Last Wednesday was the day: my book Kinderen krijgen is optioneel (‘Having children is optional’) came out. A hardcover with linen binding and neon pink printing ink on the inside—it was prettier than I hoped. I received pictures of tall stacks of books in bookstores and have already received some positive feedback. I’ve worked so hard for this!

But you might be wondering how someone, known primarily as an illustrator, suddenly wrote a non-fiction book about desired childlessness (or ‘childfree, as they call it). Well, this is how it came about.

Before I became an illustrator

When I was young, I really wanted to tell stories, but I was three years old and hadn’t learned to write yet. So, I started drawing my stories. I drew a lot, all the time. By the time I was nine, I had drawn so much that I had become good at it; people encouraged me to do it even more. Meanwhile, I still really liked to write, but I increasingly did so for myself. I made a lot of comics and made the drawings to go with them. That balance between text and image has always attracted me.

Writing has always been my safe haven, the place where I felt at home. I have been writing blogs since 2001 (anyone remember Livejournal and Blogspot?), but it did not immediately occur to me that writing could become my profession. With drawing, it was different: I graduated from art school and became a graphic designer, only to start working as an illustrator a few years later. In 2012, I changed sails a bit and went to Cambridge to do a summer course dedicated entirely to writing and illustrating a children’s book. I took further courses in writing, but illustration prevailed each time.

Spring 2016: where is that baby fever?!

I had been working as an illustrator for Flemish magazine Charlie for a while when, in 2016, I asked them if I could write an article for them about something I had been working on for a long time: I didn’t have a desire to have children. I was 31, and although everyone always told me that it ‘would come eventually’ and that I had to’meet the right man’, the smell of baby shampoo and chubby little arms could not persuade me to put my uterus to work. The editors thought it was a good topic—those sleepy ovaries of mine.

After I wrote the article and handed it in to the editors, they warned me, “Be careful, because there could be a lot of negative reactions to it.” When it went online, I prepared myself for criticism from total strangers who would never say what they thought to my face but would, from behind their keyboards, tell me I was useless. It wouldn’t be the first time, to be fair.
That criticism never came. I was overwhelmed by understanding messages and received responses from dozens of women thanking me for giving them a voice. Apparently, I was not the only one who did not have a desire to have children!

The topic landed well, but so did my writing style. I was asked more often to write articles, for example, for Flow Magazine about travelling alone and burnout. Shortly after publishing the article in Charlie, a publisher asked me if I wanted to write a book about not wanting children, but I wasn’t ready for that yet. I could write articles, but a whole book? I didn’t know if I could. And although I had never felt I wanted to be a mother, I was also only 31. I didn’t want to completely rule out never wanting to be a mother yet. After all, people said that baby fever could hit anytime.

Fall 2021: now I am ready!

By now, I was 36, and I felt in my whole body that it was ready to take the step. My head too reassured me that I could do it, and my dear partner stood fully behind me.
I stepped into the building and was asked to sit in the chair opposite her. Nerves fluttered through my body—of enthusiasm but also “shit, can I do this?” We discussed how I thought I was going to do this and when I wanted to do it.
An hour later, I walked out again, and a happy publisher waved me goodbye. I was going to write a book about how not all women want to be mothers.

Between the 2016 article and that conversation with the publisher in 2021, I had read a lot about why not all women have a desire to have children. I particularly noticed that there were few Dutch-language books on the subject. In America, a new book was coming out every year, and although I found these books interesting, I missed humour and the personal element. I wanted to approach my book from a different angle: a combination of my personal story combined with scientific research, other people’s stories, and with humour. And with lots of illustrations, to make the transition from illustrator to author a bit easier.

Spring 2022: burned out

Initially, the book was supposed to come out in 2022, but burnout put a stop to that. I could barely make sentences; typing emails was out of the question, so writing an entire book? out of the question. Still, I tried, but that first draft was, well, lousy.
When I told the publisher I wasn’t going to make it, they were very understanding, but I was very disappointed. We had already announced the book in the offer leaflet (a brochure of new books that every publisher sends to bookshops to buy), and when I commit to something, I always do it. And quite honestly, I was also a bit worried that another publisher would take my idea and run with it (which happened). I felt we were at a turning point to demolish a taboo, but my health took precedence.

Spring 2023: again, with help this time.

There I was at my keyboard again, and immediately I noticed a difference: I was kinder and softer. Not only for myself but also for the book. I threw away the entire first version and started again from scratch.
In the meantime, I learned that I don’t always have to do everything by myself (I often think I do), so I hired an editor, Leonie. I got to know Leonie because we read each other’s newsletters. I immediately knew we were on the same wavelength and asked if she wanted to have coffee with me. After a pleasant afternoon during which she told me that she was also childfree, I asked her if she might like to help with my book. Fortunately, she said ‘yes’.

Writing a book is totally different from writing an article. It requires a different approach, one I am not yet familiar with. Leonie, as editor, made sure there was a clear thread in my story, bringing my 75,000 words down to about 38,000 (once I start telling stories, I go wild).
It felt like I wasn’t doing it alone, and I needed that more than I thought. After all, writing a book can be quite lonely; you’re just milling around in your own mind, as if you’re conducting a monologue with no listeners. It’s easy to lapse into endless drivel, but Leonie simply crossed out what wasn’t relevant. She made sure I stayed sharp.

Fall 2023:

The final stages of the process were stressful. The manuscript was now with the publisher, and for a few weeks I heard nothing. For a while, I thought they didn’t dare tell me they didn’t like it, and the book wouldn’t come out. The deadline was creeping closer, and I was nervous.
After a few weeks, I heard it was approved and that I had to start making illustrations quickly; otherwise, we wouldn’t make it. I made them in record time, in about a week.
The book went to the printer, and it was out of my hands. Now the book is in shops, and somewhere it feels like it is no longer mine. For years, I carried this book very close to me, and it was only mine. Then it also belonged to Leonie too, then to the publisher, and now it belongs to the readers. I can only hope it finds the right readers.

