English translation of the Tanka:

four paws are walking
to the horizon with me
I never get there
no matter how much concrete
slides past under my two feet

Storytelling is majorly important in art

Without a story, art is basically just a pretty (hopefully!) picture or a display of skills. Nothing wrong with pretty pictures, but personally I want more. And I know I’m not the only one. It is in the stories we share that people read or see a reflection of their own. It is through stories that we connect. Most artists strive for meaningful art. If we really want to connect with our audience, storytelling is the key element in our work.

Short poetry as a great tool for storytelling

Most times in art the story isn’t portrayed or told literally. It often appears as a metaphor. But when told with style and cut down to the bare essentials, story can be integrated into a piece of art. For any kind of art, and especially in a visual journal, or art journaling, upgrading our skills in a very concise form of using language can be a major asset. Micro storytelling does not only prevent us from losing the essence in a tsunami of words, but also, it helps boil down our minds to the essentials, making our art more focused and condensed and therefore stronger.


Simply put, Tanka are a spin-off from Haiku. It is probably put a bit bluntly, but let’s not make this too complicated for now. Haiku are short poems that consist of 3 phrases having 5 -7 – 5 syllables. Tanka have two added phrases of 7 syllables each which give them just that little bit more space to really tell a story. There are no strict rules as to rhyme, style or content. Writing Tanka is about rhythm, form, feelings and thoughts. They are often a fragment from life…a tiny captured moment. It doesn’t have to be complicated academic “literarararity”. Writing Tanka is a matter of learning to feel the rhythm of your words. Once you get the hang of it, writing Tanka becomes addictive.

Freedom within limitation

I’m so glad that every now and then I jot down quotes that mean something to me. I’d never heard of Tawara Machi, but one day I read an interview in which she said about writing Tanka:

“Freedom lies in the limitation of the form.”

I couldn’t find the interview on the internet anymore, but the words remain true nonetheless.

In the past I’ve experienced that it pays to do away with excess art supplies. It relieved me from a burden I hardly realized I was carrying and made room for a huge flow of inspiration. It goes completely against our modern consumerist minds, but working with WHAT WE HAVE is endlessly more inspiring than possessing or allowing ourselves EVERYTHING. It simply leaves more room to BE. Working within limitations sets the brain into action. You see, our grey matter absolutely loves solving problems. So when we decide to use Tanka to write our story, our brains are immediately activated. I imagine it must be something like this:

  “My story in Tanka? Hell no! Too few words! How am I going to fit ALL of my story into THAT few words? Can’t be done! But must! Think! Let me think! How can I do this? Hmmm…I’ll need to boil this down to the very essential….”


The very essential! That is what Tanka – and any other limited form of writing or art making – help us find. And whatever text it is we’re writing or whatever art it is we’re making, if we manage to capture the essence of what we want to express, the world will be waiting to see, read or hear it.

Tanka and Illustration are a match made in heaven

Because Tanka don’t allow us to say EVERYTHING we want, it leaves room to expand on our story in the visual. Or to give it a complete twist. And the other way around, if we make a drawing or a painting, we sometimes want to add just those few words to it, to make the story whole or bend it over backwards. Tanka are an amazing and satisfying tool for that.

LIVE Tanka Workshop upcoming

On the coming 9 December there will be an in-the-flesh workshop Writing and Illustrating Tanka in Dutch in the Netherlands. (more information if you click on image below)