Two Mandarin Duck Couples

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.

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Mandarin Ducks in Lotus Pond copyright Paula Kuitenbrouwer

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.

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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.

Fibonacci Sequence

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.

 

Drawing videos are on my Etsy homepage & Instagram.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

This circular composition is available at Etsy. The original drawing of the ducks in the lotus pond is available here. Should you not like Etsy and you need cards or a commission or this original drawing, contact me freely and without obligation by using the contact form.

 

New Work in the Making

I am working on the successor of ‘Praising Plants‘, ‘Ode to All Oak Trees‘ and ‘Sophisticated Succulents‘ and returning to William Morris for inspiration. 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. They 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 many modern flower designs, Morris 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.

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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. 

Paula Kuitenbrouwer   At Etsy & Instagram

Cernunnos Inspired Stag in Ancient Worlds

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The oldest (Celtic) god is Cernunnos, depicted with the antlers of a stag, seated cross-legged, associated with animals, and holding or wearing a torc (is a large rigid or stiff neck ring in metal, made either as a single piece or from strands twisted together).
Not much is known about Cernunnos but interpretations identify him as a beneficent god of nature, life, or fertility. I find it interesting that Cernunnos is half man, half stag. We clearly like to relate ourselves to such a magnificent animal. It looks well built yet elegant, noble and humble, strong but vulnerable.
I remember driving on Island of Mull and being redirected due to roadworks. As we continued our journey on small roads, all the sudden a huge stag stood in front of us. My husband stopped the car and for a moment we looked in awe to this mighty animal. It looked at us and we looked at him with instant respect, so close and intense was the encounter, that we can still recall the moment, decades later.  It will linger in our memory probably forever.
It is therefore that I have drawn stags and deer often. The challenge is always to capture the strength and elegance. Recently, I drew a full stag but I was disappointed because it didn’t stand out. It had not the mightiness that I was looking for. I then applied the ‘Celtic’ method of looking which lines and shadows were essential and which I should leave out. Say 90% of my initial lines were erased and as a result I not only ended up with a more powerful stag, the space that became available allowed me to work on applying beautiful lines and figures (see how the eyes of the stag are also birds). Thus, the stag is complied of many seemingly loose elements, connecting and giving it form.
Ancient Stones
Ancient Stone Graves Copyright Paula Kuitenbrouwer
I placed it in an ancient Upperworld, Middle world, and Underworld. The Upperworld shows the sun and the moon and the antlers of the stag shapeshift into birds that fly away, symbolizing a shamanistic journey to the Upperworld. The Middle world is shown as tree branches and tree trunks. The Underworld can be entered by visiting an ancient burial site, or being close to dolmens, as is the belief of ancient peoples. I knitted all worlds together by using patterned borders.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

At Etsy

Artist Info:  I used Derwent Graphite H7 and H3 only, on Winsor & Newton cold press paper. Using only Derwent H pencils gives a drawing very soft tones. Personally, I favour this, but others might judge that it needs more enforcement of darker areas. A few small prints of my drawing show a more enhanced or ‘harder’ version. There are many ‘Celtic’ pattern vectors freely available but I decided to design my own irregular patterns.

Graphite Drawing: In Praise of Plants

This is a large graphite drawing (about the size of A3) beautifully and softly rendered, titled ‘Praising Plants’. I have set up this drawing as a way to show gratitude towards (house) plants. They provide us with oxygen, hence the text ‘Thank Your for your O2,’ a word rhyme that names oxygen by its element. Instead of drawing plants in pots, I have used a frame decorated with Ginkgo leaves. These leaves are found near Ginkgo trees, often in growing in botanical gardens or in Asian cities. Inside the border, I have added two plant motifs, Acanthus and Pimpernel Bay-leaf Manilla, inspired by William Morris, a British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. The two other plant motifs are designed by me; Bamboo and Lotus flower.