The other day, I read the book again. On the one hand, the text felt familiar, but I could also look at it with fresh eyes. I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time: pride. That feeling is not very familiar to me, because I am very critical of myself. Of course, there are tonnes of things that could be better, but what is there now is good. I am proud because it is so close to me, and I did not have to make many concessions. The publisher gave me all the space I needed to tell my story, and I am extremely grateful to them for that.

Labelling myself: illustrator or writer?

To promote the book, I gave several interviews. The articles almost always read ‘illustrator and writer’. I felt in my underbelly that it was no longer quite right. Especially not for a book of 38,000 words and 50 illustrations.
An illustrator is someone who, usually on commission, creates an image (illustration) to accompany a supplied text. Although I still illustrate other people’s texts, increasingly, my own text is the reason I draw. I wouldn’t say I am an ‘illustrator’ in my main profession because I write a lot of comic scripts, articles, and books and make autonomous work as an artist. Summed up, illustration is a smaller part of my daily work.

At the moment, I don’t feel the need to put a label on myself for a while. I understand that people like to pigeonhole you, but I am giving myself some space (I wrote about that in my last newsletter) to redefine where I am going.
After all these years of working on commission and making what others asked of me, I am giving myself the freedom to see what I want to make myself. I don’t yet know exactly which sticker fits that, but for now, I don’t care.

Kinderen krijgen is optioneel

Waarom niet alle vrouwen moeder willen worden

Although I’m hoping for an English translation of the book, for now it’s only available in Dutch.

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I could not believe my ears and eyes: there I was, sitting at the kitchen table with Thé Tjong-Khing! This illustrator was my big hero when I was young and now he told me he liked my work.

As a child, I borrowed the book Kleine Sofie en Lange Wapper from the library over and over again, just to press my nose against the illustrations. Mr Thé (as Khing is his first name and Tjong his generational name) used a crown pen and ink for that book, and his illustrations consisted of thousands of tiny lines. I could lose myself in them for hours.

Because Thé Tjong-Khing will celebrate his 90th birthday in August 2023, a retrospective of his work will be on display at Verwey Museum in Haarlem until then. Mr Thé was also keen to offer a chance to other illustrators, so he chose four, including me. Quite an honour, of course.

This exhibition features some 20 of my original illustrations and a number of sketchbooks. Also on display is a work I created especially in honour of the exhibition, inspired by Kleine Sofie en Lange Wapper, and together with co-exhibitor Emanuel Wiemans, I created a 3-by-4-metre illustration in black and white, which is placed on the wall in the museum’s dining room (see photo below).

The exhibition is called Khingspiration and will be on display until 18 June 2023. More information at the bottom of this page.

When? 7 April until 18 June 2023
Waar? Verwey Museum, Groot Heiligland 47, 2011 EP Haarlem (The Netherlands)
Tijden? Sunday and Monday from 12 – 5 PM, Tuesday until Saturday from 11 – 5 PM

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When it comes to art, there is quite a bit of confusion: what counts as an original and when is it a print? What is a multiple? What is a giclée print?
For example, I call a painting I made, of which only one copy exists, an ‘original’. But another artist might call a multiple an ‘original artwork’ too.
So, how does this work? I like to take you through this, as a lover of printmaking, but also as the (grand)daughter of an artisan printer (the sound of Heidelberg press from the 1980s makes me nostalgic).

What is an original artwork?

The word ‘original’ has two meanings in art:
– Something that is self-conceived and original, and therefore original in its execution
– It is the only one of its kind, i.e. a unique specimen

It’s quite confusing, even for me sometimes. In fact, I saw a beautiful work and it said ‘original artwork’, so I thought there was only one copy of it. But it turned out to be a print that was printed indefinitely. And so that makes it worth much less. After all, the more of something available, the less value it has.
So as an artist, if you sell something made by hand that has only one copy, state it clearly. It will be worth more.

What is important is that you communicate clearly to your customer what kind of edition you sell your work in. We use trade terms for that.

I offer reproductions of my paintings as giclée prints (fine art prints) in limited editions → buy a print here

Different kinds of art reproductions

Multiple/open edition
This is often the most economical art you can buy. It is called ‘multiple’. These are reproductions of artworks in unlimited editions. These are often unsigned, or when printing the artwork, the artist’s signature is printed with it.

Limited edition
A (limited) edition is worth more than a multiple because it is more limited in copies. They are limited edition reproductions, and they are usually signed and numbered by the artist.
Suppose the artist provides an edition of 50 copies. Once these 50 reproductions have been sold, it is not done to sell more in the same format and using the same technique. If, as an artist, you still want to sell more, you have to make an adjustment to the reproduction, for instance by changing the colour or the format. I know sneaky artists who sell more anyway, but be honest: by doing so you are ripping off your customer. Just don’t.
When numbering, the first digit is the serial number and the second digit is the print run. For example 32/50, where ’32’ is the unique number in the series and ’50’ is the print run.

When a limited edition is produced, there are sometimes artist proofs, referred to as ‘AP’. These are prints meant for the artist to check if the print is good. If this one is also limited edition, it may say ‘AP 1/2’. Artist proofs are often sold more expensively than the limited edition itself.

Unique copy (or as I call it: ‘an original’)
Only one of a unique copy exists and is therefore worth the most. Prints may have been made of an original painting (limited edition or otherwise), but there is only one of the painting. A unique copy can also be a sculpture made by hand, a monoprint or a tapestry made by hand.
If you are selling a unique copy, it is wise to add a certificate of authenticity to it. This will state, among other things, that it is a unique copy, the artist’s name, size, date of making, material used and the artist’s signature.

