Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Some things in life are bad

I am a born pessimist, but over the past few years I have experienced how an optimistic view on life can make things a whole lot easier. Incidents over the past month reminded me that the pessimist is still lurking in the shadows.

"You're generally seeing things too dark. Way too dark", said my painting teacher Trudy, followed by the advice to compensate for that. So, I struggled painting things lighter than I actually saw them, and yet, my homework painting of a yellow pepper made Trudy believe it was actually orange (now, the pepper had started to rot while I was painting, which did not really help either).

Every now and then I was surprised to find how light a shadow can be, and although my second painting of a tea pot turned out much better, I still got the comment that I was too dark. Until today, when my teacher Nina complimented me that the charcoal drawing I was working on was 'exactly right'. Not too dark? Not too dark.

The first semester is moving towards its completion, what remains after this week is a final week of evaluations. We'll see what happens. For now, I think I'll stick this one onto the wall above my bed: "And... always look on the bright side of life... Always look on the light side of life..."

Friday, November 21, 2008


I think it was Freud who said that "sometimes an egg is just an egg." Anyway, we were to draw eggs for homework, so I took an egg for breakfast. One of my fellow students here at NHT had forgotten to take one, so he asked the kitchen for an egg. On his explanation that he needed to draw one for homework, the kitchen lady barked: "Don't you know what an egg looks like?" Well, obviously, we did not, which was why we were requested to study the subtleties of the egg. The lady kindly provided the egg, with a final "Well, let me see what comes of it".

The story reminded me of an old Dutch joke: "Do you know how a Dutch recipe for scrambled eggs starts? Answer: 'borrow one egg'"...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Operation 'Switch' - Prologue

They were not happy with me and I was not happy with them, so we decided in harmony that it was time to part. I would leave somewhere in the autumn of 2007, which would leave us four months to gather all loose ends, and for me to decide what to do next.

I think they expected me to find my sixth computer job. Over the previous 16 years I had done research in Artificial Intelligence, developed software for fashion logistics and smart cards, done research on software engineering and evaluated smart card security. My employers had one thing in common: either they were not happy with me or I was not happy with them. It was not going to happen.

Years earlier I had began to develop myself as an artist. It had started with a basic course on drawing and painting at De Werkschuit in Gouda, followed by courses on Figure Drawing and Portraiture, at this same art centre, and at De Vrije Academie and Tekenstudio Foppe in The Hague; I became a member at the Open Atelier Modeltekenen in Zoetermeer.  I liked it there, and what is more, it had struck a chord in me.

Over the years, the urge to develop my artistic side became stronger and stronger, until it had reached a level where I loved to exploit my skills professionally. However, The Netherlands lack a strong entertainment industry where my skills are needed, while at the same time my skills seemed to be stuck at the level of an enthusiastic amateur. However, going back to school in your forties with no income to keep you going is no triviality, and my lack of enthusiasm about the state of the art at Dutch art academies only made it worse. The frustration grew.

It was not until Spring 2007 that I took what I thought of as a bold step. I asked my teacher Adelbert Foppe for advice: "If I want to be a professional illustrator in four years, what should I do now?" He gave it some thought and, finally, told me to drop this silly idea. Year after year, one hundred or so illustrators graduate from the Dutch art academies, and the vast majority of them fails to get themselves employed. It took me a day or so for my disappointment to wash away, and I had made up my mind: "I will be artist, and I don't care how or what others think about it." Till the present day, I owe thanks to Adelbert for his wise advise.

And yet it took one more year for me to shape my future. It was Maxine Schacker who posed the not-so-rhetorical question of "Why don't you come to Max the Mutt?" and although Maxine had not addressed me personally, it kept me busy for a day or so. As soon as I had concluded I could not answer it, I had made up my mind.

I was going back to school and this school would be somewhere in North America, with its huge entertainment industry, and matching education. While I figured out the details, I would start as a freelance software developer, to have the flexibility to combine making money and working on my artistic future. Operation 'Switch' had started.

Monday, November 10, 2008

My poppy

War is an exciting episode from a history book or a horror story from a newspaper. That is, I am happy to not know about war from first-hand experience. Yes, I am happy.

The Netherlands were hit hard in World War II, but the generation that suffered is slowly passing away. I am happy to know the experiences of my parents, and although my generation feels the responsibility to pass it on to the next generation, experiences will slowly degrade into stories.

The Netherlands were happy to remain neutral in World War I, and the generation that suffered is already gone. My father, born in 1916 close to the Flanders border, had no personal memories to this period, but his mother had told him about the siege and subsequent fall of Antwerp and about the refugees that found shelter in their home. He lived to write these second-hand memories down in 'Kind Achter De Hont', a book about his happy childhood in Zeeuws Vlaanderen, and as such the story is available for future generations.

I must admit I was struck by the poppies that have flowered in the streets of Toronto since November 1. Old and young  are wearing a bright red poppy on their lapel, as a preparation for Remembrance Day, as to explicitly commemorate the sacrifices of war since World War I. None of these has experienced the horrors of the trenches. Most of these have no second-hand memories. And yet, they are happy to wear the poppy.

It does not happen too often, but last week I was happy to join the masses.  We were neutral, but we did not look the other way.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Harry Potter In Toronto

I felt like Harry Potter visiting Diagon Alley when I made my way downtown to a local art store. The school's shopping list showed things like 'sharpies' and 'elephant ear', and while they had brushes instead of brooms, and sketchbooks as spellbooks, the mood was set.

It took my a while to notice the street I was walking was Dufferin, as opposed to Hufflepuff, and the only store that had stuck in my mind was Dervish & Banges, so I decided to pay the school a visit to ask for the name and address of the art store. So, after some more walking I finally found Hogwarts.

"You cannot go there by foot! The First Year Starter Kit weighs more than 100 pounds!" I still believed it could not be that bad, so I walked down the street to Curry's, that's the Art Store, and asked for the 'Max the Mutt First Year Starter Kit'. To summarize, I had them call a cab for me to bring the two heavy boxes, and some smaller stuff, home.

More than two months later, I still feel a bit like Harry Potter at Hogwarts. Some of the stuff taught here is downright magic, I spotted a Professor McGonnagall and we even have a little Malfoy...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Operation 'Switch'

I don't think anyone had noticed it. The cabin crew of AC849, my fellow passengers, the lady at Immigration at  Pearson International Airport and the taxi driver: they had not had a chance. After I had entered my apartment around 3:00 AM I took a few minutes to look in the mirror. I smiled and knew: "Operation 'Switch' had completed"...