Outdoor time in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #163

Last Saturday I went with two dear friends for a walk in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug national park as a belated experience-gift for my birthday.  As we walked away from the station with its noisy traffic, and entered deeper into the woods, time seemed to slow down. It felt so good to breathe in the smells of the humid forest.  I felt my legs getting more energised with each step on the path.

The landscape kept surprising us, changing from oak forest to pine trees, to sandy open spaces, to paths winding through mossy forest floors…  Also we were graced with a wide range of different weather in just a few hours: sunshine, clouds, rain, rain and sunshine at the same time, and even hail, as we continued to put one foot in front of the other, without haste.

As always it felt really good to be away from the bustling city, not to mention the snacks and thermos full of boozy tea that we had along the way, which took the experience to another level;)  But mostly it was our chats and laughs that made my day.  I’m so grateful for sharing this calm afternoon, talking about what’s on our minds and catching up in such a relaxing setting.

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Perfect Creatures

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WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? #3

One wintry afternoon in November I had the pleasure of taking pictures of my dear friend Eva as she worked on a couple of artworks in her studio in Den Haag.  Then at the start of the year, we sat down to have an in-depth conversation about how she learnt this particular technique, what inspires her and more…  I really enjoyed our chat and the photo-shoot, as I could admire the process and how the illustrations evolved. I am very excited to share this interview with you.

How did you start? How did you come up with the idea?

I got back to doing creative work through an amazing online surface pattern design course I took three years ago. We had been creating motifs for patterns, so I tried experimenting with many techniques and ideas and came up with different patterns. My plan was to focus on pattern design, but as I started drawing more and more, I realised I also enjoy illustration a lot.

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Through the illustrations of little creatures,  I allowed myself to look for my own style. What’s particular about these illustrations is that the inspiration just came from my imagination, I didn’t need to look up any images for reference. I always liked to observe animals and when working on the Perfect Creatures project (find more info below) I realised that I already have a lot of images stored in my head and now they were coming out in a creative flow…

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How did you learn this skill?

I learnt this particular technique during a short workshop given by Tom Haugomat at ELCAF festival in London last year. What I really like about it is the combination of paper-cut which I used a lot when I was doing stop-motion animation many years ago and beautiful textures. I have always enjoyed working with paper, cutting things out and moving them around, because it gives me more flexibility than just drawing…

What I appreciate in illustration or any art form really, is when you can ‘feel’ the technique – its tactility. You can sense it’s handmade through certain textures that appear. I really like this texture in particular, achieved with the ‘stencil-ink-sponge’ technique because it’s very soft – almost dream-like – and it creates nice layers. Also, your palette is very restricted. This is great because you get more creative with the colour tones and you create new colours by layering them

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Where do you find your inspiration?

Most of the time I find my inspiration either in nature, looking at its many patterns and creations. I also love old engravings of animals that show them in the way people imagined them. I like when there is a little bit of story-telling in the illustration as well, and I’ll be working more on that this year.  Lately my inspiration comes from my favourite Czech and Slovak children books and when I start drawing more regularly, I get a lot of ideas when falling asleep. Or sometimes I dream in detail about a pattern, its colours and if I still remember it in the morning, I draw it!

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What effects have your pieces had?

What is really nice is that people enjoy these illustrations. They cheer them up because they show these playful little creatures dancing together and having fun. For me, when I was creating them, I was in a flow and it was almost a kind of meditation for me. Especially the first part, when I worked with paper and ink. It was calming me down. I also experienced flow when I was editing them on the computer. But that’s a different way of working – focusing on every little detail and composition. I must say I prefer not to work in front of a screen though.

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How does this work impact / interact with other activities you do?

It’s kind of all mixed together because the new techniques I learn and discover, I can then also use for my freelance projects, and vice versa. For example, certain elements, like the triangle texture appearing on some of the creatures comes back in my other projects. (BTW Triangles ARE my favourite shapes! Haha!) And when I work at the freelance projects on my computer, I constantly learn new skills that I can apply to my illustrations.