Different printing techniques

Besides there being differences in print runs in reproductions, there is also a difference in the type of print and how the print is made. Below are some of the most common ones.

Giclée print
A giclée print is a print of an original work with the highest quality. To make such a print, for example, the original painting is photographed by a professional using special techniques, at a minimum of 1200dpi. From these photos, giclée prints can then be printed (by a lithographer) on acid-free art paper or canvas with precious archival inks. This paper or canvas has an underlayer (coating) that prevents the inks from degrading. Each giclee print is checked individually by the expert to ensure the best possible quality.
Sometimes something is called a giclée or a fine art print, while it is a photographic print. To be sure that you are holding a giclée, it is important that the print has been printed on an appropriate printer with at least eight colour runs on fine art paper (e.g. Hahnemuhle Photorag). This ensures that the print can last for around 80 years.

Difference between a fine art print and an art print
There is an additional complexity involved, because there’s a distinction between ‘fine art print’ and ‘art print’. The word ‘fine’ indicates exclusivity.
A fine art print is a giclée print made in a limited edition. This makes it art and subject to the 9% VAT rate.
An art print is also always a giclée print, but then a multiple/open edition. There is therefore no limit to the number of copies available and it falls under the 21% VAT rate.
A digital print (see below) cannot be called a (fine) art print, even if it is in an edition. After all, it is not a giclée print.

Digital print
A digital print, sometimes called a ‘photographic print’, is a very affordable print of a work. Unlike a giclée print, a digital print is not printed on acid-free paper, no archival inks are used and the quality is not checked by an expert. The print is usually printed on photo paper, but other papers are also possible.
A digital print cannot be an art print, because the quality of the paper and the printing technique do not meet the quality requirements. Pay attention to this, as there are sometimes sellers who call a digital print an ‘art print’.

Screen print
A screen print is a reproduction by stencil and is usually printed by hand. It involves the use of a screen printing frame, photo emulsion, UV light source and a graphic stencil.
A screen print can consist of one colour, or it can consist of several colours. In this case, several windows are usually used and these are applied to the paper one layer at a time. For a screen print, a colour or a number of colours are selected in advance with which to print. Thus, a screen print can contain unique colours such as neon or gold colours.

Left: a tetrapak print, also called an intaglio etching. Right: a risograph print made with neon ink.

Risoprint is a durable printing technique that has been making a comeback for a few years now. The Risograph machine resembles a copier, but works on the same principle as screen printing. Like screen printing, each colour layer is printed separately, using a stencil technique. The inks used are soya or rice oil-based. Each risoprint is a little different, as the machine cannot always determine exactly how the paper lies. This is precisely the charm of a risoprint, as it makes it unique. Also, risoprints can use unique colours that are not possible in regular CMYK printing, such as gold or neon colours.

A beautiful artistic printing technique, invented in 1796. A drawing is made on a stone or metal plate using lithographic ink or chalk, and then a print is made, mainly on paper. If you use ink, the stone must be smoothly polished. If you use chalk, the stone should be slightly grainy. Once you have applied your drawing, treat it with diluted nitric acid and gum arabic. The gum arabic will penetrate the pores of the stone that has not been drawn in. The nitric acid causes a chemical process, fixing the chalk. You then sponge off the stone, leaving the unsigned areas moist. You then roll that in with printing ink, leaving the ink only on the drawn parts. The inked stone can now be used to make a print, also known as a ‘lithograph’.
For a colour lithograph, two stones are used: one for the actual drawing and one for the colour. A separate colour stone is used for each colour.
Usually, a limited number of lithos are made with one plate. If the quality of a lithograph is excellent and only a few are produced, it has a considerable value.

Etching/intaglio print
An etching is a print by intaglio technique. An etching is created by etching a drawing into a plate (copper, metal, glass) with acid.
To make an etching, the plate is first polished with fine sandpaper or a polishing agent, with a layer of lacquer on top. You can then use an etching needle, for example, to make a drawing by scratching into the plate. You get gradations in light and dark by scratching more superficially or deeper into the plate. After the drawing has been made, the plate is placed in an acid bath. Where the coating has been scratched, the acid eats away a groove.
If no acid bath is used, this is called a ‘dry needle technique’.
Depending on the material used, a limited number of prints can be made. For example, you can make more etching prints from a copper plate than from a cardboard etching or ‘Tetrapak printing’. The latter is currently very popular because you can do it very easily at home in, for example, the inside of a milk carton.

I hope this was of some use to you. Do you have any additions or did I make a mistake somewhere? Let me know and I’ll update it.

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We all feel like a loser sometimes. At least, I do.
Just the other day, I saw a couple of colleagues running an art retreat in France for an organisation that also approached me once. “Am I doing everything I can?” I asked myself. An obvious FOMO moment. And the answer is: no, I am far from getting everything out of life. And it’s not even possible.

Making choices

Again and again, you make choices about what suits you and what doesn’t. Scrolling the internet, you process a constant stream of possibilities of what you can do with your life. I sometimes want 100 things at once and then I remind myself that I only have one life, and cannot fill it with all the things ten different people do. Or as I once posted on my blog: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Dissecting thoughts

If you feel a stab of jealousy (or you feel like a loser), ask yourself what lies beneath that feeling.
Why do I want to give a retreat? “Because so many illustrators do!”. But as my mother used to say to me once, “Just because everyone else jumps in the ditch, you don’t have to jump in” (a typical Dutch saying). So, not a valid reason. I ask myself “why?” a few times, and if the main reason is that I would be very happy teaching an art retreat, then it is valid. 
Similarly, I was a tad jealous of an illustrator who was making a picture book for a British publisher. I kept asking myself ‘why’ until I found out that that is what I do really want for myself. 
Ask yourself ‘why’ a few times and you’ll have a lot clearer what lies beneath those ‘must-do’s’.

