Intermezzo, get inspiration from creativity

Intermezzo, get inspiration from creativity

Inspiration and creativity are must haves for me. Irregularly I make drawings, collages or mixed media in some kind of theme. It helps me keep my creative skills flowing. Here are a couple of examples:

An intermezzo is a short piece of music written to be played on its own or as part of a longer piece. For me it’s a welcome break in my daily activities.

What do you get your inspiration from? Tell me in the commentbox below.

Dick Bruna’s Miffy

Review: Dick Bruna’s Miffy

A gift for an abroad living grandchild

dick bruna - nijntjeMy grandson is Spanish (and at the moment I write this he is 4 days old!). He is going to be raised bilingual. Spanish of course, since his mother is Spanish. And I thought his second language was going to be Dutch because of my Dutch son.

But his other language will be English. “How many people on the globe speak Dutch, Mum?” OK, I got it. It makes sense too, but still . . .

Yet I found the perfect solution. I gave my grandson a Dick Bruna book. It’s an alphabet dictionary, showing drawings with the English words and the Dutch translation underneath.

Originally Miffy is Nijntje.
Nijntje is short for Konijntje, which means Little Rabbit

Advice from more experienced grandmothers

A lot of my friends are grandma by now

first present for a newborn
Our first present for our first grandson

My friends all said the same thing: Buy the kid a Bruna book, it’s a big hit.
I am a graphic designer so I have known the work of Dick Bruna for a long time, professionally, but never looked at it as a potential gift for a grandson.

I love his style of illustrating. But it pleased me enormously to hear from my friends that little children love it too. And that is what counts, isn’t it.

Bruna’s drawings are always in four colors: the three primary ones, red, yellow and blue, and one secondary color, green.
The forms are always a variation on the square, triangle and circle. All in a very clear manner, with plain panes and thick black lines.

dick bruna miffy
Two pages of the English-Dutch Miffy dictionary

Nijntje is called Miffy in English
Nijntje is short for Konijntje, which means Little Rabbit.

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Bruna’s most famous character is Miffy – Nijntje in Dutch. He started drawing this figure when his own kids were small, being on holiday in the dunes of Holland.
The books are like Sesame Street. Meaning, they are very educational, but also very simple and appealing.
As I said, I love them! I hope my grandson will love them too.

Dick Bruna’s father had a publishing company. Although A.W. Bruna considered his son to be a black sheep in the beginning because he didn’t want to enter the publishing profession and dropped out of art school as well, Dick published his own books with the Bruna firm and illustrated a lot of other books.

Bruna is in his eighties, but he still takes his bike every morning to go to his studio and draw.

Update august 2014: Dick Bruna is now officially retired and won’t draw new books anymore.

Update february 2017: Unfortunately Dick Bruna passed away. RIP.

Geometrical forms

bruna nijntjebruna geometrical forms
A second book we gave is about the square, triangle and circle
A nice touch is that the mother is now learning some Dutch as well !

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My favorite hiding place, my workplace

Crafts: My favorite hiding place, my workplace

artist at workI am an artist and make abstract, sculptural ceramics. You can see the result of what I make in another article, but here I want to show you where I make it.

There is a little building in the garden, which size fits me perfectly. It’s my atelier where nobody disturbs me and I can work quietly. And where I teach my students, so at times it’s not quiet at all!

In order to work properly, I do not necessarily need an own studio – several of my students use their kitchen table as well – but you can understand that I am very happy with my hideout. (Pictures of me are made by my friend © Jenny van Diggelen; the other pictures are mine © Hannie Mommers)

A workplace in the garden

Every child is an artist
The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up
–Pablo Picasso

My biggest challenge: keeping the place tidy

workplace tidying up

For me it’s hard to keep a surface cleaned up. In some areas of my life I am a messy person. In the old days both my mother and my sister used to yell at me: “Clear out your stuff!”

A big advantage of having groups of students at times, is that I have to make sure they have room to work. So I use shoeboxes and small drawers that are labeled to keep overview.

ceramicist at work
Me in action, collecting stuff around me while I am working

students in my workplace
A group of students working hard and concentrated

This was so great, a blind visitor at my exhibition

blind seeing my work
“Seeing” the work by touching. She is not allowed to do this in a gallery or museum, but at my own exhibitions, of course she is.

