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1. Set the vibe When I was studying for my MA in Cambridge, you could often find me in the print room. It was in the middle of the pandemic and a handful of local students were allowed in to work in there (socially distanced and with face masks of course). The place became my refuge. Our lecturer and printmaking technician John Williams, would always have the best tunes on, on full blast. I got to know so many cool bands and musicians in that time, and starting the day with the right playlist has been a part of my practice since. I have made several playlist since, depending on what I’m doing that day. If I start out the day writing, I will put on something calm to focus my brain. If I’m illustrating first thing, I will put on my warm up tunes playlist and have a little dance, especially if I’m feeling bit restless or anxious for whatever reason. In the wise words of Taylor Swift, just shake it off.


(Fun fact: did you know that shaking it off is actually beneficial for stress release? Animals like dogs and ducks will shake their bodies or flap their wings after something stressful releasing stress from the body.)



2. Create a manageable routine

Creating a manageable routine will condition your brain into the right mode for work. Here is mine. After breakfast, I will make a cup of tea or coffee, and get ready to go up to the studio. My cat Umi will already in prime position in front of the door, ready to shoot up the stairs. I then put on my fairy lights, light a candle and make a to do list for the day. It seems super simple, but having the same little ritual every day before work conditions my brain it’s time for work. Like Pavlov but without the drooling.


'A good Boy', monoprint

3. Always warm up It took me a while to figure this one out. Making art is like baking pancakes, the first attempt is always a mess. After that it will get better. I allow myself a little playtime before I get on with my client work by either experimenting with materials, dive into my current obsession (Treehoppers!) or make a little collage. Whatever suits my fancy that morning.


Treehoppers source


4.Ugly sketchbook

This is a practice I first came across via Fran Meneses, aka Frannerd. She is a queer illustrator and YouTuber, I’ve been following her for years. Fran started her practice of drawing in what she calls an ugly sketchbook to give herself a space to make (spoiler) ugly drawings, without the pressure of perfectionisme. As per usual when you do something steadily for a long time, her ugly sketchbook drawings are not ugly at all. It’s all about creating a safe space for yourself where you can do whatever you like, without having to post or share it anywhere. It can be your secret place. You might even surprise yourself by what you create in there.


5. Change your medium Changing your medium is a great way to get un-stuck. My go to is collage because it requires thinking in shapes rather than lines and it been a real game changer for me. In a lesson about Tone during my MA, Juliet Docherty, aka the colour tutor, advised me to look for the solid shapes in the image that I wanted to make. This tip was super helpful when tackling perspective in my drawings, something that my eyes will see in observation, but my hands refuse to do when thinking in line. I also love prepping the pages for a collage by going wild with paints and crayons, trying to get the perfect textures.


Tone collage


6. Fill the well, go on an artist date An artist date is a date with you and your inner child. What did you love to do as a child? Climb trees, make a sand castle, collect seashells at the beach?

I don’t do them often enough, but when I do I always come back revived and full of inspiration. My favourite artist dates are going to a museum to draw, going to a bookshop to browse, taking myself out for a coffee and read in the cafe, browsing through a charity or second hand shop or going to the cinema alone.


7. Copy a Master

A common part of the curriculum at art schools back in the day. When I was studying for my BA at the Royal College of Art in The Hague, the library was situated next to the plaster room, where you could find lots of plaster casts of different sculptures. Sadly I never drew from them since my focus back then was graphic design, but I’ve come to appreciate the exercise since getting reacquainted with it on Rebecca Green’s fabulous blog. After finishing ‘The History of Art without Men’ by Katy Hessel the other day, I was inspired to do a master study of the great Suzanne Valadon’s ‘The Blue Room’ (1923). I used a bunch of different materials, like gouache, crayons and coloured pencils and by doing so I found out a lot cool things I want to experiment with in own drawings, like the use of a dark blue outline.

A twist on this exercise could be to try a classic by creating a self portrait, a still life with found or favourite objects (make a Vanitas by adding a skull!) or to draw a local landscape in the style of an old master.


Master study: Suzanne Valadon 'The Blue Room', 1923

8. ‘Doodle’

The Cambridge dictionary describes doodling as ‘to draw pictures or patterns while thinking about something else’. It’s the thinking of something else that is key for me. When working, my brain needs just the right amount of distraction. Not so much that I can’t focus, but not too little either, otherwise I will overthink my decisions. Having a podcast or an audiobook on provides me with just the right amount. It’s a great technique to trick my brain that I’m not making ‘real’ artwork, but that I am just playing around.


