Midwinter Musings

I have sent out 50+ Christmas or Yule cards this year. Up to today, I received back 5 written cards and 3 digital texts. That is about 50 minus 8 replies which equals 42 unanswered wishes. That is more unanswered wishes than last year, and the year before, which shows that handwritten cards are becoming obsolete. Still, that isn’t the point that I like to make.

Art Cards by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

What do midwinter best-wishing cards actually mean?

I finished my ‘Who are the Celts?’ course beginning of December, and there are still moments when I dwell in the Iron Age. Christmas cards were invented in the Victorian Age, so why should I relate them to ancient rituals? Well, it has to do with midwinter.

Wood burned Christmas Ornament by Sorriso Design on Etsy.
Wood burned Christmas Ornament by Sorriso Design on Etsy.

Midwinter was a dark time during the Iron Age and also during the Victorian times. Flu and winter bugs were (and still are) bothering us and we were confined to our homes. Livestock that wasn’t supposed to last through the winter was slaughtered and one would see food storage diminish during the dark months. There wasn’t any Christmas shopping the way we do now. Would there be enough to eat? There wouldn’t be any stores reopening the day after Christmas. Was the remaining livestock strong enough to ensure food for the coming summer, and would they be able to reproduce themselves? Was there enough food kept in storage for the dark months ahead, and was it well preserved? Midwinter was an anxious time and one could only pray to (the/a) God(s), ancestral and nature spirits to be granted health and see the return of the green.

A Wren Family by Paula Kuitenbrouwer on www.paulaartshop.com
A Wren Family by Paula Kuitenbrouwer on http://www.paulaartshop.com

In these dark times, people felt the need to make offerings to (a/the) God(s), to ancestral or nature spirits. But slowly we forgot about them. In Victorian times, the feeling of sending out a prayer or wish was still lingering in our ancient minds but now was penned down on beautiful marbled cards and delivered by post. However, these wishes weren’t addressed to (a/the) God(s) or spirits, but to family and friends.

I love sending out cards as it is such old tradition. If we all wish each other a Merry Christmas, a Joyful Yule or a Marvelous Midwinter, wouldn’t that help us, despite the fact that we have antibiotics, electric light, and refrigerators through winter? Would it help us to know that other people kept us in their thoughts and prayers? Wouldn’t an effort of sending each other Best Seasonal Wishes, to keep each other in our minds and hearts, help to stay healthy through the dark winter months? I think so. I think it is a good gesture and it shouldn’t be forgotten.

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Winter drawing with winter garden birds and evergreen, Paula Kuitenbrouwer

I need to followed up this with a disclaimer. I don’t blame people for not sending back cards. I am not frustrated or sad that sending cards seems to belong to the past. We are increasingly busy, distracted and some say that sending cards isn’t good for our carbon footprint, one would just send an email or text.

As long as we wish each other well during the dark times of the year, the old ritual of keeping each other in our minds or in the light of a warm glowing heart, isn’t lost.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Joyful Yule, & a Marvelous Midwinter.

Paula

Two Female Eclectus Parrots, Eclectus roratus

Eclectus Parrot

Two Female Eclectus roratus, copyright Paula Kuitenbrouwer

In my former post (click here), I tell a story of two Welsh swans and their adopted goose. How talking to a Welsh RSPB officer informed my husband and I about the existence of  homosexual birds, a fact that was new to me. As a result of this knowledge, I came to think that my bird portfolio was 100% representing my life, with my husband, depicting birds as couples, sometimes with eggs or chicks. I had failed to include homosexual birds and I made that up by drawing two male Black Grouse.

