I’m wandering off piste so to speak because Paulien isn’t a writer – she’s a very talented illustrator (among other things). You may recall in June Perkins’ interview I introduced you to some of Paulien’s work. She is illustrating one of June’s books – the black and white illustration above. Paulien and June are dear friends and I first met Paulien at a Book Creators Circle meeting (www.bookcreatorscircle.com.au), where she talked about her work. We were very fortunate to meet her as she lives in the Netherlands and was on holiday in Cairns at the time.
Paulien was very keen to join me in a virtual coffee interview so here we are.
She had this to say, “I like my coffee black, hot and sweet, espresso or long black, never with milk!”
I’m sure she’ll have it with Schnapps though. It’s been stinking hot in Europe so I scoured the internet to discover the best place to ski and we’re actually in Queenstown, New Zealand – where else? Paulien can cool down. I’m not anticipating a great deal of skiing will occur as it’s very hard to talk, drink coffee, schnapps and hold onto those pole things. Then there’s the business of staying upright on skis and wearing all those clothes.
Sooooo to cut a long story short we are pretending to ski and have found our way into a wonderful little coffee shop to do the après ski thing and I am very confident about my ability to see it through. Paulien nods her approval – she can’t speak at the moment because the schnapps has gone up her nose and her eyes are watering.
Paulien eventually signals her ability to speak and I ask about her latest project.
“I am working on a very ad hoc basis, since Multiple Sclerosis sometimes gets in the way of my daily routine. I had been working in advertising since the early 1990’s – which was little young me in a macho world of mad men with an overdose of testosterone, inferiority complexes muddled into superiority complexes. It was then and there that I vowed I would never let myself be pushed into being scared of anyone and anything. Never! But the MS made that impossible, too many deadlines and too much stress, so I am on a disability pension now.”
We’ve moved onto the coffee and apple strudel now Paulien continues.
“I was having MS relapses four or five times a year, with periods of being into hospital. This was wreaking havoc on my body. So it was considered best that I stop working. Maybe it was good for the old body, but not so for the mind. I was getting bored silly, doing nothing, sitting around…”
Paulien hasn’t let the problems of managing chronic disease like Multiple Sclerosis get in the way she just looked at how should could make her life different, less stressful and still be productive, creative and feel good about herself.
“It was then I decided I would go to the art shop, buy myself some paints, brushes and really nice paper.” She smiles and says, “Never be cheap on your materials! I started with watercolour, which was a great choice. I think I have grown rather well into it, and will be a learning experience for a lifetime. Watercolour will always surprise the artist, which is one of the attractions of the medium. I don’t have the patience to do oils but I’d love to be the next Van Gogh.”
Paulien’s face lights up as she smiles.
“I can forget about the world when I do watercolours. Time flies and for me, it’s true ‘Zen Meditation’ – I can get lost for hours or days even. I also like to sketch. I am so fortunate that I can draw what I see; perspective and dimensions came naturally to me, without being educated. Art school of course did the polishing of the raw edges, but I think I am blessed to have such a talent. But watercolour and all the mystifying qualities are mesmerizing and I keep coming back to them.”
The coffee schnapps and apple strudel all went down so easily we decide to move onto round two. This après ski stuff is much more fun than skiing! Paulien is one feisty woman. I ask her about recent successes.
“Ever since I was declared ‘disabled’ – I still hate the word – I have been trying to find things to keep me busy. However I was thankful to meet people who were disgusted with the easy manner in which society deals with those of us who are who are ‘blemished’ in some way. The upshot of one meeting was to be invited to illustrate a book for publication. I ended up making the whole thing, page layout and all, and it was my personal victory that it worked well. Years of experience as a graphic designer in the advertising world made me an expert in the work and it was a very nice book that came out at the end.”
Check out the illustrations and book ‘Tien’ on Paulien’s website www.colourproof.nl
We’re both very relaxed now.
