Stay Sharp – A Present

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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

Edinburgh 2014 And Not a Drop of Rain

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Haven’t been to Scotland since 2010 and I have been missing it a lot. What can I say, I’m a Scotland junkie. I managed to talk my scout troop (Boys and girls belong to same groups here in Finland.) into selecting Scotland as this year’s group trip destination and so, after a year of fundraising, we spent four nights in Edinburgh. And you know what: it didn’t rain at all the whole time we were there. That has never happened to me before. All that rain gear – for nothing! I even carried my raincoat in my backpack the whole time. Not that I’m complaining…

Edinburgh2014a

My first plane sketch ever. We left home at 5.30 in the morning and boarded the plane to Stockholm, Sweden, around 13.30. We changed planes and eventually landed in Edinburgh around 20.00. A long, long day. Usually I sleep in cars, trains and planes, I love to sleep in them, but not this time for some reason. So instead I drew these guys fast a sleep on the plane to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh2014b

Monday was Tour of the Town -day and I didn’t have time to sketch anything from my tour guide duties. But Tuesday was day trip day. The famous Rosslyn Chapel was our first stop. It’s a pretty awesome place and the Da Vinci Code doesn’t do it justice. Go see it if you ever have the chance and take your time with the decorations. And listen the guide as s/he takes you through its history. You’d be amazed!

Tantallon Castle by the sea and close to the beautiful coastal town of North Berwick  was our second stop. It is a stunning place to visit. Just look at the pictures:

Tantallon

The curtain wall of the Tantallon Castle. Notice the sky: not a single cloud to be seen!

Tantallon_ranta

The eastward view from the castle. Only the curtain wall remains. The other three have (mostly) fallen to the sea.

And there is a magnificent view of the Bass Rock with its tens of thousands of sea birds from the castle too. You can see the Rock all the way from the Edinburgh Castle or the Arthur’s Seat on a clear day, but from the Tantallon you can see that it is white because of the birds, the largest colony of gannets in the world in fact. The bird droppings may have something to do with it too. The island is actually about 300 million years old volcanic plug, just like the rock on which the Edinburgh Castle is built. How cool can one tiny island get?

Bass Rock

Yes, that’s a lot of birds.

That Tuesday was A Great Day. I just wish I had had more time at the castle. There were so many things to draw there.

On Wednesday everyone roamed the city on their own. Some went shopping. Some went to the Edinburgh Zoo which they said was really good, especially because the animals had ample enclosures. I went to visit the National Museum of Scotland. In 2010 the older, originally Victorian part of the building was still under renovations so I went to see how it had turned out. Boy, was I in for a treat! I had a cuppa and a delicious sandwich first (I had taken three persons to the Edinburgh Castle first. I’m a life member of Historic Scotland and can take two adult guests with me for free.) before I begun to roam the place. The trouble was I had a sore throat and probably some temperature too, and I simply did not have the energy to see as much as I would have liked to. So I concentrated my energies on the natural world.

Edinburgh2014c

I learned that there is a reason why the tip of the tail of the stoat is black: it actually confuses birds of pray that try to catch a stoat and deceives the attacker into aiming at the tail instead of the stoats head giving stoat time to flee. Never knew that. What a neat trick!

The main attraction for me, however, was the temporary exhibition of Ming Dynasty, my favourite Chinese dynasty. It wasn’t particularly big exhibition but they had some absolutely masterful objects of art on display. Sadly my flu-infected mind forgot instantly all the names of the artists I liked. One particularly brilliant ink painting was a huge picture of a stormy sea. I almost could feel the gale tearing the sails and feel the waves heaving and taste the salt of the sea. All that using only white paper and black ink. Stunning. I could have spend hours staring at the paintings alone. There was so much to learn.

Edinburgh2014d

He looks a bit too cocky to be the Buddha.

I wanted to draw something just to remorise the exhibition. Of course there was no seating, not even those folding chairs you can often find in museums, and I was getting really tired quickly. What would I have given for a seat! Luckily there was only one other person in the exhibition at that time so I could drop my backpack on the floor and scatter my drawing stuff around it without bothering anyone. I just wish I had had the energy to draw more.

I new I had to take off soon. My energies were just about spent. However, I braved the Animal World -exhibition first. There was so many interesting things there but all I could manage was this quick sketch of the African elephant and the jaw bones of a blue whale. I knew blue whales are huge, enormous. So big, in fact, that you can drive a Volkswagen Beetle in its aorta (David Attenborough said so on the telly, so it must be true), but to think that its tongue weighs as much as an African elephant! Oh boy, that’s big for you.

Edinburgh2014e

That’s all from Scotland for now. Next trip me and my partner make might be a week in London and just the British Museum. That would be so sweet…

Evan Thompson

Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia

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