Feeding the ego

When we feel jealousy, it is often our ego demanding attention. Having to earn more money when we don’t need that much at all, making a book for a publisher because then we are a ‘proper’ illustrator, or wanting 100,000 followers on social media, for example. In many cases, it is looking for outside validation. That is very natural for us humans, but it doesn’t necessarily make you happier, even after getting that validation. There will always be another something else that you then have to achieve. In other words, impossible to do and not good for your mental well-being either.

Core values

What helps me further is looking at my core values, which I talked about last month in my newsletter. When I think I need to do something (in addition to “why?”) I check against my core values to see if it really is something that suits me and belongs to me, and not to my validation-seeking ego.
But sleeping on it overnight often does wonders too. In the morning, I suddenly demand much less from myself. And if I want to keep that feeling longer, I don’t scroll on social media for a day. This is how I try to stay on track.

It’s making its comeback. Well, maybe it’s never been really gone, but it was quiet around the newsletter for a long time.
Now that social media offers fewer and fewer opportunities to be seen, the newsletter is a good way to put your work in the spotlight as an (image) maker.
Because here, you are not bothered by algorithms or that your work is only seen if you get a lot of likes. A newsletter always pops into subscribers’ inboxes!
As an illustrator, artist or photographer, you might be a bit reluctant to write instead of creating images, but a good start is half the battle.

How do you start a newsletter? Here are 5 tips to build a good foundation.

Want to learn how to create a good newsletter that suits you? Then join the online class!

1. Which email-marketing service to choose?

The choice is vast: Mailchimp, Flodesk, Mailerlite and the odd one out: Substack. And then a dozen or so more. Which one should you choose?
When choosing, it is important to know beforehand exactly what you need. How many subscribers (aka: subscribers/people who subscribe) do you think you can collect? How much are you willing to pay per month? Do you want to use A/B testing? Do you want to be able to see where your subscribers are coming from?

For beginners, Mailchimp is often the best choice. It’s free up to 2,000 subscribers, and very user-friendly. I started using Mailchimp in 2010 and used it until 2020. I decided to invest more time in my newsletters and quickly grew above 2,000, making Mailchimp too expensive. Since in most cases it takes a while to get to 2,000 subscribers, Mailchimp is the most accessible option for beginners.

Since 2020, I have been using Flodesk. With them, you pay a fixed amount per month/year, no matter how many subscribers you have. Thereby, it is very user-friendly and, in my opinion, you can create by far the nicest newsletters on this platform. The disadvantage of Flodesk is that many technical options, such as A/B testing and referrals, are not possible.

Substack is becoming increasingly popular among illustrators and works differently: it is more of a blog than a newsletter, and mainly focused on longer writing. It falls under the heading of newsletters because people can subscribe to updates. Per update (blog post), an e-mail is then sent to subscribers. Also, subscribers can leave comments under each post, so you create much more interaction than with a regular newsletter.

I am considering switching to Mailerlite because it offers more options than Flodesk, such as A/B testing, and it offers similar options to Substack. As I have no experience with this platform yet, I can’t say much about it.

2. Grow your emaillist

To get more subscribers to your email list, it is important that they know you have a newsletter. Sounds logical, but many people almost hide their newsletter. Therefore, place a built-in subscription form very clearly on your website. Even better: at the bottom of every page.
In doing so, it should be su-per-simple for people to subscribe. So always use a registration form. Don’t fiddle with ‘send me an email with your name so I can put you on my list’. It’s not 1998 anymore, and registration forms are made in minutes. Make the threshold as low as possible!

3. Don’t become a SPAMMER

Never just put people on your email list. Not even if you know them or have e-mailed with them before about a work-related topic, for instance. This is contrary to European law. Someone must have signed up via your registration form. If you send a newsletter out of the blue, it can be reported as SPAM (more on GDPR). I explain exactly how this works in my online class.

4. Make it clear who sent the email

A lot of newsletter senders forget to mention who they are.
Where you put the senders’ name, always make sure you use the name by which you are known to people, and put it first. Don’t say: ‘Visual artist and gallery owner Jessica Johnson. Far too long and also: mail providers abbreviate it. It will just say ‘Visual artist and …’: not at all clear who it is from. So start with ‘Jessica Johnson’.
Don’t forget to make it clear in the newsletter itself who it is from. Do so at the top (‘header’) and again at the very bottom. If it is not clear to subscribers from whom emails are coming from, they are more likely to unsubscribe.

5. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes

If you know who you are talking to, you know how to talk. So it is important to be clear who your target group is.
Moreover, a good newsletter is not just about selling your service or product: your newsletter should offer value to the recipient. Nobody likes to get solely advertising flyers in their letterbox. Make sure your newsletter is like a magazine among all that advertising. That will make you stand out! Create a balance between value for the reader and selling your product.

Online class ‘Newsletters for creatives’
Immediately available, start straight away!

In the online class, you will learn how to make a good newsletter, even if image is your first language.
In two hours you will learn how to grow your mailing list (without ‘sleazy’ tricks), how to find the right target group for your work, how to offer and sell your work without feeling like a fishmonger on the market, and how to write texts that are easy to read and suit you.

Good luck with creating your newsletter!

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After sharing the lessons I’ve learned from my semi-sabbitcal, I asked on Instagram what people have learned in 2022.
When I was reading through them, I realised how different the lessons are that people have learned. Sometimes even contradictive. I’ve made a selection (there were just too many) and put them in an order that seemed fitting.

What I’ve learned from this: what sticks with you is because of the time and place you are in, the context of your life, in that exact moment. Whenever you’re reading something, whether it resonates or not: it’s all because you, as the reader, engage with it at that moment. The lesson says as much about the student as it says about the teacher.