Korhoen Black Grouse original & print

Two Black Grouse; original & framed print

Choosing two colourful male birds was easy, but finding colourful female birds turned our to be difficult because female birds tune down their colours in order to stay unnoticed while breading and rearing chicks. I thumbed through all my bird-guides but couldn’t find colourful female birds. Lucky, I have a niece, Jenna, soon to be a Veterinary Assistant and already working as a zookeeper. Jenna van der Vet needed only a few minutes to come up with: ‘Eclectus Parrot’. Well, if you don’t know which bird that is, as me, and you google ‘Eclectus roratus’ you get a very enjoyable and colourful result. See, the male Eclectus is green and the female is blue-red. What more to wish for? I’m very grateful to Jenna, for advising me on this exotic bird that wasn’t listed in my European bird guides.

For a long time ornithologist thought that the green males and blue-red females were different parrot species. It is unusual for a female bird to differ from her male counterparts and if they do differ, they aren’t wearing bold colours. The red-blue Eclectus parrot makes you wonder how the canopy she chooses to breed in, in the wild, looks like. How can her blue-red plumage protect her? She is stunningly pretty.

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Two females sit closely together, grooming each-other. To confirm their bond, I have given them golden rings. Gold, really? Yes, you can’t possible give a dull ring when they, themselves, are so outrageously dressed up in the finest colours of cobalt, ultramarine, indigo and light blue as well as scarlet, wine, crimson and rose red.

This prints makes an excellent gift for lesbian couples, congratulating them with their friendship, engagement or marriage.

Thank you Jenna! Keep going places.

Love,
Paula

Jenna’s Dutch Guinea Pig Breeding Centre

At Etsy

Two Female Eclectus Parrots at Etsy

 

Ma, a Japanese aesthetic principle, in my three bird drawings

I’d like to show three paintings in which I have incorporated Ma, a Japanese aesthetic principle. Ma is described as ‘an interval in time and/or space’, thus referring to empty spaces, vagueness or abstraction. Empty spaces, in which nothing seems to happen, are full of possibilities. How do my three birds deal with Ma in their portraits?

Ekster by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

For my portrait of Magpie, Korea’s national bird, I added orange colour to compensate for a magpie’s black and white plumage. To stay close to her Korean habitat, I decided to position Magpie on a colourful and fruit-bearing persimmon branch, heavily laden with pumpkin-shaped kaki. Magpie is content with her portrait, and so am I.

Crow Kraai by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Setting up a composition for a portrait of Carrion Crow was a little harder. Negotiations with this proud and cheeky bird were tough. I talked him into sitting on a mountain ash branch, but initially he didn’t agree with my decision of pushing him a little to the rear.

‘You are an indigo blue-ivory black bird’, I explained by pointing out that humans don’t like black things. I explained that I could trick humans in loving his plumage by adding the rich palette of colours of an autumn Mountain Ash.

‘This branch has fresh green, bright orange and deep red, and will charm viewers in loving your monotonous black feathers. And if I use a diagonal composition, I can guide the viewer along the branch, climbing up from deep red, through the bright orange to sap green. After such a colourful journey, people don’t mind a bit of solid black. But to do that, I told Carrion Crow, I have to push you a little to one side, but that is okay. Reluctantly, Carrion Crow agreed.

Sparrowhawk by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

My Sparrowhawk demanded to sit high and mighty on the top branch of a proud pine tree. The world of humans doesn’t interest him. He soars above it, looking down on our wars over oil, mass migration and our overheated, overpopulated world.

Sparrowhawk knows he has this intricately textured and awesome coat of feathers, which makes fashion designers drool. Not much is needed next to such an eye-catching bird; two almost evenly-coloured pine cones complete the portrait. Sparrowhawk sat down just long enough for me to make a portrait, and, without so much as a ‘thank-you’, flew off to his own world, soaring high above ours.

Back to Ma.. In all three bird portraits you’ll notice considerable emptiness. My birds seem to look into this emptiness. What do they see? A suitable partner? Prey? Are they guarding their hidden nests? Are they exploring new horizons?

Ma is for you to fill in with your imagination, with your story-telling, your ornithological knowledge or poetry. But Ma can also be left open. We don’t need to fill in empty spaces with projections, trauma, words or sounds. Ma offers a thinking pause or escape from our train of thoughts.

