Exercise 1 – You are what you eat

Exercise 1 – Proverbs on Good and Bad

Sayings about Goodness

Goodnesss peaks in a whisper, evil shouts. ~Tibetan Proverbs

Sow good and you’ll reap good; sow bad and you’ll reap bad. You don’t have to cut down a tree to get its fruit. ~ Tibetan Proverb

Proverbs Research

According to Google there is a difference between a proverb and an idiom, although quite often people get the two mixed up. 

An idiom is defined as a phrase that contains its own meaning but cannot be understood in layman’s language. A proverb is defined as a well-known sentence that is used to give advice to the other person. … An idiom has a non-literal meaning used in reading, writing, and speaking.”

“A proverb is a short saying that gives advice or expresses truth. Proverbs aren’t usually literal sayingsproverbs use figurative language to make a statement about life. Usually a proverb is very well known because of its popular use in colloquial language.”

In the Proverbs contained in the painting below, there is a reference to ‘to kill two flies with one swat’.  This refers to being efficient, however this is listed more as an idiom than a proverb.

An example of good advice would be more ‘a stitch in time, saves nine’.  It gives advice that you should mend something in the first instance of it becoming damaged, rather than waiting for it to deteriorate further.

For me, this is where it can often become a little muddy about proverbs, as the meaning and advice was relevant for the times it was expressed in and now it feels redundant to some extent.  We can adapt it to suit the times but it might not make sense.

‘Don’t put all your eggs in the one basket’ is a proverb about not putting all your concentration or resources in one direction or area as you could lose everything. 

The Proverbs contained in the painting by Pieter Bruegel are from the Netherlands.  There are over a 100 painted into his masterpiece.  The areas containing the proverbs are defined by the blue and red so that they’re easier to distinguish from one another.

Some of them make sense, they are expressed as advice that would be relevant to today.  However, there are many more in the painting that were more directly related to objects and habits related to that century, but are now not relevant to our times.

For example, the privy was the type of toilet used and there are proverbs and idioms related to it, but they don’t make sense to the present day.  “It hangs like a privy over a ditch” means that it is very obvious.  If we replace ‘privy’ with ‘toilet’ it could be interpreted but the relevance of how ‘over a ditch’ makes it obvious in the meaning, might be lost on us in the present day.

There are lots of others related to

For this exercise, following on from the research of Hogarths Gin and Beer illustrations depicting the evils of Gin and the good of Beer, I wanted to explore how some proverbs are depicted.  The image above contains 100 proverbs and every inch of the board is detailed with some form of a proverb.  It looks chaotic and non-sensical, but the imagery has a purpose and once explained it puts some order on the figures. 

For example, the bottom left section has a man holding a knife with his head on the wall.  This is the saying ‘to bang your head against a brick wall’, which relates to frustration and attempts at doing a fruitless task.  It still has relevance now and the idiom can be expressed in the same way and not lose meaning.

The woman in red at the centre of the painting is covering her husband with a blue cloak.  This indicated deception and we would more commonly refer to it as ‘to pull the wool over someone’s eyes’. 

Some of the imagery can be interpreted literally, such as the man throwing his money into the water, quite literally throwing his money away.  Others are a little more difficult to interpret, such as the man in the top right corner crapping on the gallows.  We might not be readily able to interpret this, but if we consider that the gallows is where you go to die, someone defecating on them would indicate that they don’t care and flaunt the law to this degree of non care.

Having researched these proverbs I was then intrigued by how some of the proverbs involved animals and food.  This led me to discover some of the idioms from the German language and it intrigued me that a lot of them revolved around sausages.  From here I went on to watch a few videos relating to cultural differences when using idioms.  I’m aware from my job as a language Teacher, that idioms are often phrases that can completely befuddle language learners.  They are not literal meanings and can often mean more than one thing.  However, once similar idioms in the learners’ language are found, the meaning becomes clear.

