Over the last month, I have designed and worked on a new Mandarin Duck composition. A mandarin duck couple happily swims in their duck pond that is surrounded by five chrysanthemums. The duck pond has a pentagonal ‘Sakura’ shape, sakura referring to Asian cherry blossom. I combined the sakura, chrysanthemums, and mandarin ducks and was delighted and surprised by how harmonious the combination turned out.
At my Etsy art shop, I have several of these compositions available, mounted and not-mounted with a passe-partout, with full colour mandarin ducks or with albino or leucistic ducks. I am going to experiment with another Japanese flower shape: the Yukiwa flower, an equally harmonious shape that will elegantly ‘frame’ the mandarin ducks.
Should you like to commission a larger mandarin duck composition or you like to order a wedding set, feel free to contact me.
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.
Let me introduce The Sorcerer discovered in 1960 in Ariège, France. He has been regarded as a mythical figure, a shaman, leading a ritual dance. The fact that he directly looks at us as if he is interrupted, is remarkable. Why is he doing that? My method of getting to know him better is through drawing him and paying attention to what I observe during the process of drawing. This I combine with research. I will never be able to see the Sorcerer, thus I fully depend on reference photos and interpretations by the man who set out to show the world all cave painting by sketching, Henri Breuil.
By looking at these two images, a controversy becomes immediately manifest; is Henri Breuil’s drawing a reliable copy or is it his interpretation? This has been hotly debated but I won’t go into this. I trust Jean Clottes who has asserts Breuil’s drawing after having seen the original perhaps over 20 times over many years.
Breuil’s drawing is however problematic, even if it is a truthful copy of the original rock art drawing. I start to draw the Sorcerer, scaling it up in size, working on his head. It is said that the sorcerer isn’t a shaman, it isn’t a human; it is a composite figure bringing together many drawings of Ariège cave. Here we see, the antlers of a stag, the ears of a wolf, the face of a deer, the eyes of an owl, the beard of a bison, the claws of a bear, the pose and the tail of a rearing horse, and the (hind) legs and genitalia of a man.
Drawing Sorcerer’s deer face, I run into trouble with the position of his eyes and ears. The position of the neck in relation to the head and ears is flawed. Equally flawed is the neck of the body in relation to the en-profile position of the face. A face that looks at us over one shoulder would show only one ear, the other would be obscured, visually missing, which is not the case with the Sorcerer. The antlers seem to be incorrectly positioned as well; in case a (horse or human) body is rearing to the front and the head is turned, looking to the viewer full face, then the front antler would seem bigger and the antler more positioned to the back would look a tiny bit smaller, as is not the case with Breuil’s drawing. In fact, the back antler looks bigger! This leads to the conclusion that the head is distorted. Either the painter had this in mind or as cave art is palimpsest art, meaning that painting are re-used, altered and traces of early paintings are often visible in later versions, the compositional flaws could be caused by more than one artists working at this piece of rock art over a long period of time.
The second feeling of unease that I experience whilst drawing the Sorcerer is related to the difference in style and skill regarding the head and the body. The body of the Sorcerer is very well done, technically and anatomically. We see a well proportioned horse body with a waving tail and strong human legs. But what about the head? The bison beard has no movement; the antlers seems to be done by somebody lacking drawing skills. Thus I wonder how this composite head would look like (drawn by me in this case, but I invite you to do the same). Whilst drawing all the animal attributes, I observe that this composite figure has portrayed very well chosen and formidable animal qualities. Is this portrait then an obituary to a beloved and charismatic shaman? ‘He had formidable eyesight like the eyes of an owl’. It is almost as if we hear somebody remembering him during his funeral. ‘He wore antlers of a stag and could hear with the ears of a wolf’. ‘He had such a kind face, like that of a deer’. ‘He had a well groomed beard as one of a bison’. ‘He could run like a horse, but despite his superior qualities, he was just a man’ (hence the human genitalia).
The Sorcerer shape-shifts in many animals, most of them mammals. With the superior eyes of an owl, he perhaps isn’t looking at us, but trying to find his way back, through the dark, to his human body and to his community who has gathered deep inside Ariège cave. A community that thought highly of him and went through huge efforts to make an intriguing portrait of him.
Paula Kuitenbrouwer holds an MA degree in Philosophy (UvA) and 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.
In my hometown of Utrecht, on two Rococo houses alongside the ‘Nieuwe Gracht’, stands Hercules holding the sky onto his shoulders. The ancient story goes that Hercules has taken up the firmament for Atlas allowing the old Titan a brief moment of respite to take up one of his labours.
