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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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…
Inspiration and hard times
We can all do with an inspiration hack at the moment, can’t we?
It’s not easy, feeling inspired with an outerworldly situation going on around you or even very close to you. And yet, worrying doesn’t solve anything. As long as you take really good care not to spread contamination and as long as it hasn’t entered your home, the best thing to do, is to get into action. Any kind of action is good. Getting creative the best 😉 At least, you’ll have something to show for the day at the end of the day. Something like this, for example:
The get-busy inspiration hack
But…HOW do you get past apathy or anxiety and feel inspired again?
Well, it’s simple: just sit your bum down at a table with some paper, pencils and some paint and draw something. Anything!
Easier said than done? Okay, then here’s an inspiration hack that works for me every time I feel stuck. I also use it as a warming-up exercise after having finished a bigger project. Then I do this “something small”.
The trick? Borrow!!!!!!!!!!!
The principle is simple. You need instagram for this.
First, seek Instaspiration. You can do that in two ways: 1) you browse your instatimeline until you see an image of a drawing or painting that appeals to you. Save it. Or 2) look at the art supplies in front of you and type the most colorful one in instasearch and then browse until one image really appeals to you. Save it.
You do NOT need to feel you will be able to copy the art. This image your pick, will just serve as inspiration…as a starting point.
Point of reference
Then, take a pencil and draw a little square measuring about 6x6cm and make a super simple sketch of the image you’ve just saved. Below your sketch, try to write down what it is that appealed to you when you first saw this image. In my example I used the image above, of a painting by @ssarvari (Silvia Romeral) that appeared on my timeline. I fell for it because of the super vibrant green colors and the lady in the center of all these plants holding a book. Books and nature do it for me every time!
We’re not going to draw or paint exactly the same image. We’re borrowing, not copying.
So…the next step is to draw a new square of 6x6cm. And maybe you need a few of these squares to seek YOUR image.
Something borrowed, something new…
Think of which elements from the reference photo you want to transfer into your own image. What I wanted to take from Silvia’s work, was the girl being amidst plants and the super fresh green that reminds me of spring.
Think of what is your style.
If you don’t know your style or if you think you don’t have one, then ask yourself in what lies the difference between a drawing or painting of yours and the image you have before you. Keep those differences. MAKE them your style! It can be the media you use that is different; the color palette; the sort of lines you like using (if you use them at all). It can be the level of realism or detail n your work. It can even be the level of skill. If you are not yet very skilled, make your work “naive”…use the “lack of” skill to your advantage.
Part of your style is also the elements you keep drawing or painting. Or, if you don’t draw or paint that much, elements you would like to paint or draw. Bring one of those into your drawing. For me, it’s the tree. With the bark. With the texture. Like I did in a New Year’s design for a card, here.
And then purposefully incorporate something from the original image into your drawing/painting. In my case it’s the gouache flowers in a less textured style.
A balanced mix
If all’s well, you end up with a balanced (or not so balanced, but what the heck! You created something artsy, right? THAT’s what matters.) spin-off from another artist’s art. And if all’s well this process has made you think about the art of another artist and about your own work. My students often asked how they could get their own style, as if it’s something you can ‘get’. It’s something that will simply happen as you go and that you will only become aware of by reflection on your work with exercises like these. So copying is not just a good inspiration starter, it’s also a great tool for getting to know your own work.
“Listening to the wise tree” is available as an original. Not for prints, unfortunaitely because the background is golden and cannot be affordably reproduced. If you’re interested, you can contact me through e-mail.
Your turn to hack your inspiration
If this mini-tutorial inspires you to give this a go, I’d like to hear how it goes in the comments below. And, if you dare (and don’t be shy, there is no such thing as ‘bad art’, just budding skills) I’d love for you to share your image so that I can check out what you do.
Did you enjoy this inspiration hack / mini-tutorial? Then please consider signing up for MandyMail for future inspiration hacks.
On borrowing and crediting
If you use this hack and publish your work, it’s decent and attentive to at least credit the artist of the reference work. This is an obvious MUST if your work ends up being pretty much a copy. And should your end result be very far removed from the reference and looks nothing like it, like mine, it is not strictly necessary, but by doing this artists can support each other. Just think, if someone uses YOUR art to work from you’d like to be credited as well, right?
Many thanks to Silvia Romeral for her permission to publish her art here. Go check out her work!
How to keep your mind sane in this surreal time?
If you’re even the least bit like me, I bet the current news and quarantine have raised your stress levels at least a bit.
Being kicked out of your daily routine and having to refrain from social contact isn’t easy, but if we all keep to ourselves for a bit, we can help this corona crisis pass as quickly as possible. So, it’s never been more important to keep your head and heart light and clear than in a global crisis like this one. And even better…we can even use this time to add something valuable to our lives.
