All posts by Emile Manfeldt

Cycladic Art

Travel is educational. Often while traveling one tends to see something that sticks somewhere in the back of your mind, to later return and make you want to know more.

One of these happenings in my life, was Cycladic art. Beautiful small, stylized sculptures that reminds of modern sculpture in the style of Brancusi and Modigliani sculpture. My first meeting with these sculptures were in the Louvre Museum.


Cycladic civilization flourished in the Aegean Sea from 3300-1100 BCE. This makes it Neolithic civilization or early bronze age civilization. They existed along the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations but left us a unique art legacy. The civilization was focused on the Greek Cycladic islands. Although the art can be found as far as Crete and the Greek mainland, its main usage was on the islands. Sculptures found elsewhere might have been used in trade in the region.

The function of the statues are unknown. The most acceptable answer would be that it had a religious function, but we do not know for sure. Most sculptures were found in graves. The fact that evidence is found that some of the figurines were repaired and had wear and tear suggests that they would be valued by the deceased during life as well and accompanied the person to the grave. Even though almost all the figurines are female, they were found in graves of both men and women.

The figurines are highly stylized and very simplified in design. Almost all of them are female forms made in marble. They are tall and geometrical so that it resembles modern art. They are depicted nude, with arms folded over their stomachs (With the left arm above the right). The pubis is indicated by a small triangle. Small breasts are indicated too. The faces are flattened with only a sharply defined nose that is indicated. The aesthetics of the blank stylized faces appeals to our modern tastes, but older sculptures shows signs of being painted.

The other type of sculpture is an even more stylized version of the female figure, known as violin figures. Beautiful body are indicated by hips and shoulders only. Elegant long necks and small heads give the impression of violins or even guitars. There are no legs, arms folded over the body, with a little triangle for the pubic area. Small breasts are sometimes suggested.

Other art that survived from this era would be bowls, also made from marble, and pottery vases and bottles with bold decorations.


As there were no writing at the time all our knowledge needs to be deducted from arkeological findings. Therefore our information available would always be incomplete. Maybe the mystery of these beautiful figurines makes them even more appealing.

Traveling

I love to travel.

I love the feeling of being anonymous that traveling gives me. This is enhanced by the knowledge that for the duration of my trip I am not responsible for anybody but myself and my travel partner, that is usually my wife, the most amazing partner anyone can have . Even flying is fun. The minute I pass through the airport gates I become almost invisible. Nobody knows me and I am not responsible for anyone. I become the observer. What a heavenly feeling. I am there to learn and experience.

Travelling three tines!

I always say that I travel three times. Months before a trip I will start reading. I want to know everything about the place I am going too. the place I visit becomes familiar even if I have never been there before.

The next kind of traveling is being there. I need to see , taste, hear and experience everything. The third time I travel is on arriving home afterwards. Then I relive my visits in photo’s, memories and through my sketches and travel diaries. Now I start reading again. Often I re-read what ever I read before going, as being there gives one a totally different perception of the place. Very often I run into things and concepts I did not know before I left. This I need to explore on returning.

Preparation

So what do I read up on before leaving? I usually start off with the history of the place. How did this nation come to be what and where they are and why. What are they now and what make them who they are. Lastly I want to know where they are going Their future is usually a political answer to which I unfortunately seldom give lots of time and dedication.

I also make sure I know where they are. The first page in my travel diary is then dedicated to a hand drawn map of the country with its neighbors. I need to see where they are in the bigger picture, to see the countries that surround them, sea’s and ports and the geography of the land. It tells me so much about the people living there and how the came to be.

On arriving in a new city.

First I need to orientate myself. I start with major sites or places. A river is a good start. Every city has its points of interest, that any local can direct you towards. Where do I live in relation to my travel beacons. This way it is easier not to get lost or to get disorientated. (Not that I have any problems with getting lost, I discovered the most amazing places in my life exactly because I got lost. But then you need to have enough time to enjoy being lost. This can not happen if you are only in a city for a few days.)

Do not be shy to talk to people. Often we try to understand a few rudimentary things about the language. I will not claim that I can speak or even understand the local language, but at least to be able to greet, to ask for the menu or the bill. If at least you tried, people will warm up to you and try to help you.

Slow living

I love the concept of “slow living”. Especially when traveling. I need to experience with all my senses. I need to observe and see how these people live, what they eat and do. I want to smell the aromas in their markets and restaurants, taste the food, hear the language and the sounds in the square.

