The Blue Book

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Alright. So my New Year’s promise of trying to publish something weekly has not held. That, however, does not mean I have been lazy, so sir! So far the first three months of 2015 have been most productive.

One of my Creative Heroes, Nina Johansson, started a year-long project called Boggle My Mind to ‘wake up her sleeping imagination’ as she puts is. She challenged herself to draw something from her imagination every day. She posts her drawings daily on Tumbler. Do take a look. They are fantastic in the very meaning of the word.

I’ve been wanting to awaken my imagination for some time too but Nina’s challenge felt a bit too much. I know getting into something like that would just be handing my inner critic ammunition for its heavy artillery. But I liked the idea: a whole book dedicated to a single theme and cause. But what to do? What would be something that would inspire but still set the bar low enough to make it easier to keep the inner critic in check.

This is what I came up with: The Blue Book. The rules are simple: 1. Use only blue. Watercolours, colour pencils, anything goes as long as it’s blue. 2. Whole spread at a time. 3. Anything goes designwise as long as it’s blue. If nothing else comes to mind I’ll paint the spread blue. 4. Aim at doing a spread a day but don’t take it too seriously. I missed a whole week lately as I was in Oslo, Norway, participating on a conference. I did draw other things there so there you go.

Here are the first 9 pages. More to follow.

This is the blue that gave me the idea.

This is the blue that gave me the idea.

First spread: indigo which is my new favourite colour.

First spread: indigo which is my new favourite colour.

Second spread: lines with watercolour pen and water sprayed on top.

Second spread: lines with watercolour pen and water sprayed on top.

Third spread: water colour pen and water. Didn't feel inspired that day.

Third spread: water colour pen and water. Didn’t feel inspired that day.

Fourth spread: indigo drops.

Fourth spread: indigo drops.

Fifth spread: Waves or scales. You decide.

Fifth spread: Waves or scales. You decide.

Sixth spread: Sound waves.

Sixth spread: Sound waves.

Seventh spread: Had no idea what to do.

Seventh spread: Had no idea what to do.

Eight spread: The previous spread was the inspiration here.

Eight spread: The previous spread was the inspiration here.

Ninth spread: Rain.

Ninth spread: Rain.

A Full Plate

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VP_Sushi

January came and went despite of my good intentions of posting once a week. I’ve been busier than I thought. I’m currently teaching a Masters degree course at the University of Jyväskylä’s departmen of art and cultural studies on environmental aesthetics – on lived and represented environments to be precise – for two two hour lectures per week and I spend every Tuesday and Wednesday there for seven weeks. Thought it is fun and stimulating, it is also quite taxing since I live almost 300 km away and every Tuesday morning first drive there, give two lectures and drive back the next day. I was taken by surprise how much pressure on my weekly schedule the leaching gig has put even if I have taught the same course before and so had the material ready. Live and learn.

Last time I posted about the pen and inks I had bought from The Goulet Pen Company and I promised to report back after having properly tried them. I really like the Noodler’s Ahab flex fountain pen. It is significantly sturdy bodied pen in comparison to most pens and that suits my hand perfectly: it’s much easier to keep my hold relaxed with Ahab. And the flex, ah, enough said. I love that I can manipulate the line easily (I am yet to master the brush pen) and the fact that I can easily adapt the level of flexing by adjusting the nib. Definitely good value for $20! A good first drawing fountain pen I think.

That plate of sushi is the very first proper drawing I did with the Ahab. The paper of my current sketchbook is not best suited for the ink (Platinum Carbon Black and it is pitch black!) and it feathers easily. Also the papers in not best suited for the bid either as it scratches easily and so it resists the movement of the nib slightly. A really high quality nib might work better but it’s not a big deal to me. I’ll just select a sketchbook with different kind of paper the next time I need a new one.

We had late lunch with a friend before Christmas and had sushi in this really nice, small sushi place in central Helsinki called Ichiban Sushi. I didn’t want to spent time drawing while I could have delicious sushi to eat in the company of a friend we don’t see often enough. But no worries, a quick picture with my mobile and I could take my time drawing the plate later at home. And not only that, that way I got to enjoy the same meal twice! Not bad, not bad at all, don’t you think?

Tools of the Trade

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I have made two new year’s resolutions: I will eat an exceptionally delicious salad and publish a post once a week. I need to eat more greens but the foodie in me gets so easily bored that I need to feed it with something special more often, and posting makes me happy, so there you go. Now that has been made public it’s time to move on.

