Let’s focus on some recent colourful artwork, and afterwards discuss some graphite artwork.
Who does not feel enchanted by koi carps? The way that they gracefully slide through their watery world makes us believe that they represent our thoughts and feelings. These large, but ever so elegant, soft-finned koi carps swim in freshwater; they appear and disappear, come and go from all directions, like our thoughts during meditation. The more the koi carps feel relaxed whilst being watched by you, so our thoughts slow down during meditation as we do not engage with our thoughts, but observe them manifesting and disappearing. Koi carps stand for prosperity and success. Their hardy nature has also led to koi being associated with longevity.
Graphite Artwork in Progress
I have been working on large graphite drawings. Whilst the world around me bursts into colour (it is spring here), I find myself turning to graphite artwork more and more. Somehow Dutch 17th century artists, working with graphite, ink and chalk, have me under their spell. I can not get enough of their soulful art. The funny thing is, I love colours! If the world would fade before my eyes and represent itself as monochromatic, I would cry my heart out. Yet, when I study graphite artworks by 17-18th century landscape artists, one has to admire their beautiful artwork. We see a drawing more clearly when the it is reduced to its essential lines, textures, light and shadows. Like a philosophical essay: one selects a subject (like a scene or scenery in drawing), adds perspective (like an architectural artist), focuses on an essential aspect or subject (as an artist does), and makes it clear what part of our complex world should receive our moral (in art, our aesthetic) attention.
I am also working on an In Memoriam drawing for my late brother. I like to share a few observations. First, this is a self-assigned task which I haven’t done before. I had to let the first weeks of grief pass because I needed a calm mind to assemble a composition that celebrates my brother’s life. As soon as I had worked out a composition, I noticed that I had postponed working on it. To my surprise, I found myself somewhat deliberately delaying working on this large drawing that will eventually become a prayer-card, a remembrance note card, and an Ex Libris. Why, I asked myself? I am a far stretch from a procrastinator; procrastinating is just not me. Then I knew. I do not want this drawing to be finished, at least not any time soon. I want to stay with the drawing, as if sharing -in mind and in spirit- moments with my late brother.
I know myself well enough; this drawing shall get finished as I will offer it to those who want to have a remembrance card or Ex Libris with my brother’s name on it because this is not about me, but about remembering my kindhearted brother. Yet, I now understand more profoundly why artists add ‘unfinished’ symbols to their artwork: an open book, a broken off branch of a tree, or an open door, to name a few. As long as I am transforming my grief into artwork, I feel much better, and delaying only shows that one needs time. This is not the kind of art-making that should be hurried. *Note later added: the In Memoriam- Remembrance drawing can be viewed here.
More updates shall follow soon. For now, may peace prevail on Earth, may my fellow artist friends feel a steady flow of inspiration, and wishing all others the very best.
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.
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.
Follow the progress that I make drawing three lovely houses located at the Nieuwe Gracht, Utrecht. This large drawing demands much patience because these three pearls are full details. I will update this blogpost regularly. For videos on this project, visit my Instagram account @mindfuldrawing. Contact me for questions and commissions.
‘Who were the Celts?’ a wonderful course at at Oxford Department for Continuing Education gave me so much inspiration. I enjoyed it from the first till the last day and regretted it came to an end. One of the essays I had to read was an essay on Iron Age mirrors. ‘Mirrors in the British Iron Age: Performance, Revelation and Power, by Melanie Giles and Jody Joy.
Iron Age 50 BC – AD 50 Found in 1908 near Desborough
After reading about Iron Age mirrors, I set out to draw the Iron Age Desborough mirror. Through drawing I would gain more insights into its decorations and its function. Iron Age mirrors that were beautifully decorated and made of bronze and iron were found in graves of high status Iron Age women.
I like to say something about high status Iron Age women. One might think ‘high status’ refers to rich women or wives of rulers or kings. But although both accounts can be correct, high status refers in the Iron Age more to women being leaders or shamans.
Working on the patterns of Desborough Iron Ago Mirror
Detail of Desborough Iron Age Mirror
The essay discusses how Iron Age metallurgy and how a whole community was involved in the making process. Also, it discusses social relations, grave goods, and the compass drawn motifs of repeated and distinctive forms arranged into intricate and flee flowing designs. Fascinating, to say in the least. The question begs why were mirrors used as grave goods? The easiest answer does not always work, one being that the Iron Age lady was buried with her belongings. Perhaps the mirrors were not possessions but (diplomatic) gifts. And why would a deceased lady take a mirror, she wouldn’t need it in her afterlife, or would she?
Imagine looking into this mirror. The effect of seeing your face in the reflective properties of the plate, disrupted or enhanced by its La Tene decorations would …yes, what would you see?
Giles and Joy describe how the decorations on the mirrors are not only used to deceive the eye, but also to reinforce the reflective qualities of the mirror plate. The anthropologist Alfred Gell points out that Iron Age mirrors could have expressed political power and legitimize associations with the supernatural. This is hard for us to understand but in order to understand what Gell states requires us to imagine a time in which you only saw your reflection in (restless or calm) water, in shiny objects, like copper, bronze, silver or gold. How special such mirrors would be! Imagine now that next to not frequently seeing your reflection, you were raised to notice all sorts of shapes in water, smoke, old trees, and rocks. We have a clear sense of what we see is real and what is imagination, but for ancient people perhaps seeing was just seeing, whether it was imagination or fact. If the under-upper and middle world aren’t having hard borders, perhaps seeing imaginative, hallucinative and factual weren’t compartmentalized either.