One should see this drawing as a garden, as a local botanical garden in which one can deeply relax and become thankful for what plants do for us. Not only do they provide us with oxygen, but also with soul nourishment and above all, with beauty. Frame this drawing and feel inspired by what plants mean for us and how they can enchant us with their intricate patterns. I sell this original and there are no copies available. This makes this drawing unique gift.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

at Etsy

This drawing at Etsy.

Prehistoric Hands Invite and Confirm Communication with the Dead, by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Positive hand-prints are stencilled with red ochre; white hand images are achieved by adding pigments around a hand

I like to present an idea about prehistoric positive and negative hand-prints that are found all over the world and dating from circa 40.000 to 1.000 BCE. I read a message into the difference of red and white hand-prints. The message, to my understanding, is that both hand-prints testify of successful communication with deceased souls. Why I have come to this thesis, I will explain.

I.

There is research stating that prehistoric peoples believed that the soul of the dead lived on in rock or in stone (stones or stone walls). If this sounds strange, think of modern examples that resonate with this belief: we have the venerated Wailing Wall, we touch stone tombs, crosses, statutes, and monuments or lay flowers at the foot of them showing our respect.

Thinking that the soul of the dead lived on in stone isn’t hard to imagine as stone is everlasting (apart from some eroding) and impenetrable. The ever-lasting and impenetrable quality of stone symbolizes death; people are away for ever and out of reach. But are they? Not to prehistoric peoples who lived in their world full animal, nature or ancestral spirits. For communication with the deceased, the living sought their ancestral spirits in special places; deep in caves, high on mountains or hills.

We do the same. We visit graveyards, throw flowers in bodies of water, send our prayers to heaven. Or we hold close memorabilia, things prehistoric people didn’t have. Imagine being without memorabilia to hold close in times of grief. Imagine how important it was for prehistoric people to communicate with the dead; to ask for their advice and wisdom. Or to invite them back into the world of living, which was an obvious thing to do as prehistoric people lived with the spirits of their dead, they were dwelling in their house, in their lakes or on nearby hilltops. Inviting back family members or tribal leaders who had stood out and were important or even regarded irreplaceable, isn’t a huge mind-stretch when one assumes his or her spirit is lingering nearby and shamans could journey to the spirit world to communicate with these valuable and beloved tribal members.

II.

There are many different interpretations of the functions of cave hand stencils. They are seen as ancient fingerprint identifications; ‘I have been here in this cave’. Or as traffic signs, informing us about the location of fertile hunting grounds, or they were handshakes (one tribe is greeting another tribe). In any case, hand-prints were serving a form of communication. The most remarkable fact about prehistoric hand stencils to me, for me observed as an artist, is that they come as positive and negative prints, creating red and white hand images.

Making red and white hand images requires a different technique, which, to me, shows two different communications are expressed; the message of light-against-dark hand-prints versus dark-against-light hand prints.

From here, we could assume that the hand-prints that were red, were the hand-prints of the living expressed with red ochre being the colour of blood and thus of the living. The white hand-prints are the hand-prints that expressing and representing the deceased. They are white because being dead is being bloodless, pale or white.

A cave that shows hand-prints, both reddish and whitish, holds a message to visitors that this is a sacred place, a ‘thin’ place, a penetrable place where communication with the spirit world is possible and successful. Supportive of this thesis is that a few speleologists (Chauvet cave, France) felt ‘spirits of long ago’ after discovering a prehistoric cave.

On some cave paintings many hand-prints are found, illogically applied, some easy within reach, others not so easy to apply. It seems like that prehistoric people were trying to locate the thinnest place of the walls, that, as a thin veil or membrane, was hanging as a semi-permeable divide between the world of the living and the dead, allowing communication with the dead. As a doctor feels a patient, as an artist feels a canvas, as a blind person feels a face, so prehistoric people felt a wall, trying to make contact and marking their hands as red, as from the living. Where they felt contact with spirits, with the deceased, they set white hand-prints to mark communication was established. Should they return to the depths of a cave, they could use the marks on the wall.