It took me months (really) to decide what to get with a gift card I had received as a doctorate gift: I decided to get a fountain pen I had been coveting for ages, a Noodler’s Ahab flex pen from The Goulet Pen Company. It’s not an expensive pen with it’s $20 prize tag but I had been second guessing whether I really needed one or not. All you drawers/crafters/etc. know what I’m talking about. You see an interesting, nice looking tool, and pretty soon that little voice somewhere in the back of your mind steps forward and points out that it’s That Tool that will make you better in your craft. Absolutely. Possibly. It just might, you know. And so you get. If you’re lucky, the voice was right, and the Tool inspires you but more often it doesn’t. I have stuff that I have never even tried out and I was worried this pen might turn out to be one of those purchases. But thanks to my partner’s encouragement (“It’s just $20. I won’t be big loss if it turns out not to be your thing.”) I went and ordered one. And the ink for it. And something extra.

You know how that’s how it goes, don’t you?

Thankfully he was right.

The parcel arrived days before Christmas and it was precision packed with a ton of bubble wrap – and a cherry flavoured lollypop. Talking about a cherry on the cake. I love opening boxes (even when I know they are empty) and unwrapping packages, and so the Goulet parcel was heaven in itself. In fact, there are several videos about unpacking orders from Goulet Pen’s on YouTube.

This is what I got:

VP_kynät01

The lollipop (yummy!), Noodler’s Ahab flex pen in Cardinal Darkness and Platinum Carbon Ink for it. The bigger bottle is Noodler’s Kung Te-Cheng -ink that I bought just because it’s such a wonderful colour as you can see below:

VP_kynät06

It has a nice story to it too: it’s a reproduction of the imperial Chinese ink. The trouble is, it’s not waterproof and it can easily clog up a fountain pen. That’s why it comes with a free fountain pen and a brush pen which they have tested at Noodler’s and which should work fine with the ink. It’s really cheap basic converted Platinum Preppy fountain pen. My partner thought it’s a bit wet to write but I like it though it’s true, it can smear it you don’t take care. I really like the colour of the ink. I think I need a pen pal so that I have a reason to write with it.

See, it's perfect purple!

See, it’s perfect purple!

But back to the main thing: The Ahab:

VP_kynät02

The Ahab needs to be washed before filling it for the first time. There’s some lubricant residue left from the manufacturing process and that can mess up the ink flow if not taken care off first. I did that first, filling the pen with warm water with some liquid dish washing detergent in it, then rinsed it before taking the pen apart to adjust the flex. Ahab is a flex pen which means it’s nib is flexible in comparison to ordinary nibs. That means that I can vary the line by pressing harder or lighter as I draw and write as the sides of the nib move apart when pressure is applied. The amount of pressure depends on your hand: a light hand needs more flex than a heavy one. The beauty of this pen is that you can rather easily adjust the nib according to your hand.

VP_kynät03

I reassembled the pen and filled it up with some ink. I didn’t fill it fully so that I don’t make a huge mess if I decide to adjust the nib, which I think I will do. Apparently I have a light hand and don’t get as much line variation as I would like.

VP_kynät04

The Ahab has a thicker body than most pens, pencils or other drawing utensils and I quite like that. I don’t have long fingers or anything but I find it easier, more comfortable to hold than most pens etc. I haven’t been drawing much with it yet, just some mindless doodles, but already I have found it makes me draw slower as it is more difficult to control the flexion if I move too fast. And that’s great. I often rush with my drawing, thinking and planning too much ahead and consequently worrying too much about the end result. Danny Gregory has often talked about slowing down, about concentrating on the details as you draw them so that you can see them more clearly. Trying to do that often makes me feel anxious as I start to worry about how many details there are still left to draw, how long it will take me, will I get it right and the usual rubbish. Ahab actually demands enough attention that I don’t have time to worry!

There was one little trouble with the Ahab at first: it scratched the paper. I had notices some customers had mentioned this in their feedback so I was aware of the possibility. Luckily this was easily fixed. I took a close look at the nib and noticed one side of the tip was ever so slightly out of line with the other side. That’s where the pair of tweezers in the picture comes in. I took a firm hold of the tip of nib with them, and gently, gently straightened the nib. That did the trick and the pen now writes smoothly. Happy days!

As a disclaimer: I paid for all the materials mentioned above, none of them came to me as an endorsement; I simply like the stuff. As for the company that sold them to me, I can wholeheartedly recommend The Goulet Pen Company. The service was fast and friendly, and their attention to details made me happy. I especially liked the handwritten message at the end of the receipt. A nice, professional and personal touch form a company that sells writing utensils.

The Day of the Birds

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Few weeks ago I spent a weekend in Helsinki while my partner had his annual weekend get-together with his old army buddies. I didn’t realise until just a few days before the trip that is was the Halloween weekend and I wouldn’t be able to go shopping for art supplies on Saturday like I had planned. No matter, instead of shopping I just spent more time eating and drawing in the Natural History Museum.