Magpie, Carrion Crow and Sparrowhawk understand Ma naturally. We are enchanted when we see a bird resting on a tree branch and we long to be like them: resting in Ma, accepting the here and now.

Paula

at  Etsy and at Paula Art Shop

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Lotus Plant Drawings: Botanical and Symbolic

Two Lotus Prints

Lotus Plant’ & ‘Lotus Pond with Tortoise’

by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

In preparation for the upcoming birthday of the Buddha, I have drawn two different views of a lotus plant. Much venerated in Buddhism, the lotus is one of the ‘Eight Auspicious Symbols’. It is also a delight to draw, as the textured leaves and petals of the plant encourage the kind of finely-detailed observation and drawing work that give richness and texture to an image.

For my first drawing, ‘Lotus Plant’, I researched and focused on all the interconnecting parts of the plant. Most drawings and paintings of the lotus concentrate on the flower itself; the next part, the stem, is submerged and thus often merely hinted at. And the roots, although many of us will be familiar with them as edible parts of the plant, are rarely depicted in art, since they grow deep in the muddy bed of the pond.

For a Buddhist, this concept of living in three mediums – mud, water, air – signifies a progression. The soul journeys from the muddiness of materialism, through the water-world in which we live and experience our daily, day-to-day lives, and thence beyond, to enlightenment in the ethereal world of light and air. That these parts are all connected, roots to stem, stem to flower, is reflected in my drawing.

My ‘Lotus Pond with Tortoise’ shows the flowering plant, partly in water, and blooming just at the surface. A tortoise, resting on a rock, looks up at the lotus. Such a bright and beautiful flower is an inspiration to all who see it, tortoise as much as human.

In Asian culture, tortoises are sacred. The longevity and tenacity that they symbolize seemed to me to be a wonderful way to celebrate what the birthday of the Buddha means. We need to live long and work hard to reach enlightenment. And if the ageing process is enlightenment in slow motion, as John C. Robinson describes in his book ‘The Three Secrets of Ageing’, then my combining of the symbols of enlightenment with those of longevity expresses this process.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Lotus (Botanical) at Etsy

Lotus with Tortoise at Etsy

 

 

Artists Inspired by Nature Treasures: Sybille Tezzele Kramer, Liliya Tereshkiv, Lois Mathews and Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Sybille Tezzele Kramer, Liliya Tereshkiv, Lois Mathews & Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Sybille Tezzele Kramer:

erbacce:unkraut.jpeg

Italian born Sybille Tezzele Kramer draws inspiration from her direct surroundings in Sud-Tirol. Sybille shows her appreciation for weeds with her drawing, named Erbacce/Unkraut. Notice Chamomile, Poppy, Alchemilla, Foxtail grass and Dandelion. Also, notice the smiling face of the weeds. Weed smiles because it is stronger than all the poison that is used. And why using it? Why do we categorize some plants as obnoxious weeds and others as ornamental plants? Why do we say some stones are pebbles and others are gemstones? Sybille creates a three-dimensional effect by drawing a heliocentric composition. Read more about this lovely drawing here. Sybille’s Erbacce/Unkraut/Weed is available here. The original Erbacce is touring through Italy as a mobile exhibition ‘Lo Sguardo Obliquo’.

Liliya Tereshkiv:

Liliya Tereshkiv, a Ukraine born artist, also living in Italy, is the woman behind Sorriso Design. Liliya shows us how nature inspires her by picking up leaves and pine cones and looking at the blue sky. Here is her lovely Etsy shop full woodwork, jewellery and home decoration. Have a look, you will be surprised. More of Liliya’s nature photos are here.

Lois Mathews:

For years I’m enjoying the walks Lois Mathews records at her delightful blog  Sketching on Whidbey Island. If there are sketches directly inspired by nature, they are Lois’ water-paintings. I don’t like to sit in front of a screen, but that all changes when I read Lois’s records and nature studies. Did I just feel a bit of fresh air? Or did I hear a songbird? Do I noticed footprints on the walking track? Lois’s nature journal enchants me.