Julia: “We don’t need as much as we think we do.”
Linda: “It’s OK to say no, even to fun things, to manage your (limited) amount of energy.”
Iris: “Saying ‘yes’ to doing unfamiliar things.”
Marte and Riva: “Saying no.”
Saskia: “Don’t put off the things you want to do. It could be over just like that.”
Kim and Surya: “Be patient.”
Annelot: “Not saying yes directly, but considering first it it truly fits me.”
Mireille: “Moving abroad and working as a digital nomad wasn’t as easy as expected.”
Anonymous: “I’ve learned I can go back on my decisions.”
Famke: “Trust the process. It’s not easy at first but once things start moving it will be ok.”
Christine: “Taking time to think is time well spent.”
Katie: “To take a risk, even if it means I might fail.”
Patrizia: “Jump and a net will appear.”
Annette: “I recognise that I live based on fear and I don’t want to do that anymore. I only have to learn ‘how’.”
Christine: “There’s no correct time to do things. You can be young or old, the time is right when it feels right.”
Yvonne: “An unsafe working atmosphere is not the norm. And I can can distance myself from that.”
Thea: “I don’t need to take immediate action on tasks: often things resolve themselves.”
Carla: “I must take breaks and time for myself, especially when I think I’m ‘too busy’ for it.”
Anonymous: “Rest is not something you have to earn.”
Christine: “Slowing down often propels you forward later on.”
Erika: “Put down some of those balls before you drop them all.”
Giuliana: “My body is my fortress and I have to love it and nourish it.”
Cathelijne: “Sports/exercise/being outside has such an impact on how I feel.”
Voxune: “The one thing you will always carry with you is yourself, so be kind to them.”
Stana: “I can do a lot more than I thought I could, when I put in effort and patience.”
Kimberly: “That I don’t owe anyone an apology or explanation, except for myself.”
Tine: “Traveling alone is such a blessing for my soul.”
Ilona: “I’m different from everybody else and that’s okay. Although sometimes a bit lonely.”
Selma: “We are more alike than we think. We just have to be willing to let others in.”
Miriam: “I finally do things in a way that benefits me instead of trying to adapt to what doesn’t.”
Claartje: “The importance of sharing (life, fun, worries, sadness, small talk) with other people. Because I’m an artist, doesn’t mean I have to be a hermit.”
Leonie: “How liberating it is when not everyone has to like you.”
Cathelijne: “I don’t always have to respond immediately to messages.”
Betty: “Reach out more. For help, connections, to make friends, to loved ones.”
Iris: “I have to follow my own path, even if it means disappointing people.”
Mirthe: “How I talk to myself makes a big difference in how I feel.”
Jennifer: “Be authentic, no matter what the circumstances are.”
Michelle: “You are not your brain. You can ask your brain for different thoughts.”
Anonymous: “Trust the red flags earlier.”
Elina: “I went on meds for ADHD. I feel more like myself every day.”
Janne: “The effect of alcohol on the body: life is better without it.”
Elisa: “My partner and I weren’t able to talk anymore after a harsh discussion. Instead, we wrote to each other.”
Anonymous: “You can’t love someone into loving you.”
Ailisha: “Being a mum is amazing if you get sleep.”
Sigrid: “It is hard to switch from being the child to being the parent to my parents (f*ck dementia).”
Lesley: “Losing your dog is just as hard as losing any family member. Dogs are the best people.”
Ilse: “I can make pottery despite chronic pain, and that brings me happiness.”
Yvonne: “How to paint with acrylics.”
Julia: “Knitting! I made my first jumper and l’m so pleased.”
Rhiannon: “How to make fermented tomatoes (thank you Olia Hercules).”
Maggy: “To feel again.”
Ellen: “Dark clouds don’t always mean rain.”
Shay: “Seasons of hardship don’t last forever.”
Chloe: “Everything is temporary.”
Saskia: “I’ve learned nothing this year. And that’s fine. There’s no deadline for learning.”

I’m curious what you have learned this year. Let me know in the comments below!

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Yesterday, I was sitting on the sofa with my partner. I scrolled through my photos from England. It made me emotional and I said to him, “I feel I need to be over there. I think this feeling is homesickness”. 

During my semi-sabbatical I slowed down and felt more at peace, but now that I am back in the Netherlands, I find that it’s hard to find balance. 
What did I do in England that I don’t do here? I try to discover patterns and apply them at home too. But now I wonder even more: what exactly is ‘home’?
It’s a theme I’ve been working on for almost a decade, which started with this exhibition. It is the theme of all my paintings from the ‘Fernweh’ series.

Feeling grounded

‘Home’ for me means feeling grounded. It goes very deep, a kind of primal feeling. I articulated it for the first time in a conversation the other day, and I noticed emotions surfacing. When that happens, I know I am striking a chord within myself, and that I need to listen to it.
To feel at home, I need to feel understood, as I quoted during that 2013 exhibition. Shortly after the exhibition, I moved to The Hague and later to Rotterdam. I felt I was not understood in my immediate surroundings in Drenthe (regardless whether that was true). Something was gnawing, although I didn’t know exactly what it was at the time.

Outgrowing an old identity

Moving away from the place where I was born and raised allowed me to develop myself into who I really am. In my old environment, I was stuck with an old identity. A person that I had outgrown, but that people around me clung to because that was what they knew about me. 
Although I did not know exactly why I felt I had to leave, I knew for sure that I had to do it. Ten years later, I see very clearly that this distance was necessary to literally give me the space to become more myself.

Home as a place

Being understood by those around you certainly helps you to feel at home, but even more important is to understand and accept yourself. Then you yourself become the foundation of your home-place. But I would be lying if I said I feel completely at home now, no matter where I live. 
After ten years in busy Rotterdam, I am ready for peace and quiet. I have changed as a person and it is time to move on. Had I not had a partner whose home clearly is in Netherlands, I would be living in a country with hills and space to roam free. Beccause in Yorkshire, I felt firmly established. I belonged there, among the rolling hills and narrow paths, as if I were a tree whose roots were deep in the ground. This is what it feels like to be grounded.

