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.
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?
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)
Colourful mandarin duck watercolour paintings have been added to my Etsy shop.
The large composition consisting of an Asian landscape, a lotus pond, a turtle pond, and mandarin ducks was lovely to make. I felt inspired to make it after visiting the Volkenkundig Museum in Leiden, where I enjoyed the Asian department. As always, I was charmed by how Asian artist harmoniously combine natural and abstract representations of their surroundings.
I like to show you two different mandarin duck drawings. In traditional Asian culture, mandarin ducks are believed to be lifelong couples, unlike other species of ducks. Hence they are regarded as a symbol of love, affection, and fidelity.
The first drawing is titled Matchmaking in Heaven. It shows a mandarin duck couple in a lotus pond. It is a softly rendered watercolour drawing. The pond is calm, lotus flowers are growing and so is the bond between this duck and drake deepening. The duck and drake have just decided to take a swim. They will look for food, synchronized as they are. They are life long partners and, like swans, will stay together. Lotus flowers are symbols of purity, enlightenment, self-regeneration and rebirth. In Asia, mandarin ducks represent love and loyalty. Seeing bonding ducks, seeing how synchronised they are, makes people long for a deep belonging, a deep bond between lovers. Love renews itself every day; it grows, it deepens and sometimes we need to stand still and take time to say ‘I love you’ to our beloved ones. Because, although we know it, expressing this during a day that is full of obligations, commitments, and ambitions is a good thing. Combining the Lotus symbol with the Mandarin ducks, this couple stays together to grow old and wise together. They feel reborn in their deepening love every season.
The other mandarin duck couple drawing has a longer story. I was about to add a new couple to my portfolio when I noticed the Fibonacci Sequence in one of my old sketches. I immediately set out to make a circular composition, adding two ducks shaped as in the well-know Fibonacci fashion. And after having done that successfully, I couldn’t stop and added parts of The Great Wave off Kanagawa by the Japanese artist Hokusai next to the mandarin ducks.
Now I had four Fibonacci elements in one drawing, as I recognized the Fibonacci sequence in Hokusai’s wave too. This mandarin duck couple, deeply in love with each other, is bathing in wild waters. In fact, they are so deeply bonded, they have no idea where they individually begin or end. They have become one in emotion and routine. They are also one with the waters they live in.
The beautiful Hokusai wave, which could be interpreted as the pleasant and unpleasant high waves life throws at every couple, can’t separate them. They will stay together during their whole life; in high tide and low tide, in calm and difficult times, through day and night, till the end.
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.