Whatever happens, today Spring has begun. And if anything, let this Spring be the symbol of hope and a promise of the better, sunnier times that are ahead.
But how do you keep your mind sane when you feel bored, stressed, annoyed, afraid or overwhelmed?
You keep busy.
You get creative.
And you go outside.
Even if you’re not allowed to go further outside than your own garden, than the little patch of green outside your apartment, than the road to the supermarket…in your closest vicinity you can still go outside. And where there’s an outside, there is nature. Even on balconies or in sidewalk cracks!
So…I propose a challenge!
Observe the nature that is your Little Big World for 10 days. Closely.
It’s super interesting.
It’s healthy to catch some fresh air.
It helps clear the mind.
It strengthens your sense of being connected with the world.
It’s great to do with your family.
It’s lovely to share.
So it’s a wonderful way to connect.
1 e-book, 10 days in The Little Big World
Join me and
and go outside!
Join the challenge now and join the facebook group. The coming weeks you will find more free inspiration there to stay active, creative and happy!
Important: when going outside, keep a distance of at least 1,5 m from anybody who doesn’t live in your house. Even on the beach, in parks, in playgrounds and in forests!!!!!
Lots of love, Mandy van Goeije
If you’ve been following me online, you may remember that sometimes the Universe really does deliver. A few weeks ago, two more wishes were spontaneously fulfilled. Sender? The Universe.
This year I quit online teaching in order to focus on my own art and writing. It felt as a big step to let go of such a big portion of what I used to call ‘work’.
What I needed, was a thorough studio clear out for a good start and overview. I had so many drawings and paintings stored that I couldn’t even open and close the drawers anymore. And on close inspection, it turned out my chest of drawers was in a near-death state. As I wasn’t very energetic myself since some virus had clutched my system, I sat down across my drawers a little feverishly, trying to think of a way to get new ones without a budget to spend.
Within 15 minutes the phone rang. My father-in-law was clearing out the attic of his work place and he had a steel cabinet with drawers for paper. Did I want it? You bet I wanted it. And the next day, when my husband went to help get it down and move it over here, I got another great call. They also found a fine professional, tilting drawing table there, the exact right size for my studio. Did I want it?
DID I WANT IT?!?!?! After my happy dance for the steel cabinet I had realized I needed to reorganize my studio to fit the giant piece of furniture in. And with that I’d realized I could do with some extra work surface for my watercolors to dry. But again, no budget, no extra work top. And there it suddenly was and I was doing another happy dance!
You know, I don’t really believe there’s a bunch of gods in the clouds, or even just one, who’s got things planned for us. Most times you just have to work really hard to get it and be inventive. But don’t you feel that sometimes the coincidence is so striking that for a little while you would like to believe it could be true anyway? Getting these perfect pieces of furniture for my studio, for free, just when I wished them…it felt like a warm and encouraging hand backing me up and urging me on. It felt really, really good.
After some firm lifting and shoving, I reorganized my studio and I’ve begun to work. First I finished a painting I’d started a long time ago and then chose another one to finish. That one’s almost done. And I went to a lecture about local folk and fairy tales. It was amazing and super inspiring. I will tell you all about that in another blog post some time soon. But what I can say is that it has inspired me straight into my sketchbook that I can’t wait to show… But for now, just a little new-worktop view of my watercolor work on my new drawing table.
Normally, when the whole world goes woowoo over something, I tend to back away and withdraw from the discussion. Usually there’s so much debate and sensation that hard news facts are tough to find anyway and so I try not to. But this time with the Corona virus it’s different. The news has come to my back yard since the virus has reached our town this morning. An anonymous employee from our local hospital’s been tested positive. Ouch.
When abstract news becomes reality
A hospital’s not a good place to work when infected and I sure hope she’s not infected anyone else. But looking at the statistics of the past week, I’m holding my breath. And I’m wondering: are the government doing enough to stop the virus? We are such a wee little, but super crammed country; shouldn’t we just go in lock down for a fortnight? I know it would cause unbelievable practical discomfort and the economy wouldn’t flourish from it either. But turning to the statistics again, it looks like we have a serious outbreak going on in our country and thus far the percentage of casualties seems to be between 1% and 5%, depending on what figures you count. How far do we take it, keeping our lives ‘business as usual’ when many lives will be at stake?