I had to correct Hercules’ legs because all reference photos are taken from street level, and Hercules stands on top of a four story house, and it therefore the statute showed too short legs. I’ve elongated Hercules’ legs to create a level frontal view.
Hercules looks strong, but he is a demigod and demigods can do things we mortals can not. Yet, the maker of this statute, the Dutch sculptor Ton Mooy, has given Hercules a tormented expression.
I kept wondering why I like this Hercules. When I was about to draw his hair and face, I remembered. I had seen this kind of hair and facial expression before. Hercules has the same hair as Vercingetorix (see photo) and a similar tormented expression as the statute of the Dying Gaul (see photo), an Ancient Roman Hellenistic sculpture. There is beauty in showing that extraordinary strength and bravery often comes with pain.
Hercules Utrecht Statute by Ton Mooy, drawing by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
Herculus in Utrecht City Centre, drawing by Paula Kuitenbrouwer, Statute by Ton Mooij.
Herculus/Aardkloot/Nieuwe Gracht Utrecht by Ton Mooy
The mandarin ducks (Aix galericulata) have carefully chosen a place to rest. They seems to blend in with the dark background, thus if necessary, they will respond quickly by taking to the waters and thus escape predators. The river is calm, the forest is rich in sounds and smells, and all is well. The reflection of the lovely couple is visible in the calm water. Birds are flying over.
The duck and drake have just decided to take a rest and have already positioned themselves on the bank. The duck is checking the left, the drake checks the right, if all feels safe they will soon tuck their bills into their wings and take a nap. After that they will look for food again, synchronized as they are. They are life long partners, like swans. In Asia mandarin ducks represent love and loyalty. On the photos of this drawing, you will notice a few wooden ducks. They are used, in Asia, like drawings, prints and paintings, to enhance feelings of love and loyalty in homes and rooms between couples. Seeing bonding ducks, seeing how synchronised they are, makes people long for a deep belonging, a deep bond between lovers.
This is a softly rendered graphite drawing. On my Etsy home page and Instagram you can watch a video of the making of this drawing. I have done many Mandarin duck commissions for homes, weddings, engagements, stationary, or meditation/sleeping rooms. Contact me should you have specific wishes regarding a mandarin duck drawing. Also, have a look at my shop where you will find mandarin duck mini-prints, cards, and full colour drawings. May I advise to have a full colour drawing of mandarin ducks in a monochromatic coloured room and a softly rendered graphite drawing in a colourful room?
Artist information: Derwent graphite H-series pencils on Arches hot press paper 31-41 cm. Winsor & Newton Varnish Spray.
Ornithological information: Although Mandarin ducks are Asian ducks, Dutch park and estate owners buy these ducks to add some bright colours to their duck ponds or castle moats. Mandarin ducks then need nesting facilities because in nature they breed inside tree cavities. They seem to do well in Dutch weather. I am very lucky to have spotted them nearby my home town. One thinks that they stand out splendidly, but I can assure you that even the very colourful drake often seems to blend in its surroundings perfectly.
My ‘Gate to Heaven’, a lovely gate is located not too far away from my home, at Bruntenhof, Museumkwartier in Utrecht.
In real, there is no flower vase, just pavement in front of this gate. I received some feedback, stating: ‘There is a great difference between a photo of this gate and your drawing. A photo shows beautiful stonework but you have drawn something dreamy and poetic. The gate has become a portal to another world. You can walk through it and find yourself in a Medieval landscape with knights and dryads‘. I think the feedback itself is rather poetical, don’t you think? Such sensitive feedback stimulates me to make even more progress.
This gate can be found at Bruntenhof, Museumkwartier in Utrecht, in the centre of the Netherlands. It dates back to 1620. But it could be any gate, a dream gate, a portal to heaven, to another world. Gates are symbolic and often stand for a transformation or travelling between worlds. Gardens are set apart from manor houses by a gate. People drive through gates to enter an estate. Gates impress, transform, and show style; Roman, Art Nouveau, Classical, Medieval or gates are used for defence purposes. Drawings of gates can mean so much and are open to your interpretation.
Commissions are welcome for drawing a favourite place be it a gate home, residence, manor house, hotel, garden, holiday-home, estate, or apartment. Contact me for discussing your preferences.
