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.


I am spending April 2018 at Arteles Creative Centre on their ‘Comic Blast’ specialist residency program, alongside 10 artists working under the broad heading of comics and illustration. Arteles is based (in what used to be a school) in the rural Pirkanmaa region of Finland, about 30 miles west of Tampere. I’m going to make drawings on paper, documenting and responding to the natural environment and inhabitants I encounter. My interest is in the lives of those who still craft by hand or cultivate manually – their lives entwined with the land, living in relative isolation with numbers dwindling, desisting change and becoming custodians of tradition.

This residency will be my first, and is a significant moment to re-develop my artistic practice, having spent the bulk of my years since graduation working in commercial animation. This particular program grabbed me not only for the drawing / comics focus but very much for the rural setting. When I started to make drawings on paper again last year, it was a conscious move to create away from digital commercial work, observing from life and being present in a setting. Looking for subject matter I found myself pulled to rural environments and people engaged in manual tasks, in some kind of correlation with my use of analogue tools.