Corona-times tip: inspiration hack and a Wise Tree

Corona-times tip: inspiration hack and a Wise Tree

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...

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The Superstar Generation

The Superstar Generation

The Superstar Generation by Mandy vanGoeije
The Superstar Generation, ink, charcoal and oil crayon on paper, © Mandy van Goeije, 2019

Some images speak for themselves, so let me not ruin it by writing about it.

How waterproof are my inks?

How waterproof are my inks?

At the moment I’m completely into waterproof ink because I’m drawing and writing a lot of Tanka. It’s something I like to do when I have a lot on my mind. Limiting myself to just a small number of lines, a small number of syllables, forces me to boil my thoughts down to the essence and that’s incredibly calming. And at the same time it’s a huge catalyst for creative thinking.

My illustrated Tanka are poetry in words and image. Sometimes they complement each other, sometimes they are a translation of the other, sometimes they change the other into something new. I love the intricate simplicity of the process.

But I do need really good waterproof inks to make them. Last week I had trouble with my go-to black drawing ink when all of a sudden it started to bleed when I colored my drawing with watercolor. And as it happened, an artist on facebook told me that her ink was really, really good and waterproof, so I ordered a huge bottle and tested it when it came in yesterday.

Here’s a video of my waterproof ink test for you. I thought you might like to see what I found out…

Included inks:
Winsor & Newton Black Indian Ink (#030)
Talens drawing ink neutral tint (715)
Talens Indian Ink
Talens drawink ink black (700)
Diamine Onyx black fountain pen ink
Mont Blanc Permanent black
Micron Pigma fineliner 03

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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. 😉

Drawing Table Hack

Drawing Table Hack

Photos + Video

Slanted worktops save the day. And the Neck!

People who draw a lot know that the neck and the shoulders need to be spared. Working on a flat surface inevitably causes problems in the long run. And still all artists know the pain because many of us don’t sit behind slanted drawing surfaces enough.

Drawing Table Hack : 1 Reeves workstation + 1 Studio Designs Storage Tray in two halves = wonderful!

I was one of those. And since I work with watercolor a lot, I don’t always want a slanted work top. I don’t want any wet washes to run down into other wet washes. Not all the time at least. But the Storytelling course I’m in at the moment has put me into drawing mode. And whether it’s on paper or digitally, I really needed my work surface to climb up a little.

Not just a matter of perspective, but perspective matters

Also, working on a slanted worktop improves your view on your work. The perspective simply changes when you hold your work surface upright, or more upright than flat. If you’ve never noticed, it’s worth a try to draw one and the same thing once on a flat surface and then on a slanted work surface. You’re bound to see a difference!

Work with what you have! Until it doesn’t.

I like to work with what I have if I can. So, I took out my Reeves A2 workstation, which I always have at hand. It provided a slanted work top allright, but it had become a little rickety after about 12 years. And also…my pencils would keep rolling off…bounce on my desk…and then onto the floor. It would break so many leads. Super annoying. And costly too, considering last week two Luminance pencils fell onto the ground and broke their leads. Which was when I needed a solution INSTANTLY!

Metal Storage Tray, foam inset and mesh swivel cup + Reeves A2 drawing table

So, something new then?

An art store I order from regularly had beautiful drafting tables on sale. They were functional, kinda slick and had awesome options for storage on the sides. I immediately imagined all my problems solved. Only…I didn’t really have space for another table in my studio. And I didn’t want to get rid of my wooden reading table, nor of my piano or of the bird. Then I figured I could saw a piece out of my desk and shove the new drafting table right in there. It was an option. But then again…working with watercolor so often…my gut feeling said ‘no’.

Not old, not new…hack time!!!

When the gut feeling says ‘no’, other things start stirring. And I noticed that the storage trays I noticed on the sides of the drawing tables were also for sale without a table. They weren’t cheap. And way too big for my Reeves workstation. But if I could cut it in half and fit it to the sides of my drawing board…..?! I ordered one to see if it would work and then noticing the weight of the tray I realized it would be too heavy for the rickety workstation. So I took out the wooden stick that held it together and replaced it with a round steal 8mm beam And my husband screwed a small wooden beam on top of that to spread forces over left and right stand equally. It had made the table so strong we could sit on it!