I am an urban sketcher on holiday. I will sit in front of a church or building and try to render it on paper. This slows down time. It makes you really see what is in front of you. Often if I go back to a drawing I can remember smells and sights and even the cool afternoon air or the morning sun on my back. More often than not somebody will come and stand behind you to see what you are doing and start to have a conversation with you as well.

If you can choose between visiting ten cities or one, always choose only one. I know when traveling I always think that I might never see this or that city, but if I van see one place properly, it is often so mush more rewarding than to travel 10 cities and just seeing them through a bus window. Every time you move to a new place you loose at least half a day to move and settle down in new accommodation.

Try not to move in packs. Groups of people are always complicated. There are more preferences you need to consider, more people you must wait for, transport becomes cumbersome and logistics becomes a pain.

Maybe even more important is to know what you see. I need knowledge about a place I visit. Otherwise it just becomes an ABC tour: Another bloody Cathedral, another bloody Castle, another bloody church. Knowledge makes each place memorable and special. The more knowledge, the more each place will stand out.

If traveling remember to be open to new experiences. Try to experience everything new. Eat the local food (never the MacDonalds). Never compare. Each place will be special in its own right. Don’t buy. Traveling is not about having, but about experiencing. Most souvenirs were made in China in any case, and will only have meaning for you.

Make your journey an adventure, and enjoy every minute!

Living a Creative life

It is silly season again. Everybody is rushing, buying and running around. Hopefully soon we will start settling down and start thinking about the new year looming ahead. The dreaded time of new year’s resolutions!

Some years back I started to move away from new year’s resolutions. Gradually the idea of more intentional living started to take root. We see this trend in some self help programs as well lately. Set yourself few life goals.

In my own life I focus on three aspects. I think of healthy living, living more spiritually and living a more creative life. It is much broader than new years resolutions, but in the end easier to accomplish. With a resolution you might decide not to eat bread again, and this thought only lasts until you smell a lovely freshly baked bread. Once you had your lovely slice of bread the resolution is broken and you hardly ever think of it again.

With intentional living you decide to live a healthier life. The decision is not obsessive, it is not self abusive and it is not depriving you of the joys of life. It leads you to live more balanced. With my personality I never feels strong enough about anything to become fanatical about it. ( Over enthusiastic is a completely different matter.) This way of thinking will help you to decide, when you do need to make a decision, to maybe just choose the healthier option. and if you don’t, you did not break a resolution, and the next choice might be better.

My next option is to live a spiritually fulfilling life. Spirituality is a foreign idea these days. I do not intend this to be a specific religious idea either. With this I simply mean to live in the moment from time to time. Be aware of NOW. Experience the magic around you. See the clouds. Be part of the sunset. Enjoy and accept the heat of summer, accept it and experience it, rather than to complain about it.

Most important part in my life, is to live a creative life. Creativity is an essential part of being human. We create all day. You create the meal you will eat, friendships and relationships. Years ago I read the only self help book that really changed my life. It was The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. Even though I adapted it to suit my own needs, it is still part of my life.

The main part of this is a form of active meditation. She calls it Morning Pages. It means that you should write on paper with a pen 3 to 5 pages of thoughts that crosses your mind first thing in the morning. This helps you to plan your day, to identify things that bothers you, to set goals for the day and to put your day into perspective. The days that I do it is the days that is just so much more productive. It works for me.

To create we need to take something from out of ourselves. This will leave you with less original ideas. One need to put something back. This is called “filling the pond”. So treat yourself to something nice at least once a week. Go to a museum, walk in the park or go swimming somewhere in nature. You owe it to yourself!

The last part is regular walking. The action should be relaxed. The rhythm and repetitive motion will help you to relax and get creative thoughts flowing.

To really become creative you need to make time. Stop thinking that you need big blocks of time. Half an hour a day is plenty of time. That is just 2% of your day, but a 2% that might give you 80% of the joy of your day. Make time. Sacrifice television or social media. They are both time wasters, and I never hear anybody saying they do not have half an hour to do Facebook or Instagram, and it usually absorbs much more time than that.

Come on. You can do it! Live a more creative life.

Cellphone Photography

I used to like traveling with a good camera, but there are definitive drawbacks to that. A SLR camera with lenses takes up an amazing amount of space. On moving around in foreign places with an expensive camera , really makes you stand out like a real tourist. Crime is everywhere these days. You need not advertise that you might be an easy victim.

