Summer of Clouds


It has been a summer of tremendous clouds. There has been rainy days with monotonous greyness, days of sweltering azure (can you use that word like that?) and everything in between. It has been a perfect summer for some cloudspotting.


From a walk with our dog, Kili. Apparently we fought of a gigantic swarm of flies, and had to overtake a half a metre long adder on the path. It was searingly hot so I sketched like a lightning.

However, form a sketcher’s point of view the summer has been problematic. If it wasn’t raining, it was so hot that watercolours dried far too quickly making it next to impossible to use wet-on-wet properly. So I was usually left with two choices: sketch real quickly or not at all.

The beginning of the August saw a change in the weather as the thunderstorms arrived. Some days were tropical (really, they said that on the TV’s forecast): humid, warm nights were followed by sultry mornings and afternoon thunder showers. The monotonous rain clouds changed into towering thunderclouds.


A thunder front advancing from the east.

That made sketching clouds a lot easier. Especially as I could see approaching showers well before they hit and look for shelter. Often the clouds rolled past in rows making the landscape seem even vaster and boundless. Pohjanmaa region is clearly the Finnish version of the Big Sky Country. Except for the mountains.


Then the weather changed again and the clouds with it. The clearly shaped cumuli lost their firmness – a certain sign that the autumn is suddenly just around the corner. Those partly dissolved clouds presented a new sketching challenge, but it was a delight to sit in the open and follow the clouds go by.


Sometimes they had the feel of gigantic, monumental beasts floating unhurriedly across the landscape, being massive and insubstantial all at once.


A big sky behemoth.


The winter is coming – as it always does – and these clouds a the first promise of snow.

Then last Monday I saw clouds that made my summer. We were driving towards the West on our way to the town of Kokkola. It was far too early (for me at least), around 6.30 AM, and there was massif of storm clouds rising above the sea some 15 km from where I took this photo:


A lenticular cloud above low hanging storm clouds.

The cloud massif was – phenomenal. So many different kinds of formations that I could have spend several hours watching their evolution. But the cherry on top was that lenticular cloud floating almost immobilized above the massif. We don’t often get lenticular clouds over here. I suppose it’s because the landscape is rather flat, i.e. it’s relief is shallow, and to my understanding lenticular clouds usually form above high hills, mountains and such. What a treat!

Edinburgh 2014 And Not a Drop of Rain


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…


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.


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:


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


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.


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.


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.


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…

Blog Hopping Around the World


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:


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.


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.’


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


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!


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


Water under the Bridge

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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



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.


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.

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