Smokin' hot...

...off the presses. New cards, that is. I have an amazing print house that I work with, the ever-flexible Picascript in Lauttasaari, Helsinki. I picked up my newest batch of postcards from there today.  I was out of print of some of my tourist cards and took advantage of the moment to create some new cards for the line-up.

I know, with a sentence like that it sounds like it's an easy one-step process to just send a card to the printer's. Actually, the whole process takes much more time than I anticipate every time. 

1. If I don't have a drawing in my files that is just waiting to be materialized in print and posted to your mailbox, I rummage through my brain files for what kinds of cards I am missing or what I would like to draw. This time, I thought of how my "päivän sankari" (the hero of the day, which is what we call the birthday girl or boy in Finnish) has sold pretty well. I decided to make some more along the same theme.

2. I thought about what kids (also those young at heart) could relate to, both a boy and a girl, which made me think of Robin Hood and Pippi Longstocking. 

3. I drew them in pencil, then in ink. I scanned the drawings, then painted them in and scanned them again. So really that's 5 steps, but it's the manual labor phase.

4. Once this is done, I digitally overlaid the layers, which ensures that my black lines are strong. I did some digital editing, especially for the mistakes made during the ink or painting phase.

5. Then I designed the card. At this stage I already had the text, so I placed the picture and text in the same places as my earlier designs to ensure continuity. In this phase I have to remember to give the card a code (for filing and storing) and make sure my signature is on there somewhere. 

6. I got feedback about the layout from Hubby, or anyone else who was then around.  I edited and took into consideration these comments and my own preferences.

7. I exported the file into a print-ready pdf, and sent it to my printer, hoping I had not overlooked something.

This process can take from hours to days, depending on my deadlines and flow. If I drew digitally, I could shorten this process, but I find that I like the feel of a real paintbrush in my hand and the living-on-the-edge feel of placing a mark on the paper and not being able to erase it! If you are an artist and have some tips and tricks that you use, I would gladly hear about them!

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A Fable

Fables are short stories featuring animals or mythical creatures and often have a teaching or a moral. Aesop's fables are among the most well known, from around 550 BC. I made an attempt at emulating that first fabulist (one who writes fables), and here is a tale with a more modern setting than "The Tortoise and the Hare." I guess this could be "The Parakeet and the Mouse."


There was once a little green parakeet that loved his home.  It was a small home, with a diagonal branch to hop along, a swing to swoon on and a feeder that was always full.  The parakeet's favorite thing, however, was a picture on the wall that showed a flock of parakeets surrounded by thick jungle leaves. The little green parakeet could imagine them twittering away together. He could even smell the humid jungle air alive with a choir of crickets and ants pitter-pattering tirelessly along moss-covered branches.

The little green parakeet talked to the picture on the wall frequently, but never got an answer.  One day the parakeet's neighbor overheard his whispered question to the picture, "Why am I here, and not there with you?"  For a long time the neighbor had thought the little parakeet was cuckoo in the head.  However, for some time now, he had suspected an issue of a more serious nature, something he understood himself.

"Come join me and eat a fresh sunflower seed cake I made, " the neighbor invited the parakeet.

The parakeet peeked around his house at his neighbor.  "But you're a mouse." 

The gray neighbor smiled and wiggled his little pink nose.  "Yes, how astute of you to notice."

The parakeet and the mouse shared a delicious sunflower seed cake on the windowsill and enjoyed the spring sun warming them through the glass.  The next day, they met again and went exploring and found a treasure: a forgotten packet of flower seeds.  The little mouse gnawed open the package with his sharp teeth, and the little parakeet flew above the ground to sprinkle the seeds over the dark earth.  As the weeks went by, the green parakeet and the gray mouse would inspect the ground and exclaim over every fresh green shoot that rose out of the earth. 

The little green parakeet was so happy to have met the mouse and his mind was so full of the fun things they had done and the jokes the mouse had told, that he would forget to say good night to his parakeet picture when he went to bed at night.  Soon, he wasn't talking to it at all, because he was too busy making forts with his new friend and learning about mouse food and showing the mouse how best to hop along his branch.