I have studied some Dutch Golden Age painters in the past, and Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) was one of my favourite painters. She painted very well, but she also had ten children! It bemuses me how one can paint so exquisitely and have ten children (therefore a minimum of ten pregnancies). One may assume that she died a tragic and premature death, but she did not. Her dated works establish that she painted from the age of 15 until she was 83. When it came to her household, though, she had help, because she could afford it. But I am not planning on writing about my role model. I want to point out that Dutch floral paintings in the Golden Age are an illusion. When we buy lush bouquets at the supermarket, we have little to no knowledge about the plants; we don’t know when they bloom and where they come from. We care a little about seasonable vegetables and fruits, but we don’t know where flowers come from. Golden Age floral painters studied flowers by making meticulous sketches and writing down which colours they needed.
Upon designing a large floral bouquet, they needed to check their notebooks and sketchbooks. This way, they put together flowers that do not bloom at the same time, and they also added seasonal butterflies or insects, therefore showing spring, summer, and autumn in one painting. Nowadays it is easy to consult a book or check a photo, and then put together flowers from all over the world, flowers that never bloom together at the same time. The difference between the Golden Age and now is that we fly in vegetables, fruits, and flowers, and that isn’t good for our carbon footprint. Golden Age painters created prosperous bouquets, not with the help of cargo trucks, cool cells, or air-planes, but with their own notes and sketches.
For years, William Morris didn’t appeal that much to me because I was still under the influence of my study of Dutch Baroque floral painters. They, as no one else, could create depth and a feeling as if you were looking at a real bouquet. These Golden Age masters positioned their composition in such way that a large flower vases, with all seasonal flowers, would stand proudly on show and you could -in your mind- walk around it. You would admire not only the flowers but also water-drops and insect that rested on big and small petals. But, of course, you were looking at an illusion. Dutch floral painters studied flowers, one by one, made sketches on them, and then set up a composition as if all flowers were all in bloom at the exact same time, which is never the case in nature. A wonderful illusion; a much admired illusion.
William Morris looked one dimensional compared to these baroque painters, yet, I learned to see that compared to modern flower designs, Morris’s work certainly isn’t one-dimensional. He may not create as much depth as I would like to see, but he weaves flower stems, creating the feeling as if you are in nature and looking at bushes, trees, and flower beds. Some flowers are near, some further away.
My drawing will have another lovely title using again a two word alliteration. You are invited to guess. However, before doing that, one needs some botanical knowledge and isn’t that not exactly what makes us love William Morris? He educates and inspired us with his design, botanical knowledge, and colourful palette.
William Morris mainly scatters and extends broad leaf foliage, flowers, and sometimes animals for the purpose of creating a repetitive, yet not too repetitive, wall paper design. There is a difference in what we expect from wall-paper, a painting, and from a mural. We expect a mural to trick us like Harry Potter on Platform 9 ¾: we like to run into the world that is suggested by a mural. Wall-paper, on the other hand, aims at supporting the design and décor of a room. Wall-paper must suggest less depth than a mural or painting, but more than a brick wall, by weaving the stems of flowers and using the technique of foreshortening, Morris does exactly that however not overly.
I have yet many white spaces to fill up with my own designs; this way of freehand drawing is enjoyable.
Here you find more on my William Morris Trellis watercolour painting. (Click here)
To deepen my understanding of female prehistoric figurines, I have set out to draw a few of them.
Clockwise starting with the middle-lower sitting woman, you find Courbet Venus, carved in a seated position, about 14.900 years old. Followed by the Venus of Polichinelle, carved in green steatite, 27.000 years old, found at Grimaldi. The strictly stylised engraved Lalinde Venus (there are more than one) found in Gönnersdorf in Germany, in Abri Murat and Gare de Couze in France, Pekárna in the Czech Republic, and Wilczyce in Poland. Stone Age. Further clockwise; Venus figures from Wilczyce, followed by another Gönnersdorf figurine. Then, Petersfels Venus that is made of jet, circa 15. 000 BP- 2.000 BP. Another Gönnersdorf engraving and last, Venus from Nebra, 15.000 years old, animal bone.
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? You can’t possible blame prehistoric peoples for a lack of body diversity. But why the concentration on bellies and buttons, and why are heads and feet missing? Most look either emaciated, nursing or pregnant. Are some suffering from chronic diseases? Did it matter how a female looked like, or was the first piece of bone or stone vaguely resembling and therefore symbolizing a (perhaps departed) woman okay for whatever ritual? Some look crudely abstract, others are enchantingly elegant, as if they are the first sketched outlines of ballerinas in action.
I have chosen an ochre background as this pigment was hugely important to prehistoric peoples.
