With the new year, I was organizing my stuff and found an old reader survey from 2014. “Tell me about your life in Finland,” many wrote. So this blog post is for you! I share some highs and lows from the last year, and you will get to see my beautiful country too.
1) January – Am I an Artist?
First, we Finnish would not ever say “my beautiful country” in Finnish. We are too honest people and sometimes a bit pathetic in that. Everybody and everything are serious if you come to Finland.
After two and half years of making a full-time living with art, I started to question myself. Instead of a self-employed entrepreneur, could I call myself an artist? Could I have pink hair even if I am 47?
I know that the question of calling yourself an artist is frightening for some of you too, so maybe you can relate. It’s a funny thing that the more you know about art, the more frightening the title is. It can be a dream, yes. It can be someone else, yes. But I, no.
In Finland, we like to ask about your education and then decide. Based on that, I am a designer and an engineer. Or not just an ordinary engineer, as I have a Master’s Degree in Technology, we call those “diplomi-insinööri” – “Diploma Engineer.” Most Finns wouldn’t even mention the designer part because engineering is much more important. Our prime minister is also a Diploma Engineer, and everybody knows that in Finland.
But then someone said to me that you must be kidding, you are an artist! He was an American though. Then I found a hairdresser who dyed my hair. And she was Finnish!
2) February – Second Summer
In Finland, only children celebrate birthdays unless you hit the milestone of 50, 60, 70 or so on. But for me, the whole February is my month of celebration. I buy fresh strawberries for the cake in July, and that begins the preparation for it.
February feels like a second summer. The winter sun always shines so brightly in February and really, if someone decorates the cake like that, isn’t she an artist!
Blog Pick: Life in an Art Journal – Dylusions Creative Journal Flip-Through
Class Pick: Coloring Freely
3) March – Sky is the Limit
In March, I received a t-shirt from the USA. “I am the new economy,” it said. That was from Tara Gentile, my business coach who has built a great community called CoCommercial for digital small business owners. We Finnish don’t believe in coaches. Business coaches and life coaches, they all go to the same category of people. We call them consultants. Everybody in Finland knows that consultants just try to get more money. So we choose not to use them unless we end up in the exceptional situation where we have to do something that we can’t figure out by ourselves.
I had that kind of moment a couple of years ago. Because I am a Finn, I didn’t just google “I need a consultant.” I already had prepared myself for the worst case scenario. In 2013, I saw Tara’s first online business course at CreativeLive. Back then I was still safely in my day job but was planning the big escape from the cubicles. “That person could be my coach if I ever need one,” I thought. But then, because I am a Finn, I needed to double-check that.
In Finland, being trustworthy is important, so I am double-checking things all the time. So far, when typing this, I have checked: “when exactly did I dye my hair” (couldn’t find the exact date but based on my photo library I don’t lie if I say January 2017), “do people celebrate birthdays over 50” (according to Google: yes), “are this year’s strawberries doing fine in the freezer” (yes they are).
So yes, I met Tara in 2014 before leaving my day job in a small business conference in Scotland. Since then, she has helped me many times, and her community even more than that. I am happy to wear her promotional t-shirt and tell you that nowadays do believe in coaches, and also coach artists myself!
Blog Pick: 3 Secrets for Removing Stiffness when Creating Mixed Media Faces
Class Pick: Inspirational Drawing 2.0 (my most popular art class has the second edition already!)
4) April – How to Escape Silence and Minimalism in Finland
There is one big shadow in the field of Finnish art and design. It’s a famous architect Alvar Aalto. He has passed away already, but he lives in every Finn. You only need to know what his surname means: “Wave.” Not “Sea” or “Storm” or “Burst,” just “Wave.” If you come to Finland, you soon notice that our white airplanes are not the only white and simplified designs. Finnish homes are usually white boxes with white ceramic tableware. Another color that we accept is black, nowadays also grey, because grey sofas are so practical.
In April, I got an invitation to an art exhibition from my artist friend Johanna Rytkölä. She is a trained artist, and we could call her Diploma Artist if there would be a title like that. She is the most knowledgeable and experienced person that I know in the world of fine art. In Finland, she has a one big But though. She is a ceramic artist. For Finns, ceramic means cups and saucers, not art. Johanna also often creates quite colorful pieces. But to play safe and to please my Finnish readers, I chose a white sculpture from her for the image.
Johanna’s work is very different from my style. I often think about adding decoration to her pieces, and I am almost certain that she thinks of removing some from mine. She likes to create for the future, and I often get inspired by the past. But when we meet and close the door, we start talking lively, laughing and smiling, and we have lots of ideas about art. It’s like for one moment, we are not in this country of silent thinkers and small waves, but in the world of art that’s full of voices and energy.
5) May – The Icon
When I was a child, the only art class I could find was about painting icons. I was about 10, and in that age, you learn anything by heart. Red, blue, ochre, brown, white – if those were all the colors, so be it. I accepted any rule and tried my best to cope with a group of adult painters. My definition of an artist was clear back then: if you can paint an icon, you are an artist.
But in the group, I realized that there are icons and Icons. I knew I only painted icons with the small “i”. It wasn’t because they weren’t so flawless as my teacher’s. It was that they didn’t mean so much to me. Icons with the capital “I” represent what you would want to be if you were a saint. Nobody said this to me, I just knew it. I dreamt that someday I would paint an Icon.
Finally, by learning to paint like old masters at Emmi Mustonen‘s classes, and by combining two famous paintings, I made my Icon in 2017. So if I were a saint, I would be a Madonna of animals. Having no children, I think it would fit me. As a Finn, nature is my church anyway.
