onsdag 29 juni 2011

Poppy, part II. Some time ago I tried to paint a poppy in Photoshop, and it didn´t really work out. I promised to try gouache, but forgot about it. Today I was painting something completely different, and tried out colours on a piece of left over paper. Some green and brown-ish, and then when I looked at it I thought it looke like a field for poppy flowers. So I added some.

måndag 27 juni 2011

Note to self: Don´t assume anything. Check the the facts before you start painting. This Monday´s column is about a new kind of strike, italian style, at the airport. It means people work, but they take their time and do everything really slow. Lovely. I started drawing, assuming it was the luggage handlers who were on strike. When I was ready and just had to write the caption I checked the original story. Oh no, it was the security personnel who were on strike. So I had to write security instead of luggage on the sign, and the picture isn´t as clear as the original one, here:

If I would have had the facts right when I made this, I would have added something to do with security to the people in line. Maybe Darth Wader looking nervous instead of Elvis who lost his luggage.

onsdag 22 juni 2011

Poppy galore. The world has lost the war on drugs, and the United Nations call for a new approach. An article on the new war on drugs in today´s Hufvudstadsbladet had to be illustrated, and it had to carry a whole spread. At first I thought Trainspotting, nightmare visions of ghostlike human slaves of drugs. But no, that´s too ugly. If I can spend office hours exploring botanical drawings of poppy flowers, I do exactly that. I wanted to draw a big poppy that lies on bottom of the spread, with tiny people on the stem.

This was the first time I painted in Photoshop, and I´m not quite pleased. First I drew the poppy in pencil, scanned it, placed it in a layer with about 60 % opacity and "Linear burn", and then painted it in layers beneath. The texture from the paper makes it look a bit better, but how on earth do I simulate the way gouache or water color spreads on wet paper? You know, that unpredictable flow? Please, if someone knows the trick, tell me!

Here´s the inspiration, this one below is a wikimedia common. There are red opium poppy flowers as well, and I used red because it´s most people recognize it at one glance.

Old natural history engravings are the best. I bought a similar one on insects on a trip to Stockholm in may. It´s a litograph from 1843 by Johann Conrad Susemihl from a book by Lorenz Oken. A beautiful old book was destroyed so these pages could be sold to stupid people like me for a few hundred kronor... but, I think some day I will use some of the insect engravings as inspiration, just waiting for the right time and place.

Back to poppy flowers. Many many painters in the past have studied them. First in mind is maybe Monet and his repeating poppy field. Last summer, on a trip to Paris, I visited Monet´s garden in Giverny. There´s a small field with poppies and cornflower where one can have a touristic picture taken when walking through that field, just like in the painting. Well, don´t really know what to think about that. Maybe best not to think at all.

Here in Finland we are saturated with poppy flowers in the shape of Maija Isolas Marimekko pattern Unikko. Bedspreads, curtains, tablecloths, tea pots, television sets and nordic walking sticks, all covered with the pattern. Not to mention these baby feeding bottles by Ainu.

Marimekko has a fantastic range of patterns, but the Poppy prevails. 

Another commercial poppy is painted by my favorite children´s book illustrator, Rebecca Dautremer, for Kenzo (picture below). On the same Paris trip last summer we visited a small gallery, Jeanne Robillard, with Dautremers painings so I could take a close up look on how she does it. I also bought one her originals, it´s my treasure!

Edit. I found a usable tutorial on how to paint "watercolour" in Photoshop here. It´s close, but no cigar. I tried it out with a texture created from the paper I usually use. Hmm... Tomorrow I will take this to the next level and make a real water colour. Here comes today´s version:

Not pleased with the result, but it was fun learning...

måndag 20 juni 2011

Navigation. This Monday´s column features my favourite blood sucking friends.

fredag 17 juni 2011

Salt&sails. I´ve noticed that I have a few readers. Who are you? Whoever you are, I hope you like sail boats. Last spirng the owner of Skafferi, a small tea&coffe&all good things-shop in Porvoo, asked me to draw a label for her sailor´s tea. It´s a tea with small sail boats made of sugar in it. 

I don´t know much about sailing boats, but there is a small harbor close to where we live. In the winter, when the boats are stored on shore, I´m always amazed of the shape and size of the part of the boat that is under water. It was quite easy to find blueprints of these sailboats. I picked the ones I thought had the most beautiful shapes. The first from the left is a popular folka-boat, followed by a boat called LM Mermaid, and the unfinished one is called Hai (finnish for Shark). But, when I tried out these on a label they looked too static. I wanted to have some sea, salt, wind and waves in it too. I got a book with black and white photographs from 1920´s and 1930´s sailing competitions, and based on those photo´s I drew this:

And this is how it looks in the store:

tisdag 14 juni 2011

Fear of printing. Some mornings I fear to open the newspaper. This morning was one of those mornings. The process printers output on thin and soft paper is difficult to predict. Usually it´s fine, sometimes fantastic, and somethimes there´s a 1-2 mm gap between the different cmyk-colours. Comic strips are black and white for a reason. One colour, its´s not so difficult. The moment you add another colour to a drawing it´s a risk. Today I was happy, this illustration on the Zeitgeist-movement printed all right, and the colours were quite close to the original.