The main rule in photography is still: the best camera to use is the one with you. These days everybody has a cellphone at hand. The capability of these small wonders to take photo’s with are simply amazing. Technology improved a lot since the first camera phones appeared on the market. It allows us to always have a camera at hand and they are so easy to use. Unfortunately, sometimes way too easy… I often cringe at the quality of photos people post on their social media. Photos are taken without considering what message you want to convey.

It is important to follow some basic rules and start off with a decent photo. in days gone by photography was an expensive hobby. A photographer, worth his salt, would plan a photograph before taking it. These days people will take a lot of random photos and try to edit it better afterwards (but usually they don’t even do that, they just dump them on social media.) So often I see a photo on Facebook and think: That would have been a great photo, if only…

There are a few basic rules to consider when you are taking any kind of photograph, or even making art . I will concentrate on travel photos as that is my passion. These rules are easy to follow and will make a big difference.

Perspective

The angle you take the picture from makes a huge difference. The conventual way is to take a picture from eye level while we are standing, but just see the difference by using a different angle: birds eye view or from ground level

Depth

With perspective comes the creation of depth in the photograph. try to include a foreground, middle ground and background in your picture. Your foreground and background can be out of focus, if you want to enhance the object in the middle ground. If you take a landscape photo include something like flowers in your foreground.

Simplicity

There will be more impact to take a picture of a single flower against a uniform background, rather than having it amongst a mass of flowers. The same effect if you isolate a tower against the sky rather than having it against a background of a landscape Do not overcomplicate your picture with detail. Two thirds of your picture can be negative space and the photograph can still be working. It might make your message stronger.

The rule of thirds

Use the grid on your phone that will divide your screen in thirds automatically. Use the horizontal as well as the vertical thirds of your screen. The intersections between the lines can be focal points as well.

Leading lines

Strong lines strategically placed can lead the eye or even lines leading the eye through the picture.

Symmetry

Symmetrical framing of an object by a window frame or door can add some drama to an ordinary picture.

Symmetrical lines lead the eyes to the children
Symmetrical lines lead the eye to the children

Portrait or landscape layout

To use a portrait versus a landscape layout of a picture can totally change the atmosphere of a picture. Decide what will look best before taking your picture

Light

The time of day makes a huge difference. The quality of light at dawn is so different from sunset. Remember the golden hour. Make use of the intense colors of the hour after sunrise and before sunset

Reflections

Reflections from water or windows will add drama and depth to a photo.

Technical aspects

Using of a timer, lights like artificial lights and flashes will make a dramatic difference. For now, I am trying to take a good picture without external manipulation. I even try not to use all the photoshop apps that is available. I want to use natural light and images that is there before me as I travel. Maybe I will still grow to love technical manipulation. For now I will concentrate on the other aspects to improve my photography

The Joy of Mastering a new Craft

On Saturday I attended a leather work training course. It was presented by the Cape Leather Training Company. The presenters were Lourens and Marinda Brandt, a husband and wife team, that really works well together. They present the classes from their studio at home, a warm and welcoming space. We were just two pupils that ensures individual attention.

The products that we crafted were well designed and when we were finished, it looked like a professionally made product. I can hardly wait to make my first bag on my own to see if I can keep up the professional standards that the team insists on.

The Workspace

We worked in a neat and well lit area. We had all the instruments needed to work with at our disposal. What I liked most of all is that we used basic hand tools only. You do not need to buy a lot of expensive equipment to be able to replicate the same quality of work at home. This is handwork at its best.

Bag for shaving tools.

At this stage in my life I do not need new things. To be able to get an authentic experience is worth so much more. I shared the day with my son-in-law. We had an absolutely great time together. We gained a new skill, we bonded, and walked away with a feeling that we can still change the world.

My message is to go forth and change the world. Make your life a better place. Create chances for yourself to enrich your own life. This is one of those chances.

capeleathertraining.co.za

A Visual Journal

After my blog on the book binding course I was asked about what a visual journal is, and how to use it.

I am an artist, with a fulltime job. I try to do something creative on a daily basis, even if it just a quick drawing in my journal. To create something regularly keep my mind active and in creative mode.

Previously I used to draw and make notes on any loose piece of paper I could lay my hands on. But I am sure you know what happens to such papers. By Day 3 they are all crumpled up and ends up in a dustbin.
With the visual journal I make my notes, make drawings, put down my creative ideas and make short entries on interesting places I visited. I even like sticking in interesting wine labels and note who enjoyed the wine or meal with me. It makes for vivid beautiful memories.

