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. 🙂

Evan Thompson

Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia

Quinn Creative

No one succeeds without excellent communication skills. Good writing is compelling. Good communication is convincing. Good training is rare. Welcome to QuinnCreative.

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