Taking steps

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In this section, six young visual artists who graduated from an art school in the Netherlands in 2021 write letters to each other telling how starting their lives as visual artists is going for them and what they are working on. Taking turns, one of the six artists writes to the others what is on his or her mind. The artists who participate in this column are: Lauren Raaijmakers (WdKA graduate), Leonie Fernhout (WdKA), Jelle van Kuilenburg (ArtEZ), Repelsteeltje (WdKA), Hannah Meijer (HKU) and Loes van Reijmersdal (St. Joost).

November 14, 2021, Rotterdam 

Dear Lauren, Repelsteeltje, Jelle, Hannah and Loes, 

Writing I do at various times in a notebook where I keep track of ideas and thoughts. Not like a diary, but rather a brain notebook. Now I'm throwing myself into the deep end, to my mind, by writing to you in public. It's been almost a year since I graduated, but just a week ago I was participating in the WdKA's 2020 & 2021 graduation show. Once after the hectic build-up, I was satisfied with my installation and this show felt like the right choice to close this chapter with. 

During the process, I formed an installation in my studio from the theoretical and visual research

My graduation project was about mourning. During the process, I formed an installation in my studio from the theoretical and visual research. Yet, after the deadline of my graduation, I was not satisfied. By taking more time, rest and reflection for this project I was able to further develop my installation into the work I showed at the graduation show. When I think about this now, taking time, rest and reflection coincides well with the subject of mourning, but also with my life as a newly graduated artist. During my studies, and still now, I can put a lot of pressure on myself. I have to do all kinds of things and at the end of the day it will never feel like good enough. By being aware of this, I try to remind myself to be patient. Patience, I think, is an important aspect of the artist's life. This can relate to your work (process), but also to your career. 

I try to remind myself to be patient

Pretty soon after graduation, I was able to continue working part-time at my side job. Here I am office manager, or "jack-of-all-trades," at a digital agency. Besides supporting me financially, I also learn a lot from this 'adult' job. The combination of a job and working as an artist is tough and sometimes requires a lot of energy, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Lauren wrote in her letter in the previous BK Information About the search for balance. I recognize this very well, but I myself have already let go of the search for balance a bit. There are periods when I have a lot on my schedule and give myself little rest. As opposed to periods when I have less to do and make myself insecure about it. A trap I fall into is comparing myself to others. On social media I follow what other young artists do and see what kind of assignments or opportunities they got. I then wonder how they ended up there. Am I missing something? Am I not showing myself enough? Do I stay too much in my own circle? Do I present myself too uncertainly? Or is my work just not good enough? I don't know. I wonder how other artists deal with this. 

It's really nice to talk to different artists monthly about everyone's projects and get feedback on your process

For a year and a half I have been a member of a collective called Mondays Collective. It is very nice to talk monthly with different artists about everyone's projects and get feedback on your process. Now we are busy preparing an exhibition at the Huis van de Fotografie in Rotterdam. The last two weekends in November we will present our work here in different rooms. In one room I will create a kind of studio installation where I will exhibit different experiments of photography, ceramics sculptures and a video, among others. Through this installation, I want to create interaction between my incipient project and the viewer. I want to ask them to give feedback, tips and reactions to the visual work and leave them in the installation. 

For now, I also have a question for you. What steps did you take early in your artistry that helped you find your own path? I look forward to receiving your response. 

Warm greetings,

Your response to Leonie can be sent to redactie@bk-info.nl


January 12

Dear Leonie,

Your article in BK made me feel addressed by your question.
With this, I will briefly describe to you how I have lived as an artist.

I started with a teaching certificate, standing in front of the class was fun, but I actually wanted to go to art school, but my father advised me to choose a profession first, 's evening I studied and got my 1st degree in visual education.

I taught, handicrafts, with great pleasure I did that for 44 years. Quite a job because of my husband's disability and being at home with our two daughters. From my graduation (1982) until now, I exhibited every year, I had (have) my own studio and worked in school and on Saturdays and Sundays, plus two evenings and vacations in the studio.
Of course this was hard, but I liked the work at school, I tried things out with the students (high school) and studied teaching methods. I myself thought of new work during the vacations when I had a bit more rest and worked that out (as a sculptor (metal)) in the time I had during the working weeks.

