• Christina Kingma

A curious conversation with Mark Janssen


“Don’t be afraid to grow up, Peter. It’s only a trap if you forget how to fly.” – Grounded: the untold story of Peter Pan & Captain Hook.

Surrounded by children’s books, pencils and other creative garnish, we are placed around the desk of Mark Janssen. Mark sits on his desk chair, Suzanne (his wife) on top of one of the tables and me on a spare chair, equipped with a fresh coffee and a small notebook.

I’ve both given them a piece of clay and a simple introduction on how to hand pinch a bowl. Both illustrators have started their exploration of the material and I let my gaze be drawn towards the window behind Mark. Yellow bricked facades and old-school rooftops are topped by a blue sky. I’m here – I’ve actually arrived.

I’ve travelled from the high north- to the tippy toe west of the Netherlands. To Valkenburg. Because I wanted to. Because I was ready for a fresh journey. A journey to a curious conversation with a maker that I’ve been a fan of for a long time. Mark Janssen.

The guy whose style I’ve tried to copy numerous times – but never succeeded. The guy that has worked on over 450 (!) books and counting. THE man that has made a true living out of being curious, with his dynamic and simple from far away - but complex up-close artworks. With his dry humor. With his sweet sense of making all the colors stand out and by that touching the hearts of the young and the not-so-young, worldwide.

How is he able to keep doing it? Is he a robot? Today I’ll find out.





An extra note:

With this interview I’m taking my first steps into my ‘concept of curiosity’ research, in which I’ll have talks with people that are (in my eyes) curiosity experts. Curiosity isn’t just any theme that I’ve picked out of thin air. In the last months of 2019, my days were crammed with production work. Slowly but surely, I felt the joy of my work cooling down and I started to wonder about what was happening.

After some time the realization hit me that I was feeling less curious about clay – the material that I used to feel so wondrously curious about. That was the word: curiosity.

I realized that curiosity is a core thing that I value in people. Maybe because it connects to our inner child – which isn’t the easiest thing to hold on to when we grow up. We grow into thinking shapes. ‘Adult’ shapes – making our core, our inner child (where our creativity roams, along with our feelings, our curiosity) less flexible.


So, this year, I’m going to research about how to keep that that inner child flexible. Through making curious ceramic pieces, creating curiosity invoking workshops (in times of the Corona virus, perhaps in a different way) – but also: by talking to people that are making a living out of staying curious. Or maybe are just fascinatingly curious in general. How does that work? What’s the secret? And most importantly: how do I take care of MY curiosity, of my inner child? How do I keep that thinking adult at bay?


Back to the home and workspace of Mark Janssen and Suzanne van Diederen.

I’ve entered the home with big eyes, because the home is not an ordinary home. It’s a mini palace. High ceilings, airy spaces – nurtured inside and out. I come to the realization that I’ve unconsciously have stereotyped all artist in the ‘awesome but poor man’s job’ corner. This house has none of that. Mark and Suzanne walk around in matching clothes to the interior and even the cats match. One cat on the table instantly reminds me of my cat at home who dislikes strangers, so I know not to try and touch her – even though she is beautiful. Mark asks if I do not have any pets at home. I chuckle. We walk upstairs to the workspace. For the interview I’ve narrowed down three core questions that embody the things that I’d like to know more about.

I.

Christina: Your website tells me that you’ve worked on over 450 books. An unimaginable number.

Mark: Yes! It was my life goal to be able to make a living out of this profession (illustration work) and for a long time I imagined this was only possible through hard work. Through accepting every assignment and never saying no.

After my graduation I was active in two fields, the field of children’s books but also editorial illustrations (newspapers and media) – which I thought were pretty cool as well. I had sent my work to a big selection of publishers for both and a lot of work came from that. This almost instantly made me able to pay my rent back then.

Eventually the media and newspaper work flowed into the background – but the children’s books stayed. And because that field is not particularly known as a well-paying field, I leaned more towards the quantity side of it. Producing a lot at high speed. And I’ve kept up with that for... 15 years. Which was nice, but my inner-artist... there wasn’t really a place for him. The artist that I imagined myself to be when I was in art school... I didn’t grow out to be that artist at all. I was commercial.