Reusing or stealing. When I got the idea for the illustration above, I knew I wanted to draw a mother earth who was patching the planet. So I googled for women sewing. Thomas Coutures Jeune Femme Cousant (Young Woman Sewing) from 1870 was what I was looking for, a madonna-like woman in the exact right pose. I don´t know much about this artist or the painting, but it seems to be an often reproduced painting. You can order a copy of the original, hand painted in China, for a few hundred dollars. So is what I am doing, using the painting as inspiration and help, any better than those making money selling copies of an masterpiece? The movie Certified Copy is about art copies, and one of the main characters states that all copies of a certain piece of art only make the value of the original greater, so every rip off of Mona Lisa becomes one of the reasons people queue for hours to see it at the Louvre. It is what makes certain pieces iconic. Well, I would never buy a "original copy" of anything, but I like using references to iconic pictures. Someone might notice it, someone might think it looks familiar, but most won´t notice at all.

Talking about inspiration. I just noticed there´s a tiny similarity in this illustration and the amazing red dress by Aamu Song. 

måndag 13 juni 2011

My own space. It all happened so quickly, but I have a feeling this is a good thing. This space is mine for this summer, I rent it from a wonderful lady who is out of town for the whole summer. Today I have been cleaning up the studio, clearing a whole wall for hanging up drawings. I have no idea if I will produce better stuff here than in my small corner at home.

söndag 12 juni 2011

Moday column: Heja Sverige. This is how it turned out. The green is exactly the color I wanted, but there´s something odd with the plates, they are nog quite in perspective. Maybe nobody will notice.

fredag 10 juni 2011

Pearls. In january I took the bus from Porvoo to Helsinki, and met one of my former workmates. A busride later I had an assignment for her new business Porvoon Helmikammari. I got in love with the different shapes of pearls, and had to work a bit on the shadows, colours and shapes to get it right. I noticed that to make a pearl look white, it has to hold tiny amounts of many different colours: yellow, blue, a bit of gray, and red.

Back to basics. It´s hot and sunny in Helsinki, and people gather in parks. I got myself a new sketchbook and a graphite pencil and sat down in Ruttopuisto in central Helsinki. Drawing people without them noticing (or if they notice without them being offended) is a bit tricky. I haven´t had time to do this in years but I remember I used to give the sketch to the person I drew if he or she noticed my intruding in their private sphere. This old lady was turning her face to the sun. She left before I was ready, I would have liked to draw her face as well, she looked so relaxed and happy. We had a six month winter here, and the summer is more than welcome.

I have come up with the idea for my Monday drawing. This week a report was published that explained why Sweden is so much better at most things than Finland. We knew this already: they dress better, their homes look fabulous, they can build brands like Ikea and H&M, produce music that sells all over the world. And when they win in sports they are very happy and positive, and when they loose they don´t spit on the team or country that lost. This is not good for the finns self esteem. So when we, and it happens rarely, win Sweden in something, we really want to rub it in. So, I sketched a "congratulations Sweden" cake with evil litlle Finns celebrating our neighbours success in a civil way. The princess cake is, for me, a symbol for Sweden. It´s filled with cream, raspberry jam and vanilla sauce, and covered in green marsipan. When Finns bake a cake they blend bark into the dough and decorate with barb wire. Which one do you think I should work on to the final one?

onsdag 8 juni 2011

Layers of paint. I tried to create a slideshow in Iphoto, but it became all foggy. Sorry about that, I´ll show what I intended in a ordinary photo instead. This is a detail of a bigger painting, and I took photos of every stage. I did this hoping to see where I go wrong. I tend to overwork my paintings, and just the minute they look good in my eyes a voice in my head (shut up!) me tells me to work on it some more, and there it is, destroyed. I like to leave some parts a bit unworked, here the water and the "roof" of the reed. I´m not completely happy with this, but I like the way layers come together. Sadly, picture nr 2 looks the best. And when using real paint there is no undo-command. That´s part of the charm, but sometimes, when I have worked five hours or so on a picture, I wish there was.

I used art masking fluid (latex) on the butterflies and the water lillies. In the end of the process I rub it off. It´s practical, but it damages the paper under it a bit, so using it on big areas you want to paint something else on is not a good idea. Unless you like paper that is damaged and absorbs color in a different way, it might be a nice effect...

Cobbled streets. This is an old project of mine that was first published in the local Swedish newspaper in Porvoo, Borgåbladet. It was in their 2006 summer supplement. I was asked to draw a map of Old Porvoo and pin out cafes, shops, museums. Easy, two hour assignment. That would have been way too easy.

I decided to draw every house as seen from the street and link information about the shops to the drawings. I also added some historical information (for example where the Russian tsar stayed when he visited town in 1809 and where Finlands national writer Runeberg used to live) and information about when every house was built. That wasn´t as easy as I thought (nothing ever is). I spent hours at the local museum´s archive, even more hours flipping through local history books, and finally I found a nice helping guy at the city planning office who searched their documents on every house on my list (no electronic database...). There´s a special place in heaven for all the civil servants who help journalists with their weird and time consuming requests.

