It Runs in the Family


DSC_0014_edited-1I share a love with my maternal grandfather for office and drawing supplies. In the 1940s and early 1950s, he wrote a series of children’s books about his youth in Friesland, called the Pieterjan books. (His name was P.J.S. Zwart, and the first two initials stood for Pieter Jan, hence the title.)

When we moved back from Australia to the Netherlands, we lived with my grandparents in Bilthoven for about six months, and during that time I devoured all the Dutch children’s books in the house. Of course they were mostly my mother and her siblings’ children’s books, and since they were pretty much the first Dutch books I read by myself, I didn’t notice how stiff and outdated the language often was.

The Pieterjan books were no exception, but I loved them. One of the things that stuck with me was my grandfather’s description of his father’s stationery store in Harlingen, in Pieterjan in het stadje. The smells of new books, of the erasers, the pencils, the writing and drawing pads, and how everything was stacked and displayed just so. I remember reading it and getting all excited. Because I knew exactly what he was talking about.

Nothing was better than the brand new pencils, the fresh eraser, and the unopened exercise books that were handed out at the beginning of the school year in Australia.

And I still feel the same way. I can spend hours at Office Depot or the art supplies section of Michael’s. I find it extremely hard not to buy a little notebook every time I’m at Walgreens and the Back to School materials at Target just make my mouth water. Not to mention the beautiful drawing pads and journals at the bookstore–oh my!

I have enough notebooks and diaries and journals and drawing pads to last me a lifetime. Especially since I don’t actually draw much at all. I have quite a collection of different types of erasers, too. I even have some of my paternal grandfather’s old erasers. (He was one of the Netherlands’ first comic strip creators.)

I was thinking about all this yesterday, when I was doing something awesome. I had just visited Rarasaur, and read an item about doing something awesome every day. So I started an art journal. But because what I make is hardly art, I’ll call it my doodle journal. I doodled a title page, but since this was nothing special–I start journals all the time, the trick is getting past page one–I decided that in order to make it awesome, I should use color.

How is that so awesome? Well, the last time I used color in my drawings was in a local art class I took when I was eighteen, and only because the teacher made me. It messed up what I thought was a perfect drawing of a bunch of carrots, and it scarred me for life.

I like to draw in black pencil or with black ink.

I had inherited a whole set of Winsor and Newton inks from my paternal grandfather as a teenager, and they are among my most prized possessions. But I never used any of them. About five years ago I decided to buy new ones, because the old ones were no longer usable. And I still hadn’t used those either.

But at least I had them, and they looked so smart, all lined up just so in my art box.

So yesterday I used them. Yes indeedy, after doodling in black ink and letting that dry, I opened the sunshine yellow for the very first time and let loose with one of my fine, soft and equally untouched paintbrushes. And then orange, and vermillion . . .

And the world did not end. In fact, it looked kind of . . . awesome.

So maybe I will keep up with this doodle journal, eventually fill it, using up all my inks and erasers in the process, and have an excuse for buying more of my favorite supplies.

14 responses to “It Runs in the Family

  1. Keep going, doodling and all, love it, reading about it, and should do it myself (looks at art supplies on top of bookcase).

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    • I remember you were always drawing during class. I still have that one picture.

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      • Think I was bored, back then? 🙂
        Which picture, and you kept it all this time!?

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      • We both were, that year. It’s a picture of a science fiction-looking young woman. Just a few lines, very symmetrical, very simple, and I still like it.

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      • Oh I remember, that was when I was trying to draw humans, haha and they ended up sort of ‘alien’. Yes we were pretty bored and both got reprimanded. It worked for you. 😉

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      • What? The reprimanding? God, I’m glad I never had me in a class. Having taught in a college I finally know how annoying it is when people don’t listen. It also makes you feel really insecure. But they also didn’t make an effort to make things interesting. Or relevant. Especially UDC.

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      • I still have a bunch of my drawings of that time (and before). I think we had to see the head of school, and they threatened you with notifying your parents, but because I was older they couldn’t do much but give me ‘the’ talk. UDC oh yes! It was like learning German grammar by rote.

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  2. This sounds like a wonderful routine to add to your day . . . in living color. Enjoyed hearing about your grandfathers and their creativity ~ children’s books and comic strips. How cool.

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  3. Good for you for starting something fun and awesome (and outside your comfort zone).

    I think I understand your love of art and office supplies. My mother is an artist. Though I inherited none of her talent, I love her studio. She has the coolest stuff – a gazillion different brushes and paints and inks and papers. And cool wooden boxes and drawers and shelves and cabinets to hold it all. I also have a penchant for notebooks and journals and pens and pencils and I am constantly tempted to buy more even though I write only sporadically and mostly on computer now.

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  4. Hello – I found you via the Featured Blog link on Homesick and Heatstruck’s Blog. 🙂
    I love office supplies and stationery too, and can spend hours in the stationery department of a shop. One of the things I love the most is a brand new tin of colouring pencils – one of those long thin tins with at least 50 pencils in it, all arranged by colour. I don’t have any need for coloured pencils now, but I still admire the boxes when I see them!

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    • Exactly! I don’t need them either, but I love it when my kids are out of pencils or colored markers and I get to buy them. They don’t understand the treasure, though. Maybe it’s because when they run out, I buy them new ones. As a child, if I ran out of something, that was it. So I cherished my materials. I also ended up not using them as much as I should have, though.

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  5. Oh, I love art supplies. Every time I go into the big art store on the Oudegracht, I’m in heaven. So many possibilities! I haven’t been doing much in recent years, but I have the urge now to start drawing pencil portraits again. I bought a new drawing pad the other week, since the only other one I had left with empty pages was bigger than I wanted to deal with. I still haven’t actually used the new pad yet, but it’s there waiting for me!

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