Christina: Did you also have the feeling that you needed to prove something?

Mark: Yes *chuckles*, I think I’m that guy. I definitely had something to prove, but the beauty of it was that I thought that I could prove that by creating A LOT.

Christina: Very recognizable.

Mark: Yes! But that proved to be unsatisfactory. Yes, I could create a lot – but what I wanted to happen.. didn’t happen. I wanted to be seen. But I was seen as an illustration factory. ‘That Mark Janssen guy is a cool guy and his work is good, but nothing special.’ And this went on for 15 years.

Don’t get me wrong, I was working on nice assignments back then. But there wasn’t space to work on one book for 5 months. I worked on 10 books in 5 months. It took me 15 years to break free from that. In the sense of starting to create the children’s books that you now know. Christina: I feel like those children books that you are talking about are core curiosity books. What’s your take on that, do children book illustration artists need curiosity as a core ingredient? Mark: Absolutely.

You know, after those 15 years I swung into an entirely different direction. I felt extremely done with producing and boom boom boom. Enough is enough. I wanted to take five full months and focus on one book - not four books in one month, but one book. I’m going to let go, and we’ll see if everything comes crashing down. We’ll see!

This took place in 2015 and I started off with the book ‘Nothing Happened’. I sat down five months for that book. And guess what, my fears didn’t come true. It didn’t all come crashing down. I felt an amazing sense of fulfillment. And that’s when I started to get noticed. Christina: What amazes me in that regard, is that you’ve managed to create a book in those 5 months that is very simple in its core. Just two kids talking about the things that they did that day. Like doing a handstand (but the image in the book shows a handstand on a huge tiger). You want to show the world what you can do and I can imagine that can easily lead to over-flexing. Wanting to show everything at once.

Mark: Yes, but that’s one thing that I already had learned. Because I did learn a lot in those 15 years. For example, I’ve learned how to build up a book for children. I also knew that a good children book is a book of simplicity. With a minimal storyline. Simple and clear. This I knew. I do have to admit that I started out with the images instead of the story. I started out with the thought: ‘I want to make the most beautiful images possible and I will take my time for them.’

When I finished one image, I created a new image in response to that. This red one *points to a print of a huge crocodile with a red background on the wall*, was a reaction to this blue one *points to a print of a whale, encircled by tiny colored fish on a blue background*. The images react to each other.



When I eventually puzzled everything together, I saw that the story itself should go back towards minimalism. Almost dry-comedic. Which created somewhat a field of tension. And this worked!

Christina: Yes! And that also makes is fun for me to read! A lot of children’s books seem to emphasize on wanting to learn the young reader a lesson – like brushing your teeth. But these books don’t have that, they have that dry sense of humor and fun.

Mark: Yes that’s what I like! In some books I like to tease. For example in my newest book ‘Weird’. That story has such a bizarre turn in the end in which a couple questions do not get answered. That way the story keeps you wondering and for example let the kids that read it ask their parents: ‘but what happened?’. Not everything needs to come full circle all the time. Not everything needs a happy end always. Happy ends are charming, but not a necessity.


Christina: Do you think that you are in contact with your inner child a lot?

*Mark and Suzanne laugh out loud*

Mark: Oh, that’s a hot item in this house. I’m sometimes WAY too childish. My daughter is sometimes embarrassed to bring friends over because there’s always this risk that I’ll say something childish. ‘Dad act normal, you’re a grown man.’

Christina: Ha! But you’re wearing a turtleneck sweater so I thought...

Mark: HA you’re making me blush. That one is to keep appearances high.

Christina: *laughs, I’m wearing one too!


II.

Christina: You’re 45 right now, so over 15 years you’ll be 60.

*Mark and Suzanne laugh*

Mark: That’s the question??? Well that’s a fun one!


Christina: Haha well the question is, what does a 60-year old Mark Janssen look like?

Mark: Ohh, I have no idea… that’s a good one.


Christina: And also an interesting one: isn’t it important to hold on to your inner child in your field of work?

Mark: In that case I don’t think much will have changed when I turn 60.I have a clear opinion on that. Your inside – the inside of us humans, that doesn’t ever change. You can be a twiggy old man on the outside, while carrying a spirit on the inside that isn’t subject to time.That spirit stays the same.

