Drawings the Elements of Life

What do you think are the elements of life? In classical thought, the four elements earth, water, air, and fire as proposed by Empedocles. Aristotle added a fifth element, aether; it has been called Akasha in India and Quintessence in Europe. Feng Shui works with five elements and I planned to draw all of them. But first I had to interpreted them artistically.

The result is 5 large drawings of Wood, Earth, Water, Metal, and Fire. I have tried to make the elements engaging.

For Water, I have drawn a cut through that shows water in a pond. As water is so minimal visible, it is the lotus growing in the lotus pond that shows indirectly the element of water.

For expressing Wood element, I have drawn a cut through, showing the growth rings.

For Earth, I have drawn a layered cut-through showing soil and dirt (and burrowing bunnies). But as I have a great interest in prehistory, so I have incorporated how we use earth element, as dirt, since prehistoric times, for making ceramics and building stone walls.

Expressing Fire wasn’t that easy. The best and most effective way to express fire was to set my art paper on fire. However, effective that expression would have been, it would be short lived and showing the most destructive quality of fire, and not leaving me with a drawing! Thus, I have drawn flames and fiery petals of red tulips presenting the element’s passion and dominant red colour.

Metal was a delight to work on, artistically, because I wanted to feel like a blacksmith. I drew a metal and shiny teapot with white-washed and golden decorated tea cups. I worked with Derwent metallic coloured pencils using Bronze, Gold, and Silver. It works! Even the small prints show a metallic shine that communicated the metallic element.

After having drawn Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth, I mused long and hard over how to to draw Air, or Aristotle’s’ Aether or Quintessence. Maybe one day I will try but for now, these are my Feng Shui elements and they seem to be in perfect harmony.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer at Etsy

At Esty these 5 element drawings are for sale as originals. They are perfect for decorating a Feng Shui Consultant Office.  I have them available as little art prints too for helping Feng Shui teachers to educate the Five Elements. Contact me in case you need bigger art prints.

 

Valentine’s Dreams and Mistletoe

Winter Green
You find Mistletoe at the centre of this overview of Winter Greens. Copyright Paula Kuitenbrouwer

I found some clippings of mistletoe on the estate of Oostbroek, a small Dutch estate in the centre of the province of Utrecht. As Valentine’s Day is approaching mistletoe is harvested and on sale in Dutch flower shops. Mistletoe is traditionally related to love; ‘Kissing under the Mistletoe’ and hanging it above your bed on the 14th of February for inviting your true love to appear in a dream. The belief of dreaming about your true love due to being close to a plant, holds three interesting elements. Firstly; plants have powers, although that is a bit of a no-brainer as we love to drink our coffee and tea, use herbs for cooking, and take them as medicine. Secondly, mistletoe is a powerful plant. In anthroposophy it is used for its anti-cancer properties. Maybe that was known long ago too as it is believed that druids harvested mistletoe ritually, with a golden sickle, for blessing their livestock (writings of Pliny the Elder)). Mistletoe, a hemi-parasitic plant, that grew on oaks (sacred to the Celts) was preferred. The last element that is hidden in Valentine-Mistletoe traditions is about dreaming and truths being communicated through dreams. Although we dismiss dreams as nonsense nowadays, in the past dreams were evaluated for truths and inspiration. It was a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff and for that there were wise elders to consult. Coming across mistletoe is special. It seems to say: ‘I am defying winter’. Even a sceptic can not ignore a spring coloured plant growing in a greyish midwinter landscape.

Paula

I am advised not to send my Vinculum Amoris (‘Bond of Love’ Horses with Swans and Hares cards) or Valentine’s cards as Valentine’s gifts outside the EU because they won’t make it before Valentine’s Day. My Vinculum Amoris and Valentine’s cards & embroidery are at at Etsy. Of course, my Vinculum Amoris Horses and Mandarin ducks keep their symbolism and meaning despite passing the Valentine’s Day deadline because they are about love, friendship, and loyalty. One might hope love stays on our minds the other 364 days of the year.

paulas-bookcover

My booklet ‘Birds, Butterflies, Fish & Botany’ is very low in price at the moment on Amazon.co.uk. Seize the opportunity! You won’t regret buying this booklet with 13 of my drawings and texts. My art friend Sybille recommends it especially for those who need to stay home due to being ill as my booklet takes the reader outside admiring Birds, Butterflies, Fish & Botany.

