Blog Hopping Around the World

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Quinn from QuinnCreative asked if I wanted to participate in blog hopping and of course I said yes! But first of all, I must apologise if you, dear reader, followed the link on Quinn’s blog and found nothing new here. I meant to write and post this earlier today but the archeological hike with a local archeology enthusiasts we had this morning lasted much longer than I anticipated. We had a great day! Warm, really warm for May – close to +30 C/+86 F – but that didn’t stop us from spending five and half hours roaming around the rocky forest ridges hunting for prehistoric burial mounds and stuff. Maybe I should post about that too sometime.

Enough of that for now. There are some questions I’m supposed to answer.

What are you working on? Have you heard of the Sketchbook Skool by Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene? I enrolled on their first ever semester, ‘The Beginnings,’ and that is what I have been working on lately. My Ph.D. theses has been under the scrutiny of the pre-examiners so I have had more free time to spend drawing etc. One assignment we have had was to go to a natural history museum to draw, and Friday last week I visited the local natural history museum Kieppi with my friend and we spend few hours there drawing what ever we found interesting. Here is some stuff that I drew there:

KieppiA

The first drawing on the left is also a partial answer to the second question: How does your word differ from others of its genre? I don’t know if the end products of my creative process are that different from others but the way I observe things is not, I think, that common. When I draw or paint I don’t transform three dimensional objects into outlines and contours onto the two dimensional surface of paper. I have a pretty strong sense of space, spatial relations and mass and I sort of carve out the object on the paper. It’s difficult to explain but I kind of feel out in my mind the 3D-shape of the thing I’m drawing, its textures and its form (all sides, mind you, not just the front). Drawing contours is really hard for me but that’s what I wanted to practice on during my museum visit. So I first drew the seed of the cannonball mangrove, Xylocarpus granatum, on the left to get that need to carve things out of my system. After that it was easier to perceive things, like the seagulls on the right, as contours.

KieppiB

Northern fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis & Hoopoe, Upupa epops

Why do you write/create what you do? Because it deepens my contact with the world. Drawing is a way to touch things, to know them and not just to know about them. Drawing is special way of being-in-the-world. It’s so much more than just looking at and seeing things. It is the ultimate form of observation in my mind – for me at least. And I want to show folks what an incredible world spreads about them. For example, while I was writing that previous sentence a large beetle crawled in from our backyard. I captured it in a jar, memorised its overall appearance and returned it outside. There are myriad things to see out there (and in here) and I wish to share them with you.

BTW, the Finnish word for fulmars is rather romantic: myrskylintu, ‘storm bird.’

KieppiC

Rough-legged buzzard, Buteo lagopus & European honey buzzard, Pernis apivorus

How does your writing/creative process work? At first I always fiddle about too much. It’s the same with my philosophical writings (I don’t do science, I’m a philosopher!) and drawing or any other creative activity. I get caught up in the details. I want to draw everything and write and read about everything. It takes a while to figure out what details are necessary, which ones lead to discoveries and which ones are just white noise. I can’t bypass that part of the process, in fact it is elemental for my thinking. I can, however, speed it up a bit by accepting and allowing it like I did with the cannonball mangrove: I do what I have to and get on with it. It can sometimes get really muddy and confused in my mind but I don’t mind as I know it will clear up soon and I will discover something unexpected. I never know what waits me at the end of a path I’m following but I know it’s worth it.

Eurasian three-toed woodpecer, Picoides tridactylus

Eurasian three-toed woodpecer, Picoides tridactylus

That’s my four questions answered. I didn’t have time to find the next link for the blog hop but I will do that during the next week. In the mean time you can check out this great BBC documentary series, What Do Artists Do All Day on YouTube. A varied bunch of interesting British artists doing they thing and talking out loud about it.

Recurring Themes: Boulders

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I signed up for the first ever semester of the Sketchbook Skool earlier this spring. Our fourth teacher is Jane LaFazio and in her fourth lesson she asked if we had any recurring themes in our sketchbooks, things we like to draw again and again. I have drawn horses all my life and I draw quite a lot of clouds but I suddenly realised there is another recurring theme in my journals: stones, rocks and boulders of all kind. I have always been interested in stones, and me and mom used to collect stones as souvenirs whereever we went and I still do that too. Here is some boulders I have draw over the last year or so. My daily walks with our dog often take me through a really rocky area where the ice age left behind heaps of stones and boulders of all sizes in a haphazard mix of rock types. There is a lot to discover and draw there!