When people around me understand me, or at least accept me, I feel safe. That is important for feeling at home. But now I also know the influence the natural landscape has. It is a basic ingredient to feel grounded.
Where I end up making my home, I don’t know yet. But I do know that as long as you develop as a human being, no home needs to be final.

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I spent three months in England, for several reasons. One was that I love the UK immensely: I have been coming there for 20 years, and in recent years I visited about three times a year. Another reason was that I was burnt out and needed a rest. At home, in the Netherlands, I kept running around in my wheel like a hamster, not seeing anywhere to stop running.
Ten years ago, I had a psychotherapist and to her I told her that I would like to go to England for a longer time. Maybe even move! She said it was running, that wherever I went I would bring my worries and problems with me. That I was better off staying where I was and sorting it out in the Netherlands. But ten years later, I was still running into the same problems.

It turns out that psychotherapists are not always right. That’s the first lesson: sometimes trust your own intuition, even if specialists say otherwise. Staying in North Yorkshire, between the North Sea and the North York Moors that are full of heather, is the best thing I have done in years. I have learned more here than in the last five years and I can say it has saved me in a substantial way. Now I don’t want to say it works for everyone, but if you feel deep down that you should do something like what I did: do it.

These months flew by. Now that I am back home, I reflect on the lessons I learnt here so that I keep remembering them. A few of these lessons I share below.

1. My job doesn’t define who I am

A lot goes under my ‘workaholic’ nature, mostly that I want to be useful to others. I worked so hard that I lost myself. My identity became that of ‘illustrator’, ‘photographer’, ‘writer’ or ‘graphic designer’, whereas I am more than the work I do. Everyone is more than their profession.
In recent years, I didn’t give much time to conscious living and mostly put energy into the production I was running. That is slowly changing now. I am learning that I am a complete human being without my work. Yes, I work as an illustrator/writer/artist, but I am also a down-to-earth person who likes to have deep conversations, loves to walk and swim for hours, doesn’t like to go to parties but loves to sit in a pub with someone, prefers to sleep under freshly washed blankets, and collects more books than makes time to read them. Amongst others.

2. Being more conscious of how I spend my time

I am very service-minded. I often prioritise another person, even strangers, more than myself. My DMs and email inbox fill up every day with questions and requests, I could dedicate my life to helping all the people who need my brain or hands for one thing or another. Often unpaid too.
Until a few years ago, I answered every email and DM I got, taking more than four hours a day. Now, I don’t answer everything. Not that I find that easy, but if I want to have a life besides staring at screens, I will have to. Time is incredibly precious, because once you spend it, you don’t get it back. As such, it is more precious than money. So now I regularly ask myself: ‘is this what I want to spend my most precious commodity on?’
After all, just because someone wants something from me does not mean I am obliged to give it.

3. Walking outside is healing

The countryside of England did me a lot of good. Walking five minutes from the cottage, I came to a gate that led to the edge of the North York Moors. There the vast meadows begin, without seeing a motorway or house. The further you walk, the quieter it gets. You hear pheasants, birds and the sound heather makes in the wind. I need that peace and quiet, places where humans are silent for a while. I have yet to find such a place in the Netherlands.
Because walking is such an automatic movement, you can let your thoughts run wild, and so walking feels like a mini-therapy session.

4. Quiet surroundings = quiet mind

It took me a long time to want to see this, but I am not a city person. When I moved from Drenthe to Rotterdam ten years ago, my career got a boost, but I also had panic attacks. When I moved just outside the city a few years ago, I hardly had any. But even just outside the big city, where there are still lots of motorways, where people honk if you don’t accelerate your car at traffic lights within a millisecond, where the person behind you in the queue at the supermarket starts to sigh very loudly if you don’t put your groceries on the belt fast enough, and where you hear aeroplanes or other machines everywhere: I almost always feel restless and under pressure.
After all, the Dutch Randstad (the west side of the country) is built on speed. If you don’t run along so fast, you block the way for others. I don’t want to run so fast and can’t (anymore). That is why I have asked my partner if we can eventually move to the east of the country, somewhere outside a village.

5. Surrounding myself with the right people

There is a quote by Jim Rohn that you are the sum of the five people you spend time with the most. I think it’s more nuanced, but there is truth to it. I find that if I surround myself mainly with people who have certain views, that becomes my bubble, whereas I want to stay open. That’s why I started looking more closely at which people I have in my immediate circle. Who makes me a better person? Who makes me learn to look differently at what I take for granted? Who is nice to complain about trivial things with? Who is there for me in the middle of the night when needed? Who makes me feel good about who I am? To whom do I add value? If someone makes me feel bad about who I am far too often and for whom I am not good enough, I let them go as someone in my immediate circle.

6. When I choose me, I do not directly harm someone else

If I had to choose to disappoint another person (whether it’s family or a client) or myself, I preferred to disappoint myself. Much easier to deal with. This sometimes resulted in having so many things planned in my schedule that I no longer had weekends or evenings free. As a result, I often went way over my limits, and that ended up being one of the reasons for my burnout. I haven’t quite mastered it yet, because this year too I won’t celebrate my birthday (and my niece’s, partner’s and mother’s) because I have too much work scheduled and therefore no breathing space. But I now feel what I am missing, and that is painful enough to start doing things differently.

7. Social media sometimes makes me feel less connected

I have met the nicest people on social media and made many friends, and it is a wonderful medium to showcase your work. But sometimes the balance is just skewed. That’s why I’m more mindful now about how I spend my time online.