6) June – Two Kinds of Luxuries
Finland is a rich country with a poor history. If you come to Finland, you see a lot of new buildings and very little old ones. Often the poverty shows up in culture too. If Finnish men could choose, there would be only two activities that they call art. The first one is chopping firewood, the Finnish version of meditation, and the second one is ice hockey.
Luckily my husband is not a typical Finn! He likes to go to galleries, museums, and operas, so we had a wonderful time in Florence, Italy, in June! When visiting the heart-breakingly beautiful places in old Florence, it felt like I don’t want to go back to Finland anymore. But Finnish summer has a little luxury of its own: 20 to 24 hours of daylight, depending on how north you live!
Blog Picks from 2017: Lessons from Palazzo Pitti, Ideas from Uffizi Gallery
Class Pick: Imagine Monthly Art Journaling Bundle 2 (includes the mini-course Romantic Geometry, inspired by Renaissance art)
7) July – Failures
In 2017, I failed several times. Should I talk about them? I googled: “How to share failures.” The result: Yes, sharing is a good thing and yes, failures should be celebrated. Ok, let’s celebrate these:
1) I recorded a new class spending one sunny day inside the house from morning to late evening. My most efficient set of recordings ever. However, I didn’t find the time to edit those videos to get the class finished, and after six months, it’s still in my pipeline.
2) I studied old masters techniques for a whole year and created a painting class (the best ever if you ask me!). However, my marketing for the class failed, and it didn’t bring me the income that I had planned.
3) At the beginning of the year, I made new plans for networking. I wasn’t able to follow them.
Now when I think of it, the last one IS worth celebrating. Instead of networking, I got more friends than ever, both locally and online. And speaking of friends …
8) August – Friends in Fantasy
My native language is Finnish. It’s very different from English and best explained by the only extrovert of Finland, a comedian called Ismo Leikola. He won the competition of Funniest Person in The World in 2014, and we are very proud of him.
However, most Finns don’t participate international competitions or sell their work internationally. So when I met Eeva Nikunen at the old masters’ technique painting class, I was gladly surprised when she said that she sells her art abroad and produces content in English. And when we got to know each other more, we realized that we live fairly close! Eeva is a fantasy artist, and I admire her flawless drawing skills.
This photo has been taken from my studio when we had a painting day together. I wanted to bring some fantasy to it by placing a view from Hanko in the background. Hanko is a small town on the south coast of Finland that I visited in August.
More than just painting with Eeva, I have also had a pleasure to become friends with other brilliant artists from the old masters class: Emmi Mustonen, the excellent teacher, and Olli Kilpi, a very versatile artist and 3D motion designer.
In June, I launched The Exploring Artist – my first coaching program for artists. We became a very close-knit group, and I am honored to know all 13 of them. Check out and like these Facebook pages: Claudia Kern, Wendy Holmgren, Carla Heisten, Susan Rajkumar.
10) September – Meeting Local Customers
When working mostly online, I rarely get to see my customers face to face. In September, I had two local classes: one for painting miniature carpets and another for freehand-drawing. Then in October, I booked a table at a local miniature fair and sold some left-over dollhouse furniture but also had some postcards and fabric designs with me. As you can see, it was fun!
September and October are always the busiest months, and now when I look back, I don’t know how I managed to do it all: selling, painting, tutoring online, blogging, etc. Maybe because after work, late at night, I knitted a little and then slept the night peacefully.
Blog Pick: Don’t Just Create Circles! Moving On with Freehand Drawing
Class Pick: Drawing Factory (start from stick figures and play by drawing!)
10) October – One More Round!
Knitting is a very important hobby to me. Before working as an artist, I knitted more creatively than nowadays. After inventing new ideas every day, I want to do something monotonic in the evenings and knitting fits to that role too.
As you have probably noticed, our seasons are very different. The warm and light summer changes gradually to a cold and dark winter. In 2017, the first snow came in October, and the new woolen sweater was just in time.
Blog Pick from 2017: Knitting and Painting – A Video Visit to My Studio
Class Pick: Folk Bag Workbook (e-book)
11) November – Miracle Mornings
By November, the darkness becomes devastating. The tourist sites call Finland “the land of the midnight sun” but if you come here in November, you see the land of the midnight more than the sun.
This month, I changed my morning routine so that I started to wake up early, about 6 PM and spend the first couple of hours in the studio after taking the dogs for the morning walk. My studio has an artificial daylight lighting, and I love my miracle mornings. I get a lot done, and when I move to a different room to work on a computer, the sun has risen already. This routine has made me reorganize my studio, set up a process for a new series of paintings, and get computer-free time to process ideas – an important part of being an artist!
12) December – Independence
On 6th December, Finland celebrated the 100th anniversary. It was a big thing here. There had been celebrations throughout the year, but everything culminated for this day. To me, the most wonderful thing was to see that also the countries all over the world congratulated Finland by illuminating iconic venues and buildings with blue and white lights. It included Colosseum in Rome, the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City, Niagara Falls, etc. It made me feel grateful that our small country is getting this kind of attention!
When I was a poor student, I didn’t have money to buy Christmas decorations or gifts. So I made stuffed patchwork stars for relatives and friends and kept some myself too. I thought it was nothing compared to those fancy decorations sold in stores. But now, about 25 years later, the stars are my treasures that I proudly hang every Christmas.
In 2017, I was reminded again that it’s how my life has changed. My values have changed, the way I see things have changed. What used to be the sign of poverty, is now a symbol of wealth to me. The real wealth is time, and there’s a lot of that put into them.
Blog Pick from 2017: Helene Schjerfbeck – Step by Step Formula for Her Style
2017 – Year of Friends
Getting to know more new artists through my classes and other contacts, has been the best thing in 2017. I call 2017 the year of friends. How would you name your 2017?