I’ve had time to get distance from the work created Arteles Residency, but am currently too wrapped up in commercial work to give it due attention. What’s exciting is that a group of artists who run a shop window project space have invited me to show the work in some form, having seen images I shared on Instagram. I really like the space – it is not big, and an odd cuboid box shape; but these limitations mean it’s a less daunting prospect for exhibiting solo and presents an interesting spatial puzzle. The potential to use projection and/or blow the drawings up into 3dimensional objects really excites me.
The work I made in Arteles was pretty strictly observational, direct research stuff. Slice of life, reportage documentation, whatever to call it. Having not looked at it much for 6 months, the opportunity to revisit it and reconfigure it with the endpoint of a small exhibition is appealing.
At the end of this blog (and, appropriately, the end of a year) I need to work on bringing projects to fruition and curb my bad habit of not getting things done for fear of it not being ‘amazing’.
Also, The ’Timin Manty’ tree portrait I made while in Finland kick-started a new long term drawing project about Trees since returning to the UK. I’ve learned here that I work well with some kind of underlying structure to a project, but one whose boundaries also have room to evolve and mutate. I still have difficulty about launching work to public scrutiny though, so haven’t quite figured out how to present the project. I need to overcome fears of making work public and letting it have a life, not fearing that moment and thinking there’s ever anything to lose.
Several visits to Frantsila herb farm.
Anna was great. She does marketing and helps develop new concepts for Frantsila and was keen to tell me all about the company, how it grew, how it’s founding ethos remains intact at it’s heart. She’s allowing me to go anywhere and has told all the staff I’ll be around.
Drawing in the quiet polytunnel at Frantsila gave me headspace to think more about what I like (or don’t like) about making these works. It does appear true that I have city fatigue, being in nature just gives me such a happy contentment. I sense a mirroring between me drawing with ink on paper and them planting their seeds out by hand.
Janius talks about how growing things and being connected to the earth is important to him.
I feel that way about drawing I say.
Janius: Some people like to wear gloves. Me, when there’s no pesticides or chemicals, I like to feel the soil.
In preparation for the end of residency open studios I worked on captions for the pictures I have – particularly the ones I don’t really like. They look better.
This could all be intense research for future work. That is also OK.
2 things I’ve learned for now:
Language is important. It was a relief and so enjoyable to be able to chat with Anna, Valo and Janius at Frantsila.
Time scale. It would work better to pace several visits of longer time period.
So I’m learning things I can use back in UK.
Stifled imagination. These observational drawings.
On House of Illustration website I saw some images of process, featuring loads of photo reference. And I realized some of the artists here use photo reference all the time. And I’m sure heaps of other people I admire do. I should get over this block I have. I do like the life connection though.
Squeezed in a trip in the evening sunshine to see Timin Manty – the ancient Pagan tree. In the end I only had half and hour to draw, but this meant I worked quickly and roughly in ink, using broad brush strokes and washes to fill the page. Then completing it at home. In my mind, my reference was those vintage painted tourism posters. Could have done with slightly better layout… I seem to have less patience with work lately… wanting to do things quickly and instinctively and not to stress about it needing more effort / work. Because it’s hard to judge whether working more on an image will be good or bad. When to know if it’s finished. It’s easier to do something quickly and say ‘done!’ than to make a judgement call on what it needs, where. If I was using digital process I would be shifting and erasing and tweaking things continuously so maybe this is a response to that way of making. It makes it harder… to commit to something on paper takes distinct skill, knowledge, some clarity of intention surely. But you get that knowledge from the experience right. So I had to leave it overnight so I can see it again with fresh eyes, judge if it’s balanced and completed.
Late start. Partly due to tapping my fingers waiting for bikes to be set up. Went over crossroads by bike, heading for dairy farm but instead found Maun, with his logs flying through the air and couldn’t resist. He was amused by my translation card. We’d have probably had a laugh but for the language barrier. He seemed to be by himself, nobody emerged from the farmhouse.
He had this great system with his 3 engines, for processing the wood. Meaning he can do it all himself and in solitude.
He went into his house, at the end. So before I left I plucked up some courage (wtf wrong with me?) to say goodbye. As I approached the house he was in the window, wearing comfy house clothes. I just had a fleeting image of him putting me in the basement. He was glad I’d come by and smiled happily when I gave him my website . We shook hands, he wrote his name down. I did a Kiitos palyon.
The drawing I made feels mediocre. As I was completing it in dissatisfaction it I had the disturbing thought that I was living the dream if the dream is a 6 year old’s farm machinery obsession. Like that place ‘digger land’ where grown ups can go to play on bulldozers.