I’m convinced that the spirit that was inside of me when I was 8 is the same one that’s inside me now. And the same that I will carry in 15 years. That’s not going to change. But the outside will of course. Therefore, I also think it’s an art to take care of that spirit, to nourish it.

Christina: I think it’s a difficult task for a lot of people to hold on to their 8-year-old self. We grow up to be thinking creatures. Mark: Yes, it’s hard in this society. I think for you, me and all the other creatives it’s easier to keep in touch with that spirit. To keep in touch with your sense of beauty, of the fun side of things. But what if you’re a businessman in New York? Walking around with your suitcase. How easily do you start to think: ‘I’m an adult’? And make the business that you’re working for the center of your world. I understand that we need those guys to prevent society from crashing down. But I do wonder how their connection with their spirit is working out for them.

Christina: What do you think would be important ingredients for that businessman to keep in touch with his inner child?

Mark: Well... I think to actively keep wondering about what’s important in his life. But you know, that businessman is mainly working with his mind, while we actively work with our senses. And you need both in life. Thinking is just one aspect of life.


Christina: For myself I picture our inner child as the part that represents our senses, our feelings, our inside. And our thinking part as the layer surrounding that. When we focus too much on that thinking layer and emphasize on growing that, the shape of our inner child lying beneath it... well you don’t strangle it but it gets less flexible.

Mark: Yes, it gets less room to breathe. The plant doesn’t get enough water. It’s important to nurture that plant.

Suzanne: You see it happening with our daughter too, who’s actually very creative. But at the HAVO (Higher General Secondary Education) it almost seems like she’s losing that. She isn’t provided with the tools to nurture her creativity. It’s stunning to see how quickly that happens.

Mark: I have to admit that during my grade school my creativity also got.. snowed under. They pull your hairs to study, to get good grades. You MUST because otherwise you have a problem, they say.

How did your school time go?

Christina: Well honestly, I had a lot of issues back home at that time, so I couldn’t focus on school at all. So, I left grade school to go and do a lower study. That way it took me a bit longer to get to art school, but in hindsight I needed that time.

Mark: How did that work out for you?

Christina: Well, after a bit of trial and error for a couple years, I found a lower study (MBO, not sure about the correct English explanation) in Game Design. And that’s where I reconnected with my creativity. I remember getting our first assignments in Photoshop and the realization of ‘WOW, THIS is how they color all the comics’! And that amazement hit me deep, so I went headfirst in learning all about that program. It was a huge boost for my self-confidence. For my self-worth. That was something that I could do! Something that I realized that I was actually good at! That’s... 10 years back.

Mark: So, everything worked out all right! Maybe because you unconsciously felt yourself pulled towards it.

Christina: True. I think it’s hard to see what happens during portfolio checks at art school. I did a couple of those during my 3rd year and the parents that accompany their kids during those checks... 60% to 70% are very skeptical of letting their child choose a creative education. And obviously the opinion of your parents has some weight to it.

Suzanne: It’s hard for a parent to let their child choose for something that they might not earn any money with.


Christina: Exactly. That’s why it amazes me to enter your stunning home! You are the first creatives whose home I enter with the thought: ‘What??? THIS is your home? This is possible’?

I thought you needed to be a high paying graphic designer to have the money for a home like this. Creating logo’s non-stop. But you guys work with free creativity, with books for children! I’m very thankful that I’ve got to see that this option exists too!

Mark: Well that’s a good boost for you then, to see that this is possible! You shouldn’t skip on that option! That’s a mindset thing. My mindset has always been: ‘I want to make money with this’. The first 15 years I thought that it would be through producing a lot, but now I’m learning that this is also possible through creating these children’s books. Even though in this illustration world it is a known thing that books for children aren’t booming business.

Suzanne: Creating from your heart, that’s and important part of it as well.

Mark: Exactly. The books that I create now are being created 110% out of myself. They’re good, but they also carry 110% of me with them. And from that I believe that people can see this and feel this. That they understand: ‘this creation is authentic’. This isn’t a copy. Or quickly jostled together. This book carries focus and attention. That’s important.