When I am not at work and moving around on weekends, my journal is an extension of me, going with me wherever I go. You never know what might inspire you.

Inspirations for future art

On holidays it becomes a travel journal. It makes every trip a bit of slow living. On vacations I tend to draw a lot, on location. For that you have to sit down, see what is in front of you and really experience it. Later, when I go back to my drawing I can relive my experience. I can not only recall the place, but also the quality of light, the atmosphere of the place, the smells and the sounds. This is much better than photo’s, as often people can hardly recall what cathedral or place they photographed.

Drawing of the palace of Nantes

As a visual journal often acts to refresh old memories, notes and small sketches can act as stimuli for a new art project, especially in times when the creative muse ignores me. Then a small sketch or idea can be an inspiration for art. These sketches would be those that previously landed in the dustbin.

Small drawings of beautiful glasswork in a church.

For these journals I make my own books. I buy good quality drawing paper that I bind into book form. This gives me excellent quality paper to write and draw on, that is well bound and will not fall apart half way through the book. I then cover the book in leather and strong upholstery material. This makes your book more sturdy and nice to touch and to hold onto.

Using a visual journal enriches my life. If you want to live a full and creative life, I can recommend it.

Bookreview: Shakespeare by Bill Bryson

To be or not t be; that is the question.

How apt is this quote from Hamlet. After reading this book I discovered how little we actually know about Shakespeare. It is almost unthinkable that we know almost nothing about , what most people will see as, the greatest writer ever in the English language ( and even as the greatest writer in any language!)

In fact, there is so little known about him that there are even people saying that somebody without at least university training can have such genius as to change the way that English is spoken today.

Even the image we know as Shakespeare today is somebody that we assume might have been the great man. it is shocking to think, that if friends and colleagues of Shakespeare did not put together a folio of his plays some years after his death, that most of his output would have been forgotten or totally lost today. He himself never had any of his works published. They were written, performed and then discarded. Even if the plays were popular and he was well known as a playwriter. his plays were not seen as something worth keeping for later generations.

Even though we think that his work is still original, clever and witty today, it must have been even better in his day where he incorporated referrals to politics and gossip of the day into the script. Remarks we will not be able to grasp or understand.

I often read Bill Bryson books as light fiction, slightly tongue in cheek, but I really enjoyed this one. It made me realize that genius is no guarantee to be remembered. How much poorer we would have been if the great treasure of Shakespeare plays would have been lost .

The very idea of it will let me start reading all my favorites again.

Small etchings

I created a collection of small etchings. Each of them not much larger than a postage stamp. The process was absolutely facinating, The artworks are relatively small and one could still put in beautifully fine detail. As the plates are so small I could ink up and polish each plate to end up with an unique artpiece .

I used the drypoint techneque exclusively and after finishing several more series I am still discovering new ways of exploiting the medium .

With Covid and its aftermath chanses to exhibit was very limited. So I decided to have an online sale. The advantages of this is that there are no gallery fees . You can buy artwork for a really good price! The disadvantages are that the buyer cansee the art works (unless you visit me in my studio) and that we can’t enjoy a glass of wine together at the exhibition opening.

The artworks will sell at R 250,00 each . contact me here or on facebook messenger if you are interisted.

Etching gallery

Book Making Course

I had the great opportunity lately to join George Wentzel for a course on book binding. It was so refreshing to do something so totally out of your daily experience.

I always loved books, especially if they are well bound. for many years I have been keeping a travel journal and lately, started keeping, what I call, a visual journal. In it comes creative thoughts, random sketches and experimental art stuff, combined by special memories. (Even as much as a wine bottle label that is special and I will include the company I had when I drank it. Wine is always a social event in our house.)

Sketch books available in shops are so expensive, often poorly bound for intensive use, and the quality of paper often not up to the standard I need for the art media I use. I have been making my own style of journals for many years with better quality drawing paper. These I cover with leather and often a combination of leather and upholstery material.
My journals gives me endless joy,

BUT:

I always knew that I do not really know what I am doing when making books.

Along comes an opportunity for book binding and I jumped at the opportunity. George is an incredible teacher. We started off with blank papers and ended up with professionally bound books. They do not even look handmade!

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We were taught bookbinding, ways to sew the parts of a book together and how to apply endpapers and then bind the book together with the mall. Only now did we start preparing the covers.

We were taught to do all, from paper, material to leather binding, as well as quarter- and half binding that I found fascinating.

It was a joyous experience. Does anybody want to learn how to do it too?