Friendships are one of our deepest sources of inspiration—finding immense nourishment in those rare, soulful connections where we can show up authentically, care deliberately, and uplift one another. 


Artist Irene de Klerk Wolter and photographer Birgit Sfat’s long-distance friendship personifies this idea to us. Nearly a decade ago, the two connected on Instagram, finding a kindred spirit in the other despite living across the world—Birgit in San Francisco, Irene in Copenhagen. Both mothers with self-made lives and careers informed by travel and discovery, they found mutual resonance in their love of creative expression and the desire to experience life to its fullest…as well as an inherent trust in sharing the journey’s highs and lows.

Birgit and Irene in Lisbon

The two were pen pals for years before their paths happened to overlap on trips to Portugal, and have remained close despite large shifts in each of their individual lives. Over time, both have relocated to new countries with their families (Birgit to Lisbon, Irene to the Netherlands), yet their friendship remains a steady point of return. “We have always been very open with each other and turned to each other to share our doubts and vulnerable parts,” explains Birgit. “About our work, about getting older, about self-doubt and the struggle to find our way in a new environment and also in life.” 


Below, a conversation with Birgit and Irene about these ideas—and a study of the power of friendship as a cherished source of understanding, celebration, and acceptance. 

Birgit and Irene

How has your perspective on friendship evolved over time? What kinds of friendships are feeling most nourishing right now?


Birgit: Through my late 40s and early 50s, I’ve found that my friendships have become increasingly meaningful. There has been a shift in the importance and depth. I have a few good friends from different stages of my life—childhood, college, early career, and across various relocations and life transitions. And while I don’t see these friends as frequently, the bond is stronger now.


These lasting friendships and the rare emotional connections I’ve built later in life (as with Irene) are with friends who have strong opinions and values, but are not judgmental. I feel so much admiration for these women, what they have been through, what they care about, and how they deal with life. There is no small talk or holding back; we care deeply for each other. There is no competition, comparison, or pretending, but a loving acceptance of how we live. There is respect and so much empathy and support. When we come together we amplify each other's strengths, we encourage, and we celebrate one another´s accomplishments. 


In our 30s the conversations revolved more often about practical topics or about kids, work, partners, politics. Though these topics are still important, I feel our connections are now mostly about our innermost feelings and struggles, our personal development. Through these exchanges, we learn from each other, offer support, share different perspectives, and ultimately grow together. 

Birgit and Irene

Irene: While living abroad, I found it very easy to connect with others in a day-to-day way. We were in Copenhagen for 10 years, so it was a significant amount of time to be there to experience life—and particularly with young children in an international school, where we found a community open to connection. During that time, many old friends would come visit and stay with us. In its own way, this made those friendships even more special—offering less frequent, but more concentrated time than we would have when we lived in the same place and would meet up for coffee or dinner. Over the years, I have also been lucky to connect with others (like Birgit) on Instagram, which has offered a space to sell my paintings and share a bit of my life. 


Today, living in the Netherlands, it can feel harder to make new friends when everyone is very busy, working from home, and in some way has their life “complete” at this age. Now when I meet up with friends it feels very valuable, and immediately deep. Maybe it also has to do with the ways my own life has changed: my kids getting older, entering menopause, losing my parents. And while I don’t feel like I’ve ever taken life and my friendships for granted, it is somehow now all the more precious to me.

Birgit and Irene

While life is in flux, a friendship—and particularly one that is long-distance or removed from the daily logistics of life—can feel like a grounding force. In what ways does this land for you?


Birgit: Irene and I have always lived apart. When we met for the first time in person, we were initially very cautious, but quickly noticed there truly was a connection and affection in real life. 

From that moment we were completely open, turning to the other to share doubts or concerns about our work, aging, and the struggle to find our way in a new environment. Perhaps it was the circumstances of our lives at the time, but trust and a strong female bond formed from the beginning. We are mature and youthful, strong and vulnerable at the same time. We have both learned some lessons in life but are still insecure in many ways. While we engage in heartfelt conversations, we also like to be creative and to create together, regarding collaboration (even in these photos) as a mode of exposing our doubts and vulnerabilities while strengthening our alliance and trust in each other and ourselves. And it is also fun: we plan, we play, we laugh, and we are often surprised by the result. 

Birgit and Irene in Lisbon

Irene: Birgit and I met in person at very intense periods in our Iives. Birgit had a lot on her mind; my dad had just passed away and I was grieving while worrying about my mom and how to support her. So while we were at a beautiful beach in Portugal, our conversations were personal from the start…and have remained that way. 

With Birgit, I feel like she just totally gets me. I feel so safe to express all my thoughts on life…as well as to share in our creativity, sensitivity, and passions. Being with a creative friend allows me to grow so much, and to see the ways that together we can develop individual parts of ourselves. 

Birgit and Irene

How do you keep in touch? What advice do you have for literally making the time and prioritizing connection in this way?


Birgit: Irene and I actually do not talk on the phone a lot; we sometimes send text messages but most importantly we try to see each other in person about once a year. Often this seems tough to arrange, but then the longing to reconnect compels us to prioritize and overcome any hurdles. 

To save costs, we usually visit each other at home, which is also more personal—Irene is so good at making me feel very comfortable at her home and with her family. She prepares my room with care and love, she cooks delicious meals, we take the bikes around town to her favorite places. These visits feel like mini retreats, providing us with the opportunity to hug, talk, create, and simply enjoy each other's company…and they strengthen our friendship in ways that digital communication cannot replicate. 

Birgit and Irene

Irene: I really really don’t like to talk on the phone! Birgit and I connect via text, but we absolutely love to be together and to collaborate in person—we both work from home, and find that together we can connect through our creativity. 

Honestly, even if it’s been a year since we’ve seen each other, within five minutes we’re in a deep conversation about what project we will work on next. We have the same mindset in this way, which might seem a bit crazy from the outside, but we just understand each other. I of course wish we lived closer…it would be fantastic. But despite the lack of time we have together, every minute feels well-used. 


Discover more of Irene's artwork here