With others
A few of my friends post almost only political or world issues on social media. I noticed that I felt less and less connected to them because I only saw one (extreme) side of them and not the whole picture. But spending a day with one of those friends I realised that they’re more than the content they posts on social media, that they are less extreme in real life than they present theselves online. I re-connected with them.
So, how social is social media really when we are actually drifting further away from each other? I’d like to meet up with friends more to feel more connected to them. On social media you often see too much of just one side and not the whole picture. We’re more than our jobs, but also more than our social media accounts portray.

With myself
I also notice that I feel less connected to myself when I scroll on social media for too long. I see so many options and regularly question: ‘should I do that too?’, especially when it comes to work. This sometimes makes me doubt myself and feel less in tune with what I need or want.
When we don’t feel good about ourselves, we reach for our phones faster. You often hear that social media has the same effect as a drug addiction, so when we feel less well, we reach for sedation. But on those very days, we should put away the phone and not look at it. Meet up with a friend (okay, you can use your phone for that), go for a long walk outside or bake a cake. Do something with your hands so that your head reconnects with your body and you start feeling what you need again.
I sometimes take a break from social media now. In those moments, I come back to myself and feel more in tune. By putting my focus on myself instead of everyone else online, I reconnect with myself.

Such a soppy statement, but:

8. It’s not about the destination: it’s about the journey

Work less and live more. I plan on going somewhere for a period of time every year to recharge, as I did in England. I want to work less so that there is more time to live consciously. I sometimes rush so quickly through days that I don’t always experience my life consciously. Days become vague memories.
I don’t want it to say on my tombstone later, “At least she met all deadlines”. If it were really about the final destination, life in itself doesn’t even matter.
I used to have work goals, and as soon as I achieved them I was already working on the next project, without enjoying the achievement of that goal.
When I was climbing a mountain in North Yorkshire with my partner, he was totally enjoying the climbing itself. I was ranting, “if we don’t have a nice view later, I’m going to cry!”. That’s the difference between us: I work hard for the end result, while he enjoys the path to it. On top of the mountain was indeed a beautiful view, and I sat down to enjoy it (I should do the same more often with my work). He immediately walked on and said, “look, another hill!”, without taking a look at the view. A balance between both walking towards something and enjoying the end station would be perfect.

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Illustrator/visual artist/designer/author (for the past 23 years) Marloes De Vries answers questions about illustration, being an artist or creative life in general. → Ask a question here.

Hi Marloes,

I have started painting (oils), but how do you determine the selling price for a painting? I find this tricky, and find it unprofessional to ask people what they are willing to give for it. And I’m not famous 😉 So that has an impact too. But just the cost of making it, I don’t think it’s worth it.
I have a lifetime of experience as an illustrator myself, so novice illustrator I am definitely not. I can give a price ‘by feel’, but it feels so unsubstantiated. Curious what your thoughts on this are!


Dear Bella,

A very good question: asking fair prices for your work is very important, especially if you are a female artist (article: ‘The $192 Billion Gender Gap In Art‘ on Forbes). Although I graduated from art school in 2007, I have only been working mainly as an autonomous artist since 2020. So I share with you what I have learned so far, but know that I am still learning about this topic. In fact, I am currently working with a business expert on art to educate myself further. Please also note that my calculations are based on living and working in the Netherlands, as are the tax/VAT rates.

Good that you point out that you don’t think just the making costs are worth it. If you do, you will be bankrupt in no time. You will make a loss as an entrepreneur, because you have to pay VAT and income tax, among other things. Does a painting cost you €25 in canvas, brushes and paint and do you charge €25 for it? Then you pay 9% VAT (art rate) and at least 37% income tax. You will then be left with €14.45, so you will be more than €10 down.
Besides, it doesn’t come across as professional/qualitative to ask only the making price: if something is very cheap, we quickly think it can’t really be valuable. So your prices directly reflect on how professional you look.

There are a number of ways to calculate the price of your painting. Below, I have explained three of them.

Method 1: art-formula

There is a well-known formula widely used by Dutch artists and galleries. I adopted this way from Marca van den Broek († 2020).

(width + height in cm) x artist experience x cost factor* = price of painting

Width + height in cm
This goes without saying: the dimensions of your painting in centimetres.

Artist experience
This represents your experience and fame. However, there are several sources online with slightly different figures in combination with experience, so check what suits you best.

  • 1: absolute beginner (without education)
  • 2: amateur artist or student at an academy or in art education
  • 3: good amateur artist or advanced student
  • 4: recently graduated art school student or autodidact with professional knowledge and skills
  • 5: artist with several years of experience
  • 6-8: artist with several years of experience and constancy, or individuality (own style)
  • 9-12: professional artist who is regionally known
  • 12-17: professional artist who is nationally known
  • 17-23: renowned artist known in their home country and known in neighbouring countries
  • 23-30: renowned artist known in their home country and abroad
  • >30: renowned artist with continental or world fame

Condsider your experience as an illustrator
What makes the artist factor tricky for artists like you and me is that we became autonomous artists via a different route. Do our years as illustrators count towards our experience or not? I discussed this with several experts in the artist profession and we all agree: the experience you have as an illustrator/graphic designer/photographer does count, because you are an artist anyway, whether autonomous or applied. Your previous field has helped you become the artist you are today. It makes you experienced in making colour combinations and compositions, you know what works and what doesn’t and makes you professional.

* Cost factor (optional)
Whether you include this depends on your expenses per painting. For example, if you work with expensive materials such as gold leaf, it is smart to add an extra factor. But also if you use cheap material like a graphite pencil, or because you made a super-fast sketch. Then you can, for example, calculate a factor of 0.5 for a pencil drawing or a quick work. Or up to a factor of 1.5 for an oil painting or work in an expensive frame.
For most paintings, the cost factor is 1 and you have a fair price that way. You only change the factor if you feel the work is worth just a little more or less than your standard paintings, or if you are using a very particularly expensive or time-consuming technique.