Metal Tray storage on the side of the A2 Reeves workstation with the cut foam inset for copic markers and the mesh swivel cup. On the left small drawing chest with inks, cellphone holder and water.

The Cherry on the Cake

The next day the storage tray arrived. It looked amazing. Super sturdy, heavy and high quality. Great! Only, the cups in it didn’t swivel the way I had expected. Although that turned out to be no problem at all. And the metal saw went through it much more easily than expected and a little sanding paper took away any sharp edges. So within no time I had the perfect drawing board on my desk and my desk was still in one piece. Also…the tray comes with foam art supply holders. I felt they were too big for my liking. No problem. We sharpened the meat knife and that too went through it like butter.

Only one problem left to sort. Can I pick your brain a little?

The only thing I’m looking to fix now, is a little something to hold my ink and small water jar horizontal. Working on it! But if you have a good tip…it’s more than welcome!

Video time!

Absolutely wonderful new Watercolor Paint: Aquarius

Absolutely wonderful new Watercolor Paint: Aquarius

Watercolor face I did with the Aquarius paints, Queen of Hearts

The Discovery

A little while back I ran into the Jane Blundell’s blogpost about Aquarius watercolor paints by Roman Szmal. I had never heard of the brand before – which isn’t crazy, for more and more brands keep popping up in the watercolor hype – but I felt Jane’s enthusiasm and got enthusiastic. I contacted Roman Szmal and he sent me a beautiful set of paints.


What makes these paints stand out in the first place, is their price considering that real artist pigments are used. At the same time they are as affordable as student quality paints. So, the next logical question would be: are they any good?

Yes. These Aquarius watercolor paints are absolutely very good. And the collection is wonderfully big with lots and lots of beautiful pigments to choose from.


Upon receiving the paint one things stands out immediately: the wrapping. Every pan is wrapped in a piece of non-sticky paper. And that in its turn is covered with a wrap of watercolor paper on which an actual sample of the color has been painted. Seen together in a box that offers a tremendously luxurious feel. And when choosing colors, the real swatches are extremely helpful.

The set of Aquarius watercolor paints I got and tested.

Smashing colors

As you can see in the image above, this is a wonderful set of colors. Literally ALL of these are lovely as can be. And some colors in this set are typically colors I never use, but have begun using since I got this set. There are of course the wonderful Mineral Violet and Shadow Violet. These colors that hold contrasting pigments have done miracles for Daniel Smith too. But a more unlikely lovely color is the Caput Mortuum (2nd row from the bottom, 1st pan on the left) which has a pinkish/lilacish undertone and some heavy dark particling, which makes it an outstanding color to use in skin tones, shading and landscapes when you are looking for some unpredictable texture. And the sap green is the most beautiful one I’ve ever had. And the orange on the top right of this image is nothing short from gorgeous. And…oh well, I could go on like this for quite a bit because I love this paint. Just look at the video at the bottom of my page.

In comparison

I’ve been asked if these paints compare to Yarka / White Nights. To some extent, but these are brighter and more vibrant, in my experience. And especially over time some colors remain more vibrant and strong. Personally I would choose these over the White Nights anytime. They are heavily pigmented and allow immensely good for layering.

They are different from paints like Horadam in that the pigments are perhaps a little less finely ground. But in my experience that is an assett of this paint rather than a setback. It give this paint its own character and since the colors are lovely and vibrant, to me it’s just a big plus. Especially in work in which I paint a lot of texture. This is absolutely artist grade paint.

In the top photo you can see what this paint does on cold press watercolor paper and still creating texture. That’s pretty marvellous. But in the next photo you can see how a smoother image is also very well possible with this paint and looks smashing and vibrant in colors. And the layering in this one was just perfect!