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III

We know that hand-prints were often applied by women (Professor Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University) but certainly not all of them as there are also hand-prints of both genders and of all ages. Still, it is important to know that most were female hand-prints. What is the extra value of women over men? Let me be succinct and point out to reproduction. Only within a woman’s body reproduction can take place and a soul can descend into a fertile womb. This quality of a woman had her, more than others, touch prehistoric cave walls inviting a spirit back into her womb. Again, I like to point out how prehistoric caves resemble human flesh, with their stalagmites and stalactites resembling membranes, male and female genitals.

To enter Earth’s womb made prehistoric people set of long and laborious journeys into dark and dangerous deep caves. Then, arriving there, in a womb like interior, performing or reacting a conception ritually (and perhaps not only ritually as the cave of Laussel suggests), but more importantly spiritually by communicating with the dead must have been a consolatory and a rewarding ritual when, a few months later, a baby was welcomed to the community. Communications with the dead might have been assisted through shamanistic rituals, enhanced by the illusions the visual stimulating cave paintings created, and by the intake of paint pigments, which might have been used as psychedelic drugs.

Perhaps shamans or psychedelic drugs weren’t even needed. Imagine changing stages of consciousness by dwelling for a longer time deep in a cave that is completely dark and still, in a cave that isn’t affected by the outside world. No rain, no wind, no thunder, no light other than that of torches and ear deafening silence. Imagine the smell of smoke and a sense of being inside a living organism that shows its fleshy interior. This was the strange world where the dead lived as it was cold and dark, yet it looked alive and organic too. Here you were as close to the dead as possible and here communication with the dead should be able to take place.

A combination of a wish to communicate with the deceased, alternating stages of consciousness, and the belief that the dead were dwelling behind these fleshy walls, inside an organism in which you had descended too, here contact with the dead was possible. Although the deceased lived in stone, these fleshy coloured walls, seemed to move and pulsate under the lights of torches, and these walls didn’t look impenetrable.

It was a matter of finding the thinnest spot, but touching, by feeling the wall. And thus, the thinnest curve in a rock that allowed communications were touched with red hand prints. And if prehistoric cave dwellers felt communicating with a deceased family or tribal member was answered, a white hand print, was added with a white hand stencil signature.

A supporting idea for white hand prints marking established contact with the dead, is to be found the hardship a small community suffered by crawling into a deep cave, a seriously dangerous and laborious task, a task that was only worth to be undertaken if it served a cause worth its hardship and danger. Bringing back a wise dead family or tribal member would fit such cause. Not only as a remedy against overwhelming sense of loss, also to regain wisdom, elementary knowledge or status to a tribe.

What can be brought up against my idea? Many things, like that some hand prints were from men and children. However, it isn’t hard to imagine a grief-stricken child in need for communication with a lost parent being helped by other tribal members or their shaman. Refuting my idea by stating that if white hands represented the dead touching and answering to the call, these hands should have been mirrored, fails as one can’t touch a stone wall from within. But one can use different coloured hand-prints.

CONCLUSION

Putting a few aspects together; hand prints serving communication, prehistoric people thinking that their ancestors lived on in the world of rock, most hand prints were applied by women, supports an idea that pregnant women were assisted by their tribe or community to enter a cave, touch the ancestral world in order to communicate with a deceased soul to invite them back into the realm of the living. Red hand prints were left on cave-walls as to testify people attempted to contact deceased tribal members, white hand images were added as a sign communicating with the dead had taken place.

Hand images have emerged around the world over a period of some 40,000 years. Any symbol, be it a hand or a circle, can represent a multiplicity of meanings and motives or change in their meaning related to rituals, sacred rites or ceremonies. I have highlighted only my idea. There are many ideas and theories.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Artist/Philosophy M.A.

N.B. Inevitably I am, as a lay person, simplifying and generalizing archaeological research. I hold a degree in Philosophy, studied ‘Religion and Rituals in Prehistory’ at Oxford Department of Continuing Education, and have read many books on prehistoric art. My essay is presenting an idea, unpretentiously, and it welcomes criticism.