Doing what I cannot do yet

Updated: May 14

It is Christmas time December 1968. I am a school boy 14 years of age. The Apollo-8 mission is heading to the moon. This mission and the preceding Gemini missions, piqued my interest. I was marvelled about the technology behind these missions. In the sixties the impossible seemed to become possible. Would n’t it be great if I could understand how engineers make this happen? Or even learn how to contribute as an engineering professional?

The moon race boosted my intrinsic motivation to learn everything necessary for designing space missions and space systems. The fundamentals of maths, physics and chemistry. After high school I studied the concepts of mechanics, thermodynamics, control and lots of other stuff in the aerospace programme at Delft University of Technology. All the knowledge and skills were needed to be equipped for designing and engineering rocket engines, satellite systems, orbital configurations in a team of professional space engineers.

“I keep on making what I cannot yet do, in order to learn how to do it” (quote Vincent van Gogh, 1885)

Since Apollo-8 it took me twelve years. In 1980 I joined the main Dutch space engineering company. In the first years of my job I learnt to engineer satellite reaction control equipment, design thermal systems for satellites, perform satellite tests in thermal vacuum solar simulators. With perseverance, doing what I cannot do you yet to learn, and learning to understand failure, I accomplished the mission I had embarked on in 1968.

Fifty years later

Fifty years later, 2018, the retirement date is approaching. As a prospective Young Active Pensioner my interest is piqued again. Not by spaceflight but by painting. I was marvelled about the painting techniques and methods of the old master’s. Would n’t it be great if I could understand how these painters created their artwork? Or even learn to freely create and express my own and personal art work? Without any prior knowledge or experience in oil paint or paint brushes I decided to learn the fundamentals of making realistic or realism-impressionism oil paintings.

First colour layer

Since November 2018 I have attended weekly oil painting workshops and guided lessons in a physical painter's studio, interrupted by the Covid lockdowns. I had to learn to visualise how I see the world around me, learn about the fundamentals of paints, colour mixing, use of brushes, solvents, mediums, perspective, and about the concepts of tone, contrast, soft edges and so many more. And once again I discovered the best way to learn is attempting new things. Keeping on doing what you cannot yet do to learn. Learn to understand my failures and imperfections.

Starting without any knowledge or experience in oil paint, I constructed and finished 10 paintings in about 280 hours of in-class time and homework. It feels as if I have learnt so much in a time that is equivalent to a 10 ECTS – European Credit Transfer System- course in higher education.

It is all about the journey

It is not the number of 10 that is important to me, nor is it my aim to develop into a professional art painter. It is every journey of constructing a painting on a blank sheet of canvas that makes the leisure days enjoying. Constructing the painting of a scene or a picture you cannot imagine you will ever be able to make, using techniques you don't master yet. The weekly immersion in painting charges the batteries for the serious work that is merely related to the enhancement and advancement of higher engineering education.

If you enjoy paintings, have a look at My paintings on this website please.