The day started with a lunch with my friend in an excellent Chinese restaurant called China (yes, really, even in Finnish). Except we were there a full hour too early and the place was still closed. No matter, we decided to have the dessert first which is always a good solution in situations like this. We had rather bad tea and delicious pastries in what supposedly is one of the best cafes in town. It usually is a really good choice but for some reason the tea was just water this time. Incidentally, one time the then president of Finland Tarja Halonen was there too when we went in for a cuppa. *Enter appropriate amount of awe here* Anyway, an hour later we were in the restaurant looking at menus and trying to figure out what to order.

We decided to avoid all the usual choices and went for this as the starter:

VP_kananjalat

Steamed chicken legs in black bean sauce. Sounds disgusting but actually really, really tasty. Not much in them to eat, though. It’s basically just skin, tendons and cartilage with lots of small bones to spit out. I have eaten some really horrible ones but these were delicious. I can highly recommend them – in this restaurant at least.

As the main course we had steamed Chinese vegetables and Cantonese pork:

VP_lounasKiinassa

Tasty! And here the jasmine tea was good too. And, of course, we had the second dessert too like any decent Hobbit should. I had almond milk tofu with fruits and that too was, you guessed it, delicious.

From the restaurant I went to the Finnish Museum of Natural History. I had intended to draw some beetles and such but the collection they had on display was so small that there was nothing really interesting to draw. I guess most visitors are more interested in dinosaurs and large mammals than in insects. How weird is that! There aren’t many things more beautiful than beetle’s pelvis and legs.

A new plan was in order and so I decided to draw some birds. I picked the most colourful birds of the Finnish fauna, the common king fisher and the Eurasian golden oriole. The page still had space left for one more and I decided to draw the head of the great black cormorant with its piercing glare. I drew the head of the king fisher too small, which means I learnt something and next time I will know what to do.

VP_LuomusLinnut

The museum was packed with families, of course, but to my surprise there were quite a few tourists considering it was so late in the autumn. Even more surprising was the number of young adults and even teenagers present. And they, these fairly typical city inhabitants, were really enthusiastic about the birds. They eagerly shared anecdotes about birds they had seen and wondering about the size, shape and colours of our feathered friends. It was a really nice surprise! Most of the times I have been there practically all of the other visitors have been families, but clearly on a national holiday – when everything else is closed – a natural history museum is a valid option for leisure.

Maybe there still is hope for the planet.

PS. I did realise birds were the theme of the day until I typed the title. It also was a day of changing plans.

My Heroes: Tove Jansson

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VP_ToveJansson

Our Sketchbook Skool teacher Jean-Christophe Defline‘s first homework assignment for us was to draw quickly, in about 10-20 minutes, a picture of a person. I took me slightly longer than that, more like 45 mins. I’m sorry. I got carried away. But I do have a good excuse.

I recently visited our nation’s capital Helsinki and popped in at the national gallery Ateneum‘s bookstore where I found an adorable postcard of Tove Jansson, the mother of Moomins. You know, the white hippopotamus-nosed creatures that live in Moominvalley. Tove – we all call her by her first name here – is one of my all-time favourite creative persons. She is one of the most versatile artists I have ever come across. She was not only an excellent drawer – just look at her Moomin illustrations – but also an excellent painter. She wrote one of the best ‘children’ books of all times but she also wrote equally enthralling prose for grownups. She wrote Moomin-plays, designed the costumes and the stage sets.

I think her popularity has much to do with her personality. She always appeared to be open and content. She was really nice to her Moomin fans even if she was annoyed and little disappointed that she became famous for Moomins and not for her ‘serious’ art. Not that she felt that Moomins were in any way less serious or important, I’ sure. It’s just that she was much more than just the Moomins. Anyhow, she tried to answer every fan letter she got from kids herself by hand and those few thank you -letters I have seen are all very thoughtful and personal. There’s something very Santa Claus -like to her. But she was also a little rebellious. She enjoyed her wee dram and she smoked. She was defiantly independent and egalitarian – much like many of her Moomin characters. Her partner in life was Tuulikki Pietilä, a graphic artist and a fine sculptor, who, I just found out, was born in Seattle. Interesting! She and Tove lived openly together without anyone ever making a fuss about it publicly. I think that too was down to Tove’s and Tuulikki’s personality who simply disarmed everyone with their non-judgemental, mindful attitude. There’s a great picture of them two here.

Tove has a really well made, interesting and informative virtual museum. There you can not only read about her family, see lots of photos of her life and of her works and watch home movies (she and Tuulikki filmed a lot) and listen to her read from her books – in Swedish. One of the best such sites. Really, really well made in IMHO. Her Moomin-art has a real life museum too in Tampere called Muumilaakso, Moominvalley. Definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself in the neighbourhood! They too have a virtual version of their exhibition.