Then one morning in early summer, the first fragrant bud appeared in their flower plot, softly pink at the edges.  The parakeet and the mouse took pictures of the momentous occasion and celebrated with watermelon popsicles and learned how to jig. Within a few days, the whole ground in front of the windowsill was full of colorful blossoms and everyone in the neighborhood enjoyed coming to look at them dancing in the breeze.  The parakeet and the mouse had to keep a steady supply of watermelon juice and sunflower cakes because new friends seemed to pop up just like their flowers.

"Ahem...er, hello!" The parakeet woke up one morning to hear his mouse friend's voice very close to his ear.  "I have a gift for you," he whispered excitedly.

The parakeet slowly opened one eye, then the other.  But Mouse was already gone, and a gift awaited by his feeder to be unwrapped. 

The little green parakeet stared in wonder as he opened it.  It was a framed picture of the first bud.  He and Mouse were also in the picture (maybe a bit fuzzy because Mouse was only learning how to work his camera back then), but the magical blue sky and the delicate bud reminded him of how happy he had been that day.  He marvelled that Mouse had given him such a beautiful gift.  He put it in the best place in his house, replacing his old parakeet picture with this new treasure.

That night, the little gray mouse with the pink nose curled up contentedly in his basket with a happy sigh as well.  Above his head on the wall was also a picture of him and Parakeet and The Bud.  He knew that sunflower seed cakes and watermelon popsicles couldn't by themselves cure something as serious as loneliness.  But they had sure helped.  Indeed, they had.

 a quick little sketch...

a quick little sketch...

...and Spring skipped happily...

I kept a blog for about the first ten years I lived here in Finland.  I have been perusing it and discovered as I did so that I have a recurring habit--every spring I am overcome by poignant expectation of her arrival, and if I write about her, I personify her.  (Spring is a she, Winter is a he, for some reason).

Spring surprised me this year.  She down right exploded in my face, if you will, leaving Winter no options to bid us one last farewell snowfall.  She shooed off his icy lake surfaces and worked her magic on all growing things in such rapid succession that I almost couldn't keep up. She came so forcefully that I am beginning to wonder if she and Summer are in cahoots, or perhaps just trying to apologetically pay back for last year's glitch when Summer refused to show up. 

These May days have been beautiful and warm, almost making me think I am not in Finland anymore. The lake water is warm enough to swim in, and I can walk outside in the evenings without a coat. I mention these things, because they are not to be taken for granted hereabouts.  This May has been the hottest in Finland's recorded history.

The sense of expectation has also been strong this year.  I am watching nature grow and sprout in my own little flower garden and under the kitchen window where I have some strawberry plants. I check on my little friends every day, wondering at their gumption to reach above the soil and become visible, sprout, grow strong and bloom in due time.  I have realized that I quite like to watch things grow.

And yes, this post has nothing to do with NorsuArt, per se. But I offer you yet another realization--I cannot separate my life into compartments--business, farming, gardening, faith, inner world, seasonal changes, etc. I have had difficulty blogging because most of the things I want to write about have very little to do with the business of cards and much more to do with the business of life. I figured there's enough space here for all of it. :)

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Each bloom has its timing.

As do you.

Nostalgia and Sun

Hi Friends,

It has been a few months since my last post. There has been a lot going on, which I assume you have read between the lines. :)

 Cayo Largo del Sur, Cuba

Cayo Largo del Sur, Cuba

One highlight was a group trip to Cuba in February (my other talent is languages, so I was the group's Spanish-Finnish translator.) If I could sum up Cuba in three words, they would be colors, ideology, nostalgia. I believe Cuba is on the cusp of a new era as it continues to open up more, but one cannot seem to escape the past there, not least with the crumbling colorful buildings and the roaring 1950s American cars everywhere.

I can cheerfully say that I have better business and life habits than I did last year. I don't generally work until 10 pm, and I am exercising more regularly. I have gotten my office in order with a nice worktable that moves up and down so I don't silently kill myself by sitting all day! I am enjoying teaching more English classes this season (check out Litera Tec), which I find a friendly balance to NorsuArt.

 Cuban art. What colors!

Cuban art. What colors!