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Also, my pottery classes give me new ideas. Pottery is very relaxing to me because it is not connected to work and I am doing it purely for myself. I just play and I come up with ideas that I can use for illustrations….

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Any ideas for what you plan to work on next?

What I would like to try to do is work on how to illustrate stories because that’s what I enjoy a lot. I have bought an online course from one of my favorite illustrators – Adolfo Serra – and I would like to learn how to do children’s books illustrations because that seems like a good way to start storytelling through  illustration. I’d also like to make a zine, work on my portfolio, create some new book cover illustrations/designs and hopefully create end-papers for a book!

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Any closing words? Where can we find you?

As mentioned before used this technique for creating Perfect Creatures, my first licensed illustration for a Slovak company called Remini that makes high quality hardcover notebooks using paper from sustainable sources. They are very special because they are 70% handmade and the company promotes Slovak illustrators. You can purchase the notebooks in 5 different formats here.

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For all up-to-date information follow Eva on Instagram: @evapolakovic (further links: linktree)

Photos above taken by Fanny and edited by Eva Polakovicova

Photo with Perfect Creatures taken by Euan Monaghan and edited by Eva Polakovicova

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The other interviews of the series WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? can be found here and here.

Good times with friends

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #162

I am grateful for the good times with my friends based here in the Netherlands.  As I don’t live in the same country as my close family,  I appreciate how vital it is to be surrounded by people who I can really connect with and be myself around:)  I hope these first weeks of 2020 set the tone for the rest of the decade.

We’ve had the chance to spend quality time exploring the Veluwe, inspiring each other, chatting about our hopes and intentions for the new year and making collage dream boards, having good laughs, watching a great documentary and sharing our thoughts about it afterwards until we got kicked out of the room, motivating one another to go for lunch walks together to refresh our minds amidst busy work meetings… I feel blessed to have such wonderful people by my side to make the days a little sweeter!

How to organise a dream board session

I have always loved making collages, and in the last few years, I’ve started sharing this practice with family and friends by organising dream board collage sessions.  I find those few hours spent together are always very engergising and inspiring.  Below I’m sharing how I organise these sessions as an inspiration to anyone who would like to do the same:)

Why create a dream board?

Browsing through the magazines, it’s a time to reflect, to switch off from our phone and computer and do something by hand.  By identifying and visualising your dreams, they are much more likely to happen.

You can create a mood board by yourself, I do so regularly.  However, it’s also really nice to do it with others. When you share your dreams with those around you, they will also be rooting for you and you’d be surprised how they will connect the dots to help you make them come true.

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What do you need?

  • Scissors and glue
  • Paper (though you can also use a page from a magazine as a backdrop)
  • Magazines (any magazine will work.  I particularly love Flow magazine, Simple things and travel magazines, but think of your own hobbies and interests)
  • Tea and coffee, and some biscuits or a good slice of cake (optional, but definitely nice!)

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How to make the dream board?

We usually start by choosing a word/words to guide you during the next year or next 3 months. Think of what you want to bring into your year and would like to focus on.

Take a magazine and look through the pages, cutting out whatever attracts your eye: photos, words, illustrations, colours, shapes… Don’t censor yourself, you can always decide not to paste it in.

When you have a pile of images and words, you can start moving them around on the page, and when you are satisfied stick them on.  The beauty is that there is no right or wrong.  You don’t need to be ‘creative’ to do this, the key is to let yourself be guided by the colours and your instincts.

Everyone’s collage will be unique (it may contain mainly words, or only photos, it may fit on one A4 page or spill out over several pages sticky-taped together into a large poster, or you can paste them into a notebook specially for your dreams, year after year).

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What next?

When you’re done, you can present your collages to each other, mentioning what word you chose and how these images inspire you.  You don’t have to, as you may prefer to keep this to yourself if it feels vulnerable. I enjoy sharing because it is very interesting to see what others are busy with and get ideas from other people’s dreams. Also you get to know each other better and it’s a lovely way to connect. Then you can put your collage in a place where it is visible in your day to day life, as a reminder of your dreams.

