Embroidery as Art

What makes embroidery art? What is required for embroidery to become a masterpiece? I have read a few books on embroidery but I haven’t come across a reflection on this question. As I am rather new to embroidery, I can only use my fine art (painting) knowledge.


A work of fine art is mostly appreciated for technical and artistic exquisite execution (skill and artistic talent). Having said this, there are many works of art that are regarderd masterpieces because of social, political or purely creative qualities.

For a beautiful piece of embroidery some criteria are similar to painting; technical skill, colour-choice, composition, originality of concept/theme, and quality of materials. Don’t underestimate originality; it is enjoyable and valued to see artisans using their your own source of inspiration. Their artwork reflects their life and their conflict or love for their life living in a certain place and time. Such inspiration creates a unique and uncompromising style or signature.

Blue Tufted Ducks by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Returning to the question ‘What makes embroidery art?’ Embroidery demands an equal amount of skill as painting, drawing, woodwork, and ceramics. For all artwork counts that more skill leads to increased quality and value.

‘Blue Ducks’ & ‘Green Ducks’ in the series of Tufted Ducks by Paula Kuitenbrouwer.

I used gold thread & various blues plus freehand-stitch, pekinese-stitch, french-knots & openchain-stitch. I always use my own designs, based on my coloured pencil drawings or oil paintings. Occasionally I use my sketches for making lino-prints too.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Artist, Author & Expat

‘Birds, Butterflies, Fish & Botany’

@mindfuldrawing on Instagram

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

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Lotus Plant Drawings: Botanical and Symbolic

I have drawn two different lotus plants. Much venerated in Buddhism, the lotus is one of the ‘Eight Auspicious Symbols’.

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

Available at Etsy.

 

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

 

Guido Reni (Bologna 1575-1642) St Joseph with the Infant Jesus

Reni JosephGuido Reni (Bologna 1575-1642) St Joseph with the Infant Jesus

Guido Reni lived from 1575 to 1642 and painted mostly in Rome. He ran a busy studio engaged on commissions from many Italian cities. Born in Bologna into a family of musicians, Reni was, as a child of nine, apprenticed under the Bolognese studio of Denis Calvaert.

I especially like St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, painted in oil on canvas by this Bolognese painter. There is something captivating about this old father who holds baby Jesus. He is a handsome old man and he seems wise, but also vulnerable. To my opinion, Guido Reni has painted an older father who is well aware of the future of his baby. It is as if Joseph holds his treasure not only tenderly, but also in very high esteem.

Now look at baby Jesus. This isn’t a normal baby. It almost sits on Joseph’s hands and shows a remarkable awareness. As much as it is a baby, it is the spiritual master of Joseph already. Guido Reni also has given baby Jesus a lightness; not only by casting a bundle of light on the head and body of baby Jesus, but also by given this baby a beautiful glow. Reni’s baby Jesus shows in another way its ‘light’ too, by suggesting it is light-weighted. Joseph holds his baby as if baby Jesus weighs as much as a feather. This all adds to the impression Guido Reni aims for showing how remarkable baby Jesus was already as a baby.

I like to draw attention to the flower baby Jesus is holding. Most likely it is a lily. A lily symbolizes purity and integrity. In many paintings the Virgin Mary and other saints are  portrayed with a lily. Baby Jesus holds the lily close to the heart of St. Joseph, or you could say, St. Joseph holds baby Jesus, who holds the lily. This important baby is safe in the hands of his father. We can trust Joseph to keep baby Jesus safe from being harmed as a child. Maybe Guido Reni gives baby Jesus to hold the lily close to Joseph as if to say thank-you for taking care.

In the back of this painting (I think) I see Maria being visited by an angel. This could be an annunciation to the blessed virgin Mary scene.

I could go on and on showing you how beautiful Joseph’s cloak is done. Or the technical skills of creating grey hair through darkening the background around the head of Joseph with a thick green forest scene. However, I stop and return to my drawing to finish my small interpretation of this painting. Enjoy my work-in-progress.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer


Motherhood by Kuytenbrouwer

MoederschapClick on picture to enlarge

Martinus Antonius Kuytenbrouwer (1777-1850) was a Dutch soldier and painter of  animals and landscapes. His first exhibition was held in 1813 in Amsterdam followed by more successful exhibitions. Horses played a major role in his work as a painter, most likely because as an officer he dealt with horses daily.

Martinus Antonius Kuytenbrouwer was a member of the Utrecht Society of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam. He married Johanna Sophia Gijsberta Kolff in 1798. Their son M. A. Kuytenbrouwer Jr. (1821 -1897) became a painter too.

A total of 24 works are known by Kuytenbrouwer Senior.

Above is shown the undated Motherhood.

As one can expect in a painting by Kuytenbrouwer Sr., the horse, with its foal, takes centre stage. The mother horse is suckling her young. The cows seem to be the only mothers in the painting without babies. The small flock of sheep has two lambs and the shepherd family has a big, healthy looking baby contently drinking too. I see an orange little thing next to the shepherd mother that can either be a robin or a flower.

