Thursday, April 21, 2011


The nature in its' various forms, has been playing an important role in my paintings. The trees have especially been a continuouse source of inspiration. I love trees. I respect them, I am amazed by them, inspired,  and I often get elated when standing under a mighty specimen of the largest and the longest living single organism on Earth.
Since my early childhood, I have spent much of the time in contact with the nature. Climbing trees was one of my major trills as a child, especially if the tree was bearing sweet cherries and grew in the neighbor’s garden. And although I spent countless pleasant hours playing in the friendly shadow of many trees, especially a huge walnut tree, that was so big that covered almost the entire yard of my grandparent’s house; it was only when I saw the book Fairies, illustrated by Alan Lee and Brian Froud, that I realized how much I was attracted to the trees. The wonderfully rendered trees of Alan Lee made an unforgettable impact on me. In the subsequent years, slowly and gradually, the trees started to appear in my own work.

Alan Lee

Alan Lee

Arthur Rackham

Arthur Rackham

Early work inspired by Alan Lee

Beside the wonderful illustrations of Alan Lee, the enchanting art of Arthur Rackham, populated by the most remarkable trees, has influenced and inspired me greatly. These artists not only drew and painted the trees with passion and understanding, but also made them a crucial part of their art and by doing so, enriched it in many different ways.
I think it’s quite safe to say that, without the trees, a number of my paintings would be a bit “meagre”, less interesting and they certainly wouldn’t possess that fairytale feel. I am sure that the appeal of several major paintings from The Legend of Steel Bashaw owes a lot to the trees. From 16 paintings that are in the book,  12 of them contain a tree (or trees), in most of the cases as a prominent compositional element. In the Steel Bashaw paintings, the use of the trees enabled me to strengthen the composition  and to make it more interesting and appealing. I used the trees in order to suggest the overwhelming grandeur of the nature,  and at the same time to emphasize the movement and the drama in the painting. The trees even helped me to define the personal qualities of the main characters, and the nature and the energy of the events. In other words I often used the trees as the secondary compositional element in order to define, strengthen and  emphasize the primary aspects of the composition.

But beside all the rational explanations why I use the trees in my paintings, the main reason is that I just  love to paint them and to have them in my paintings. One could say that the trees are the main silent characters of the pictorial side of many of my paintings, especially those from The Legend of Steel Bashaw. I have heard people often commenting on the trees from my paintings, most of them saying that my trees have a certain character, a personality. Because I am not able to see my work objectively, or through somebody else’s eyes, I have to believe it, and if this is true, it is then probably because of the passionate connection that I have with the trees. For I believe that it is not possible to make a convincing painting of an object, or an event, if we are not able to identify with it within ourselves. If you can’t  feel it from inside, you can’t paint it properly. In case you are a skillful professional, without identifying with the subject you paint, you will probably end up with nicely executed surface, but there will be no soul or spirit inside. It will be an empty shell, in technical terms perhaps brilliantly painted, but still empty, not much more than that… What is this material world of ours, if there is no spirit within…? The best things are coming from the inside.
Awakening, oil on canvas 125x90 cm, 2006/2007

Children of the Lamp #5, Scholastic Inc., 42x57 cm
(16 1/2 x 22 1/2 inch), oil on masonite, 2007

“…being a great fan of South Limburg (Zuid Limburg), a beautiful southern province of the Netherlands, my wife and I often went there to hike over the rolling countryside. Once we came across a beautiful, old  and very small traditional South Limburg house, with a majestic chestnuts tree just in front of the entrance. It was a pleasant autumn day and the warm golden light was hitting the treetop, casting shadows onto the house walls. It looked like a scene from the Brothers Grimm fairytale. I was struck by the charming beauty of the scene and had to stop and make a great number of photos, until the battery of my camera was empty. The next day I came back and made some more photos. I was so inspired by the energy of the place and the majestic chestnuts tree, that I wanted to absorb as much as possible of the atmosphere and carry it home within me, in order to make it into a painting. Back home, I immediately started to make the preparations for painting. The only thing I was certain about was that I must paint that small house and the big tree, but apart from that I did not have any idea about the context. I considered a couple of ideas but none of them turned to make any sense. After many weeks of despair, one morning I went to my studio, took the enlarged photo of the little house with the tree and looked at it for a while, as I often did. Suddenly I realized that it has to be a painting from The Legend of Steel Bashaw. I envisioned the scene and the story, which would go with it, fell into place. When the painting was  finished it became one of my favorite paintings from the book.”
(From the Flesk interview, linked to this blog)

Once, an art lover asked me while looking at my paintings with trees, whether I believe in and exercise the shamanistic practice. “Not that I am aware of”, I replied.  That brought a thought to my mind, an idea that was crystalizing in my mind for some time. As the time passes by I am more and more convinced that if you want to be a true artist, you must not get too cultivated. You must keep a part of that ancient, untamed spirit within you alive. It will show you the true colors… Be more in contact with the intuition, than with reason. Learn the technique as much as you want, or as good as you can, than don’t think about it anymore. Just create.
And, of course - don’t forget to climb trees…….(this one is a joke)

Well, in any case, I wish you a pleasant day!