Also, Spring. It is coming. The arrival of Spring on the farm means many things like planting and trimming apple trees. It also means lengthening days and the world turning greener day by day.

The seasons in Finland continue to mark time for me in a way that I never thought about in my youth in Ecuador, where such drastic changes of temperature were not part of the equatorial weather patterns of the jungle. But now I love to note the returning of the swans and the melting of the ice on the lake. The wisdom of life is to understand that it is composed of seasons, someone wise once shared with me.

This season will be a good one.

Ending the Year

One full year of NorsuArt is behind me. Wow! I cannot even begin to describe how intense this year has been, not only business-wise but also personally. I am grateful for all the advice I have been given by those older and wiser, for all I have learned, which also means that I have understood just how much MORE I still need to learn!

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I took off for two weeks in the middle of the Christmas season. I know, crazy.  But my cards had been delivered to retailers and I was sorely in need of sunshine and a way to turn off my head from going over my to-do lists.

So it was, "Hello, Florida sunshine!"  I suddenly remembered how blissful it is to live in a place where you have guaranteed daylight, usually sun, and no snow. I was able to unplug and air out my thoughts, exercise my body, and relax my wits during the holiday before returning to a very cozy and snowy Christmas in Finland.

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I will still spend a few moments ruminating over the events of the last year in these remaining days of 2017. And I will also cut and paste a few pictures of dreams for the next year onto a sheet of paper, you know, so they exist somewhere and I can remember them.  I think I need to have some concrete goals related to NorsuArt cards and products, but then I will also cherish some less bullet-listed dreams of travels and experiences, gardening and farming.

I don't do new year's resolutions, but I always wish that the coming year would be better than the one that has passed.  How do you observe the change of the year? Do you have goals? Dreams?

 

 Some dreams are for you, and some are meant to fly by!

Some dreams are for you, and some are meant to fly by!

Story of a Mug

So I am a fan of warm drinks--tea, coffee, mulled wine, apple cider, hot chocolate, all tasty! And I also happen to enjoy making beautiful and useful things. Therefore, introducing this season's newcomer to NorsuArt products that combines these two interests of mine (and perhaps yours):

 THE WINTER MUG!

THE WINTER MUG!

THE PROCESS

First, mug selection.  It must sit well in your hand, have enough weight to feel good. Fingers must fit nicely through the handle, and it should be easy to lean your cheek on its warmth. I like the shapes that taper down at the bottom. I ordered these in bulk from Meder Oy, a craft and porcelain importer in downtown Helsinki.

Next, picture and text selection.  For this I printed several selections and sizes on paper and taped them to mug prototypes. I asked the peanut gallery about how the texts work, and what would work better than what I originally tried.  I was quite pleased with the English text from the start, but the Finnish version required more work and a bit more mulling it over.

Then, I gathered my courage and ordered decals of the illustrations, logo and texts. These arrived from England, and I eagerly cut them out from the large prints.  They need to be soaked in lukewarm water to get the backing paper off before being placed on the mug's surface. Then the excess water is squeezed off by wiping the decal with a towel, securing the illustration to the surface.

Next, once the decals are dry, the mug can be sent to the kiln for firing at 860 degrees! I do this at Meder as well. I regret to tell you that the first round did not work. The colors were muted or too faded and the black lines fuzzy, certainly not the quality of the pictures I had drawn.  So after some technical editing from the decal company, the new ones were perfect, which I ordered in bulk.  My favorite part of the mug came at this stage, the addition of the little reindeer on the inside.

 Cozy English text

Cozy English text

THE PRODUCT

The Winter Mug has been lovingly crafted in my home kitchen in Helsinki, which doubles as my office and triples as my porcelain factory when necessary (quadruples as my storage and mail order facility as well, heh).  It is made from German porcelain, English decals, and compiled and designed by Finnish hands.

The drawing of a reindeer under a blanket with his buddies around a campfire is about light, warmth, community, the unexpected, and adventure. What you have is a mug waiting to share your holiday and winter moments of warmth and connection.

The fact that you see it here means that I also went through a process of photo shooting, editing and making it online-presentable. That is a process that always takes more time than I think it will, as I am still learning. Learning. Learning. If this year had a key word, it was learning. I may take that word with me into 2018 as well!

