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.

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. 🙂

My Heroes: Leena

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VP_LeenanLeimat

One of my creative heroes is Leena, my partner’s cousin. Not only is she one of the kindest persons I know, she has her own style of everything pink and cute (or kawaii, as they say in Japanese). It makes finding presents for her rather easy and fun! One Christmas we got her this über cute, pink bling-bling ornament for the tree. Sadly I can’t remember what kind of a figure it was but it was pink with lots of sparkle. To keep things in balance and to prevent her pink Christmas tree (surprised, you shouldn’t be) from becoming overly pink, we gave her partner a glass squirrel. A very cute too but brown. But don’t be fooled by all her pinky, fluffy stuff. She’ll kick your butt in action games on Wii.

Leena makes these awesome, creative and happy cards for every occasion she can think of. It’s so much fun to wait for her card to arrive when it gets close to my or my partner’s birthday to see what she has come up with this time. Her cards always bright up my day! Thanks Leena!

But what I admire in her even more is her courage to be true to herself and her style. It’s a rare thing in this world.

I did the page last summer on the Saturday of our traditional summer family reunion at her dad’s place at the seaside. Lots of sun every years and lots of loitering on the beach. The others were playing a board game called Carcassonne but I had had my fair share of the game for that day. A great game, don’t get me wrong, but I decided to go through Leena’s amazing stash of arts and crafts stuff. There I found these stamps. I really liked the ones with cartoon-style Japanese motifs – especially the lanterns – so I printed some images on the right-hand page. On the left I freehanded one stamp of a series of birds that were really pretty and poetic. The spread felt a little empty or too still so I added the ‘stains’ to spark it up. Really enjoyed doing this and leafing through Leena’s stamps. There were so many beautiful ones I would have liked to include!

Creative Heroes: Tommy Kane & 23thorns

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VP_aardvark

I happen to think that aardvark is possibly the funniest word of the English language. Yeah, yeah, strictly speaking it is not English but borrowed from Afrikaans ‘erdwark’. In Finnish it was know as maasika, ‘earth pig’ which happens to be a direct translation from Afrikaans, until the Committee for Mammal Names decided that it was misleading since the animal is not related to pigs at all. In stead, they suggested, it should be called termiitiikaivaja, the termite digger, which certainly does make sense except that aren’t there other animals, absolutely unrelated to aardvarks, that dig for termites too? I don’t know what Spock would say about this, but it doesn’t sound only logical to me.

I drew the aardvark after a picture in 23thorns’s amazingly funny and informative blog about life in South Africa. Now, of course, I can’t find the exact post about the critter, but he shared some really interesting information on the matter. You would guess right from looks of the critter that aardvarks are not runners but did you know that they can dig like no other? Even 2 feet in 15 seconds! Thanks to you, 23thorns, I have learned a lot about South African (wild) life that I previously had absolutely no knowledge about! I need to buy you that beer some day.

The other creative hero inspiring my drawings in this style is Tommy Kane, an artist (yes, you are!) from New York. I love his free flowing, quirky drawings. And the little stories he tells! Hihii! I also like the fact that Tommy is not afraid to take stand but posts drawings with political and other opinions. Check out his Vimeo account too. I like especially this one about his trip to Vietnam. So thank you, Tommy, for helping to loosen up my expression. Seeing your stuff always lightens up my day. 🙂 Would by you a beer too but you don’t seem to have a button for it on your blog.

My Heroes: Danny Gregory

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MatkaHesaan

About two years ago I was leafing though Amazon (Can you do that, leaf though Amazon.com?) trying to find something that would encourage and reassure my desire to get back into drawing and art. I went though book after book, ordered some – most of which were quite good and inspiring – before I came across Danny Gregory’s Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to be the Artist You Truly Are. I don’t know if I can say that I have ever read a book that changed me or my perspective, but Creative License certainly was a starting point for the change I’m going through right now. Danny’s style of drawing and writing spoke to me. I especially liked the fact that he accepted that it is hard to return to a practice you have previously judged to be a “not proper career”. His book solidified my determination to draw more and to be serious about it, to give it the time, effort and role I want art to have in my life. It’s been a slow process but I will get there.

