Storytelling with a message

Making art, to me, is visual storytelling. Sometimes it is literally a way of telling a story that already exists. And sometimes it is a way of unearthing a story that lay hidden somewhere in my subconscience, somewhere in my fingers, somewhere in the shadows. I love painting both kinds and I find that as a natural process I often alternate between the two.

"Balance" - man side up - watercolor and color pencil painting, © Mandy van Goeije 2019
“Balance” – man side up – watercolor and color pencil, © Mandy van Goeije 2019

Where numbers become symbols

This weekend I did a painting for which I let myself be inspired by both a message I wanted to pour into the image and the symbols that led up to this painting.

Early thoughts

The starting point was that it was a birthday gift for somebody’s 69th birthday. At first I chuckled a bit about what I could do with a soixante-neuf theme. If ever I could do something cheeky, it was with this age. But thinking of who it was for, I realized that we could have this chuckle some day later this year. For now, a more important and heartfelt message wanted to be told. The only question was ‘How?’

Where the visual works

The thing with heartfelt messages is that you don’t just tell them. Not all of them. Some, you just don’t blurt out. This was one of those. “Hey you need some balance, dude!” Imagine that as a way of saying congratulations… No matter how lovingly, heartfelt and caring such a remark can be intended, that is not necessarily how they come across. And this is where I find visual language extremely helpful. In the first place, when I draw or paint, it really comes straight from the heart without interference of any white noise from my opinions or reasonings. And somehow what comes out knows its way to the heart of the beholder. So it’s a much more direct heart-to-heart way of communicating. And in the second place I’m just more sensitive when saying things with images than I am in words. But having decided on doing a special painting still left me with the questions “What?” and “How?”

"Balance" - woman side up - watercolor and color pencil, © Mandy van Goeije 2019
“Balance” – woman side up – watercolor and color pencil, © Mandy van Goeije 2019


Sitting down to think about things rarely brings solutions. In this case my purposeful thought process hadn’t taken me much further than chuckling over the images in my mind that popped up when I thought about 69-happy birthday cards. Difficult concepts always come under the shower, in bed or when I fold the laundry. Actions like that may not seem very sacred, but what they do, is that they disconnect my thinking brain for a moment. And that is often all it takes. I have little notebooks everywhere in the house so that I can quickly jot down these ideas that pop up.

In this case, I literally shot up on waking up with the realization that seen visually 69 is a sort of Yin and Yang symbol. You see, when you shove the 6 and the 9 together and press them into a circle mold, they will more or less form a Yin Yang symbol…THE symbol for balance. Eureka! It clicked in all corners. It was a visual 69th birthday wish AND I could bring my heartfelt wish of balance across.


The moment I know what to paint, acceleration kicks in. The buzz I feel when I can see the visual story in my mind, is great! Then it’s just a matter of finding the time and space to sit down, gather my stuff and dive into a few wonderful hours of painting.

I painted this painting with the wonderful set of granulating watercolors I shared here.


The painting and the message were very well received. And without my knowing, it turned out the painting, the symbol clicked in even more corners than I’d been aware of. The person who I gave this to, turned out to have made much use of it in his time as a trainer because it meant so much to him. See? Sometimes all it takes to get a really good idea, is to get out of the way and let the laundry, some sleep or the shower perform its magic. 😉