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.

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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Three years of JOYFUL GRATITUDE!

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #156

Three years ago I decided to write weekly about what I was grateful for.  The idea was to  focus more on what I was lucky to have, rather than what I may feel I was missing.  These weekly posts have turned into a journal of sorts, a way to record what I’ve been up to while paying closer attention.

I enjoy regularly taking a moment to stop and reflect on the past week and stood out, be they big or small things, taking walks, people I get to share moments with, travelling, spending time in nature…

To celebrate, I looked back through the list and chose some of my favourites from the last 3 years:)

Writing these posts about what I am grateful for has turned out to be a very grounding and joyful practice for me. They are a way to be both more present as I go through my days and to re-live the sensations as I pen a few short paragraphs about what I experienced.

I’d love to know, what are you are grateful for today?

First impression of the Deelerwoud

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On the Eastern side of the Hoge Veluwe sits its twin, the Deelerwoud, a very similar parc but with no entrance fee and much less people. It was recommended by our landlady, so we went to check it out on our last day in the Veluwe and found it’s a great alternative.

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There too mushrooms were popping up all over the place in the undergrowth, showing off the details of their unique caps.  We enjoyed a quiet walk, savoured having the path all to ourselves, meeting only one lady with her dog during the whole time.

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It was sunny when we headed out and we chatted as we made our way, until all of a sudden when we stopped to take some pictures we realised huge grey clouds building up behind us and pretty soon after it started to rain.

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Soon it was pouring so hard, we had to cut short our exploration and head back to our bikes. We were lucky to come across a little hut at the entrace of the parc to take shelter in, while we waited for the downpour to calm down. It was a cute place, all made of wood, where you can self-serve coffee and tea and have a snack. There was even locally-made ice-cream in the freezer, but soaked as I was it’s one of the rare times I turned down ice-cream.  No problem though, that just means we will have to go back – both for a longer walk and to try the local ice-cream;)

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Mindful walk in the Amsterdamse Bos

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I’ve been enjoying some time off to explore near and further afield in the Netherlands.  Last week, I took a walk in the Amsterdamse Bos which is just a 10 minute bike ride away from my house. Initially, I was disappointed, having just returned from the Hoge Veluwe I was expecting lots of colourful mushrooms on the side of the path, but this was not the case.

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As often happens with expectations, it was just a question of realising I was holding on too tightly to them and letting them go. I reminded myself this is a different ecosystem and I should stay curious and keep walking along patiently. In the end, the mushrooms turned out to be much more discrete. Either a multitude of teeny tiny ones on a dead stump, or huge ones that push up from the ground covered in leaves and therefore harder to spot.

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I also tried to alternate looking very close up for details and staring out over the fields at the autumn colours and menacing clouds on the horizon.  It always takes a while to get into the creative flow and start to ‘see’ patterns, textures, combinations…

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My favorite find was this tiny little snail, perfectly camouflaged amongst the seed pods of this plant. Can you see it? Such a gorgeous colour combination!

Mushroom season

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #150

In the past few weeks, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying mushroom season, not so much for eating them as for observing them.  I am blown away by the sheer number of different types I had the chance of coming across, from the typical red ones with white spots that you see in cartoons to the sponge mushrooms, from clusters of tiny mushrooms on a mossy tree stump to orange ones pushing up from the ground, from ones that look to me like bread buns straight out of the oven (like these two photos from a lovely walk this week the Amsterdamse Bos) to wise mushrooms that stand mindfully, unphased by what goes on around them.  I’m very grateful of the diversity of nature that keeps on surprising me and especially for having had some quality time lately to be outdoors and wander, without being in a rush, eyes peeled for these astonishing shapes.

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Autumn Artist Date in the Veluwe

During our stay in the Veluwe, I spent a wonderful hour or so on a short exploration to take some pictures in the last light of the afternoon. It was the perfect Artist Date.

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I pedalled along the wet cycling path, beneath the trees starting to show their autumn colours, until I reached the place with open dunes and mossy hillocks that I had spotted the day before when it was too rainy to stop and take photos.

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Then I just walked around, undisturbed, looking for interesting details and observing the plants. My shoes were really slippery as I carefully made my way up and down the mounds, trying not to crush anything as I knelt down low on the ground to take closer looks.

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There was such a wide variety of plants, mushrooms, mosses and lichens, of all different colours. Every few meters, something new would catch my eye.  I was all alone, no one passing on the cycling path, just the sound of birds in the pine trees near by as the light diminshed.

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On this tree stump, a tiny colourful hope of renewed life was growing, hosting two ladybirds in its branches.

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Just as I was about to leave, I turned to look at the lanscape once more and noticed that the last rays of sunshine were lighting up the trunks of the pine trees as if they were on fire (though this picture doesn’t show quite how strange the light was…)

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As I cycled back to our cottage, darkness starting to surround me, I felt so relaxed, from just one hour of quiet, focussed only on observing nature’s beautiful details.  My body and mind, with their infinite wisdom, signalling that I should do this much more often.

Short trip to the Hoge Veluwe

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #149

I am just back from a few beautiful days in the Hoge Veluwe with Paolo where we had the joy of exploring the National Park and the surroundings of Hoenderloo by bike. Of course, mid-October in the Netherlands there is no guarantee with the weather and we did get soaked a few times, but on the whole it was not cold and we even got some sunshine here and there.  The key was simply to be equipped with good rain gear at all times;)

Actually Autumn is a great time to go because of the amazing colours.  The trees are shifting to orange and yellow, bright leaves strewn on the undergrowth and there are bursts of colours everywhere. I am also obsessed with the many different mushrooms popping up all over the place on the forest floor and at the foot of trees (prepare yourself to see many pictures of them here in the next posts;). It was a wonderful breath of fresh air and a good reminder that just a couple of hours from Amsterdam by bus and train we can easily immerse ourselves in stunning nature.

A yurt all to ourselves

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #142

Sometimes you just need to conjure up your perfect holiday…  Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending three days with my good friend Eva in Wageningen, where we rented a yurt:)

We had no plans other than to relax and we were very successful. It doesn’t hurt that we had this gorgeous space all to ourselves. The soothing roundness of the space with its wooden beams leading up towards the skylight, a basic kitchen to cook our vegan sausages and other treats, a tap outdoors to do the dishes while the sun warmed my legs, a tree to read and play games under, progressively moving our blanket to remain in the shade, feeling the humidity come up from the earth as the sun set, being able to see the stars in the night sky…

Every evening we chatted whilst looking into the flames of the wood-burning stove, feeling the heat on our bodies, tired in that lovely way that comes from spending all day outside.

It felt like true luxury to have our own garden and be able to eat leisurely meals outside, feet in the lush grass, next to a patch of colourful flowers. Enjoying all this green and fresh air, as well as our chats about creative plans and laughs, recharged my batteries immensely.

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