When you create your ceramics with attention and focus, people will see and feel that. I truly believe this. You are transferring your energy into your works. And your works will carry this with them.

Christina: I do have experienced that you can put all your love and energy into your work, but when the world doesn’t know you yet... how do I say it...

Mark: Yes, there are a couple conditions. Time is one of them.


Christina: And patience?

Mark: Yes. Something that I see with a lot of illustrators that are just starting out is that they want to IMMEDIATELY create THE book and BANG get to the top. That’s not how it works! Really! Look, the pyramids in Egypt also needed a base to start out. And step by step it grows and grows. And finally, in the last step, you can place the tip on the top of your creation. The cherry. That’s how I see my children’s books.

I needed those 15 years of illustrating. It provided me with a steady and broad base. If I started out with these children’s books immediately after graduating from art school, they would have never become what they are now. I took those 15 years to build, build and build. These children’s books are the cherry. THEN it works.

So those are the conditions: growth, a learning process, attention, focus and yes, patience. Let time do its job. Christina: I feel like I’ve never heard about this at art school. Or maybe I heard it but didn’t understand the meaning behind it? Because I thought this too! I thought: my graduation film will be showcased in all the festivals. All sorts of interesting people will want to work with me. And well... that appeared to be a bit too optimistic.

Mark: Hehehe, yes! Maybe in a year or so you’ll figure out why that film didn’t conquer the animation world. Then you suddenly realize what’s missing.

Christina: Not there yet. Still think it’s my best work.

Mark: That’s very fine too of course! I mean... how can I say it... my books are doing good but there isn’t one super super bestseller yet.

Christina: *big eyes*, really???

Mark: Well no.. not a super bestseller!

Christina: What do you see as a super bestseller?

Mark: That you earn a 100.000 euros from one book. Or that you sell 15.000 books at once.


Christina: On the way here, a niece from New York told me that it was awesome that I was going to visit you, because she knows your books. I remember thinking: ‘wow, how international is this guy?’ And now I meet this guy and he says that he doesn’t have a super bestseller yet!

Mark: *looks at Suzanne*, nuance me!!

Suzanne: With a super bestseller he means a book like the ‘Sinterklaas’ book of Charlotte Demantons.

Mark: Do you know that book? Big red cover?

Suzanne: Mark means a book that everybody has on their shelves.

Christina: Like... Nijntje?

Mark: *very clear*, YES


Christina: So that’s a 60-year-old Mark Janssen?

Mark: Yes! Who knows!


Christina: I’m asking this question – because from my perspective, you’ve already reached some sort of top! That makes me wonder about your goals, when you’re on such a high level already.

Mark: Well you always keep developing. For example, all my books have been created in color so far, so now I’d like to create a book that’s created with a black pencil. My hands *looks at his clay covered hands*, are dirty now but I can show you the drawings in a sec.

I think that’s important, to keep stimulating yourself. Find nuances, keep yourself fresh. Look, when you’ve been working with ceramics for 5 years you will probably need something new to add to that as well.



Christina: I already have this with pinching basic bowls. I really feel the desire to create unpractical but cool looking cups ha!

Mark: Yes! Or you’ll move to figures.

Suzanne: You need a challenge. Doing the same every time gets boring.

Christina: I somehow thought that you needed to keep having the same style to make it in children’s-book-land, but of course... there are a lot of smaller nuances, in materials, in colour..

Mark: I think that real artists keep renewing themselves.


Christina: To keep their curiosity?

Mark: I think so. That’s the main reason why I don’t work with a character. I prefer new themes, new figures, new worlds. That way it doesn’t get... I mean if I create a successful character I need to create at least 6 books with that character and at that point it won’t be fun for me anymore.


Christina: Like Nijntje!

Mark: Yes, I’d like to stay free!

III.


*In the meanwhile Mark’s clay bowl starts to stick to his desk. Suzanne somehow managed to create the perfect teacup.*


Christina: About travel. I see on your Instagram that you travel to diverse countries to draw with children. For how long have you been doing that?