Yearly I have an exhibition in my house and garden, together with 5 other artists. Last time a blind woman visited. She was so happy that I allowed her to touch my ceramics. Her husband next to her described the colors. There was a time she was not blind so she knows what the colors are.

Dirty business: Ceramics is a dirty profession. Your hands and your tools will get messy. Try to work as responsible as possible.

Hot tip: a deposit tank is necessary

environmental friendly
I do not want waste in the sink

If you can’t afford a deposit tank at the moment – like me – it’s just as easy to use 2 buckets. One for non-toxic stuff like clay, to rinse your tools and hands, and one for toxic waste like glazes and oxides. Don’t put your bare hands in the toxic bucket!

Actually I have 4 buckets. When 2 of them are full of water I switch them. The water in the buckets will evaporate and then you can spoon the remainder in a plastic bag. When I have a lot of that I bring it to the Environment Center.

buckets to clean up
I rinse my hands first in the left bucket and then I wash them with warm water

My biggest asset, an electric kiln

I have an electric, high voltage kiln. The highest temperature I can get is 1,300 degrees C
Ouch, what a mess on the table!

kiln lockI used to hire kiln space at a pottery nearby. When you just start as an artist, you might not have big sums of money to invest. And there always is the possibility you won’t like your artwork enough to continue and then you’re in trouble with all the tools you can’t use anymore.
(I have also made an article about using household stuff as tools for ceramics)

Another big advantage of hiring first is you learn what you like or don’t like in a kiln. You’ll be so much more prepared when you are going to buy one.

I love technical stuff, isn’t this lock beautiful?

Reflections on buying a kiln

  1. Do you want a top loader or a front loader?
    A top loader is cheaper, a front loader is better for your back
  2. Which energy source is the easiest accessible for you, gas or electricity?
    Some effects are not possible in an electric kiln, for example, you can’t regulate the oxygen inside
  3. What size do you need?
    Making big pieces doesn’t necessarily mean needing a big kiln. Mine is 100 liter, but I still make pieces of 1,5 meter high. They are made in parts and assembled afterwards
  4. Can you put the kiln outside your workplace?
    And if not, can you make an exhaust system?
  5. If it is electricity, do you have ordinary or high voltage power?
    If you won’t fire higher than 1,060 to 1,100 degrees C you don’t need a high voltage kiln.
    If you want to work with porcelain you do.
  6. Do you want a computer-regulated kiln?
  7. How big is the space you have available?

Do you have tips of your own concerning buying a kiln? Please share them here in the commentbox.

DIY How to smooth the surface of your clay object

Three affordable tips

DIY: How to smooth the surface of your clay object

Ceramics can be produced in several ways. You can press clay in molds, hand build or merge slabs. Depending completion or decoration it can be necessary to smooth the surface as best as possible.

If you intend to use slip on the finished form, it’s best not to smooth the surface too thoroughly. When the clay molecules are pressed too tight against each other the engobe will not attach very well.

On the other hand, if you plan to put your work in the smoke kiln, it is better if the surface is polished. The smoother the better.

Read more

DIY How to make the perfect clay rolls

DIY: How to make the perfect clay rolls

The secret of the waffle cloth

ceramics tip clay rollsI am a ceramicist and make sculptural, abstract art. In a lot of my work I need rolls of clay. These can be thick, even rolls. Or rolls that vary from thick to thin.

I used to roll them in between two hands. Usually ending up with lumpy and strange looking things. Not too bad, but certainly not perfect.

Here is my look behind the scenes.

(Art and pictures © Hannie Mommers)

A simple solution, yet very effective

Do try this at home. Take a simple waffle cloth – I have several in different colors, not that the colors are of any importance – and wet it. Put it flat on the table and roll a little piece of clay on it.
Piece of cake.

iTips026Chimney6_007Even, thick rolls that I used in the piece on the right. An extra touch is the use of two colors of clay.

From thick to thin

And trust me, it can go really thin with this method.

rolls from thick to thinwith the use of rolls
As you can see in the pictures I use several textures of waffle cloth.

The big series: Reaching for the sky

reaching for the sky hannie mommers
“Reaching for the sky 4” – 23x23x137 cm

All the rolls for these series of very large built forms were made using this technique.

I made this YouTube video when my company celebrated its 25th anniversary

Try several

Although I am very faithfull, once used to a certain brand, I occasionally buy different kinds as well. Just to try it. Some deteriorate too easily, others just have the perfect texture and sustainability.