In retrospect, now that I am retired, I sometimes think: if only I had had more time before. Now that I have time the ideas are tumbling over each other and I exhibit more often. For years (including before my retirement) the studio has lived off the studio. It's still getting better. If I had taken more time I might have achieved more fame, because I did not present myself much, just no time. Only I did participate in fairs, as an independent artist, that did give fame, for expos I was usually asked, but I notice now that if you present yourself more actively it does help.

The advantage of how I worked is, I now have a good pension, which allows me to work independently and make (what I always did) what I want. Always experimenting and discovering new things.
The downside is that I am now older and may have missed out on time as an artist.
I don't know if I would do it differently now, times are different of course. I am very happy with how I can work now, it gives me energy and I am always busy. I sell regularly so I can maintain my studio, but I wouldn't be able to live from it alone.
So the way you work now, a "regular job" next to being an artist, gives (financial) peace of mind and thus more room for creativity. But how much time for the "regular job" ?

With heartfelt greetings and much success wished.



Dear former student and budding artist, dear Leonie,

You have in BK Information clearly and with great insight outlined the contours of your nascent artistry. Your text posed a challenge for me to answer some of your questions, as perhaps an art school is the only course where you graduate with more questions than answers.

When you were in my class during your studies at the Willem de Kooning Academy we had many conversations about the work you were doing, also towards your final exams. You are very passionate and critical of your profession and always want to strive for the best and highest achievable. You have written that your final exam work was good enough to get your diploma due to all sorts of circumstances (covid-19, many online lessons), but that you had actually expected more from yourself. You expressed that months later in the deferred Graduation Show definitely well made.

You've already noted that developing yourself needs all kinds of conditions to succeed: pressure, rest and reflection are a few of them. Above all, building your artistry also takes time. As I already taught you in the lessons at the academy: a high jumper does not jump over two meters fifty from a standing position either, but first takes a run-up.

Use that run-up/time to orient yourself to the professional field, your colleagues and your possibilities. But...don't compare yourself too much with other artists. Realize that you are a unique person with your own warehouse full of knowledge, emotions, skills, peculiarities and shortcomings. Think about where your interests lie, what fascinates you and what are you curious about. The steps and decisions you take to the best of your ability will ultimately determine your own (wise) path through the art world.

Realize, however, that as a visual artist you play an important role in this society. After all, you have been trained as an expert in imagining. You are in the middle of a society in which the image has become crucially important in many areas. This means that you have to be fully aware of the role you are going to play and that the work you are going to make could set something in motion, cause something. Perhaps not in the (closed) art circuit but in a much broader context.

Leonie, my advice to you is; don't talk (only) to artists but (especially) to experts in the fields you want to explore; scientists, doctors, athletes, refugees, captains of the ocean, astronauts, letter carriers, army generals, conservationists, social workers and many more.

There and only there in those conversations and confrontations lies the opportunity for you as an artist to gain knowledge and information, to gain insights that you need to represent, focus and give meaning to your content.


December 22

Dear Leonie,

When asked what steps I took at the beginning of my artistry I would give you the following tips this.

Bring attention to your work

In my day, I sent documentation by mail but also went around galleries and presentation institutions with a portfolio folder. 

Make sure your website and socials are in good order. 

In the BK newspaper you write that your graduation project was about mourning. On your website I don't read anything about that, is that correct? The photographs and ceramic works have no context or titles, it's a bit of a search which photographs fall within which project. From my role as curator I often search online by hashtags or search terms, make sure you are findable in the search engines. 


With regard to the theme of mourning, you can actively contact organizations and institutions that do something with this, and send your work there with the nice cover letter. 

In conclusion, hang in there. Give yourself time but also be honest. If after 5/7 years you have no expositions, no new work and a full-time job, accept that being an artist is not for you. Just swallow and then set your sights on other goals. Because you are a sum of parts and blessed with a creative mind so it will be fine ? 

Good luck!

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