The value of news facts
Earlier this week I reposted a Belgian article on facebook that seemd to put things into perspective a bit. It was written by a journalist who said amongst others that the number of casualties in China is likely to be high due to chemical smog that normally covers cities like Wuhan and that probably renders people more likely to become seriously ill. Over here in the West the virus looked more like a regular cold or flu. Unfortunately the death toll in Italy rose dramatically yesterday, raising the percentage of casualties to almost 5%, compared to China’s 3,5%, leaving no room for thinking oneself safer in the West. So the one bit of ‘news’ that I shared hoping to provide a little reassurance, wasn’t correct either. I hate that and I’ve removed the post.
Incomplete or silent ‘facts’
I believe It’s these contradictory ‘facts’ that makes situations like these harder to handle. We are told it’s ‘just a normal flu, no worries’. But then in Italy in one day over 130 people die from it. Oops, not ‘just a normal flu’ then, we guess. But there’s no comments from experts and officials. In fact, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment have toned down their frequency of reporting to just once a day, This causes more unrest for some as many local health institutes keep reporting new cases, like the one in my own home town today, which was reported before the official number came out, but was not taken into account and won’t be in the totals before tomorrow. It makes one wonder, how many more numbers like these are there really then?
Sadly, the only news I heard on the radio about the Corona Virus today is that the European share markets have crashed. Not that we now officially have 321 confirmed cases of Corona in our stamp-sized country. I had to look that up on a designated website. And, as I wrote above, the number isn’t definitieve. More cases are already known. And we’re still awaiting the outcome of random tests done on a large number of hospital employees in a highly-infected area of our country where Carnival festivities might have spread the virus big time
Why the fuss
Yeah, you’re right. I’m fussing. But for good reason. Normally, being the type of heart patient that I am is of little concern. I’m hardly ever worried about heart-related stuff. With the Corona virus, I am. A serious lung infection can be a very serious problem for me. Normal flu can cause that too, but it’s rare. And I’m especially scared since this year picked up EVERY little virus that floated by. So I’m thinking: a late hibernation or some hermitting? Not that I can keep the virus out of the house with a family going to school and work. But one can reassuringly fool oneself a bit, no? I mean, I know for a holy scientific fact that painting with watercolor actually strengthens the body’s defense mechanism against viruses. So painting a bit more than usual wouldn’t be too bad, right? 😉
So, what to do when nervous or afraid?
When I’m uptight about something, I tend to scribble in my sketchbook and very often it’s little drawings with criticism on how our world works. (See another example here.) Being a little angry is easier than being scared, I guess. It just feels good ranting with watercolor. But also, my visual rants make sense. Like the one I did this morning: if it weren’t for globalisation, the Corona virus wouldn’t have spread as quickly or even at all. It’s business men and tourists who imported it into Europe. And then it’s the holiday makers who went to Italy who spread it all over.
It’s from mud that lotuses grow
Out of the greatest horrors come beautiful things, they say. And I’m hoping that a Corona virus pandemic-in-the-making like this one – although I believe WHO doesn’t call it a pandemic just yet, at the moment – is going to make people think about it. About how we live. About what we think is normal and what we take for granted. Is it really that normal that we travel the world all the time? If anything beautiful already came out of this virus, it’s that big cities in China that are normally covered in thick chemical smog now have perfectly clean air. Is it normal to sacrifice people’s health for big-time manufacturing? And how much is our economy worth versus the lives of people? What is an economy when it consists out of so many sick people anyway? And what is an economy for? For the market economy itself or for people?
Every change begins with questions
I know I tend to be a bit idealistic and the impact is probably not going to be that great. I mean, the moment this virus has drifted past, I suspect life will pick up just like it was before and people will want to forget and treat themselves to….a nice holiday in Italy, or somewhere else, to forget the stress. But even if the masses don’t feel a nudge to think about things, I know many people do feel it. However, nobody seems more concerned than our teenagers. Kids talk about the Corona virus and world-wide and politically related issues ALL the time. Kids watch the growing numbers ALL day, EVERY day. Kids are drawing question marks at a normally running society when a potentially lethal epidemic is spreading. Again it’s the young who are asking the right questions.
When bad things happen, we should stop to think what we can learn. I did not write this article to spread fear. I’m just an artist and I observe what I see happening and I stop to think. I’m aware that a new virus poses a challenge to ‘officials’ and ‘experts’ because it’s not yet known what a virus can and will do and how it will evolve during its outbreak. The last SARS virus turned from vicious to relatively harmless by itself.
But at the same time, when trying to prevent a national or global panic from happening, I believe it’s imporant to provide facts constantly. And I believe it’s important to explain why certain measures are taken and others are not. The much used phrase “we rely on the advice of our experts” doesn’t really generate trust. And lastly, I believe that being part of nature means that we will be challenged over and over again. We won’t be able to stop things like viruses from happening. But we can learn to deal with it better and to ask ourselves questions about how the world works and to realize that it is us who make the world go round as it does.
