Today, it’s exactly a year ago that I left Sketchbook Skool management. If you missed that, you can read it in a short blogpost update I wrote here, and also in this Instagram story highlight, which includes a bit of video too.
In June 2020, after taking one of the hardest decisions of my life; letting go of the beautiful company I built from scratch and worked my butt off for with lots of love and dedication for 7 years, I took time off to recharge.
The sabbatical I took, looked quite different than how I envisioned it when planning it (which was before the pandemic). Plans I had for traveling and all sorts of other adventures that I now finally had time for, had to be canceled, or postponed. Instead, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands, a bit limited here and there because of lockdowns, but staying put with everything on pause has given me many insights.
Slowly I got my energy back by doing a whole lot of relaxing, hiking, reading, drawing and reconnecting with family and friends. I had been working so hard for years and didn’t dedicate enough time to my social life and family members, and I really missed it.
I had no idea what I was going to do next but that was OK because I also know this: wherever I am right now is exactly where I need to be. And that’s all that I needed during this sabbatical time: just be.
And I found myself again. That sounds kind of esoteric but really I had been living such a rushed life, I wasn’t feeling connected to the world around me, or to me.
Lockdowns extended and sort of automatically so did my sabbatical.
I promised myself that I would only do things that feel like fun. That rule allowed me to come up with any fun project that I could start at any time – and stop or pause at any given time. As soon as it would start to feel like “work”, a chore, too much of a commitment or something I had to finish because I started it even if I lost interest, I was allowed to let go of it without a sense of guilt or failure.
One day, I started writing a small piece about drawing. In the back of my head there was this idea of publishing a book, finally. Because that book about drawing was something I had been wanting to write for years but I just didn’t have the time for it. And now I had so much time on my hands. So why not just start and see if I liked the writing process? It would be totally OK if I didn’t finish the book or if it never got published. Just the idea of working on the project was fun. It was just for me. Something had to flow out of me in written words.
As I flowed into this writing project, I kind of surprised myself – I spent about an hour to write a bit every day. I’d had no idea that I would enjoy the writing process so much as I did. It easily became part of my daily habits. In the morning I would go for a long walk, thinking… “well I don’t know what to write about today”, and then after about 10 minutes of walking, a thought would just pop up and I would have a starting point for another piece. After my walk I would sit down and write it.
Before I knew it, after a couple of months I wrote 25 chapters. I liked what I had written and felt rather confident that I DID want this book to be published. It’s a book about drawing. With a lot of my drawings in it. This book is going to be a stimulating motivation for people who love drawing and are looking for inspiration, and for people who would like to start (again). At the same time it is my own personal ode to drawing in which I want to give the reader a glimpse into the world through the eyes of the artist.
It’s quite exciting. Currently I am in the process of finishing my book proposal and sending it off to a publisher. Fingers crossed!
Apart from meeting the writer in me, I was growing in many other ways. Picking up my brushes and paint, I started learning to use gouache paint and that got me curious about working larger. I bought myself an easel and some acrylic paint, took some painting courses online and watched many YouTube tutorials for inspiration and instruction on techniques.
It just so happened that I befriended an 80-year old neighbor who has been an artist all of her life. She put me on the waiting list for one of the spaces in the building where she rents an artist studio. I turned out to be one of the two lucky people who got selected to join, and suddenly I found myself in a large shared studio space. I moved my easel, was gifted a second one, and got a couple of tables. The first day after moving in, I felt kind of lost, thinking: “OK so all my stuff is in here. Now what?”. I started by making a tiny drawing in my smalle sketchbook, to calm down and get acquainted with the space. And as my pen moved onto the paper, I was thinking: “the reason that I wanted a studio space for art in the first place, was that I want to splash around paint and make big gestures, so what am I waiting for?”. I put a canvas on my easel, mixed some favorite colors and… just painted, without any expectations. Once I put the first strokes on, creativity started to flow. Even after coming home in the afternoon, the creative flow kept going – I spent all night drawing. One thing leads to the other. One creative process switches on the next.
That first studio day was the starting point of a whole new adventure. I now plan a t least one studio day every week, in which I play and experiment, moving between two easels and two big tables, discovering paint and color and painting techniques, using all sorts of brushes and tools and often just my hands and fingers. Who knew… I am LOVING making abstract art.
In september, we’ll have an exhibition with all the artists in the studio building, so even though I am making my abstract art just for me, I will be brave and exhibit it. Who knows I’ll even sell a painting. And if not, that’s fine too. As longs as I can have fun with the colorful process of creating.
It’s been fantastic to be discovering an extended version of the artist in me this year. Apparently that artist isn’t just someone who draws, but a writer and a painter too! And who knows what else will surface if I keep feeding my creativity the way I have been doing the past months.
Not sure when my sabbatical officially ended, but I am now out of sabbatical mode and into starting projects, finding some structure, still holding onto the rule “as long as it’s fun I will do it – if it starts feeling like a tough job, I won’t”. That rule keeps me present, alert and sane.
A couple of things that are lined up, apart from my book and paintings:
I am so happy for Suzy and Jeannette, who own the travel agency The Blue Walk. They organize guided art vacation workshops, everything has been on pause for them for such a long time and now they are finally preparing for new adventures. The absolutely awesome Greece trip that we were supposed to do together last year is happening October this year: My 12-day Sketchbook Travel Journaling Vacation in Greece!
-CITY DRAWING TRIP AMSTERDAM
Sabine Wisman and I are working on a really fun workshop weekend program: The City Drawing Trip in Amsterdam. It’ll be a weekend workshop, and soon we will be releasing all details but it’s going to be such a fun weekend filled with art making, creativity, ideas, and inspiration! Yay!
If you made it all the way to the bottom of this article I would like to thank you for sticking with me. Maybe you have been curious what’s been going on with me since I’ve left Sketchbook Skool, and whether it was the right decision I made. I think the above shows that it was.
I do miss Sketchbook Skool, many aspects of it. I miss Danny, and Morgan, and JJ; but I keep in touch with them and they are friends for life and I am so thankful for that. I miss the collaboration but I am also finding that with other people and in different ways. I still feel very connected to the Sketchbook Skool community, because I am part of it no matter what. I don’t run it anymore, I am enjoying it. And I love everyone in the community. I feel so very proud of founding such an amazing online Skool and community with Danny, and I am proud of him, how he keeps going, and taking it into the direction he wants it to take.
Maybe you’re like: “well thanks for the update Koosje, but why do I care?”. Well, I was thinking that perhaps this email could inspire you to pause and have a look at the past months or year.
I am sure you’ve been developing in many ways too. You could look back at some sketchbook pages and see what kind of developments you notice, or stories you’re reminded of. For my book, I have gone through stacks and stacks of sketchbooks I filled, and it taught me a lot about my art, my practice, and about myself.
Things change, we develop in our own ways, we take decisions and we move on so we can grow.
Life is good.
If you’d like me to keep you posted on my book progress, I can put you on my email list. Just fill the form below and when I have news, you’ll be the first to get it!
Hi I'm Koosje. I'm an illustrator and art teacher in Amsterdam, where I was born and raised. I went to school to study graphic design, then worked for ten years as an award-winning professional photographer. But eventually my love of drawing and painting took over and I became an illustrator. My illustrations have been published in many Dutch magazines and in 2011, I began blogging and started developing and teaching online art classes. In 2014 I founded Sketchbook Skool, which is a flourishing community of artists from around the world of all skill levels. View all posts by Koosje Koene