Our group meets up with some Tampere based artists, including Tiitu Takalo and Ville Pirinen. An opportunity to compare approaches, discuss techniques and find out about opportunities for Finnish comic artists. KUTIKUTI is a non-profit contemporary comics association; they publish a quarterly anthology (open call) that is distributed nationwide for free. Reminds me how good it is to work in collaboration and not exist in a vacuum of 1. I make a mental note that when I’m back in UK I will definitely join the group comics anthology I’ve been invited to.
I have a difficult fortnight finding value in my work and project; though I know I should give it time, the difficulties in finding apt subjects are making me doubtful over it’s meaning and purpose. I’m not happy with the drawings I’m creating. They feel twee and rigidly representational.
Not meeting and not being able to converse with people is bothering me.
Talking to the others about this, they point out that the project I’ve set myself is a challenging one. Yes, I could be based in the studio, or making drawings from photographs, but I’m trying something different. Or am I only making things unnecessarily hard for myself?
Three of us go for a walk intending to draw at an isolated and ramshackle house; when we get there the owner declines our request. The effortless way that Neil asks and then accepts his rejection sticks in my mind; he does not take it personally at all.
Conversations and occurrences like this one remind me to be adaptable, remain open, and that my project can and should evolve as it needs to.
Being here I can see I’m conditioned to working on commissions and to briefs, following a work process that has predestined end results. It is hard to accept other ways of working, where the goal is less or not even remotely defined, where a week’s work might produce 1 half decent drawing and 6 useless ones, if any. I feel quite envious of those people working on their graphic novels. Their narratives seem secure and there’s something appealing about working through pages of panels (patience wringing as that is) and having concrete results to show at the end of the month.
Looking beyond individual small holdings, I’m now pursuing meetings with several farm businesses, though this was not my original plan (that’s me trying to adapt). The shift in season from winter to spring seems to be making these awkward to set up.
I come up with the idea of written translations for when I meet non-English speakers and want to tell them what I’m doing / ask to draw them. The cards certainly help, though conversation remains elusive. I just wish I thought of it earlier.
A fortuitous encounter in the second hand market lifts my mood. At a booth of intriguing items I meet their seller, a pensioner named Kauko; we hit it off. I accept his offer to visit an artist friend of his, Rauni. She lives in what used to be her grandparents’ summer house, by the lake, with a modern studio annexe. We talk about how the area has changed and people farm much less, how she misses having contact with artists when here and she tells me the 2 huge oaks in the garden are saplings that came from historic Karelia region, since relinquished to Russia.
Both Kauko and Rauni seem to get my project, which I’m surprised to feel a genuine sense of relief about. The last 2 weeks have been a little up, mainly down, as I try to accept and develop new ways of working, while everyone else seems to trot along productively.
I arrive in Helsinki, to more snow than anticipated. Spring is running late this year, Finns tell me, as I travel northwards to Arteles and even more snow.
Before heading out on my first foray I use a combination of satellite maps and Chrome auto-translate to try and ascertain what’s around me. But this is clearly not a very online universe. Getting outside offers more immediate returns; many of the houses I pass show evidence of smallholdings and practical activity- wire enclosures, hay bales, log piles, farm machinery, the buzz of chainsaws.
But I see very few people about. I drift along slowly, hoping for chance encounters but dogs are the only ones making themselves seen and heard.
It’s noticeable that houses are spread out with no immediate neighbours, the next dwelling being visible on the horizon or further along the road.
The thick snow makes it hard to judge the landscape here, and my wandering will be restricted to roads for the time being, as any footpaths are concealed way below a few feet of powder. I hope the snow will start its thaw soon and the landscape and its inhabitants reveal themselves.
I linger at a building I know to be a timber workshop and while I’m there a woman of about 70 comes out of the bungalow, pushing a kick sled ahead of her. A minute later a man heads out too and we start chatting, but we don’t speak each others language. I convince him to let me have a look inside and he gives me a little tour of the workshop, showing me the different grades of planed timber they make. But it is a very limited conversation and leaves me frustrated. Noting the décor, and a white corvette that is being stored in the workshop, this couple seem to have lived and worked here for at least 40 years and there’s so much I’d like to ask them, but cannot.
The language difference is worrying me now (having naively assumed people would speak some English), along with the Finnish traits of shyness and reclusiveness.
Snuffling around the grounds of Arteles, I find a pile of junk behind the workshop- signage, drainpipes, spare parts, rusting radiators. A metronomic tap tap tap on a metal bucket draws my ear; it is the sound of icicles melting. After I’ve drawn the scene I film it to capture the feeling.
Arteles appears to offer the exact rural setting I had hoped for and meeting and getting to know my fellow residents is inspiring. I feel lucky to be here.