A not-so secret hermit in isolation

Dear reader, here’s a little word from the art cocoon….a blogpost about laying down feelings through experiments on paper. About how visual journaling helps me process confusing and difficult emotions in this covid-19 crisis.

You’re probably reading and hearing covid-19 all day long any day, so I won’t spend too many sentences on it. Social isolation isn’t too much of a problem for me. As an artist I have recluse super powers, so being solo in my studio isn’t that different from my normal life. And even though I don’t see my friends IRL, I talk to them regularly in videocalls and that’s actually pretty good.

it ain't over yet - covid-19 art by Mandy van Goeije
“It ain’t over yet” – watercolor and oil paint visual journal page by Mandy van Goeije

Lonely, only in comparison

What kills me is that the world is returning to some sort of social normal and I can’t. There’s no problem in me being an involuntary hermit if “everybody else” has to be. But being in the risk group I’m beginning to feel left behind when” the whole world” seems to be getting back to their normal lives – together. So in that area I tend to feel a bit sorry for myself on off-days. Especially on days when a walk with the dog feels like running a gauntlet in trying to avoid people from getting close. Sidewalks and roads are getting significantly more crowded, you see.

A chasm

But all that is still doable. And so what if I wallow in self-pity for a quarter of an hour or so? It’s an ugly sight, but nobody sees me do it anyway 😉 No, what I find truly indigestible at the moment is my facebook timeline wearing me out with fake news, conspiracy theories and rallies and petitions against covid-19 vaccination programmes. Some people who are not at risk and don’t know anyone who’s been ill from this virus do not seem to respect the situation. And that is hard. Very. Especially when it’s people who I used to have a lot of respect for. I have snoozed so many people the past weeks, but that kind of messages keep popping up and I’m beginning to deliberate a social cleanse…but before taking a decision, visual journaling helps me get rid of excess and not very helpful emotion.

Denial - covid-19 art by Mandy van Goeije
Denial”, watercolor and oil paint visual journal page by Mandy van Goeije

Processing through visual journaling

These are many and difficult feelings that I can’t do anything with. Do you recognize any of them? And if you do, or if you have different, but equally tough and confusing feelings, how do you deal with them? Do you process them on paper? How does your process work? Supposing you already have a process for it, of course. If you don’t, you might like to read on and see if you can pick something from mine that might work for you…

What works best for me is to go visual and to throw myself at experiments. When I experiment with techniques and materials I don’t know very well, I cannot have any expectations of the final result, no standard I have to live up to. And that allows me the space I need to focus on the process of becoming aware of what goes on inside me and spilling it in on paper. It doesn’t have to be pretty, although, sometimes, in some way or another, it turns out that way because it’s raw.

temporary paralysis - covid-19 art by mandy van goeije
“Temporary Paralysis” – visual jouranl page in watercolor and oil paint by Mandy van Goeije


The three images above are examples of such a visual journaling experiment. They are journal pages that are extremely different from what I normally do. They are visual rants about situations and feelings. The backsides contain rants in words that come up while I paint and draw. It feels good to release all of that energy and literally lay it down so I don’t have to carry it. After that I can work peacefully. I will show you the illustrations I’m doing at the moment later. Or…I can draw a silly version of my husband when he scratches his head over this new technique I’m flinging myself at and explain this is a technique Paul Klee used a lot and come up with a rather Simpsonian portrait of da husband himself….meeting Klee….

explaining klee art by mandy van goeije
“Explaining Klee”, a visual journal page in watercolor and oil paint by Mandy van Goeije

Developing an imagery

There’s no sense in wallowing in any kind of emotion. But denying them or tucking them away makes no sense either. Emotions ask to be acknowledged and the energy needs to be released – preferably in a constructive or at least harmless way. I am glad that I have learned to keep a visual journal and that I’ve developed an imagery that helps me do so. No matter how tough the situation is that I journal about at any given time, by releasing the emotional load visually, there’s also always some form of joy in the process of release. And that turns all bad things into someting less bad. And regularly I find it reveals the flee behind the elephant-sized shadow that seemed to haunt me.

Making room

Sometimes I wonder if all illustrators/artists process their feelings this way. I know a few who do. And I can recommend visual journaling to anybody, but especially to people who work visually. The imagery you develop in expressing personal story this way, is a HUGE asset in the job of illustration. But even if you’re not an illustrator or artist, the process to work through emotions this way is very helpful. Visual processing works very deeply in the mind in a very safe way. It allows us to express things we couldn’t possibly give words to. This makes room for complicated stuff and then helps release them. I will write about that more soon. But you don’t have to wait for my words…you can give it a try yourself, in the safe seclusion of your privacy, and see what it does for you.

And now it’s YOUR turn

Pick a technique or material you’re not very familiar with and draw your situation. Pretty is not the object. Unfolding and releasing your story is. See what comes up. And what it does for you. And if you’d like to share, I’d love to read it in the comments below or in a private e-mail. I will respond…