Judy BarendsThe same counts for a book made by my art friend Judy Barends. She recently published a lovely book with her watercolour artwork. Thematically there isn’t much difference between Judy and my work, as we both find great pleasure in drawing and painting Nature’s treasures. However, when inspired, Judy grabs for her watercolours, and I open by box with my coloured pencils or oil paints. Judy’s text are poetic and mine are more like stories; both our booklets are observational nature journals. For Judy’s book, go to her website.

Thank you!

Paula

At Etsy. A little overview for what you can find:

 

 

Still lifes, Foreshortening, and Nature Booklets

Drawings of blue ceramic bowls with mini ‘Zen’ gardens, Zebra or flowering Echeveria succulents, and stacked Killiney beach stones, geological treasures from Ireland. The Irish beach stones have such elegant and surprising patterns.

The Zebra cactus and succulents were the best thing to draw because I like drawing plants that have leaves growing into the direction of the viewer. For drawing such perspective you need a technique called foreshortening. Think about the figures of God, angles, and saints in Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

God by Michaelangelo

Michaelangelo mastered the skill of foreshortening effortlessly. One can do the same with flowers and plants, actually with everything that is three-dimensional. Like my tulip having one petal opening towards the direction the viewer.

Tulip in Oil Paint; Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Back to my still-life drawings. This tiny ‘Zen’ gardens survived our international move and are waiting patiently for ‘Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself‘ (Lao Tzu).

Stay safe & stay warm!

Love,

Paula

Round Blue Pot at Etsy  & Oval blue flower pot at Etsy

paulas-bookcover

My booklet ‘Birds, Butterflies, Fish & Botany’ is very low in price at the moment on Amazon.co.uk. Seize the opportunity! You won’t regret buying this booklet with 13 of my drawings and texts. My art friend Sybille recommends it especially for those who need to stay home due to being ill as my booklet takes the reader outside admiring Birds, Butterflies, Fish & Botany.

Judy BarendsThe same counts for a book made by my art friend Judy Barends. She recently published a lovely book with her watercolour artwork. Thematically there isn’t much difference between Judy and my work, as we both find great pleasure in drawing and painting Nature’s treasures. However, when inspired, Judy grabs for her watercolours, and I open by box with my coloured pencils or oil paints. Judy’s text are poetic and mine are more like stories; both our booklets are observational nature journals. For Judy’s book, go to her website.

On my Desk

On my desk: Hannah Green’s notebook that I use for Sashiko notes, my booklet ‘Birds, Butterflies, Fish & Botany’, my Sashiko cloth with autumn colours, and its beautiful hand dyed, multi coloured yarn, as well as my Ex Libris.

There are so many projects to work on; one life isn’t enough! Apart from that, I wish to live multiple creative lives in different times; like that of a Celtic blacksmith in the late Iron Age or of a prehistoric stone cutter. Or that of a Medieval weaver. But, who knows… I might have live these lives already. Which creative life does appeal to you, apart from your current one?

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Artist & Author

‘Birds, Butterflies, Fish & Botany’

at Etsy

Tufted Duck Couples in Different Colours

My Tufted Duck series is growing steadily. One more to go for having six.

imagesEvery duck shows different stitches.

A few months ago, I bought The Embroidery Stitch Bible by Betty Barnden. Leafing through it propelled me back to Junior School, art-class. I could see myself, as a young girl, working on a Needle Sampler. I still remember it! It was a pretty one with many different stitches, numbers, puppets, and floral designs.

 

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It is fun to get acquainted with different stitches again. I also feel that textile crafting is good for the brain and a fun thing to do. It keeps my hands busy and my mind creative. It does demand concentration but in a pleasant way.

 

Textile crafting certainly has the same effect as meditation.

After finishing an embroidery hoop, there is some tidying up and reorganizing to do. And after that, I like to study which different embroidery arts exits. I am very smitten with Japanese and Chinese ‘silk’ embroidery but also I am impressed by Crewel designs. Most likely, I will end up creating eclectic pieces, being so widely inspired.

Be creative & be happy,

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Artist, Author & Expat

‘Birds, Butterflies, Fish & Botany.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer's Birds, Butterflies, Fish & Botany

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

Positive hand-prints are stenciled with red ocher;

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 stone reliefs. 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 ocher 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 shamanic 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/Writer/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.

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

Available at Etsy as prints and original drawings.