Buglady painting with Aquarius watercolors and Kremer gold


The one point of attention with these paints is that when you get them, some colors can be very sticky. To me personally it’s not a problem, but some colors may need a little work to unwrap. Roman Szmal gave me the advice to rip the paper wrapping off very quickly. Then it should not stick as much. I recorded two videos of this paint. The second is a swatching video that I’ll post below in this article. But the first was a very long live video I did in which you can see me unwrap the paint.


First I’ll give you the shorter swatching video. And after the video you will find a list of addresses where you can order this paint.


The Aquarius watercolor paint pans by Roman Szmal are available at the following stores:

Kunstburg (NL)

Poland and online

Nordic region


Spain and worldwide

Directly from Roman Szmal’s facebook page

Wrapping it up? (we’ve just unwrapped it!)

This paint has been on my desk from the moment it arrived, so I’m looking for a better container to keep it in. Because the fact that it’s been at hand for so long is the best proof of how happy I am with this paint. I have not once felt the need to put it away and grab one of my other sets.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and I’m curious to hear if you’ve got any experience with this brand of watercolor and if so, what experience that is. Perhaps you even have photos online of your work?


I think you all know by now, but to be sure I’ll mention that there’s no affiliate link between me and the manufacturer of this paint, nor with any of the online shops I’ve mentioned. I review these paints honestly and merely from my own fascination with and love for watercolor paints.

What’s on My Desk?

What’s on My Desk?

A second blog post in two days?! I must be on a roll again after such a long period of quietude…

For today’s post I let myself be inspired by my friend Marit Barentsen who takes part in “What’s on Your Workdesk“. I was a bit tired of working on an illustration assignment and browsed a bit until I felt lit up by Marit’s post. So I figured, why not? I love peeping into another creative mind’s happy place, so why not share mine?

I hope you like a goofy post like this. Personally I love seeing the creative stuff others work with and the projects they are working on. And the places they sit down and do the work, of course. How about you?

Storytelling with Comics

Storytelling with Comics

Comic(al) Attempts

You’ll probably know me from my online courses, my art or my visual journals. Those who’ve been following me for a longer time, may know that I actually also have a thing for drawing comics. A wish, mostly. And I have actually made some comic-style visual journaling attempts like these:


Comic I drew for “The Sketchbook Project” in 2012. When I went shopping one day I ran into a man who seemed very normal, on the surface. An grandfather with a stroller. Only, when I got closer, I noticed he was strolling around with a doll in his stroller. And when he saw me looking, he stopped to wave at me very happily and proudly…it was unsetting and moving at the same time.

Poor Sense of Humour, But Boy, Did We Laugh!

And when something hilarious happened one day, I drew this 4-panel comic, which – pardon my dreadful sense of humour – I still find incredibly funny:

OMG, yes this actually really happened…

Totti Colori

And at some time I discovered that comics weren’t always about linework and traditional panels. Influenced by that, I tried a more stylish and colorful one, which was inspired by the work of Lorzenzo Mattotti and which tells a super big story for who can read it:

BIG story in one spread, but highly symbolic, so I don’t think anyone but me will be able to read it. Need to work on that, I guess…

Embarrassment Gone Funny

Oh, and of course I tried combining illustration and comics in another funny one! Comics really seem to be THE perfect medium for embarrassing or funny events…

This one really happened too!

When The Goings Got Tough

But I also sought refuge in drawing comics in hard times, like when we moved house across the country. I drew the daily events in comic style, portraying my little family as migrating birds:



And on a more poetic note, I guess you could even say that my illustrated Tankas could be considered a form of single-panel comic:

Teaching Comics, Even…

And then there is of course also the storyboarding journaling course I teach, which is my personal favorite since it moves people so strongly towards the creation and elaboration of stories and helps them develop their visual language so well.

A Desire

In other words, even though I’ve never identified with being a comic artist, I’ve always felt drawn to making comics and have used them in my journals. And for some stories I actually considered making a series or a book, even. Only, I didn’t really know how to go about it. My efforts often felt a tad clumsy. And I felt ‘naked’ without my painterly watercolors and not yet at ease with a totally different and less painterly style.