Me:

An empty wall, wood and driftwood treasures and a few of my prints. I’ve put them together for a playful exhibition of a few of my prints. My birds and butterflies feel perfectly at home in their natural environment.

There is nothing definitive or pretentious about this, I can add and remove things without damaging the wall. There is bark of an eucalyptus tree, a honeysuckle knot, pine-cone branches, driftwood, some wooden pegs and prints.

Paula

Paula at Etsy

Paula at Amazon Handmade

The Soul: Painting the Unpaintable

The Soul: Painting the Unpaintable

On an altarpiece owned by the Catharijneconvent Museum in the Netherlands, we see Mary and Gabriel; an Annunciation, of course. But the Annunciation is shown in so many paintings that it requires us to make an extra effort to see how remarkable this painting is.

Altarpiece Circa 1400

Let us talk you through it. This is a Flemish altarpiece dating from the late Middle Ages. The painting is about an episode in the Bible, yet it has subtle emotions. If it had been a Renaissance piece, the emotions would be expressed in full; Mary’s body wouldn’t be so poorly executed. The late Medieval characteristic of this painting is that it is richly decorated. It has sumptuous features, such as Gabriel’s clothing, the floor tiles and wallpaper. Mary and Gabriel blend in almost too much, especially Mary with her plain clothing against the heavily decorated background.

Then there is another lovely feature you shouldn’t miss. Gabriel, Mary and the two angels look alike. The most obvious explanation would be that the painter used his or her family as models: his sister or mother as Mary, his brother as Gabriel and his cousins as angels. Another explanation is more theological and much deeper: Mary, the angels and Gabriel were deliberately made to look alike, pale and delicate countenances surrounded by ginger hair, because the painter wanted to stress that Mary, Gabriel and the angels all are very close to God: that they resemble each other, thus also resembling God.

This is a plausible explanation, because the painter has given the theology of the story much thought. Although you might think that this painting was a show of architectonic and texture-drawing skills there is something many will miss while observing this altarpiece.

The painter was philosophical about how to paint God, incarnation or the soul before birth. Have a look at the golden beam of light that descends from the position between the two angels. The fact that the beam comes from above and is positioned between the angels, shows it is a holy sign. At the end of the beam we see the white dove, representing the Holy Spirit. The dove looks like an ocean-diving pelican, aiming to catch a big fish. Here we should remember that, for medieval Europe, the pelican, renowned for its love of its young, symbolised Christ himself. Mary is in a blissful meditative stage of prayer, open to the message of Gabriel when the dove of the Holy Spirit descends on her.

Baby Jesus

Nothing new, you might think, but notice the tiny figure that follows after the white dove has entered Mary’s mind. There is a small figure, a small, naked boy: Jesus, diving into Mary as the Holy Spirit does, which shows that Mary is soon to be pregnant with a holy child. Mary’s highest point, while reading her book, is her head: Jesus entering her head instead of her chest or lap shows that Jesus comes from ‘above’. With Joseph nowhere to be seen, the painting focusses on the spiritual aspect of a soul descending into a woman.

From this 15th century religious painting, let’s now move on to The Burial of Count Orgaz by El Greco, painted in 1568.

El Greco

The painting shows the miracle that is said to have happened during the burial of Count Orgaz: two saints descend from heaven to place the body of Count Orgaz in his tomb. While the painting shows Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine in full glory, tenderly putting Count Orgaz in his resting place in the lower part of the painting, halfway across the canvas an angel carries the soul of the count to Christ, who is positioned high up in the painting, gesturing by his open arms a welcoming sign. Between the earthy world in which Count Orgaz is laid to rest, and the heavenly world, hangs a whitish translucent veil. Its folds show there are angels hiding in it and, due to its uneven distribution, it creates numerous spaces or ‘heavens’. Dante wrote about many hells; this painting hints at many heavens. Between Mary and St. John the Baptist is a very narrow opening to which the angel with curly hair carefully pushes the soul of Count Orgaz.