VP_lohkare1

I must have walked past this boulder countless times before it caught my eye. It’s pretty big, about 2,5 metres across but not that special in itself except for the bluish lichen that grows on it. It was a cold day when I drew this. I have written that my fingers froze and that it took forever for the ink to dry.

VP_lohkare2

This boulder is about the same size with the first one but this one has clear layers and quartz pebbles in it. The rock surrounding the pebbles is much softer and erosion has eaten it leaving the quartz pebbles protruding from it like pearls or rough diamonds so that the top of the boulders looks like it has pimples! I first noticed this one but afterwards I have found a number of smaller stones with the same characteristics around it.

VP_lohkaree3

This is a proper glacial erratic that I noticed this spring. It might seem odd that I hadn’t noticed a glacial erratic before but there are quite a few of them scattered around in that area. It is large, about 2 to 2,5 metres high and twice as long. It has split in two years and years ago but there is a new rupture in it and a wedge had almost fallen off. The sides of the fracture are still clean and brown as weather, moss and lichen had not had time to invade the newly exposed surfaces. It was pretty warm day when I drew this one and it was the first time this spring that I heard the Common Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs, sing. According to a Finnish saying it’s a half a month to summer when you hear a chaffinch sing. You can listen to it here. You’ll find the play button below the photo. You can also hear the Common Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, in the background.

I, the Natural Historian

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VP_hirvien hautausmaa

My brain has been off-line ever since I turned in my Ph.D. thesis three weeks ago. Nothing. Nada. The first week my brain did not want to create anything at all. All it was contented to do was to receive stuff. I just wanted to experience stuff but not to come up with anything, absolutely anything. I didn’t even want to decide what we would have for dinner. It was a strange feeling but it was just my creative mind saying it had been working really hard for the previous months and it wanted some down time and some new things to see and so I watched TV-series on line and rented DVDs.

Then I found this in the forest one day with our dog: an illegal (they should be buried) dump of moose carcases, all kinds of left-overs from the last autumn’s hunting season. Wild animals (foxes, ravens, lynx etc.) had scattered the leg bones and shoulder blades and skulls around an eery, haunted looking corner of the woods as they had eaten what ever had been left on the bones. Some bones had been gnawed at but that might have been squirrels that often nibble bones and antlers for minerals. Most of the bones are bare but some lower legs still had fur on them as you can see. The forest floor had turned dark where the carcases had been dumped. It’s difficult to explain what that looks like but you can easily tell where a body has been lying in a forest. A little bit of everyday CSI: Wilderness I guess. Yup, I have come a cross scenes likes this surprisingly often. Last autumn I found a killed dog rotting in a thick bush by the smell. Another snippet of CSI: Wilderness: if it smells like rotting milk in the middle of nowhere, it’s probably a rotting carcass.

I have always been interested in bones and anatomy, in feathers, seashells and stones. All things natural historian. My favourite place to visit as a 5-year old was the natural history museum. I have a good collection of interesting stuff I have found plus some bought ones like a dinosaur tooth. I have framed some of the seashells I have collected from various places, like these common mussels, Mytilus edulis. The tops ones are from Hanko on the coast of the southern Finland and the lower one is from Kilmartin, Scotland. Quite a difference in size: the mussels in the Baltic Sea do not grow much bigger since the salinity of the water here is much lower than in the oceans. The mussel shells from Hanko are about 1,5–2 cm long.

VP_sinisimpukat

But the pride of my collection is this shell of a duck mussel, Anodonta anatina, that I found on the bank of lake Köyliö in sourthern Finland. It’s huge! They are usually about 10 cm long but this monster is closer to 20 cm. You could tell its age by counting its growth rings just like a tree’s. I haven’t done that but it is obviously old. I found it in a pile of shells left behind by a muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus, (not native to Finland but introduced ca. 100 years ago) probably. The smaller shells are from the same pile and are of average size.

VP_järvisimpukat

I have been thinking about making a special journal of my seashells. I even have a sketchbook ready for that.

