that the art-classes of my high school teacher worked their educative magic for decades to come.
I benefited from all art classes and I am deeply grateful to my art teachers I had, in and outside the walls of my schools.
What do you do when you face another international move and you are only allowed to bring a maximum of x square meters of personal belongings? You donate; you donate like mad. In South-Korea, I donated baby and toddler furniture to a local orphanage. In East-Europe, I donated to local friends. In Belgium, I drove a few times to a charity shop and in Ireland I posted furniture and stuff on Facebook (all was collected in no time). At home, I have a circle of friends and the Dutch vintage shop Kringloop for donating stuff and furniture. Shedding skin is never a sad thing; it is a good thing to donate. It de-clutters, it forces you to move one, and as a result you do not live in the past.
But what about my art? Luckily my older drawings do not take up much space. I store them in a portfolio and 4-5 portfolio maps may be heavy but square-meter wise are neglectable. Still, it is a good thing to go through your portfolio and say bye-bye to drawings and paintings that haven’t sold and therefore one could depart from. Nothing is holy or beyond scrutinizing its beauty, usefulness or what feelings objects provoke.
What Helps You To Select?
I have read books on this and I like to offer three perspectives. The first one is by the famous Marie Kondo. She offers you a selection criterion stating you must love an item in order to keep it. I discussed this with a friend and we both think that is too simplistic, after all you can love trash, you could love useless stuff, or you are attached to an object because you feel obliged to pass it on to the next generation.
Then there is Eva Jarlsdotter’s decluttering’s working thesis encouraging you to do research into what items (furniture, clothing, a huge basket full laundry) costs as in taking up space, working on your emotions (for instance irritation), or as costing you time (to clean, to move around). I did this for our laundry cycle and drew interesting conclusions which lead to changing habits.
Last, there is William Morris, the much admired and famous British multi-talented artist who simply states that:
Perhaps all three combined offer the best evaluation, Jarlsdotter’s economic thesis, Kondo’s minimalist strategy, and Morris’ passionate direction. We need to surround ourselves with only beauty and useful things because it makes living so much more pleasurable.
As an ode to William Morris’ passionate and inspiring call for more beauty, about a year ago I chose his elegant Snakehead wallpaper and renewed our bedding. Shedding skin does not have to be a bad thing. The effect can be very uplifting. And, despite these beautiful photos, it does not have to be expensive. Our local vintage shops are full of lovely and affordable items. They say that one person’s trash is another persons’ treasure. But let me say; one person’s treasure can be another persons’ treasure. Donating is important; gifting is important. It causes a flow of things, it prevents stagnation, and it offers you a renewed feeling.
The most important thing, next to William Morris’ advice, is that you need to surround yourself not only with beautiful and useful things but also with things that hold good memories or radiate inspiration. To me, personally, this rings truth because art inspires art.
In ‘William Morris in 50 Objects‘, I read more on Morris’s quest for surrounding yourself with beautiful things. I quote from No. 24 Morris explaining the importance of the decorative arts. He regarded ‘beauty’ as a basic human need that could only be satisfied by the best possible art. By ‘art’ he meant not just paintings or sculpture, but the home furnishings that surrounds us in our everyday life.
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.
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.