I visited every shop and every café on the two streets pictured here and asked the shopkeepers two standard questions about their business.

I wanted the miniature paintings to be as accurate as possible when it comes to colour, height in comparison to the buildings on both sides, number of doors, windows and ornament. The style is a bit clumsy but the best I could do at the time. I took photos of every house, the task was a bit tricky because the streets are narrow and it was difficult to get a full view of the houses, including color of roofs and location of chimneys.

After all that work I was so happy that they wanted to use it again in 2008, and in 2010 the shopkeepers of Old Porvoo asked me if they could buy it and use it in their marketing. They make one or two marketing newspapers every year, using this on the centerfold. So this project lives on and on, and from the different versions of it printed in different years, one can see how the Old town changes, what new shops come and old close down (many of the shops have been at the same location for decades, but some new appear every year). So it becomes kind of a reference for the future. As a (drop out) history student this aspect makes me happy.

If there´s a lesson to be learned (for me and maybe someone else as well) it is not to be afraid to put lots of work into something you believe in. If it´s good enough it can live on longer than you thought. Because of this street map I have gotten other assignments as well. So if you think, aah, would be lovely, but ooh, too much work, think again:-) Please feel free to re-use this idea to a street close to you, I would love to see what other illustrators make of it!

The version posted here is the latest. It´s in both Finnish and Swedish, so it´s a bit crammed with text. Print it out and come visit my favourite town!

tisdag 7 juni 2011

Butterfly effect. This took ages to do. I didn´t even count hours, and the guy who scans images here at the news desk propably hates me by now. The idea was to create a "school table" with ten butterflies you can easily see in your own garden in Southern Finland. A butterfly expert at the University of Helsinki helped me pick the spieces, and then I checked in books and different internet resources and started painting. My favourite is Autographa Gamma (botton right corner), so simple and beautiful.

Hands, part 2. Just after writing about drawing hands, I found this on drawn.
By Grant Snider

INCIDENTAL COMICS: Drawing Hands: "'Drawing hands is hell.' -Picasso or somebody I try to avoid rendering anatomically correct hands whenever possible. You'll see one of my..."
Arbeitslos. A year and a half ago I couldn´t draw hands. I was afraid of hands, I planned my drawings so I could avoid showing hands. Hands can be hidden behind a lot of different things. A bulky bag, a cup of coffee, a plant... When I was asked to illustrate an article on the new German labour- and social security policy, making it more and more difficult to live on unemployment benefit and forcing people to move if they can´t get at job near their home, I got the idea of a giant hand moving the lives of the unemployed. Not only a hand. But a giant hand.

I´m not (too) afraid anymore. Last summer I attended summer art classes where Karl-Julius Mattas held hilarious croquis-sessions with two live models. It was one of those summer university events that gather a bunch of happy-looking ladies and the odd bearded biology teacher, but the teaching process was really outstanding. In fifteen seconds you don´t have time to think, you just draw. You forget about how you think something should look and see it how it actually is.

Like this. All these are 15 second croquis. This was really good therapy for me and my no. 0 tiny details brush. The main task during the three day art class was to make a color study in oil (not my medium, drying takes ages and preparing even to start painting at least half an hour. Not to mention the cleaning up and what to do with all that expensive paint that´s going to dry up if I don´t use it...)  Three days. One painting. One pose. (The models must have gotten so bored of this pose). I will post the oil here as well but must be honest, there´s so much more life and motion to the croquis. No fight here on which one will end up in frames the day I get to it. But here we go:


måndag 6 juni 2011

Tsunami. My version of Hokusais classic The Great Wave off Kanagawa. This was very difficult to paint because the original is so perfect, every drop of water and every shadow is right where it should be. No chance to beat that... Here I had to use thicker lines because it´s printed only about 8 cm wide, and thin lines disappear in the printing process. When I saw the news of the tsunami in Japan, with cars, big boats and even trains dragged along with the water, I came to think about this picture. I worked with infographics that weekend and the whole week after that, and felt very tiny in comparison to all the questions we had to try to answer. We think we can control everything but events like this remind us that we can´t.
Carrots beware. City rabbits are a big problem in Helsinki. They have been hunted down but keep popping up wherever there´s a delicious plant to be eaten. This illustration was published in Hufvudstadsbladet last week, in our Monday column.

First post

Deep sea champagne. The infographics journalists at Hufvudstadsbladet have our own little box to fill every Monday. It´s a comment on something that happened in the news flow last week, and I like to pick something a bitt odd. The guy who usually draws the column got sick of trying to find out what to draw, so now it´s my turn (until I freak out). 
This one is published today, and it´s about a pr-trick that Åland is doing to pimp up the image of the island after a sensational find last summer: the oldest ever champagne, about 200 years old and still drinkable, was found in a ship wreck. Last week two of the bottles were sold on auction for 24 000 and 30 000 euros. The money goes to conservation of the Baltic Sea, a sea so polluted we have algae invasions almost every summer. So, what do they come up with to boost the pr value of the event: they put 70 bottles of champage in a chest and store it in the sea at 40 meters depth. Every year they take a few bottles up. Wonder what the fish think about this?