A delicious day off

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #167

Last year I decided to try and take a day off work every so often, just to recharge my batteries and make more space for myself.  The first and last time I took such a random day off it felt wonderful and I’m surprised to see that it was almost a year ago already!

In late January, I planned to take another such day off, in the middle of February.  It seemed like ages away  at the time, but I’m so glad I blocked time for it in my agenda as it felt perfectly timed.  So grateful to past-me for scheduling it;)  I also enjoyed the special feeling of being free while most people are at work.

I planned absolutely nothing and spent the day taking it very easy. I thought about what I felt like doing in that moment and did it.  I ended up watching a movie at home in the middle of the day (something I don’t do often enough!), cooked good food for myself, went for a long walk to clear my head and watched the rough wind ruffle through the grass, I took time to edit a fiction piece I am writing…  It was just what I needed:)

Disco-jerboa embroidery

A couple of weeks ago, my sister Helena came over from Cologne, as usual we caught up up over many cups of tea. She also brought her embroidery equipment, so she could introduce me to the the process. You may remember her from the interview we did together in September where she spoke of her activist embroideries. I’ve been very curious to try it since then.

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Our first step was to bake a delicious vegan banana bread, so we were sure not to get hungry in the middle of our creative flow;)  Then as the delicious cake smells wafted through the air, we thought up some fun designs, and played around with drawing the main outline on scrap paper.

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I decided to draw a long-eared jerboa (an animal I recommend googling if you want to be overcome with cuteness!). I don’t draw much so finding the right perspective was no easy feat. In the end, I went for a jerboa wrapped in a blanket holding a warm beverage and having a cosy introvert moment.

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In my sister’s stash of threads, I found a beautiful disco thread with mixed metalic colours that I wanted to use.  I took an old t-shirt and drew the contours of my disco-jerboa with a thin pen. Then got a needle and started to make small stitches along the lines and get acquainted with how much or how little to pull the thread. I struggled most with trying to make end of the tail look bushy.

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As we worked away with our needles, I was in flow and I enjoyed seeing the piece come together step by step. It was really fun and I’ll definitely try to come up with some more ideas as a nice way to practice and customise some clothes with some unique details:)

Calm Friday

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #166

Today I’d like to express gratitude for that beautiful feeling of relief when I have some free time after several consecutive days of busyness where I had lots to do both during the work days and in the evenings.  Even if they are things I enjoy, like my writing class, doing an escape room with my colleagues or catching up with friends, I find real comfort in having several uninterrupted hours to myself.  I really need this time in order to process all the inputs from the past days, journal, reflect, stare out the window and switch off for a while to reconnect with myself.

Sitting by the water

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #165

I’m grateful for the blue sky and winter sun, perfect weather for sitting peacefully by the water, without haste. A flock of white geese paddle by, as the sun warms my face. The willow branches sway in the wind.  Two moorhens putter about by the shore, before diving into the water repeatedly and snacking with gusto on their catch.  When a large boat passes by, the water brushes up on the rocks in small waves.  It’s so grounding to be focused on these simple scenes that often escape my attention.

Craving time outdoors

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Today I’m sharing another photo from a lovely walk a few weeks ago in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug.  I love how this tree sticks out of the heather and rises up to the sky with its branches.  Just looking at this picture reminds me of how good it felt to be outdoors, to be brushed by the elements, to feel the temperature shift as the clouds came and went, to be drawn to the amazing details of plants and lichens, to pay attention to the myriad of surprising shapes and textures…

I guess I’m spending a bit too much time at the computer, what with work and writing assignments/submissions, so I’m craving being nature and to slow down, undisturbed by traffic, notifications and other distractions.  I think this weekend I’ll try to make some time for a little forest bathing:)

Diving back into a good book

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #164

In January, I’ve been lucky to borrow several unputdownable books from the library. I am grateful to live in Amsterdam, a city with such a well-stocked public library, which means all these amazing books are easily accessible.

Winter is perfect for going to bed early and having the luxury of reading in peace after a busy day.  I love the feeling of being in the middle of a great book and not being able to wait to dive back into it and find out what happens. I relish being drawn into new experiences and seeing the world through different characters’ eyes for a while.  As a novice writer, I am in awe of the authors’ craft and hope to soak up their expert story-telling techniques and absorb their beautiful way with words.

One year of writing Morning Pages

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A year ago, on a cold January weekend, I attended an Artist’s Way workshop with Julia Cameron. I can’t believe one year has flown by already.  At the time I was so low on energy that I hesitated to go at all. But I’m so glad I did. Those 2 days were a whirlwind of interactive exercises and small group discussions. Julia was intense, inspiring and very funny. I connected with amazing people from all walks of life. I laughed a lot, cried a little, and was reminded over and over again how we humans are all so alike and struggle with the same things.  Since then I’ve been writing morning pages practically daily (which adds up to over 1000 pages of long-hand writing in lots of lovely journals!).

It took a while but I have now incorporated this practice into my routine, and I miss it if I don’t have time.  I write my Morning Pages, mostly on the sofa before leaving the house or on my way to work in the tram, but I also scribble them while sitting in trains, cafés or waiting rooms, a couple of times I’ve written them in the silent room at the office, and sometimes I do them in the evening if I didn’t get around to them in the day.

I’m intentionally making time to do Morning Pages because I see that they are key to my mental health and have been crucial to recovering from burn-out. It really helps me to dump my thoughts on the page. I can better observe what is bothering me and find alternative solutions faster.  Taking time to reflect also helps me process what’s going on around me and capture my learnings.  Also, I find inspiration for creative projects bubbling up, and when I write about plans I have, they seem to happen quicker.

I’d love to hear if any readers are doing Morning Pages or forms of journaling, and what effect these practices have had on you.

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!