I did not get myself a Moleskin – well I did, but I didn’t like the feel nor the colour of the paper. It took awhile to find that perfect, inspiring sketchbook, but eventually I did and I took up the habit to carry it in my bag. The first pages filled up very slowly but I did finish the book last autumn after almost two years. I have a new one now but I try not to put any pressure on filling it up though I definitely would like to draw daily. One day (not someday, mind you) I will.

I mostly draw when I’m away from home. I don’t know why, really. I have all these excuses at home, but while I’m on the road or in a museum they disappear. These I drew last August, the clouds on the train on my way to Helsinki and the two men playing Go in a beautiful, peaceful small park (much like a garden really) in southern Helsinki. I still had a cold and I was about to give a presentation in a conference in a few days, but the weather made me forget my tiredness. It had been raining for days but while traveling south the low-hanging rainclouds turned into magnificent cumuli and sunshine. Thanks to Danny I had the tools to capture them.

My Heroes: Quinn McDonald

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I stumbled upon Stefan G. Bucher’s book 344 Questions – The Creative Person’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival, And Artistic Fulfillment a few months ago and, being a bibliophile and loving books with a twist, naturally bought it. Which reminds me, I need to get me some more bookshelves – and a larger home for this one has no free wall space for shelves anymore. The paintings and stuff need their share too. But anyway, it’s a great book. Instead of giving answers or reciting inspirational stories it asks you questions and makes you write down your own tale of growth. The name says it all: inside you’ll find some 344 questions such as ‘How do you define freedom?’ or ‘What is your worst case scenario?’ and you are supposed to write down (or draw or whatever) you answers.

One question is ‘Who are your heroes?’ ‘Wow,’ I thought when a reached that page, ‘do I even have heroes let alone creative ones?’ I never had an idol as teenager, not, at least, in the way most think about being a teenager fan of someone. I suppose I was (and am) a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien but that’s it, no pop idols or gorgeous film stars: instead of a poster of a rock star I had the map of the Middle Earth on my wall.

But an idol is not the same as a hero, not to me. A hero is someone I not only admire but someone who inspires me, who’s skills and philosophy I respect and hold in high regard. A hero is someone who I want to emulate, to be in the same league with. A hero is someone I would want to learn from, someone who inspires me into reaching higher. An idol moves me with her work but a hero makes me want to better myself. But until recently I used to get easily envious of the people I admired thinking that I could never achieve the level of skill they had. I used to think that I wasn’t skilled enough as if skill was something one is born with, not something that is achieved through practice. I though that I was too old, that it was too late for me to begin the practice. So when I saw something I admired, I sooner or later begun to feel sorry for myself instead of allowing myself to be inspired by them.

But heroes are important, and this book made me realise this fully. So I though about about who would count as my heroes and begun, as instructed, to write a list which is still not finished yet – and never will be as new heroes will appear throughout my life. But in this book every question is followed by a follow-up question(s) and the question about my heroes was tailed by ‘Do they know that they’re on your list?’ and ‘Do they care?’ In order to answer these two questions I will write posts about my heroes to let them know they are on my list. Whether they care or not is not that important, it is more important to me to let the world to know I hold them in high esteem. They inspire me and that in itself is enough.

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The first person I would like to nominate as my hero is Quinn McDonald, an artist and a life/creativity coach. I came across her book Raw Art Journaling – Making Meaning, Making Art which then led me to her blog. I am inspired by her art and creativity, especially by her wonderfully, but only seemingly, chaotic colours and especially by her maps (see one here). But she her words are even more inspiring. Her blog posts on creativity, personal growth and thoughtful observations on everyday things are thought-provoking. She writes fearlessly – it seems to me – about personal issues that are without doubt difficult and painful. Her blog opens up a story of personal growth, a story of how she became who she is today, which, I’m sure, reassures many readers that their lives too can be turned around. Quinn says it’s hard work but assures that it can be done. I am truly grateful for her words.

The two tea stain works here were inspired by her post Tea-Dye Projects (Loose-Leaf Journal Pages). For about a month I placed every herbal infusion -bag (above) I used and my morning wet loose leaf tea strainer (below) on a piece of watercolour paper and let it dry there for a moment. I wrote down the date and the tea and ended up with two series of stains. The photos are not that good because of the lighting, but you get the idea.

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