 

First Semester at the Sketchbook Skool

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Danny Gregory and his friends founded Sketchbook Skool earlier this year and I signed on for the first semester called The Beginnings. The semester lasts for six weeks and each week we have a different teacher and, of course it being a skool, homework. I thought I would be past homework as I just left my PhD. dissertation in but I guess not. I’ll be posting my homework here so you too can see it. Besides, posting it everyday will help me to turn drawing into a habit. So here goes. Our fist assignment was to draw everyday and this is what I drew on Monday:

VP_aika_äijä

He, a Finnish wrestler Rami Hietaniemi, was on Monday’s newspaper on the front page of the sports section. He had just won silver in the European championships which is quite an achievement for a guy who lost feeling in his fingers on one hand after some medical mishap. He was told his wrestling days were over just like his everyday career as a builder. But guess he didn’t hear that. When I saw the photo I immediately thought that if I were the casting director of the HBO series Vikings I would be in the phone calling Hietaniemi and asking if he would be interesting in appearing in the series. I think it’s a silly show in many ways but, boy, would he suit its aesthetics! He even has the haircut for it!

Danny G. himself was our first teacher and he had filmed a few videos showing his sketchbooks and a demo for the first assignments. I followed his example and used a brush pen (Faber-Castell PITT’s indian ink dark grey) and sumi ink for this one with some watercolour for contrast. Interestingly the paper worked really well with the inks but the watercolour did not sink in so well. Ach, well. Live and learn. I like how the picture turned out. Danny’s demo was really helpful and using the brush pen made me slow down so that I thought more about the line and less about the picture. But what I liked most was Danny’s comment on not to mind too much whether the picture is perfect or not: after all, it has been filtered through me and it is my human imperfections that show up in it. You can see how the shoulders and the arm are a bit too big but that is how I experienced the photo, I guess, as a picture of a really big, powerful guy.

BTW, the title of drawing is the title of the article, “Quite a Bloke”. Or something like that. Äijä doesn’t quite translate into English but it means both an old man but also a manly man.

Water under the Bridge

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VP_tulva2013

Like I said in the previous post, it’ been a weird winter. All the snow seems to have gone to the North America, and all we had were the leftovers. Instead of snowing we got rain and that meant winter floods. We did have snow on Christmas Eve but by Boxing Day it was all gone and the river running through our small country town was brimming with water, so naturally I had to go and have a closer look. The river Lestijoki had been running high all autumn but now it had reached new heights and so some flood water was running above or on the ice sheet. There were patches of some open water under the bridges and other parts of the river where the current is stronger, but otherwise it was dull brown water on snow white ice.

I had our dog, Kili (named after the dwarf in the Hobbit), with me and he tried to rescue branches and sticks from the river while a draw this. Clearly the little rascal has a much higher tolerance for cold water than I.

The bridge in the picture is know as “the old dairy bridge” (see in picture for the Finnish version). It’s pillars are made of large cut stones and they are sloped on the upstream side to stand the pressure and impact of ice floats during spring floods – though usually the ice just melts away with very little drama. I personally haven’t seen a proper flood with lots of ice since I was about 5-6 years old and it now seems that I won’t get to see one this year either. That one time I remember it was spectacular: we watched how the ice flooded fast down the river carrying with it rowing boats that had been left too close to the river and even small sheds. What a sight it was!

Maybe next year.

Summer Memories: The Myriad Variations of Dandelions

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VL_voikukat

Oh, dear. It has been quite a while since the last post. No excuses but procrastination.

It has been a really lousy winter up here: no snow but rain and utter darkness until last weekend practically. There was snow on Christmas Eve but by the evening of Christmas Day it was all gone again. So we managed to avoid black Christmas – that’s how we call one without snow here – even if just barely.

It get’s really dark here in Finland when there is no snow. There is only a little daylight: the sun rises and sets within hours. Wet ground and vegetation and the low-hanging clouds eat out all light but if there is even a tiny bit of snow on the ground, it reflects the light and brightens up the world. The wet and dark, melancholy conditions have also meant that I haven’t felt like drawing much at all so I don’t have any new drawings to share. Well, to be honest, I do have a few but I need find the energy to scan them first. In the mean time, here’s some less known knowledge about dandelions.