“So, now that I was being more confident I started doing the odd design jobs for friends and various people who cared for me, to do their design work. It was totally enjoyable, and every one knew my situation, and understood that I might need a little extra time because I wasn’t always up to working when my energy levels dropped or when I had to go to hospital. I don’t ignore the fact that I have MS, but I tend not to let it rule my daily life, I like to do whatever I still am capable of and make the very most of it … after all, life is worth living, and quite nice most of the time! Celebrate every day like it could be your last and it will never make for regrets…”
You’ll have realised by now Paulien does not let her illness get in the way of her plans and ambitions. She goes on to tell me of a wonderful serendipity.
“In 2011 I bumped into an old friend who had moved abroad to get into business with a marketing tycoon. She came back to the Netherlands, very successful but cheated out of the business scheme and had to start all over again. I told her she could make use of my design skills when needed; I’d be helping her to get back to her feet in the marketing business. It was the best thing – we turned out to be a golden duo! And together we have been making some really successful communication and design plans. We have some plans for the future, but we need to wait for the economy to make a kick start in Europe!”
Watch this space!
“Of course I had been doing some illustrating work with my college childhood friend June, from the time I had been living in Australia, which was lovely – it was such a nice constant in my life.”
I ask Paulien about her best moments as an artist?
“I think I have had many great moments in my life as a designer/illustrator/artist… There have been many highlights, but I cannot really pick one. In the Netherlands there is no such thing as an award culture; actually, it is rather frowned upon. It seems like the Dutch think it is not wise to say that you might be better than someone else. Which I think is sad, because having been part of the Australian culture for a while I think it fine to have people excel in things and praise them for it.”
I’ll digress for a moment. A point to ponder. Why would anyone want to ski when you can sit in a cosy cafe with an inspirational woman like Paulien, drinking coffee and schnapps, and eating apple strudel ’til it comes out of your ears! Just a thought.
“By the way,” sighs Paulien, “I miss Australia to bits, but I am also a very European girl, and the simple fact that I know I can get into my car and be in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, by nightfall is just so very appealing… all the culture and history around me is so very stimulating! I have become a strange mixture of Australia and Europe and really miss one or the other when I am visiting any place, either in Europe or Australia … I am both and yet I am neither.”
Now for the biggy – what have been your worst moments?
“I don’t think I have had so many worst moments as an artist/illustrator. I always find things to do, I am such a creative soul, and unfortunately my days are often too short to do all the things I want to do in them.”
I think that is something we all feel.
“I had to give up clay modelling and sculpting because that is physically too hard but I can still draw and paint and even make some jewellery if I feel the urge. Once I thought my worst moment was when I was declared disabled, and I couldn’t work any more, but then I discovered a whole new world out there and I have been starting some fantastic projects, with June Perkins, and Matilda Elliott, Eleanor Bennet and Wendy MacKenzie and Dianne Baines through Book Creators Circle. I am proud of some book covers – Ever Essence from David Hollands Curran, and Temptress reclined at rest for Letizia De Rosa and the newest: Pursuit, by Jim Murdoch.”
“I probably don’t need to ask but why do you do what you do?”
“I need to create; it is in my blood…. I feel the urge to do so, even if there is no one to make it for; I make it because it is in my head and needs to come out, it can be triggered by a word or a smell or something I see around me in town, or in my house, or on the TV. It has to come out, it has to grow, it has to be born. I often ‘make’, create something in my head, and then it sits there until I find the time to come out. It feels like some kind of pressure that builds up and might explode, and I carry a notebook to make notes and sketches as to release the pressure. I need to create to be…. to breathe, to feel alive.”
Not so different from a writer – it’s simply the urge to get something down on paper. The first step in turning an idea into a piece of artwork whether it’s a book, a painting, a sculpture, a film – the process is the same.
Paulien has some final details she wishes to share.
“Here’s my website and some other online destinations which might interest you.”
Ever essence: http://everessenceworld.com/
And, if you contact me on Facebook, there are some albums I can share: ‘practicing’, ‘thoughts on ms’ (illustrations), and ‘illustrations 2009’ (exhibit of photo collages).
Maybe you’d like to take your magic carpet to the city of Groningen; here’s the wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groningen