There are good signs and there are bad signs

Review: There are good signs and there are bad signs

One of my favorite topics: good signage

signA well-designed item helps the user. It doesn’t matter whether that design is a brochure, a coffeepot or a road sign. If it’s designed properly it doesn’t thwart the user.

Whenever I am abroad the first thing I notice are the signs.

  • The signs on the airport if I come by plane
  • The directions on the terminal if I am traveling by bus
  • The road signs if I drive a car

In my opinion too many designers would rather get a compliment about the appearance of their work than about the usability.

Examples to clarify my point, close by home

signsDecide in a split second. Will you go right or left for ‘Beekhoek’?

For years this sign has been standing just outside my village giving directions to restaurants and campgrounds. It always annoyed me.
Imagine this situation:
You are on your way to a seminar in a place unknown to you. There has been a traffic jam so you are running late. The sign is at the end of the off ramp. And while cars behind you are honking their horn out of impatience you have to decide in a split second whether to go right or left.
I think you will go right, no matter which one of the four possibilities you need.

There are better ways to point in the right direction. One is to put the arrow to the left on the left part of the sign.

more signs
Even better is to make two groups.

More examples to clarify my point, abroad


Both signs I found in France. Which one is best?

sign in france

My personal heroes, One American, one Dutch

Donald Norman

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Twenty some years ago I read “The psychology of everyday things” by Donald Norman. And reread it, and reread it. Nowadays it’s lying on my bed stand so I can leaf through it. It is one of the best books I have ever read. Ever.

The book has a chapter about taps. Usually I can figure out quite easy how a tap works, but during a holiday, driving through France, several of the parking lots had taps I just couldn’t fathom. I thought it was hilarious because it was one of those holidays that I was reading the book for the umpteenth time.

Oh, and by the way, all taps had to be handled with a foot pedal. Can you imagine?


Paul Mijksenaar

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Another great book on the subject is “Visual Function” by Paul Mijksenaar. He is the designer of the signage at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and JFK Airport in New York.
This book looks slightly more attractive than Norman’s because it’s more recent and has color images.
But you might have guessed that for me this isn’t relevant, because the content is more important than the way it looks.

I once was able to invite Paul Mijksenaar for a talk at my yearly “Clients Cuddling Day”. He was amazing. He can go on and on about his ideas on signs in such a funny way that everyone thought they were attending a comedy night. And the biggest accomplishment of that talk was that almost every client said to me later they just couldn’t look anymore at things without wondering what the designer had been thinking.

signage by mijksenaar

A design example from ordinary life

Ever since I put hubbies car against a wall in an indoor parking, causing some big scratches, I hate garages. They’re too narrow, you can’t take the turns without damaging the car, there are always cars parked across the lines.
So this car park in Monchengladbach, Germany, was a present to me. The lines from the floor are extended on the wall. How simple life can be!
This is the principles from Norman and Mijksenaar in full practice. 🙂

signs made easy

Do you think graphic designers can make your life more easy?

Photography, my passion

Photography: My passion

Looking through the square hole


Taking pictures is narrowing your view. In a good sense. Looking through the square hole makes you focus on composition, color and details of what you see. It’s all about making choices.

When I was 12 years old I got a camera from my granddad. It was an Agfa, that I know for sure. But I am not sure anymore whether it was a Click or a Clack. All these years I was convinced it was a ClackII, but googling pictures of it made me wonder. The image in my memory resembles more the ClickII.
Well, whatever.
It was a little plastic camera, with 3 choices (sun, half-clouded, clouded) and I could make great pictures with it.

Taking pictures inspires me

masks in venice
Masks in Venice

I am not a photographer by profession. Although I do take pictures to sell them. What I like most about pictures is the infinite source of inspiration they are to me.

  1. The actual pressing the button at the right moment;
  2. Sorting, choosing, throwing away and keeping others after a shoot;
  3. The editing and playing in Adobe Photoshop;
  4. Organizing them in themes by tagging;
  5. Making plans for the next day of shooting.

And of course looking at exhibitions and in books at other photographers and their work.
Favorites are Karl Blossfeldt, a teacher that made pictures of plants to teach about forms and shapes, Ansel Adams, a marvelous landscape photographer, Hans Aarsman, a Dutch photojournalist who writes real funny observations, Eva Besnyo, a social photographer and Ed van der Elsken, also a social photographer.