You might ask what I mean by “true artist”? This is a very complex question and I will be speculating on that topic in one of my future blog posts. For now, I will use Joseph Campbell’s idea that an artist should be a kind of modern shaman, who in search of the answers to the crucial questions, penetrates the transcendental level of existence, and brings new insights to the surface.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


When I was a little child I was often ill. While my friends played outside, I was forced to stay indoors. I spent my time drawing. Like most boys, I enjoyed drawing cowboys and Indians and various kinds of warriors and heroes. But, there was one thing that always caused me a headache - a horse! I simply could not draw horses. Every time I drew one it looked more like a distant cousin of the giraffe then a proper horse. This was a long-term frustration until, much later, I made a conscious decision to take up the challenge and finally learn to draw one.
A horse is truly a magnificent animal, so powerful and so gracious at the same time. Every time I come across a horse, while walking through the fields, I look at it and I think: “How beautiful, how complex, how challenging. I have to go back to the drawing table and keep on practicing”.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Case of the UC #3

In 2007 I was commissioned by Scholastic from New York to do three book covers for the Unicorn Chronicles (UC) book series, written  by Bruce Coville. Because of the certain reasons, the first cover that I had to do was the cover for the third book (UC #3). The cover concept that I got from the publisher was quite clear, and because I felt very confident about it, I did not make the rough sketch  first, as I usually do, but went immediately to Amsterdam and rented a few costumes and props. Then I arranged a photo session with a daughter of a friend of mine, who was to pose for the main character from the book,  a girl  called Cara ( by the way, this character had to be depicted on all three book covers). They lived in a city north of Amsterdam. So I took the train, went there, did the photo session and quickly headed back home. I was eager to begin the work on the cover as soon as possible. Back in my studio, and still full of self-confidence, I started to work on the detailed preliminary drawing. A few days later I presented the drawing to the publisher. After a portion of waiting I finally got the answer from the art director – they did not like the tree. And because the tree was a very  important part of the scene, they asked me to do another drawing.
I was a bit surprised by their reaction. The next day, just before starting the work on the new drawing, I noticed that a big chunk of my self-confidence was missing. However I did another detailed drawing. This time they liked it and the composition was approved.

After two-three weeks of intense labor the painting was  finished. I was pleased with the results and regained my self-confidence. I sent the image of the finished cover to the publisher and set down to wait for their answer.

The whole week has passed by but I did not get any response from the art director. Strange, I thought, they usually react relatively quickly. After another few days without the publisher’s answer I started to worry. About two weeks after I sent the image of the finished cover I got the answer from them – “ Although the cover is nicely painted, we do have a little problem with it”, was their response. “ You will have to repaint the girl. We think that she has not the right physiognomy, she is a bit short and a little too fat. She’s not the type of the girl we are looking for. But, because we already approved the sketch, we will pay you an additional amount for repainting the cover…”

I was shocked, angry, sad…At first I could not understand what they were talking about. What was wrong with the girl…? I liked how I had painted her. There were some details that I was really pleased with. Now, it has to go away. I had to remove the nicest part of the painting. I lost my “compass” and my self-confidence was shattered into thousand pieces. The fact that I was to be paid extra money for the additional work gave me a good feeling, but that feeling quickly evaporated as soon as I looked at the painted girl that had to be removed from the painting, forever.
Suddenly I got an ingenious idea ( at least I thought it was ingenious at that moment): I thought, I am going to paint another girl on the separate sheet of paper and then put the pieces together in Photoshop. In this way I would satisfy the publisher’s wishes, and at the same time keep the actual painting unchanged. So, I went to another friend, who lived in Amsterdam, and made a few photos of her daughter. When the new version of Cara was finished I showed it to the publisher. “ No! Her expression is still not good enough. She is not charismatic enough. Do it again, please”, was their reaction.

Well, this time, I thought, I would have to be smarter. So, I used a photo of a young gill from a glossy magazine and repainted  Cara’s head.  “ Sorry, this one is also not good”, the publisher replied.

I became desperate. I did not know what to do. Above all, I did not know what they actually wanted me to do with that …bleep…girl. The deadline was quickly approaching, and I still had to paint another two covers. Fortunately the publisher came with a solution.  They suggested to find a model in New York, do the photo shooting  for all three covers on the basis of my sketches, and then send me the photos. I agreed because I thought that this must be the real solution to this embarrassing problem, and hopefully the end of my book cover nightmare.
After a week or two, maybe three, I received the photos. This time I repainted the original painting. The first version of Cara that bravely stood its ground for so long, was scratched off from the surface of the painting and a new Cara emerged. When it was finished I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I liked the new painting better. The publisher was quite pleased too, and my piggy bank was grunting with pleasure.

Happy end!