Because each mug is individually made, there may be minor differences between them.  I even made a few thinking of left-handers, so holler if that's you!  Hope you enjoy the mug, but even more, enjoy the holiday season with the people who are around you now!

 

 ONE WORD in Finnish says it all!

ONE WORD in Finnish says it all!

Start-up continued

I have some excellent news to share with you!  

I received a continuation for my startup grant money for NorsuArt!  This means a few things. One, it means that greater powers than me believe in my business enough to invest some resources, time and know-how to help me.  This is of great encouragement to me.  Two, it means that I get help in marketing and sales, which is definitely a benefit.  And thirdly, it also means that I can continue to focus on drawing and developing all that is NorsuArt without having to find another job immediately!  

Consider me one grateful human being right now.  So stay tuned for how the journey continues. In the meantime, let me leave you with one of my latest illustrations for a wedding invitation I made.

 in the invitation, there was no text, but summer is coming and it is a relevant question.

in the invitation, there was no text, but summer is coming and it is a relevant question.

Love...um, snow...is in the air!

The weather can't make up its mind. One moment all is sunny and Spring looks as if it could burst in glory as the crocuses peer out of patches of browned grass.  Literally five minutes later snow is falling from a low gray sky, only to make way for another bit of tantalizing sun in the next hour, which also vanishes into a fall-like fog.

But while snow is reluctant to leave the air, love is all around!  After the Love me do! fair I have had the joy of drawing and creating wedding invitations for Kristiina and Tero! 

How does the process work? Well, with a photograph and some key questions to the couple, I make a draft of the illustration.  Once commented on by the bride and groom, I make the final version with some minor edits possible.  I design a slogan of your choosing and also a decorative element for invitations and place cards.  If you are the DIY type, perhaps this is all you need.  But if you want it all, I design the whole invitation and send them with envelopes straight to your doorstep!

The relaxed couple pictured below loves their golden retriever pup and spending quality time together.  Their picture has to do with the moment he proposed during their travels.  It also captures the warmth and comfort they feel in their relationship, and that after all they have been through it is time to tie the knot! 

With best wishes to the bride and groom and with many thanks for allowing me to create a small part of your great celebration!

 Are you looking for personable and unique wedding invitations? Use the contact button below to get in touch!

Are you looking for personable and unique wedding invitations? Use the contact button below to get in touch!

Campaign trails

In addition to Mother's Day cards and wedding invitations, I have been designing Hubby's election campaign look: posters, Facebook, website, road signs. He has a clear vision of what he wants, and how he wants to stand out from the crowd in these local elections.

Lest my job should be too closely bent over paper, pen and computer programs, I was also there when the road signs went up! In the late hours of the eve, we propped up massive posters to warm the hearts of commuters in Espoo to remind them that "Espoo is a matter of the heart" for this candidate. 

More info about him at www.facebook.com/haarlaa

Hugging his city...

 Power tools and a mobile workshop, this farmer is ready for everything! <3

Power tools and a mobile workshop, this farmer is ready for everything! <3

Home Office

There has been many a time this past week that I have sat on the sofa and taken a wee moment to be thankful that my office is so close.  I work at the kitchen table, on the rug, on the sofa, in my organic farming course....tihihii.  My home office is not only in close proximity, is is very mobile.

I have no real office hours, but that means finding self-discipline.  By this I mean the self-discipline to stop at a decent hour in the evening.  Often I work until at least 10 pm.  But I do not start at the crack of dawn, for sure! But my work day includes illustrating, communication with clients, a visit to the art supply store, research about possible retailers, and when necessary (or when I remember) making lunch. And drinking coffee, the day must have coffee.

I have updated hardware and software recently so that I can continue the task flow. Some things are essential to order online, but others require an excursion out into the neighborhood.  I recently visited an art supply store and was acutely aware of how limited time is in the face of all the wonderful mediums of art that would be fun to try out! I managed to buy only what I needed, but barely. :)

 Tools of the trade. Testing out different water soluble options for coloring my artwork.

Tools of the trade. Testing out different water soluble options for coloring my artwork.

Fair enough!