After my ‘Praising Plants’, a large graphite drawing that was sold rather quickly, I decided to continue with botanical theme-drawing and thus I designed ‘Ode to All Oak Trees’.
‘Ode to All Oak Trees’ copyright by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
‘Ode to All Oak Trees’ copyright by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
This drawing has a large oak tree as it centre piece, decorated with William Morris botanical motifs and leaves freehand drawn as its border. In spring a single oak tree produces both male and female flowers (catkins). The acorns are its fruits. We use both the acorns and cupule for crafts while jays eat them and squirrels store them for the winter. Oak wood was often used for building churches because of the density, great strength, and hardness. It is very resistant to insects and fungi. Oak wood was also used for building Viking ships and in Medieval times it was used for interior panelling of prestigious buildings. Mistletoe growing on oak trees were most treasured by druids in Celtic communities; it was harvested with golden sickles.
I drew an engaging Ex Libris is for those who study, love, writes or owns (history) books. Or books on Prehistoric Peoples, Celts, Anglo Saxons, Viking, Medieval or Renaissance books. It shows many areas of interest starting at the Prehistory (top), following anti-clockwise with Saxon-Viking, Medieval and Renaissance border. The inside patterned border is in style with the outer border; upper part shows an Celtic interlace pattern, followed by a Saxon pattern in the Saxon-Viking area, a Medieval, and elegant Renaissance pattern.
The bookshelves show special areas of interest too: the top book shelf shows history books on prehistory. They are all in soft red ochre, the colour that shows up on many prehistoric cave paintings. The book cover embellishments are based on research done by Genevieve von Petzinger, a scientist who identified pictographs used by prehistoric peoples in cave art. You see aviform, circle, cardiform, cruciform, negative and positive hands, serpentiform and so on. The next bookshelf is reserved for Celtic books, showing book-cover embellishments that are typical Celtic. Following is a shelf reserved for Saxon books, (notice ‘Saxon’ written in Saxon letters), and Viking books, showing ‘Viking’ as a transliteration (not as a translation). One bookshelf lower, the books get more colour as they contain Medieval books; the embellishments show a castle, a medieval ‘M’, a crown, flowers, etc. The lowest bookshelf proudly shows Renaissance books that have more bright colours and more floral and decorative embellishments.
The name box is for your name. Might I suggest you do that with sepia-brown ink?
The book plates make a lovely, special and unexpected gift as they are engaging and full details. In fact, one can sit down and take in all details for a long time. ‘Find the Dolmens…’ (in the Celtic border), ‘Admire Oxford’s Bridge of Sighs (Medieval border), ‘Can you locate Florence?’ (Renaissance section), ‘How many Viking shields do you spot?’ (Viking section). One could imagine that the Celtic roundhouses are located in an Irish-British landscape. The Saxon houses could be imagined in Germany. The Viking houses are located near a fjord. The Medieval houses are showing a busy town with less green, buildings are cramped together for defence reasons. The Renaissance buildings are full pride and glory. It must have been dazzling living in a Renaissance city. This Ex Libris shows West European history. It could, however, show another cultural aspect, for instance, a different time-line, a different history related to another part of the world, another religion, history or cultural aspect, a mathematical border, geographical, philosophical, musical, botanical, zoological one. I can draw any Ex Libris that shows personal preferences. Contact me to discuss your commission.
I have drawn with Derwent graphite and Graphitint a border for an Ex Libris, a book plate, that can be used for other means as well. I enjoyed making this border so much and it ignited my imagination. This happened because I started with the border, something I haven’t done before. Normally, I plan a border and I start in the left-upper corner of a drawing because I am right handed. But I hadn’t had an idea for the middle part, so I continued with the border. I ended with a full boarder and consequently thought; ‘This border could be used for any document or certificate, be it a wedding certificate, a gradation document, a photo, a promotion, basically, any document that is highly personal and highly valued, worth customized framing’.
This border shows (I will show it later in full) 4 time lines of our West European history that are loved by a family: the Neolithic Times (shown here in the top -Celtic Roundhouses with dolmens-, Saxon-Viking times, the Late Medieval time, as well as the Renaissance. The Renaissance being visible on this photo too. I added an inside border (shown as a specific pattern related to the time period) and I will now add bookshelves full history books in the middle part.
This is a very full drawing and it keeps me busy. But I love seeing it grow into an engaging piece that expresses the love for history this family has. Yes, it could show another cultural aspect, for instance, a mathematical border, geographical, philosophical, musical, botanical, zoological one, I can draw any border that shows personal preferences.
Return here within a week and the full Ex Libris will be ready.