March has already come, so it’s been two months that I’ve been focusing solely on new work. Or rather…I’ve also been reorganizing my studio due to some new arrivals and I’ve been doing some online updating. You will read all about it here.
Shifting Focus for New Work
It wasn’t before I sat dow in my studio, realizing I was really no longer teaching online that I became aware of how much my focus had been on the outside world in the past years. I was always making stuff I felt I could use to teach or to inspire others. Rarely was I deeply and fully immersed in my own work, my ow process. After my decision, all of a sudden it had to happen now. It took a few weeks to straighten my thinking and adjust to a new flow.
Mixed Media as a Flow Starter for New Work
For starters, I grabbed a canvas board my mother-in-law had recently given to me. Either I had to store it in the attic or work on it straight away. Not knowing where I was in my mind, I figured I might as well throw in some paint and find out. Here is the result:
It was liberating to work with mixed media again. The materials themselves drag a whole different style of work from my hands, but I love it nonetheless. After this one I did a lot more new work, some of which I’ll share below. But first I have two important things to share:
Besides reorganizing my studio, I’m also in the process of reorganizing my online presence. For starters, I’ve created a brand spanking new art-only Instagram account: @mandyvangoeijeart. That’s the account to follow if you’re interested in my art. The old account will remain active, but contains more random and personal stuff. I felt I needed a clean slate to gather all my art to browse in one glance. I’m filling it up with really great pics of my older work and my latest work and it’s beginning to look really nice. For now I’m updating both accounts with my art, but in the future all of the new art will go to @mandyvangoeijeart.
I’m doing the same thing for facebook. No new account was needed there, but I’m turning the art page art only and my personal profile will be what it should be: personal. Since I’m not really enjoying facebook much of the time, I might even turn that account to ‘private’. I’m going to be communicating through my blog anyway. That’s home, after all. So, if you want to follow me on facebook, make sure you follow my Mandy van Goeije Art page.
FINAL CALL for online students
VERY important for my online students: if you’ve purchased one of my online courses, make sure to download all course materials before April because early April the online courses will be taken down. Only Art for Earth will remain accessible online through the links and pages given in the Art for Earth package. For all other online courses this really is the final call. Once the courses go down in April, materials can no longer be accessed, so this is the last chance to download the course videos and pdf files. Hurry!
New work: Watercolor
The first watercolor piece I did this year was “The Unlikely Couple” above. They were incredibly great to paint. The left figure was already there and then a whole lot of color. But his companion soon came into the picture when I sat down with my paints and brushes.
The second piece I did is also an older piece that I’ve finished.
The HOW surprises people
Of this painting I posted some process and close-up photos on Instagram. It is with those close-ups that people realized there is no quick technique or trick to paint textures like these. It really is hard and patient labour of laying down layer after layer and painting minute detailing with the finest brushes available. Paintings like these take days. This one about 40 hours. But I love it, though, because to me, it brings out more than ‘just another face’. With that many layers, every face turns into a character, a story. It’s a pity that watercolor is so hard to photograph and scan…the digital image never quite captures the liveliness and depth of the colors, but I think you at least get an idea here.
Is gold always bling?
What I also love to do, is to add gold to paintings like these. Watercolor on high-quality paper is a very matte medium. So adding the gold is not so much about adding sparkle or upping the decorative value; it’s much more about adding contrast. Not just in color, but in matte versus shine. To me, it makes it more interesting to work on too because adding the shameless glam requires a whole lot of tweaking of the tender watercolors to make sure they balance out against the bejeweled boldness or else that will take over the painting.
Gold equals exclusivity indeed
The golden paint makes paintings like these exclusive in one go because pigments like these can by no means be reproduced. So when you buy a painting with such golden elements, you know absolutely for sure that you are getting a unique and original painting.
Speaking about buying art…since I was teaching online I hardly put any effort into selling my work. Well, I will now. I am working on the construction of an online sales page. I will let you know when it’s ready. If you can’t wait because you fall in love with one of my pieces, you can always contact me personally. All the pieces on my instagram account @mandyvangoeijeart are available unless stated otherwise. At the moment many are stated unavailable because I added some older work too to add content, but I’ve lots of work that’s available that I will keep adding from now on. And I’m making new work too, of course.
So, this was my Springtime update. It’s not really Spring yet, but with the trees in my garden blossoming and the crocuses and vincas blooming…I call it Spring! The next update won’t be long because I’ve already got it lined up for publication.
So, happy Spring (or Fall, down under 😉 ) and till soon!