For example, ‘to kill two birds with one stone’ can be found in German to be ‘to kill two flies with one fly swatter’.  In the painting by Bruegel, this features as ‘to kill two flies with one swat’.  They all mean the same thing, to do things at the same time and be efficient.

How does this relate to the exercise? 

For the exercise, following on from the research on the Hogarth illustrations, I must produce two different versions of a proverb that indicates the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ meaning implied by the advice.

Proverb chosen:

You reap what you sow.


It can translate into an illustration that depicts a positive or negative, and as the brief requests a contrast of good and bad, I can represent an illustration that leans both towards and positive and a negative interpretation.

How will I approach it?

The above is a range of images that were sourced via Google search for ‘You sow what you reap’.  It was interesting to see how many political cartoons had used the proverb/saying, and how many related to direct imagery of farming and planting seeds.  The inclusion of the late 19th Century Harpers Weekly image was because the scales were used and it was referencing voting and more political commentary.  The classic painting of over one hundred proverbs from the Netherlands in Pieter Bruegel the Elders masterpiece was included because of the way he visually interpreted the sage advice.

Following on from the research on Hogarth in relation to Beer Street and Gin Lane, I wanted to explore the idea of creating imagery that was in black and white, to mimic the lithography and etchings.

Lino cutting was considered a good option, and perhaps approaching the printing with tessellation in mind to mimic the idea of scales and balance in relation to food.  The linocut would then be in black and white, echo the type of methods used in the past and with the inclusion of scales and food, echo the idea of balance being important in consumption.

The result of too much of one thing is what tips the balance and a repeat of that same food is in effect a ‘reap what you sow’.  I sketched ideas in Procreate and my sketchbook. From there I tried out a few ideas in landscape and found that they weren’t working so went for portrait.  I went back to the idea of echoing Hogarths etchings, so wanted a limited colour palette, using the colour to denote the positive and negative.

I had wanted to do a lino cutting for my print but found the task too daunting, so instead I opted to approach a sketch in Procreate in a lino cut manner, by erasing from the canvas rather than adding to it.  Towards the end, I used some layers with the add tool so the effect of clouds could be achieved.

The process of making it look like a linocut was further enhanced by using letters and printing them by hand.  The photocopy version didn’t produce a good quality of the image so the contrast in the colours isn’t very strong.

Yellow and orange were used for the positive aspects of sowing good seeds and deeds and reaping the benefits and rewards of it.  These colours evoke warmth, positivity and kindness.  They’re associated with cheerfulness and positive power. 

The negative aspects of the proverb were conveyed using muddy colours within the purple section of the wheel.  These were to convey that sense of decay, broken fences, dried earth and bad fields.  The seeds sown were negative and poisoned and so no crop could grow and the farmhouse is in disarray.  The whole picture is further pushed towards the negative via the dark clouds and rain.

The colours are not natural and so express that discordancy well.  Overall the image is successful as it meets the brief, it honours the meaning behind the proverb and following along the lines of Hogarth, it is taken quite literally here, but the message behind it can be understood as be aware of your character, behaviour and how you speak.


History Teaching Institute (2021) As ye sow, so shall ye reap.


[Accessed 2nd July 2021]

AB Walker’s World (2021) Digital Gallery


[Accessed 2nd July 2021]

BBC Newsnight (2018) The world of Pieter Bruegel

[Accessed 21st June 2021]

Shawn C (2018) Great Artists – Bruegel

[Accessed 21st June 2021]

Stewart (2017) 450 Year old painting contains over 100 proverbs we still use today

[Accessed 21st June 2021]

Goodness Proverbs (2021) Proverbial.com


[Accessed 21st June 2021]

Netherlandish Proverbs (2021) Wikipedia


[Accessed 21st June 2021]

Artful Videos (2014) Netherlandish Proverbs

[Accessed 21st June 2021]


[Accessed 21st June 2021]