The joy of letter writing

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #161

Yesterday evening I sat down to write a letter.  Though I do regularly send postcards, taking the time to write a proper letter made me realise how rarely I do so.  I was writing in response to a letter from a dear friend, written a couple of months ago. Her familiar hand-writing covering several pages of lined paper, bringing me her thoughts and fragments of her life from the other side of the globe. A physical letter that I have pulled out, unfolded and re-read since I received it, thinking of my friend, taking the time to contemplate what I’d like to answer and tell her about, the questions I want to ask her…

So yesterday alone in the quiet of my flat, I finally took out some recycled paper and my favorite pen, and got writing.  About banal things, how the holidays had been, what I’ve been up to recently and what is on my mind of late…  The pages filled up quickly, thoughts flowing and getting more personal as I scribbled them down.  I ended up with a neat pile of numbered pages, slipped tightly into an envelope which will make its way across the world.

I love that letters don’t demand an immediate reading or a fast answer. They can stray in the limbo of the postal system.  By the time my words arrive, a couple of weeks will have passed, new events will have unfolded, thoughts will have evolved. The snippets of my life contained in the letter will be about an earlier-me, and penning the thoughts helped me to figure out what they meant to me at the time.

Reading review for 2019

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A couple of years ago, I realised that tracking and reviewing what I read helps me to be more intentional of my choices and it has made my reading experience more stimulating and rewarding. Here is a summary with some key data, as well as my plans for 2020.

In 2019 I had a surprisingly good year in terms of reading. I read more than I expected reaching 54 books, with on average one book a week, for a total of about 14400 pages.  24% of those books were written by men (13), so I feel like this year I did a great job at exploring more women’s voices. The authors of were from all around the world: UK, USA, India, Italy, Ireland, Hong-Kong, Comoros Islands, Palestine and France.

This year I read a very diverse batch of novels, self-help and non-fiction books, both light and deeper topics. I really enjoyed expanding my horizons on topics such as slavery, the environment and genres like dystopia.

Over the year, I treated myself to a few books to support my local bookstore, but most of the others were from the public library, the little free libraries, gifted to me or borrowed from friends and colleagues.  Eight of these books we read with our book club and had lively discussions about over good coffee. Next to the book club, I have lately been enjoying chats about books with my colleagues as we make our way through the lunch queue at work.

What I haven’t included in my overview are short stories, which I read a lot of this year, in the context of my writing course to get inspiration for my own writing.  Being transported in a few pages to totally different worlds and styles is wonderful and has led me to encounter authors I’d never heard of.

Looking at this summary, I realise that in 2020 I’d like to read more books by authors from a wider range of countries, to support translated works and discover voices that are new to me. I will try to be more conscious of this when I list books on Goodreads. I will also continue to read books on topics such as feminism and social injustice to broaden my understanding of complex issues.

I welcome your reading suggestions, please feel free to write them in the comments! Thanks and happy reading in 2020:)

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You can find my overviews of 2018 and 2017, and further book lists.

Winter walks in Putten

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #160

I am so glad that during the busy December days I took the time to plan a short trip away from the city with like-minded friends.  Even though we were just a couple of hours from Amsterdam, it was nice to explore an area I’d never been to and recharge my batteries before going back to work.

Our long walks in the woods sparked all of our senses: breathing in the wintry forest smells, observing the mosses, lichens, fungi and other details, noting the undergrowth that had been upturned by boars (or so we think;), fingers getting cold as the sun dropped below the horizon, hearing the wild-geese flying by in the sky… We were lucky to have several days of sunny weather and the low winter light shining through the mist and the trees was magic.