Angel carrying soul

El Greco makes this soul-carrying angel a midwife in reverse, holding the soul of Count Orgaz with its vague, baby-like features, while it makes its ascent through the opening. Mary, in heaven, has one hand ready to support Count Orgaz’s soul, while St. John de Baptist is already communicating the arrival to Jesus.

We now have seen two paintings in which the soul is shown as a child’s physique. Why have the painters done that? Aren’t there full-grown, adult souls? The arriving soul and the departing soul are shown as a young child because a child is a symbol of innocence because it is without (sinful and full-grown) flesh, without actions it has performed as a responsible adult. When we see a beautiful baby or young child, we say; ‘what an angel’ and we may say that again of a shrunken, wise and kind grandparent. Obviously, to be an earthly angel one has to be either a new arrival from heaven or an almost-departing soul. One has to have that ethereal quality, with little flesh on the bone and an excess of lovingness and delicacy.

The soul in modern paintings is often the spiritual doppelganger of a person. The soul has the same size and form as the person from whom it departs. Paintings of outside body experiences show a shadowy twin figure hovering over a sleeping person. There is nothing exciting about this way of depicting of a soul. These modern souls are cheap replicas. They hold no philosophy, no symbolism or imagination. How different is the Flemish altarpiece of the Annunciation, or El Greco with a burial and an ascent to heaven in one painting, showing not only a dense social scene with many of Toledo’s notables, but also this curious soul, demonstrating theology, philosophy and creative imagination.

To paint a soul challenges a painter to think about what a soul is. It is the psyche of the Greek philosophers: pure consciousness? How would you paint pure consciousness? Is it the thymos, a person’s vitality, spirit or energy? How to express vitality with the help of paint and a brush? It certainly isn’t a person’s eidolon, the empty shadow that goes down to Hades, bereft of all vitality and awareness. The eidolon is the soul minus what makes us human. And what we see in these two paintings – the soul about to enter into life in the Flemish altarpiece and the departing soul of El Greco – are clearly human souls. In fact, what we see is something extraordinary: at attempt to paint the unpaintable.

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Gerwyn Moseley & Paula Kuitenbrouwer

 

Four Seasons In One Day: Ireland

Wood and Stone

I’m very happy to live in Ireland. This island has four seasons in one day. If that isn’t enough, Ireland has stones that look like wood and wood that looks like stone. The changeable elements and wonderful collectibles, what more to wish for?

Paula

At Etsy

P.S. Driftwood and stones of Killiney Beach, Ireland.

Sketching

Sketch Succulent Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Succulent Sketch, click on photo to enlarge, Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Oak leaves paula kuitenbrouwer

Oak leaves, Paula Kuitenbrouwer. Click on photo to enlarge.

Grass paula kuitenbrouwer

Grass, Paula Kuitenbrouwer.

Is there anything more joyful than a new sketchbook ? ❤

Paula

Personalized Birthday Print with Favourite Birds, Flowers or Butterflies

bert-85-white-background

I’ve designed a personalized birthday print for my father’s 85th birthday. It show his three favourite birds. There is a lapwing on the left, a collard dove in the middle, and an oyster-catcher at the right. Finding a harmonious combination of numbers and birds was a nice task to work out. The collared dove stands high and mighty on the 5, with his beak resembling the shape of the little flag of the 5. The curvy chest of the lapwing is in synchronicity with the curve of the 8. And the chest of the oyster-catcher is aligned with the curve of the 5. The oyster-catcher and the lapwing hold the 8 and 5 in place by putting their legs on both sides of the numbers.

Commission me click here (or contact me directly)

Paula

Paula Kuitenbrouwer at Etsy and at Paula’s Art Shop.