Favourite doodle from last year

9. Find something you’re really excited about In the autumn, I was obsessed with mushrooms. I went to look for them in my local park, took pictures of them and tried to find what species they were. The pictures I took fed into my Folktale week. My current obsession is with Treehoppers, tiny ridiculously cute bugs that are members of the Membracidae family. They come in all sort of crazy shapes, giving them an otherworldly sci-fi-like appearance. I am absolutely fascinated by them. Below are a few pages from my ugly sketchbook, where I happily spend an hour with them on the page.


Treehopper drawings slideshow


10. If all else fails, rest. If all else fails, just rest. Tomorrow is a new day. You don’t always have to hustle. Sometimes all you need is a nap, a snack and a good book or movie with a cat on your lap. Resting can the most productive thing to do.


Let me know how you get on with these tips or if you have any you want to add to the list.


As always, thanks for being here. See you in the next one.

x Maris


 

Links :

Suzanne Valadon artist profile The Blue Room

My current writing track for focus

My Folktale week focus track on Youtube

Fran Meneses' Ugly Sketchbook

Juliet Docherty, The Colour Tutor & Instagram

Seven benefits of Doodling

The science of Shaking it off


My favourite podcasts:

Great Woman Artist Podcast on Spotify

Good Ship Illustration Podcast on Spotify

Studiomate Steve Podcast on Spotify

Creative Peptalk on Spotify







The three principles of creativity by Kirby Ferguson



Today whilst I was working in my studio, I was listening to an episode of Creative Peptalk, one of my favourite podcasts. As per usual it was full of helpful advice and tips, this time about how to create your own style. It was such a good episode that I listened to it twice, back to back. What really caught my interest was his interview with Kirby Ferguson on his documentary ‘Everything is a Remix’, discussing the three principles of creativity. According to Ferguson, the three principles of creativity are Copy, Transform and Combine. Ferguson says that while we think copying something is uncreative, it is actually at the core of creativity and of learning. You can’t build something out of nothing, we need a solid foundation of knowledge and understanding in order to create something.


In the past, copying the old masters was a big part of the curriculum in art schools. By doing so the students would learn technical skills as well as creative skills by means of learning through doing. When you copy something, a transformation can happen accidentally, says Ferguson. You’re creating variations on an existing idea.

When you take the elements you’ve copied and transformed and bring them together with new ideas from different sources, you then create something that is your own. Ferguson gives many examples of how existing ideas are transformed to make them into something new in his video, like how the Hunger Games was based on the Japanese movie Battle Royale and the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, where Theseus was one of 14 tributes selected to be sacrificed in order to maintain the peace after the killing of king Midas’s son Androgeus.


I really connected with this clear concept on how creativity works, and it helped me work through feelings of shame I had about copying. For me to copy something was the opposite of being creative, but to link it to learning makes so much sense to me. This process of Copy, Transform, Combine is exactly how my Folktale week illustrations came about. At the start of a project I sometimes make a mood board, sometimes in my sketchbooks, sometimes on Pinterest. I was looking for inspiration on forest spirits on the old google when I came across the image below by Vasilia Romanenko and started to doodle in my sketchbook.


My first drawing bases on Vasilia Romanenko’s Forest Spirit


As you can see, the first image I created is quite a clear copy of Romanenko’s forest spirit, combined with my love for mushrooms and the magic pencil I had just bought. Making this drawing started the little fire of inspiration and motivation in me, as is usually the case when I just start something (’Just do it’ being an apt slogan for my practice). It wasn’t until I made the second illustration that evening that the magic really started to happen and Old Crag the Troll appeared in my sketchbook. That drawing and character feel completely my own, and I was chuffed to bits when I was done. I think I needed a little nudge to get started and get into the flow and once I was in it I was able to create something new and exciting.


Old Crag the Troll


I got so excited by the concept of Copy, Transform, Create that I had to share it with you here and I hope you find it just as helpful as I did.


Thanks for being here, see you in the next one.

xx

Maris

 

Links:

Kirby’s Instagram

Vasilisa Romanenko's website & Instagram My substack

Exciting studio news, a plan for the year to come and 365 cats progress


Exciting news! A studio press.