I also particularly enjoyed our walks because they were fueled by real conversations, and also by deliciously rich brandy-fed Christmas cake and hot chocolate! The bar is now incredibly high for the coming walks in nature in 2020;)

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Colourful drawings

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WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? #2

Over the holiday, I spent a lovely creative morning with my sister Johanna, who loves to draw detailed colourful pieces. Together we came up with creative ideas to photograph her drawings both in the garden and around the house. Then we had a nice chat about her process and what inspires her. It was a pleasure to spend this quality time together  experimenting and talking about creativity. I’m happy to share this moment with you!

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How did you start? How did you come up with the idea?

I started drawing when I was 18, back when I was in art school. The teachers taught me how to draw figuratively, but no one taught me how to draw abstractly. The first time I drew in this style was during a lesson when I was bored, and I played around with drawing abstract blue and gold lines and I felt very proud and happy about the result. I developed my own style of drawing from there. I use essentially felt-tips and sometimes Chinese ink, as well as HB pencils and water colour paint, on sketching paper.

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How did you learn this skill?

It was something very natural to me. I followed my creativity and learnt by myself. I use shapes and colours.  From time to time, I draw with a draft, but that’s very rare. Normally I just the put the felt-tip on the paper and let my imagination take over. I realise that when I draw with a draft, the result is more precise and I enjoy that process. It also happens that I develop a theme over two pieces and they are my favourite drawings.

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Where do you find your inspiration?

I would say my inspiration is my life, as well as a stronger force which gives me inspiration. I also have favourite artists like Laura Hornart, Kandinsky and the impressionists like Monet. The shapes and theme of nature, as well as the colours inspire me. I draw my feelings and my way of seeing the world that surrounds me.

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What effects have your pieces had?

Drawing has a positive effect on me.  It makes me happy to see my new drawing at the end. It helps me forget my problems and it is something that I can always grasp. A friend of mine says I inspire him with my drawings and then he draws too. Sometimes we draw together. During a difficult time in 2010, I overcame my sadness by filling notebooks with little flowers.

When I sold some drawings in front of a book store, people said my work looks like the theme of the sea and that it was very pretty, and they wished me good luck with my drawing.

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How does this work impact / interact with other activities you do?

I think it goes well with my dancing classes and piano lessons, because they are all artistic activities and they complement each other. Listening to music while I draw makes me feel relaxed. The type of music influences the type of drawing, if I’m listening to soft music I’m going to draw something more poetic and with round lines.

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Any ideas for what you plan to work on next?

Since a few weeks I have planned to draw a dandelion, the fluffy part that blows away with the wind representing little hearts. It is a risky drawing, because I feel it is quite complicated so I haven’t started yet. It’s a challenge for 2020.

I would also like to sell my works in person to unknown people and see their reactions.

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Some closing words? Where can we find your work?

Thank you Fanny for this interview which enabled me to reflect on the process and my art. You can find my work on Instagram.

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To read the first interview of the series WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? featuring my other sister Helena, click here🙂

Spending more time together

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #159

Despite the festivities and family get-togethers, this has felt like a calm week, dedicated to slowing down.  I particularly enjoyed the fact that we were not online or watching television too much.  Instead, we have been playing board games, a simple way to spend time together, laugh a lot and connect. We also made our yearly dream-board collages and inspired each other with colourful images, activitst ideas, creative projects…  I’m happy to collect these good memories and inspiration for the next months when we will all go back to our day-to-day lives in different places.

Catching the last light

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I’m enjoying these quiet days with my family,  baking cakes, chatting, eating delicious meals and of course napping.  This afternoon, I decided to get some fresh air before nightfall. I wandered with no particular destination in mind, turning into random streets in the neighbourhood, open to whatever I may come across. When I set out, it always takes a little while for me to start noticing details. At first, everything seems uniform, I just see houses, walls, gates, sidewalks…

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However when I start to look more carefully, interesting colours and textures appear.  Hanging from long vines, these beautiful dry flowers caught my eye, so in the last light of this overcast day, I played around trying to capture the simple delicacy of their unruly petals, while they were blowing lightly in the wind.

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