Calculation example:
Suppose you are a painter with several years of experience, your own style and in your hometown you already have name recognition: you give yourself level 8. Your work is 30 x 50 cm, and the cost factor is 1 because you work with acrylic paint on canvas.
Your price then becomes: (30 + 50) x 8 x 1 = € 640 (excl. 9% VAT).

In countries like the United States and United Kingdom they tend to work with square inch prices. More about those methods can be found here.

Method 2: labourer-formula

This is how most entrepreneurs, from plumbers to architects, calculate their prices:
(hours worked x hourly rate ) + material costs = price

When using this formula, it is important to know what hourly rate is appropriate for you. So you need to know:

  • What your business expenses are on an annual basis (such as studio rent, material costs, work clothes, study costs, bookkeeping costs, insurance, etc.).
  • What amount you need per year to make ends meet privately
  • Pension and disability reserves
  • How many hours per year you can devote to painting

Because you are constantly developing as an artist and your work becomes more valuable over the years, it is important to let your hourly rate grow along with your experience. As an artist, you also spend a lot of time sketching (on location), experimenting, etc. You often don’t count those hours in your painting, but they do count. So make sure you include an average of these hours in your painting, or raise your hourly rate slightly to cover this.
An experienced illustrator/artist might come up with such an amount: (7 hours x €90) + €25 material costs = €655 (excl. 9% VAT).

Disadvantage: price difference small or large canvas
The disadvantage of this method is that the difference in price for your canvases is closer together, in many cases. I myself can easily spend 5 hours working on a 10 x 10 cm canvas, as well as 5 hours on a 30 x 30 cm canvas. In the art world, it is common that the bigger the canvas is, the higher the price.

Method 3: what peers are asking

One tactic I used to price my first collection of paintings was to look at what fellow artists were asking who were at a similar level and had similar experience. For a year (and still today), I kept track of what painters, who, like me, mainly did landscapes, were asking for their work.
In an Excel sheet, I kept track of who the artist was, how big their works were, what materials they used, dates and: whether it was sold through a gallery or by themselves (the latter is important, I will come back to that below).
Because this way I could clearly see what prices different artists were asking for, say, a 30 by 50 cm painting, I could see what kind of prices I could charge.

Disadvantage: chance of keeping artists small
However, this tactic has a big problem: by applying this way, there is a possibility that we will continue to keep ourselves small as (female) artists. As long as you compare, you keep swimming in the same price pond. This is why it is important to also include the prices of, say, male colleagues.

To consider:

Selling paintings through an art gallery

If you sell your paintings through a gallery, 25-50% of the selling price will go to the gallery in question. The nice thing about this is that you will work with the gallery to see what a good price is for your paintings. For instance, there are many galleries that use the art calculation formula with a factor of 20. In that case, that factor mainly says something about the gallery and its reputation, and not necessarily about the artist’s factor.
If your goal is to have a gallery represent you in the future, it is smart to factor this into your price now, even if you are still selling it yourself. This way, the price difference during your transition from ‘sell yourself’ to ‘sell through gallery’ will not be immense, and therefore more logical for buyers.

Packaging and transport of painting

Something I didn’t take into account so much at first is the time and cost involved in packing and shipping your paintings. I personally prefer to have buyers collect paintings, but in my experience, most prefer to have a painting delivered. Warn the buyer that it is riskier to send, as parcels are quite often thrown in the post.

Per painting, I spend about half an hour carefully packing: protective film over the canvas, bubble wrap around it, hard cardboard protecting the canvas on the front and back, and then a transport box. A painting of about 30 x 30 cm me about €15 in packing materials.
Then it has to be taken away to a postal point, which takes me about half an hour in total. Depending on which transport or delivery service you use, these costs are €8 to €250.
So the cost is €15 (excluding 21% VAT), transport costs (€8 to €250 including VAT) and about an hour of labour costs.

I hope this is of some use to you! I wish you much success and pleasure in walking your artistic path.

Kind regards,

PS If you are reading this and have any tips on pricing your work, please comment below this post. All advice is welcome!

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If your brain works similar to mine, you probably recognise this: so many ideas, so little time. So, which ideas do you start working on and which do you leave behind? Because they all seem equally interesting. I share with you my system that I have not shared before, and which works perfectly for me:

My post-it or trash it-system:

1. Collect your ideas

Do you have ideas popping up in your brain all the time? Make sure you have post-it notes (sticky notes) everywhere. I have one on my bedside table, at my desk, in the bathroom (I get my best ideas in the shower), in the living room and in my bag. I scribble briefly on a sticky note what my idea is. 

2. Stick them on the wall

On the wall in my studio, I have two lists: ‘ideas’ and ♡ (heart symbol). I stick all post-its under ‘ideas’, no matter how crazy they seem.

3. Select and trash

After a while, I look at the sticky notes again. I ask myself the question with each idea/sticky note: “is this something I really want to do, or do I think I have to do it?”. 
Very often I think I have to do something, just because I can. Yes, I can develop an entire stationery line, but do I really want to do that? Is it in line with what I ultimately want to achieve? As Neil Gaiman said: “Does this bring me closer to the mountain?“.
If not, the sticky note goes in the waste basket. Does the idea give me a good feeling? Then it can go under ♡

4. Create a step-by-step plan

Now that I have been very selective with my ideas, I can look again at what is under the heart. If I am excited about something, even if it has been there for a month, I will figure out how to implement the idea. What steps are needed? By breaking it down into steps, I make it manageable to carry out.

Good luck and please let me know in the comments below if this system works for you too!

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Was this useful to you?

Please feel free to forward my website to others (social media links below). If you want to treat me to a coffee, that would be very kind.