What I love so much about (auto-)biographic comics and graphic novels is that they make nearly every topic more accessible and digestible. I saw a documentary about that once, in which this notion was confirmed. Somehow it’s easier to read confronting and emotional things in images than it is in words. That’s why many graphic novels are about war and topics like mental illness. Topics that would be overwhelming in other media are interesting to read about in comic form. I think that’s in part due to the fact that comics are often a rather sober representation of events. And in part I think it’s because in images a certain principle that could offend or overwhelm people may turn funny and accessible, like my friend Elly does in her comics (important: these MAY offend people because she doesn’t shun away from any topic).

A Project?

So, I’ve had a crush on comics for the greatest part of my life that I wasn’t really aware of until a few years back. Events in my life and family history demanded to be sorted into a story and shared. But it didn’t feel like art material and even though I tried to write a book about it, it didn’t feel completely right. But then I thought of a comic, or graphic novel, if you will, and that felt like “IT”. And working on the book had at least given me ample grit on the story to take shape in my mind already. But how to go about it? I hadn’t really drawn real comics before, not even multi-panel pages.

Digital Attempts

So I got back to scribbling events down in little comic-like sketches and storyboards. But I was fazed by the work involved. Somehow it seemed an even higher mountain to climb than writing a novel. This Spring, right before the renovation I got a new tablet and started a digital visual journal which I tried to keep during the renovation. I failed due to the chaos that grew too big to persevere in anything but conquering the daily chaos. But I really enjoyed creating these pages. They gave me an idea of how my journaling experience could go hand in hand with a new comic style to tell my story, so I’ve been wanting to continue ever since.

Part conventional, part digital visual journal page comic style.

And Then…A Course!

When I ran into a facebook post by Nelle Verhoeff about taking the Storytelling Flow course by Tom Hart – a graphic novel author – I was immediately grasped, so I entered. And what a way to spend my staycation! I love it!

Practice Will Make Better…I Hope

I’m still very much in the sketching phase, so nothing fancy, but I am practising the kind of storytelling I’d like to learn in a new way and I absolutely love it! It brings about an entirely new flow of creative energy and inspiration. Here’s what I’ve done thus far. My focus was “kicking the brain” and some stories around that:


Brain Fever

This is a topic I did an ink drawing about two years ago…one I also used to announce my Facebook time-out last fall:

“Impulse Overflow” – Ink on paper, 2015


This one I call “Pollution”. It starts with pollution and passes it on. A story development I would never have come up with without the guidance of another artist sharing some of HIS ways of coming up with ideas for his work.

I guess you might be seeing more comic-style work from me in my visual journals as of now. I’ve already begun working on some biographic panels to see if I could pull off a whole story…

Do you like working in your journal in comic-style as well?
Have you ever tried?

Before I bid you goodbye, I will leave you with a little list of really great autobiographic comics/graphic novels, should you feel inspired to read some:

A Comic Bookwurm

As a child I read a lot of comics. We had friends who had the whole series of Suske & Wiske. And one day a classmate of mine gave me truckloads of all kinds of series, which I read almost without takine a breth. But I abandoned them when I became a student. They didn’t return in my reading repertoire until I got super-excited about visual journaling and disovered the existence of autobiographic graphic novels. Some really great ones are:

  • 365 Days by Julie Doucet; a visual diary of one year
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (it’s even got it’s own Wikipedia page!); a coming-of-age memoir
  • Persepolis I & II by Marjana Satrapi; an impressive coming-of-age novel during the Islamic revolution in Iran
  • Burnout Dagboek by Maartje Hartjes; sorry, only in Dutch, but really, really good and worthwhile to learn Dutch for if you’re interested in the topic of burnout
  • Epileptic by David B., which is about growing up in the shadow of the epilepsy of his brother

Do you know any beautiful autobiographic comics/graphic novels that I should read?

ByeBye, Till Next Time!

Even though this post is not about my art or about my visual journal, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. It is about the impulse that inspires me right now and about the direction my river is flowing into at the moment. I’m super curious where it will lead me and my work. But I bet you’ll be seeing it come back in my journals…

mandy van goeije portrait


life book teacher mandy van goeije