And do read a Moomin book. Any one of them will do. :)

Stay Sharp – A Present

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VP_linkkari

I have always wanted to have a real Swiss army penknife and now I do. I have spend the last few years researching and writing my Ph.D. in aesthetics and museology and now it’s done. The theses has been published by the university (that’s part of the process here in Finland) and I defended my dissertation two months ago on the 16th of August. Yep, we call it a theses defence where I face my opponent. Really, that’s what we call the person examining my dissertation and questioning me about it. My opponent was professor Yuriko Saito from Rhode Island School of Design and she told us that her mates at her department teased her about the title telling her not to shoot he down etc. Ironically, a friend of mine gave me two wooden tai chi swords as Ph.D. present. No, we still didn’t duel, Yuriko and me.

According to the protocol, in the evening after the thesis defence there is a more or less formal dinner in the honour of the opponent. It depends on the traditions of the department how formal the dinner is but there always is toasts and thank yous. Luckily my department, the Department of Art and Culture Studies, University of Jyväskylä, is not too keen on strict formalities. There was 20 of us and I was pleasantly surprised at how many wanted to say a few words. A bunch of my oldest friends present gave me the Swiss army knife with an engraving on its larger blade reading: “Stay sharp, Kaisa.” That was so cool and so nice of them! One of the best presents ever.

I’m currently enrolled on the third semester of Sketchbook Skool called ‘Storytelling.’ Koosje Koene had us draw a manual of something as homework and this is what I did. I thought about rewriting the text on the upper right corner but nah, it’ll do. Next time I know how to make the layout more pleasing.

And, by the way, the blades are really, really sharp.

The Art of Commonplace Books

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Quinn of QuinnCreative posted recently about differences between a visual journal and commonplace journal (linking to my older blog which was very nice of her!). I have been keeping a commonplace book since I saw the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as a teenager and fell in love with Doctor Jones, Sr’s commonplace book on the Holy Grail. You can view that journal here if you got interested. It’s a movie prop and not as detailed as the commonplace book -prop in The English Patient but very mysterious and intriguing anyhow. As prop goes, it’s not the real thing but the idea of a thing that counts.

It’s true as Quinn says that commonplace journals or books are not necessarily really artistic. It really isn’t what they are supposed to be but as the Dr. Jones, Sr’s journal demonstrates, basic notes and scribbles can add up into aesthetically pleasing pages. But there is no reason to stick to just pencil and ink. Most of my commonplace book pages are rather straight forward: I find something interesting in a newspaper of a magazine and if it fits the page, I will cut it out and glue it into the book. If it doesn’t, I will copy it by hand. I have collected lots of interesting pictures – photos and art – that way but also short weird news pieces and so on.

CP_sähkö&Venus

The one on the left is from a magazine I found in my high school’s library back in the day. It’s from the series ‘Pioneers of Empirical Science – Educational Collectible Cartoon.’ Below it reads: ‘Lord McMacLeod is about to begin his seminal experiments on electricity.’

Unlike Quinn I don’t use my commonplace books as planners. The books are my treasuries of the weird and wonderful and besides, I have never been much of dairy keeper anyway. One thing I do collect are rubbings of different Euro coins from around Europe since every country using Euros has their own design. Some collect the actual coins but I rather use the coins than just hoard them. No offence meant to numismatists. It just isn’t for me. :) I also try to save the tickets to all art and museum exhibitions I have been to. Most of them go into the commonplace book but those visits that took place on holidays etc. usually go into the pertinent travel journal. Here is one such page from one of the commonplace books:

CP_kolikot&pääsyliput

Sometimes, however, the subject calls for something little extra and then I can treat the commonplace journal more as a visual journal and I end up with something more artsy. Like these pages:

CP_kirosanat

This is from a newspaper column where kids can ask questions from real experts. In this Sofia wants to know why there are such things as dirty words. The professor of linguistics gives such a clever answer that I thought it deserved something extra as a background.

And the spread below on the left is a comment from an Russian tourist in North Korea saying that ‘In comparison to North Korea the Soviet Union in the 1980s was a free and groovy democracy.’ (Oh, wait, I made that almost exactly nine years ago! Groovy!) On the right is another question from an Q&A column called Torsti Tietää (Torsti Knows). A reader wants to know it its true what they said in Supersize Me that there is something called casomorphin in cheese which supposedly makes one addicted to cheese. Yes, there is but it’s an all natural ingredient of milk. Adults’ digestion breaks down casomorphin and so it doesn’t get absorbed into adults’ circulation but infants digestion can’t do that and so their body absorbs casomorphin which then helps infants to calm down and to sleep longer. Pretty clever, isn’t it!

CP_juusto&Kim

Few years ago I decided to keep a special book for poems I really like but, as it often does, life happened and I only got two poems done. No matter, that special commonplace book will fare just fine in my library for now. One day I will pick it up again and add the third one into it. I already have the poem written down on some paper scrap. Until then I’ll just keep looking for interesting things for my current common commonplace book.

CP_runokirja

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