After thinking about it since graduating from my MA, I took the plunge and invested in a studio press. It’s an HS 35 Intaglio Press made by a local company called Polymetaal in Leiden. I found out about this company in the most kismet way when I was still studying for my MA in Cambridge. Whilst having a conversation in the print room with my mentor and pal John Williams (the printmaking technician and CBI lecturer) and Hannah Webb (lecturer for the BA illustration), Hannah recommended Polymetaal. When I found out they were not only based in my home country The Netherlands but that they were located in the town that I grew up in and would move back to, I couldn’t believe this stroke of serendipity.


Polymetaal in Leiden source


Polymetaal has been making printmaking equipment for nearly 45 years. Visiting their factory is amazing, you can smell the metal and hear the machinery before you even walk in the door. I have been buying my Cranfield inks and other printmaking equipment from them since, but this year after much debate I invested in a press. The HS 35 is a table top press and only weighs 35 kilos, I can print up to A3 on it. It is the third smallest press they sell. To put it in perspective, my press is a dainty little thing compared to the big boys they produce, their biggest weighing approximately a whopping 1600 kilos.


The HS 35 in my studio

If you’re a print geek like me and/or are based in the Netherlands I highly recommend checking out their website, you can do so in Dutch and in English. You can visit the factory by appointment and if you’re lucky, Ben, who is the friendliest guy I have ever met, will give you a short tour.

Monoprint Cat

A plan for the year to come

Material testing

Remember when I wrote in my last blog about buying art supplies and then not really using them? I’ve decided to give all my materials equal amounts of love by testing them here on the blog and on substack. The current pile of neglected materials are:

  • Pan Pastels and tools

  • Shinhan pass hybrid watercolour gouache

  • Loads of coloured pencils

  • Pastel pencils

  • Holbein gouache paints

  • A Daniel Smith watercolour set

  • Unison pastels

  • Holbein acrylic gouache

  • Neocolour I (the non water soluble ones)

  • Drawing inks

  • Inktense blocks

  • Several dip pens and nibs

  • Brushes

I have used these materials, but they are not (yet) a solid part of my practice yet and by experimenting with them here I hope to incorporate them into more my routine. Let’s hope this is not a gateway to buying even more materials for the sake of testing them (I foresee problems). The Pan pastels are on the top of my list, I did really enjoy using and them when I was working on my Folktale week illustrations. In the next blog I will show you what you can do with just three basic colours like red, blue and yellow as they are quite pricey.

You are so welcome to join me and explore materials together, but if you are looking for in-depth videos, I have a list of my favourite Patreon Material Queens below (I know I mention these gals in almost every blog but I will never stop fan girling about them).


Merry Experimenting - Different Techniques There are other things I would like to experiment with here as well. I have been reading on how important play is for creativity, so I want to start exploring other techniques I love, like clay sculpting, paper maché, zine making, embroidery and bookbinding, and see how I can implement these techniques into my practice. Once a month I will allow myself to dive deep into a topic that interests me, like yokai (beings and creatures from Japanese folklore), mushrooms, mythology or even the Black Plague and make a drawing/zine/… about it. I used to make little zine’s all the time but haven’t as much in recent years. You can see a few of them here and here.


Kappa yokai - Source

365 Cats - Progress

In my last blog I wrote that in order to help me stick to a daily creative practice I was going to draw lots and lots of cats. 365 in fact. This daily practice has been a lot of fun and a good way to keep my illustration muscles warm. I’ve added a few in the slide show below.




Thanks for being here, hope to see you in the next one.

x Maris

 

The Queens of Material Chat Frances Ives


Things I’ve been loving:

Notes on an Island - Tove Jansson & Tuulikki Pietilä

A lovely short book about an absolute badass artist couple building a cabin on a remote island with harsh weather conditions. Read an in-depth review here.


The story of Art without Men - by Katy Hessel

I’ve only read a few chapter of this beautiful book but I can tell I will absolutely love it. Katy’s instagram is also a huge resource of inspiration on women artist, you can sign up for her epic newsletter here.


Willow - Disney+

I loved watching this show, but I especially fel in love with the Mudmander Kenneth.

Becorns - David M. Bird

Just look at them. Have you ever felt completely in awe and at the same time so furiously envious of someones work that you wish you had created what they have created? 🙋‍♀️

See more on David's Instagram and website.







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