Mark: That’s also a part of the change that I’ve made after those 15 years. Somehow when I changed my perception on needing to produce so much, I also... physically opened up? I wanted to step outside more and meet people. And somehow that made things come towards me. New opportunities that didn’t present themselves before.

People came up to me to ask if I wanted to go to Nepal, to China. And that NEVER occurred in the previous 15 years! I was like... WOW, what’s happening?

I’ve been now to Nepal twice, because I’m ambassador of foundation THANG and that foundation promotes Nepalese books for children. Their goal is to improve the reading culture amongst the children. Because in the poorest of schools over there, they have a math book and a language book. And it mostly stops there. So I’ve been invited to introduce my children’s books to those children. To show those kids that it’s possible to write stories from your imagination and that you can draw them too. That it’s actually possible to choose being an illustrator as a profession. The Nepalese culture is different from our culture of course, so it might be more difficult there to make a living out of creative jobs.

But on the other side, our society expects us to produce and produce. You have to make money. Over there you can sit in a hut in the mountains and create from there. Maybe that’s different than over here.


Christina: I can imagine that your visit has invoked the curiosity in those kids. A small curiosity seed that – even if they do get to be a businessman in the future, can still be carried with them.

Mark: Exactly. In those days I gave a lecture of an hour. And you could see the stunned surprise on their faces that it’s possible to actually have this profession as a job. Somebody actually writes and draws those stories - something they never considered before. I’m convinced that this plants a seed. What they do with that seed isn’t up to me, but if one kid on a later point in life thinks: ‘WOW what that dude came to tell... I want to do this!’ I’ve booked a 100% profit.


Christina: Is there a specific memory that stayed with you?

Mark: No, nothing specific. But I’ll never forget the look in the eyes of those children.

It’s fantastic and unexplainable to see your creations work internationally To see your creations work with Nepalese children, African children, European children. Everywhere it’s the same, because we are the same. We have the same happy response to happy stories, or beautiful stories, or sad stories or surprising stories. That’s beautiful.

Maybe the reaction of the children in Nepal was even more striking than the reaction of the kids here in the Netherlands. They have more experience with these stories and have had the privilege to listen to more. In comparison their reactions might be a bit dulled sometimes.


Christina: I’ve worked with refugee children for a while as a workshop leader.

Mark: Yes, they still have that spark too!

Christina: Yes! They way that they LOVED me being there, man that’s not comparable to the reaction of the kids here.

Mark: Yes! I’ve been to a refugee center as well and even the tough boys of whom you wouldn’t expect it went crazy over my books. I mean, I create those books for 4,5,6-year-olds so I would never have expected those tough dudes of 12,13 having this fantastic response to it. That was awesome! Did you experience that too?

Christina: I mostly worked with younger kids, but I can imagine the response! I did eventually leave the refugee center because their stories kept piling up and I couldn’t detach myself from it. Once I got so dizzy that I needed to go home.

Mark: *looks down. I can imagine.. I’m considering doing volunteers work in a hospital.

Christina: Ohh, danger...

Mark: Well exactly. I’m wondering if it will be too heavy.

Christina: I do imagine that there’s a big difference in working for a longer time with the same kids and one-time-events.

Mark: Yes. Something to consider. I can imagine it’s nice to give a bit of drawing time to a child that is feeling ill. To sit on the corner of a bed and for them being able to say: ‘Draw me an unicorn! Or a dinosaur!’ Even if it’s for 30 minutes.

But that’s something that I’m still considering. *bit of silence*


Christina: I’ve been asking you these last questions because I’m wondering if these experiences have changed your perception of humans. It sounds like it did. What’s your take on that?

Mark: Yes... *thinks for a bit*... Look, when you change yourself it probably also changes your environment. You attract different people. The law of attraction. If you’re working on this, you’ll attract those people and if you’re working on that you’ll attract other people. Like with fear, if you’re terribly afraid of burglars, before you’ll know it you’ll get robbed.

Christina: Well I certainly hope not! Things will not end well for me if that’s true haha.

*Mark and Suzanne laugh*

Mark: Are you an anxious person?


Christina: Yes, I am! I’m very hyper alert actually. I always vividly look to both sides of the street before I cross over. I’m working on that, and I know where that originated – but that anxiousness is often present.

