About the Cover: Mothers

About the Cover: Mothers

The illustrator and sculptor behind Topic’s ode to Mother Earth on finding grounding in natural materials, and why kids are the best anti-procrastination tool out there.

Hanneke Supply knows how to work at scale. Although the Rotterdam-based artist creates her illustrations on paper with Acryla gouache paint, she began her artistic career using sand. Supply has worked as a professional sand sculptor for over 15 years, creating earthworks everywhere from France to Australia and Vietnam, both alone and with her partner, Martijn Rijerse.

It all started near Supply’s hometown of Bruges, Belgium, when she was 16, after she got a summer job at a park where an annual sand-sculpture event took place. “Then one year I thought, What am I doing? I should try to get into making them,” Supply says now. She went on to apprentice with a sculptor and, after university, began to travel all over the world for sand-sculpture commissions; when Topic reached her in late April, the 38-year-old artist was in Minamisatsuma, Japan, in the process of creating a piece representing the Netherlands for a local sculpture park. This intimate connection to natural materials—Supply has also worked with snow and ice—is one reason why her cover art for Topic’s Mothers issue depicts the ultimate mama: Mother Earth.

Topic spoke to Supply—a mother of three kids under the age of 10—about how having her own children led her to making work on paper, the grounding power of nature, and the pressures and pleasures of balancing family and art.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


You started out as a sand sculptor before becoming an illustrator. How did you start drawing?

I had been traveling the world doing some snow and ice sculptures. Nine years ago I became a mother, so I decided I didn’t want to travel so much anymore, so I started investigating different things, including drawing. I'm now in between both. I'm still traveling a little bit, but also more and more making illustrations.

How would you plan your sculptures out? Would you do a drawing beforehand? How would you arrive at the final sculpture?

In the beginning, I didn’t draw at all. Actually, I did draw in school, back in the day, but I remember that at some point there were so many other kids in my classroom who drew better that I lost interest. Then I started sculpting in high school. Sometimes people ask you to do a sketch before you do a project, and I would do it, but I would really struggle with it. Then, seven or eight years ago, I started a blog where I posted a drawing I had done every day. By doing that, I pushed myself through this blockage, and after that I was addicted. If you just maintain a habit, you can grow every day—growing is why I do it, I think. I love the fact that I’m growing so fast all the time.

Do you feel like your subject matter and style are similar between your sculptures and your paintings and drawings?

Initially they weren't, because in sculpture, most parks really like realism; I would try to do realism in the sculptures because that's what would get me jobs. But in illustration, I really like finding my own style. So now I'm changing a little bit my sculptures as well—they're growing toward each other the more I do.

“I started a blog where I posted a drawing I had done every day. By doing that, I pushed myself through this blockage, and after that I was addicted.”

Were you always interested in art, from when you were young? How did you get started?

I think I've always been creative. Also, my parents, they are both very creative. My father is an architect and my mother has always done different things; she was a teacher, but she was also making stuff. I went to a Waldorf school in Bruges, then I studied interior design. But that’s when I also started doing sand sculpture as a hobby. I finished my studies and worked in an architecture office for about five months—then I couldn't stay inside anymore. I took off, started traveling for sand sculpture, and I never looked back.

Let’s talk about your cover for Topic’s Mothers issue. I think it's interesting, because a lot of people might gravitate toward a more literal representation of human motherhood.

The thing is, motherhood in general is a huge topic right now because of the way we live—the way our lives are going faster and faster, which, I think, in a way also going against our nature a little bit. In the end, our nature goes back to Mother Earth, that’s our core.

So this image, and connecting with the earth, is about finding some grounding even when things are so accelerated. You've done many other paintings and illustrations of flowers and other plants. Do you work from nature? Do you ever work outside?

Yes, I do. Not enough, I think, but I also love to go out for a walk and then take plants inside and draw them. I do draw outside as well, but not regularly enough.

One of Hanneke Supply’s initial sketches, in which trees were growing as a “mother” cried.
The Topic team gravitated toward a more conceptual approach for this Mother Earth-inspired image.
The final image was inspired by French turn-of-the-century painter Henri Rousseau, and was overlaid with these stark, all-seeing eyes.
One of Hanneke Supply’s initial sketches, in which trees were growing as a “mother” cried.
The Topic team gravitated toward a more conceptual approach for this Mother Earth-inspired image.
The final image was inspired by French turn-of-the-century painter Henri Rousseau, and was overlaid with these stark, all-seeing eyes.

When you had your first child, do you feel it had any effect on your artwork?

Absolutely. I think it's made all the difference. Before I became a mother, I just lived my life from day to day, and then when I became a mother, things changed—I became more conscious about life. My work definitely became, to me, more meaningful, deeper. There started to always be a bigger message in what I was doing. I also started creating way more, because I was very motivated to make a business out of art instead of just enjoying it for fun. Also, being a mother, I was so much living for them—there's so much time that you spend for your kids when you're not doing things for yourself. So the moment you do have time for yourself, you really make the most of it.

I remember when I first had my son ... I’d be changing diapers, I’d be doing the whole shebang. Then as soon as he was sleeping, I was drawing, drawing, drawing. It was really good motivation to work hard to do something for myself, to find my own passion.

A lot of my friends who also travel to do sand sculpture who don't have kids, they always say, “When I get home, it takes like a month until I’m back in my rhythm.” I think, wow. For me it’s a day. I’m home and that’s it.

I think there’s a popular misconception that if women who do creative work have children, they might drift away from it. But oftentimes in speaking to artists and writers who have kids, they say that it actually made them more productive.

Yes, but I absolutely think so. It makes you change in this way that you are not only doing things for yourself. Of course, you are also doing it for yourself, but there’s also a bigger power pushing you to make the most of it.

“Being a mother, I was so much living for them—there’s so much time that you spend for your kids when you’re not doing things for yourself. So the moment you do have time for yourself, you really make the most of it.”

You’re interested in female empowerment; you’ve made illustrations around this theme. What do you think are the pressing issues around motherhood where you live?

For me, the thing is that right now I don't only want to be seen as a mother, and I think there are many women like me. Holland is a perfect country to live in some ways, as men and women are treated more or less the same—very often, a man might stay home one day a week to take care of the children.

But at the same time, I really feel like the society in Holland pushes women to stay home more often with the kids. It should be a choice of the mother, and not of the system. The Dutch system really pushes you, still, toward letting go of your career. Like you were saying, many times people think once you become a mother, you should let go of that. They expect you to do that. Holland is a very good place to be, but I still think we have a long way to go. I think the system is still quite patriarchal.

Do you feel or do you see a difference between the way that you relate to motherhood and creative work that might be similar or different to how your mother did it?

That’s a good question. There are definitely some similarities, but of course, it's a different time. The fact is that I'm a mother in the time where life moves really fast, and my mother was a mother in a time where I think it was much slower. There were fewer things in the way of her creative work and being a mother. She was always making clothes, as well as quilts, stuffed animals, sweaters, and hats. This is also what she taught in school—the same Waldorf school in Bruges that I attended.

I think the hard thing in our generation, to be a mother and to be an artist, is there are all these other things—like social media, internet, connections with the whole planet. Your phone, for example. It's a big thing for me. It’s always there. There is always a distraction. Being present with your children or being present with your art—both are very important.

I think my mother’s life was simpler in that way, but she definitely always had her projects. And I do, as well.

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