A salaamu aleikum was rachmatullah wa barakatu,

Before I continue, I’m really sorry I don’t write that much on my blog. I have difficulty thinking of ideas to write about. So if you have suggestions, please share them with me!

Yesterday my husband reminded me of the work I used to do, a job I really loved. Before I studied social work, I actually was a painter, not the you’d hire to decorate your home or one who’d paint a portrait for you. I could though, but that wasn’t my job, I was a specialist in gilding, wood and marble imitations and Trompe-l’oeil (French for deceive the eye). I’m not saying I was amazing, but I did have those skills.

To give you an idea of the skills I had. Left: marble imitation with Arabic lettering, I made for my graduation Middle: samples marble studies and Arabic lettering. Right: an Indiana Jones inspired graduation piece.. I don’t take all the credit, it was a piece I made with a very talented colleague. I mainly worked on the Trompe-L’oeil 3d effect that suggests there’s another room behind that wall.

After my study I didn’t actually join the navy, but I did work for the Dutch Royal Navy. I was able to get this job straight after my graduation because I actually had two internships there. The teacher I had in that time was actually the one who helped me to get the job. The company I worked for was located at the Navy base. Every morning I would take the train to Den Helder and then take my bike to the base. It may sound silly but I felt important having a “special” ID card that granted me access to the base. After getting through the gate I still had to ride a long way over the harbor to the building I worked in. I loved that early morning ride, I’d pass huge frigates and in winter I could even see the sun coming up, which looked magical. 

The company was responsible for the maintenance of the entire Navy, and even did work for the army and air force. I worked on a special department that had the nickname ‘gold corner’. We were responsible for all the Navy nameplates and coat of arms. Our department did the gilding (application of gold leaf) coloring and varnishing. 

There aren’t many traditional things in the Netherlands, most just simply disappeared. But the Dutch Royal Navy is proud of it’s traditions. Every ship, service or building that belongs to the Dutch Royal Navy has its own coat of arm. Instead of 2D images that are very easy to make, the Dutch keep them traditional. Of course nowadays they use modern techniques to make these coat of arms but they still look like the old ones. The ones they make nowadays are actually made of a kind of plastic, on our department we had the rubber moulds of every coat of arms, and in different sizes. Sometimes we had an order to make dozens in gift size. It might sound boring, doing the same thing over and over again, but I actually loved doing it. Especially the coloring, with the tiniest brushes, was very calming.

Usually every coat of arms came with a nameplate. These were traditionally made from wood. Wood and salt water don’t go well together, so you can imagine how much varnish it needed to protect it. It would get 7 layers, the 8th layer was done in a special dust free room. If there was just one spec of dust on it, we had to do it again. After the varnish was dry we would gild the letters. Gold didn’t get a protective layer, because it simply doesn’t need any. Aslong as no one touches it, the gold will stay good longer then the varnish or wood itself. Making these nameplates and coat of arms cost a lot, any mistake would be a waste of money. But humans do make mistakes, I still remember there was a new Navy service that ordered a name plate. The board was newly made, we varnished it and gilded it. Our colleague transported it to the new service, he just put it up the wall when the commanding officer came to see the result. “What do you think?” Our colleague asked. “It beautiful, it’s a really nice board… But it’s the wrong name.!” The board ended up at the messhall of that new service, and we had to make a new one to put outside.

The company was also responsible for the yacht of the Queen (now princes Beatrix). Every year, after the sailing season finished, the yacht would come to us. It would be completely stripped and get a new paint job. I would have been the regular painter, but unfortunately my contract ended and due to the crisis in that time they didn’t extend it. I couldn’t find any work that would match the job I had at the Navy, so I decided to go back to school. 

I miss the work I had, part from the good salary it was also fun. They even give you the possibility to learn new skills, I actually wanted to learn how to weld. Next to the regular jobs we also got special orders from foreign ships, or museums. I really wished I could continue my work there, but Allah had different plans for me!