Mark: Ah, you shouldn’t.

Christina: Ey, I’m trying!

Suzanne: It isn’t easy like that of course.

Mark: No… Suzan... Suzan probably relates to that. Every human has his challenges in life. Things to work on. Otherwise we’d all be superman’s and superwoman’s. We all have our things, our weak points, I think. Look, me doing those journeys to other countries and really showing myself has been something that I’ve been fearful of for a long time as well. I was very shy and closed off. I was a boy that enjoyed sitting in his room, creating books. That way the boy didn’t have to go outside.

Eventually I recognized what was happening and because I like a challenge, I’ve started to face it. In little steps. And now those little steps have taken me to doing lectures for groups, big groups. I travel. To Nepal with a group of people that I knew, but for the end of this year I plan to go to Mexico by myself. It’s about taking one step, then another... realizing it’s a bit uneasy, but I did take the step.


Christina: What’s your fear?

Mark: You mean my fear of stepping outside?

Christina: Yes, what makes you uncomfortable in that.

Mark: I think... losing the good feeling. Not knowing what to do when unexpected problems arise. Not knowing how an airplane works!!

*everybody laughs*

Christina: I’m laughing but I hate airplanes.

Mark: Ha, well not per se how it works. But not knowing how to arrange the flight or...

Suzanne: Like the first time to China. All the preparation, the place to sleep...

Mark: Becoming overstrung... overwhelmed…

Suzanne: Becoming overwhelmed! Talking to a group of people – those kinds of things. If you’re a sensitive person, that has a big impact on your system. And that’s not right or wrong.

But it does have an impact.

Christina: Honestly, I feel the same with visiting you guys! That made me nervous too. When I had just stepped out of the train, I caught myself thinking: ‘Wouldn’t it be weird if I just stepped back into the train and left.’

Mark: Hey but you did!! You did take the step!

Christina: I did! I mean... stepping into an airplane will take a load more steps. But yes I’m happy that I took this one.

Suzanne: I also understand that when you arrive home, that’s the point you’ll realize that it was worth the effort. That always happens to me. It isn’t until I come home that I realize that I’ve had fun. And that everything went ok.

Christina: Thankfully, when I entered this house I immediately got this ‘WOHH, I’m actually here’ feeling! Seeing your home has already been a stunning experience.

Mark: Hahahahah, creepy home, creepy dude...

Christina: Nooo, hahaha, I mean seeing the beautiful home of you guys! Seeing that it’s actually possible to have the luxury of a beautiful house while being an artist. Seeing this was already a big highlight of my day. Probably sounds silly.

Mark: It’s important to know that this is possible! I mean who told you that this isn’t possible?

Christina: I have no idea... the voice of perfectionism?

Suzanne: Perfectionism is a fear too.

Christina: Yes! If I came here with the thought: ‘I NEED to do the PERFECT interview’ it would probably have blocked me. Instead I tried to think: ‘I’m proud of myself of going, and what comes... comes.’ You know?

China and Nepal are next level though.

Suzanne: That’s why I didn’t join him.


Christina: I get that! Did you want to go?

Suzanne: Well, that first trip to Nepal was a bit intense.

Mark: Yeah, that was intense for me.

Suzanne: The sleeping location was verging on the edge. In hindsight, I feel like I haven’t missed out on that part. But seeing the journey and the photos, that was fantastic. Of that part I felt like I missed out a bit. Felt like I limited myself. I mean flying isn’t fun but is doable for me, but I probably wouldn’t dare to eat anything during the entire stay. That’s my fear. I feel like I limit myself in these things, but on the other side... who says that you should travel the world? Should you do everything?

Christina: In my experience, taking too many steps at once leads to ignoring your fears, which leads to not trusting yourself.

Suzanne: Yes. Also yes to stepping out of your comfort zone - like doing what you are doing right now. But if it’s really crossing your boundaries, why do it?

Christina: Exactly! Yesterday, when I arrived in my hotel in Eindhoven I had planned to visit a museum. But sitting down on the bed I realized that I was asking a lot of myself and that pushing myself to the museum after such a long trip would probably invoke more anxiety than joy. Still figuring out the balance on that part. Mark: I think that’s an ongoing process.