LOL, come to think of it, looking at their names it seems I didn’t get past the E in the alphabet, but that really is a coincidence! It’s not a coincidence though that 2 out of 5 are social photographers.

The reasons why I take pictures

  1. Pictures are great to remember events
  2. Making pictures makes me more aware of what I see
  3. I love editing pictures as a form of art
  4. I use pictures for educational reasons
  5. Pictures are my inspiration when I make my art
  6. I hang my pictures on the wall or put them on the cupboard
  7. I love to capture emotions or beautiful moments in time that may just never happen as randomly perfect again
  8. It’s a moment in Time
  9. I use my photographs in my books
  10. Photo Diary

Decorative pictures

A canvas hanging on the wall or framed on the cupboard

exhibition in a garden

It’s great to choose some photos for a special place on your wall. Don’t go for the cheapest supplier. Have a good eye on the following aspects:

  1. How is the quality of the canvas;
  2. What kind of wood is used for the frame;
  3. Are the colors UV-resistant;
  4. Is the finishing touch a good varnish.

Sometimes I use my canvases as an art project. One project in particular was really fun to do. I was going to have an exhibition in a big garden in June. The theme was ‘Time‘. In January and March I took a lot of pictures and chose 5 for a print on canvas. On iron pins, stuck in the ground, I could hang the canvases on the spot where I took the picture, thus showing what it looked like a couple of months before. Because of the pins they were a little bit off the ground, so when it rained they wouldn’t get dirty from spattering mud.
Glad you asked, yes, they survived the wet Dutch weather perfectly!

Do you want a canvas of your own?

beach photograph

This picture and others are for sale in my Zazzle store JosjeM

The camera is my best friend
As long as I am behind it

olympus tripolympus muhipstamatic appcanon markII

I was trying to recall how many cameras I have possessed. The amount is amazing. I regret that I sold or gave away most of them. It would be a nice Memory Lane if I had them all on a shelf.

Because of the picture I wanted to make for this lens, I rumbled through my drawers. The funniest thing is, that I discovered an analog camera with a film in it. No idea for how long. The display says ’19’, so I have 18 pictures, or maybe they are slides, of which I have no idea what’s on them. It will be nice to fill all 36 and then try to find some place to develop it, don’t you think?

[Update: I am glad I didn’t finish all 36, but let it develop right away. The Fuji film – having a blue shade in itself – turned out to be too old. All the pictures are very blue and because of that they look real faded. Oh well, now I at least know what was one it. Not for keeping :-)]

Nowadays I walk around with my Canon Mark II for the large ‘official’ photos. And my iPhone for the fun photos. Do you know the app Hipstamatic? I adore it! It’s an app pretending the iPhone is a plastic camera, like my ClickII. You can take pictures that had a light leak. Or doubled by accident. Or have stains on them.

I love taking pictures on my iPhone with the Hipstamatic-app

There are always new things to explore

tutorial photography

Not all old knowledge became obsolete when digital cameras were commonplace. The rules concerning composition, use of color, depth-of-field or contrast still apply.
But any new technique or any new camera takes a lot of learning.

I love it when things change and there is something new I can put my teeth in to try to master it. And I also love to teach about it. For instance in this article about composition on my blog.

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The rule of thirds is very important in photography, but there are more ways that lead to Rome, in this case in leading to a good composition.

Mastering digital photography

In my photography library the most books are written by Scott Kelby. Basically every page is a picture with a talk. In a clear way and very instructive.

100 Photos that are all the same

Or how I rediscovered my pleasure in shooting

This gallery’s theme is Fiesta

There was a period I hardly took any pictures, except from my family and special occasions. When we were on a holiday I bought postcards from the highlights. What was going on? I got frustrated that the postcards always looked better than my pictures. They were taken in better conditions, from a better position, with a technical camera. And I didn’t see much point in adding a picture of the facade of the cathedral to what all my bystanders were shooting at the same moment.

I regained my pleasure when I decided to have one main objective, one theme to work from. For example, my theme could be round or monochrome. One year all my pictures had to be taken in portrait mode. The theme could be five or contrast. As you can see the list is endlessly. I can really recommend it. It is such fun to try to find images that fit your theme. And what’s more: you will look at your environment in a different way than you did before.