When I suffer a migraine aura, I see things that do not exist and things that I need to see are gone. I can pass a person in a street who is missing his head! Perhaps looking into an Iron Age mirror yields a similar effect as having a migraine aura because Iron Age mirrors have blanked out spaces and thus provide viewers with a disorienting and distorted image of themselves. Yet, an Iron Age mirror has not only missing parts (blanked out spaces, decorated with a basket woven texture) but carefully chosen synchronized but flow-like playful, witty, and mischievous botanical and animal patterns. What effect would looking into a shiny plate, with a deliberate disorienting pattern have? Here the essay explains more about the ‘technology of enchantment‘ and goes deeper into psychological war-fare though powerful visceral and visual effects. It informs the reader about the Fang People of Gabon who used hallucinogens before looking into mirrors, and states that these Iron Age mirrors were not real mirrors (not for checking hair or make-up). In fact, the mirrors played a role in rituals to release the soul to its afterlife.
During the time that I spent drawing this Iron age mirror, I tried many things. I tried to project my face behind the decorations, fusing my face and the decorations and then see all sorts of animals. Of course, this is a very poor attempt to understand its magic. But I have to do it with a large doses of imagination and hours of drawing as there is no way I would be able to hold the mirror up and have a look in it. And even if I could do that, there wouldn’t be a ritual that would be helpfully performed by an Iron Age shaman who would be experienced in travelling between worlds. (Or brainwaves, or different stages of consciousness, whatever way you might define shamanistic journeying).
My concluding thoughts are that by looking into this mirror, in an Iron Age ritual ceremony, with an Iron Age cognitive mindset, maybe, as a dying lady of high status, I would find great comfort in seeing my old face being obscured with these splendid swirling decorations. I would be calm as I have seen, thanks to my migraines, things that aren’t there and fail to notice things that are there. I would probably enter theta brainwaves the same way as after sitting down for a longer time in meditation or -more Iron Age style- looking into the smoky swirls of an open campfire. I might start seeing my face, combined with the swirly flowing embellishments turning into animal and ancestral spirits.
One has to understand that the Iron Age was full of spirits, spirits we have carefully abandoned from our modern life. But just as they have been forgotten, it doesn’t mean these spirits aren’t there. I would most certainly find an ancestral spirit that would ‘present’ itself as so much of my own face would be blanked out, and only essential and familiar facial lines would still linger in the reflective image. Or perhaps, I would see a beautiful stag or another mammal, and experience it as my guiding spirit animal. Perhaps I would see the hybrid human-animal dressed-up shaman of the village giving me instructions to journey to the Other-world.
All in all, it would perhaps release my soul into an in-between world in which I would be able to project comfortably to what I would need to see. I would probably have been fasting during the last days of my life, I would be susceptible for my imaginative mind to dominate and thus the softly and dreamily reflecting mirror would get a transitional quality and function. Or perhaps I would look and whisper some wise words, like Tibetan shamans who look into mirrors to see the future and the past, wise words that would be helpful to my tribe. The Fang people of Gabon use mirrors to contact their ancestors. Do Iron Age mirrors have a similar function?
Obviously, many things become possible should such a highly valued mirror be available to a tribe. There are many more than this Desborough mirror only. One by one these mirrors and their fascinating embellishments are showing us that Iron Age metallurgy and shamanism practices were interrelated and that highly decorated ‘magic’ Iron Age mirrors were much appreciated by Iron Age peoples.
P.S. During the hours that I was drawing the Desborough mirror, I travelled between worlds too. I had to descend from my creative, spiritual plane of manifesting ideas to the mundane world of running errands. As the trees were shedding their leaves, I noticed many decomposed leaves with open parts resembling mini Iron Age mirrors scattered on the street. If you can not enjoy looking into the Desborough Iron Age mirror at the British Museum, do not despair, mini versions are freely available every autumn.
Art cards are available at Etsy (and can be framed as small memories to this exquisite mirror):
Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.
Paula’s art shop is at Etsy and her portfolio is at Instagram. Contact her freely should you like to commission her or buy her art.
My ‘Gate to Heaven’, a lovely gate is located not too far away from my home, at Bruntenhof, Museumkwartier in Utrecht.
In real, there is no flower vase, just pavement in front of this gate. I received some feedback, stating: ‘There is a great difference between a photo of this gate and your drawing. A photo shows beautiful stonework but you have drawn something dreamy and poetic. The gate has become a portal to another world. You can walk through it and find yourself in a Medieval landscape with knights and dryads‘. I think the feedback itself is rather poetical, don’t you think? Such sensitive feedback stimulates me to make even more progress.
This gate can be found at Bruntenhof, Museumkwartier in Utrecht, in the centre of the Netherlands. It dates back to 1620. But it could be any gate, a dream gate, a portal to heaven, to another world. Gates are symbolic and often stand for a transformation or travelling between worlds. Gardens are set apart from manor houses by a gate. People drive through gates to enter an estate. Gates impress, transform, and show style; Roman, Art Nouveau, Classical, Medieval or gates are used for defence purposes. Drawings of gates can mean so much and are open to your interpretation.
Commissions are welcome for drawing a favourite place be it a gate home, residence, manor house, hotel, garden, holiday-home, estate, or apartment. Contact me for discussing your preferences.