A dandelion is a dandelion, right? Nothing much to it. A common weed. A nuisance even.

Wrong.

The family Taraxacum contains innumerable species, subspecies and apomict microspecies. (Apomixis is a form of parthenogenesis in plants.) A Finnish field manual of plants lists 500 common forms of dandelions in Finland. The following are the most common ones of those 500:

crocodes, balticum, suecicum, fallicinum, fennobalticum, hjeltii, norvegicum, brachyceras, tornense, proxinum, falcatum, pseudofulvum, fulvum, isthimicola, rubicundum, marginatum, limbatum, scanium, croceum, praestans, sagittifolium, maculigerum, naevosum, kuusamoënse, cochleatum, chrysostylum, perattenuatum, galeatum, crassipes, triangulare, revalence, laceratum, pulcherrinum, biformatum, litorale, subhuelphersianum, obtusulum, pallidulum, remotijungum, ostenfeldii, canaliculatum, penicilliforme, speciosum, septentrinale, subpenicilliforme, cyanolepsis, tenebricans, sublaeticolor,  porrigens, laciniosum, alatum, ingens, ancistrolobum, pallescens, croceiflorum, piceatum, sellandii, pallipedes, expallidiforme, xanthostigma, latissinum, fasciatum, longisquameum, patens, kjellmanii, obliquilobum, involuvratum, altissimum, subcanescens, hamatum, tumentilobum, reflexilobum, pectinatiforme, retroflexum, murconatum, adiantifrons, amplum, ekmanii, hamatum, cordatum, lucescens, glossocentrum, semiglobosum, angustisquameum, multilobum, imitans, lingulatum, dahlstedii, puolannei, aequilobum and polyodon.

So there you go. The easiest way to tell apart different kinds of dandelions is by the shape of their leaves. And, interestingly, I friend of mine told that the more serrated and rugged the edges of the leaves are, the stronger and more bitter the taste. A crucial piece of information if you are collecting leaves for a salad. And you can use the flowers for mead!

You – if you live in the Northern Hemisphere – have months before summer so there is plenty of time to learn to identify different varieties of dandelions. And they will be everywhere in your neighbourhood this summer too. And an endless subject for those of us who draw.

Life on Seabed

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VP_aurinkoinenpelto

I’m a bottom crawler. I live on the bottom of the sea. Ach, well, I don’t live in the sea but on land that used to be sea some thousands of years ago. You see, we all are still living in an ice age. The Querternary glaciation, that started about 2,58 million years ago, is still on. We’re just living in a interglacial period, the time between glacial periods when the continental glaciers are at their maximum. So, ice age was not something that happened a long time ago.

The last glacial maximum ended about 11 000 years ago and that’s how long the Finnish landscape has been free of the contenental ice sheet even 3 to 4 kilometres thick. And that is the reason why I am living on an ancient sea floor. All that ice pushed the Earth’s crust down creating a kind of a dent on the crust. When the ice slowly melted away and the ice sheet retreated back towards the north pole, water filled that dent creating a sea. Once free of the weight of the ice, the crust begun to rebound. Post-glacial rebound it is called. That means that every year the land here rises from the sea a little and the actual landmass of the country increases. It’s not much, approx. 5 mm per year, but give it enough time and it will change the face of the earth around here.

So where I now live it used to be sea about 3000 years ago and you can still see it in the landscape. It’s pretty open and level up here. There are small ridges left over by the retreating ice but between them it is rather flat. If you know what to look for, you can see where the ancient beaches have been, and here and there you can see how the now gone see has arranged the sand that once was at the bottom of it into wave like dunes.

I love the openness. The sky is vast, almost limitless. Clouds are the main feature of the landscape and since we are still pretty close to the sea (a bit over 20 km) we get a great variety of clouds here. There are types that you see only during summer and those that herald snow in the late autumn. Even the slightest change in the cloud coverage changes the light, and suddenly you have a completely different mood over the landscape.

The two sketches were made of the roughly same view along our daily dog walk. Nothing much in landscape changed in between except for the sky. The white things in the picture below are huge round hay bales wrapped in white plastic to preserve them for winter feeding. We call them dinosaur eggs – not quite lovingly.

VP_paalipelto

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