Christina: You’ll still be looking for balance when you’re 80?

Mark: I think so, it sounds like fun. There’s a joy in developing yourself.


Christina: Do you guys want to retire at some point?

Mark: I’d probably like to keep going. But… it will be nice to be rid of the ‘musts’. No financial burden. Making it also okay to think: ‘ahh not today, maybe next week.’

Christina: Sounds like a good retirement to me.

Mark: I also tend to think that this is what keeps us young. What you’re doing right now, if you still keep doing that when you’re 60, 70 or 80 – that keeps you young.

I often see people with office jobs getting drowsy when they go into retirement. Or sometimes they get ill. Or a burnout. Because they’ve asked too much of themselves.

But I’ve you’ve been doing things that you enjoy throughout your life and you keep doing them when you’re 100 – nothing changes. For me retirement means ‘quitting something.’ And in that sense, I don’t believe us to ‘quit’ anything in the future.

Suzanne: It is important to keep yourself on your feet, to challenge yourself. Something that challenges you and that you can look forward too.


Christina: Sounds very good to me! We are approaching the end of the interview. Shall we do a fun closing question? What’s something small in your everyday life that makes you happy.

Mark: Hmmmmm, something small….



Christina: Like a beam of sun lighting up a particular piece of roof every morning.

Mark: Ah! Well I must say that my bike ride makes me incredibly happy. The nature in this area is very pleasant. When I see that I utterly feel at home. In my spot. You’re talking about sunlight... but when I connect with nature while riding my bike, or beholding a beautiful view or feeling the earth... cycling lets you meet the elements. The road that slopes up, I feel that with my body. That’s satisfying. Being outside. Clouds. Yeah that stuff makes me feel good.

And for you if I may ask?


Christina: Morning coffee.

Mark: Ah yes… of course, same.

Christina: When I’m missing out on that one...

Mark: ...then the day isn’t significant anymore.

Christina: On to the next morning! Hehe. Oh.. or a to go coffee while sitting in the train.

Mark: Is that actually good?

Christina: Oh yes, they have a nice Italian coffee in Groningen. When I get into the train to embark on an adventure AND I have that coffee… Man, I can take on the world.

Suzanne: We had this talk with our son, who started to dislike the train rides because of all the delays and such. I asked him if there was a way that he could make it more fun for himself. Maybe with a nice cappuccino.

Mark: Or a sandwich, chocolate.


Christina: I feel like not everybody is as skilled in that! I remember this conversation at my father’s birthday with a man who practiced a job he didn’t enjoy for many years. I asked him why and he had this distinctly clear opinion of: ‘Work is work, there’s no need for it to be fun.’

Mark: Man! What a way to live life...

Christina: I feel like for a lot of people that’s the standard. Or maybe that’s a thing of the province that I live in. We have a lot of farmers.

Mark: Sounds Calvinistic. You HAVE to work. Christina: My grandfather used to say: ‘Necessary first, then the useful, then the enjoyable.’

Mark: I’d turn that around.

Christina: My grandfather would shake his head at us.

Mark: There always will be stuff like that lingers with us from our upbringing. From our parents and their views. I think that my 15 years of hard work also rooted from that. My father worked at a factory and hopped on his bike at 07:00 and got home at 17:00. It took me 15 years to release myself from that. And now I’m talking to you this Thursday morning. There’s no need to hunch over my desk right now. Because talks like this are important as well – and they are fun. That’s something that I grant myself too! You never know how things go. If you work very hard for your entire life and think that you can relax when you’re 60... you never know if that’s true. But you CAN enjoy the present day.

Christina: Why wait?! Thankyou!

Mark: Wanna go out for lunch?

Christina: Yes!!


A massive thankyou to Anna van de Riet and Mariana Batista Pinto for lending this interview a critical and punctuate set of eyes. Also, the lunch was delicious. You can follow more of the wondrously path of Mark Janssen on his instagram: @markjanssenpicturebooks



CHRISTINA'S CROOKED GARDEN

Groningen, Netherlands
Handmade ceramics & workshops

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©2020 Christina Kingma - Crooked Garden

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