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The Love me do wedding fair came and went last weekend, preceded by two weeks of crazy working hours and followed by an adrenaline-slump-induced contented weariness.  As a first fair experience, it was a good one.  The other exhibitors were friendly, the atmosphere was light, and the visitors weren't only looking for wedding services, they were also looking for inspiration.  

I wanted a unique way to display my example wedding invitations.  So on Friday, setup day, Hubby and I chopped down some small trees from our fields.  We found birch stumps that he sanded and drilled to fit the trunks.  On rag rugs, they became a homey and woodsy display. Since it is winter, I figured little lace doilies would work as decorations on the branches, emulating snowflakes and bringing a delicate detail to the overall "feel" of the booth.

Apparently fair-goers don't purchase much at the events themselves.  So it remains to be seen in the upcoming months whether brides and grooms get excited about being drawn onto their own wedding invitations in NorsuArt style.  I hope so!

Love me do preparations

NorsuArt will be at the Love me do-fair next weekend at Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki.  It's a two-day fanfair with a fashion show and a veritable cornucopia of inspiring ideas for weddings. I went there last year after I had just gotten engaged.

It's interesting to think back a bit, to last November when I was drawing up a business plan, and in the Wedding Services category, there was a bullet for "wedding fairs."  At the time, it was an option, a far-off event that was just part of the planning and brainstorming process.

And now, quite last-minute, it is unfolding in real life! IRL! What it translates to, is a catalyst for fine-tuning my products and getting a lot of work done in a short amount of time!  It is exciting, though, to be doing what I love, getting to meet people and "becoming visible," so to speak.

I will be sharing a booth with Aarography at the fair.  This makes me doubly excited, as I am a great fan of Aaro's work.  Speaking of which, I must dash off to our planning meeting! Au revoir!

Love me do

Aarography

Winning them over

With new cards, baking hot off the presses, I approached some stores in the city to see if they would like to sell them this season.  I confess to a small bit of nerves every time I do this..."Will they want them?" and "Are these really as nice as I think?" are questions that flit across my mind as I walk into a venue.

The truth is, not everyone likes everything. And that's as it should be.  One of my previous locales didn't take any this year.  Another took more than I expected. New clients were enchanted.  Many more are yet to be reached.  I kind of relish the process of finding retailers who are fun to work with, or getting a "yes, we'll take them," after an initial "no."  

I find that there is a huge learning curve in sales and marketing for a non-business person like me. But I am going to approach my own mistakes as an integral part of the process.  And I am pleased to announce that there are 3 locations in Helsinki that are now selling my cards!  Kankurin Tupa has a year-round Christmas section that caters to tourists. Espan Enkelit is a kitschy gift shop. and Lahjatalo is also a gift shop with fun knick-knacks, located in the Forum Shopping center.  

Rain, dear! No, reindeer!

Inspiration comes from many sources, so sometimes it is hard to actually pinpoint what made me draw a certain scene.  I think etched somewhere in my earliest memories are images of childhood books with beautiful patterns, nordic snow scenes where people are clad in thick knitted sweaters and some cute children my mother once painted on ceramic and hung on the wall.

I seem to keep drawing reindeer this season.  They can't help but shove their curious noses into the scene and demand a spotlight this season. "Is it Christmassy enough?" I asked my husband as I looked at the reindeer under the blanket.  "It has a reindeer in it, of course it's Christmassy," he said with the air of a nordic Christmas expert.

I have some angels, too. I wanted to bring in one of my favorite elements of Christmas, which is good news to all mankind. They are helping me do it.

When a hobby gets serious

I perused old cards that I had given my mother as far back as the 90s.  I detected a recurring flower-garden theme in them throughout the years.  I also found some of my earliest pen-and-ink sketches for cards that I drew as a young'un in Ecuador where I grew up.  Those were in Spanish.

So finally, after taking, oh, the last six years or so to dream about it, I have finally come to a point where perhaps the elephant could go public.  Norsu (elephant) cards have always been highly personalized to the recipient, so the question is how to maintain the detail and care while being sent out to the world at large.  :)

Like much else in life, this card making enterprise is a work in progress.  So bear with me, as I figure out how to get these cute cards and the story of NorsuArt out to you!