The manor house in the back is unknown to me and I wonder what the 11 trees mean. The tree most to the left looks the oldest, while the trees to the right seem to be younger and skinnier. This seems a perfect natural representation. If the trees should symbolize something, could it then be that the 11 trees represent members on one family? It wasn’t uncommon at Kuytenbrouwer’s time to have large families. Maybe the age and number of the trees also represent Motherhood: the oldest and thickest tree is the mother of all the young ones that are grouped a bit further away, closer to the light and open field.

I love paintings and art with breastfeeding mothers. When a mother sits down to breastfeed her hungry baby, a peaceful and relaxed moment is guaranteed. The father shepherd snuggles up closely to his wife and baby, and enjoys the scene.

The mother horse keeps an eye on the painter as if to say: ‘You are allowed to watch and paint, but don’t disturb us; a happy baby means a happy family’.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

p.s. Readers ask if I’m related to M.A. Kuytenbrouwer. M.A. Kuytenbrouwer is my father’s family but of a distant branch of the Kuytenbrouwer-family tree and -of course- a few generations back. The name Kuytenbrouwer changed through the generations from Coytenbrover to Kuytenbrouwer to Kuitenbrouwer. There are now Kuytenbrouwers and Kuitenbrouwers. The family of Kuitenbrouwer (with y and i) can be traced back to the 15th century in the east of the Netherlands.

Motherhood by M.A. Kuytenbrouwer postcards are available here

More on M.A. Kuytenbrouwer Sr. and Jr. here, here and here.

My Dutch book on breastfeeding and motherhood is here.

Identical Mona Lisa

In 2012 the news broke that the Prado had found a copy of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Assumed is now that two apprentices of Da Vinci made this painting. For a long time nobody thought much of it but that has changed. After a clean-up, art critics were stunned by the resemblance to the real Mona Lisa. The dress, the face of the copied Mona Lisa and the landscape had much more quality than previously assumed. Due to the clean-up, the copied Mona Lisa looks fresh and much younger than her older sister.

For a long time I had the image pinned it on my inspiration board. From time to time I had a look at the two paintings and I started to like the copy a lot. The younger Mona Lisa clearly makes me happy because of her freshness, brightness and fabulous bluish background. Despite that, the original Mona Lisa seems to smile more due to her darker cheeks that adds depth to her face and soul. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is also best better composed and has a smaller chest, whereas the copied Mona Lisa’s body and head seem to belong to two different models.

I look forward to the day the Mona Lisa gets a clean, because its background is rather obscured by darkened vanish. I suspect Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa will stay our sweetheart but it wouldn’t surprise me when our feelings for her younger sister will grow.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Same Portrait, Different Colours

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I found these two images of Da Vinci’s portrait of a woman (c.1473) and I like to invite you to observe the difference.

Of course the portrait is the same, only reflected. However, the colours are very different as a result of photography (lightning) and/or printing (pigments).

The large version has a terracotta and sepia colour palette. The beautiful warm reddish colour is complemented with a bit of subtle deep purple discolouration above the eye and in the dangling hair. The paper looks damaged with some whitish discolouration and even a bit of very vague green. The black is beautifully deep, especially at the place of the eye and next to the profile to the woman to push her face to the front and her hair to the back.

Now, observe the smaller version. This image looks faded. Still there is some orange-sepia at the top of the head. There is more green and blue in this image. Notice the soft green eyebrow and deep red in the nostrils. The woman’s dangling hair is grey, green, blue as well as red-brown. Her dress looks soft green. There is just enough black left to suggest depth, and enough ‘white’ to suggest light.

Both versions have a truly beautiful colour palette. What does colour do to you? To me the large sepia version feels warmer and fills me with human warmth. Due to the predominately terracotta colours, this drawing feel earthly. The smaller faded version overall makes a more ethereal impression. It makes me think more of the woman, who has lived and died and is fading in time, providing me with a sense of impermanence.  For a room that needs human warmth, I would opt for the larger version. For a place for meditation or contemplation, I would choose the faded one.

What about you?

Paula

Instagram @mindfuldrawing

 

Martinus Antonius Kuytenbrouwer (1821-1897)

‘Deer in Forest’ water paint by M. A. Kuytenbrouwer circa 1845 and his ‘Falconry near Fontainebleau

Click to enlarge the paintings


Lets walk with M.A. Kuytenbrouwer through the forest. It is like magic, this quiet walk. We spot deer resting in a small clearing in the woods. Suddenly they spot us. For a moment they and we are mesmerized, then they run away. While we feel sorry for interrupting their peace, all we see is their short, white tail disappearing in the thicket.

We keep on walking and at a wild quarry we see nobles with their trained falcons. The persons are busy training their birds of prey to catch rabbits. We sit down at the lake for a rest and we look at how the falcons fly. One sits down on the high bare branches of the big oak tree. It takes the noblemen a long time before it flies down for a piece of meat.

Both water paintings of Martinus Antonius Kuytenbrouwer show big trees right in the centre of the paintings. That is daring but Kuytenbrouwer knows how to suggest large spaces in which the falcons fly and the deer rest even with large trees in the centre of his paintings. There are young branches on the old trees that show new life, while some dead branches show us time and lives are passing.

Look at the clouds drifting in the place where the falconry takes place. Will it rain soon? The deer are resting and probably even a bit basking in some late evening light. Both water paints are full details and have beautiful colour palettes. The skilful painting of different textures of stone, fur, wood, leaves, water and soil make the scene’s come to life.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer