Friday, 4 December 2009

A long story short: We should talk

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the maker of things vs. artist thing. A couple of nights ago, when I couldn't sleep, I read through Amelia's wonderful blog 101 Bird Tales, and it was one of the best things I've done in a long time. Sometimes I think too much, often I talk too little. I do feel very alone, making things. My mother makes things, in a way she gave me this whole world of moving your fingers in a certain way in order to get the result you want. But I suppose I'm not yet old enough to get over the fact that she's my mother, or maybe we just don't see each other often enough, so it's a bit tricky talking with her about the way I see myself and my work. My Finnish friends are mostly writers, they inspire that side of me, but it's a rare treat to get to talk about bookbinding, and all of this part of my life, with people who make things with passion.

I'm very thankful to this blog thing, I've made some true friends through my blog, had some amazing conversations concerning combining art and life, and well, just life, via email. There's a wonderful network of creative people here, I should try and get more involved. Finland is a very small country, the internet is huge. I know you can't stop by and have a cup of coffee (while I have my apple juice), but other than that, you're absolutely great.

I'm constantly redefining myself and my work. I don't know if it's necessary, really, but people ask me all the time what it is that I do, and usually I don't know what to say. I say I'm a (master) bookbinder, that I'm an artisan, that I make pretty darn amazing books, but I don't think I've ever said I was an artist. I find it easy to say I make objects that can be used for X, but it's very complicated to say "I'm an artist, I make art, like books, or little boxes with things glued to them", even though it's so much closer to the truth than the woefully vague term "bookbinder". No one seems to know what a bookbinder makes anyway. But by defining myself as an artist, I give others the permission to see, and evaluate, myself as one. And no one wants to be that wannabe-artist you just don't get :) Also, artists seem to have very little money in general, if I'm a maker of things, I may still have hope.

This doesn't really lead anywhere, at least not tonight, but I'm always interested in reading the thoughts of other creative people, so I thought I'd share this with you now that I've been rambling here lately anyway. Does redefining yourself ever lead to anything? Well, yes, but it's transient even at its best. Worth doing nonetheless.

Why the picture? (Greenwhich, London) 
A year ago I made a trip to London, on my own. It was eye-opening to say the least. I found something really important there, and I think it was myself. Those eight days there changed a lot. And I spent an entire day with Karen, it was such a great fun, I enjoyed it thoroughly. We should do it again. Karen, and actually, everyone non-creepy, I'm planning to spend a couple of days in London around the new year (nothing booked or even properly planned yet!!), will you come and talk with me about art and stuff? I'm taking a step closer to most of my readers, so maybe we could have that coffee/juice? (Okay, I realize only a handful of you live anywhere near London, but it's still closer to most of you than Turku is. And I'd be thrilled to meet just one person. I'm not desperate ;) I just like meeting nice people. You must be nice, you're here, aren't you?) And if you can't make it to London when I'm there, we can still talk. Or write, my email is on my profile, and I do reply, sometimes it just takes a while, sometimes I reply the minute I see that little envelope going up and down on my screen.

Anyway, it was Amelia (thankyou!!), who inspired me to write down these things that have been going round and round in my head. Her blog made me remember that I'm definitely not alone. It's always refreshing to find blogs with that real-person feeling. If you have some free time, and even if you don't, go read a bit, it's worth it. Sometimes you find just the right thing at the right time.


  1. i've really been enjoying your recent posts, and would love to meet you in london. but it's just not in the cards... i do hope you have some takers and you write about it for the rest of us!

  2. Oh, I'm a talker. Chat away. I'm nowhere near London, but will raise a sunny Aussie hello. Hello.

  3. You said in the last are not alone! And you are an artist making books no less important than those who write them, and your boxes are full of the essence that we are not able to keep.
    I am quite far from London, I was in Turku in summer...but I would love to write...if you want, can see my email in my profil.
    You are not alone.

  4. i am always up for a bit of a chat. i'm slowly finding that making things by myself at home is quite lonely too. and have had to force myself on a few not-so-close friends just so i can get some socialization happening. to keep me sane. to keep me connected with things beyond my art/craft realm.

    people will always have their own ideas and assumptions behind the meaning to a label. you cannot prevent that. there is NO one word or term or title or name that everyone will agree on its definition. so, please, define yourself in whatever way pleases you. artist does not have one absolute definition. you make it what you want it to be. it is an abstract concept and as such up to interpretation. isn't that the whole thing about art? that it's abstract? that it's open to interpretation? well... you have an interpretation. go use it. don't be afraid to be what you want to be or think what you want to think or call yourself what you want to call yourself.

    and if no one knows what a bookbinder does. tell them sister! tell them. i studied social welfare and no one knew what a social worker was or what a social worker did and yet a social worker is not exactly an obscure job title. quite frankly, i don't even think it's that important to know what to call yourself and your work. sometimes i say i'm an artist, or designer, or seamstress (not that i'm really that), or whatever. the name goes with my mood. i like to keep things interesting and keep people guessing. sometimes knowing everything is boring.

    i hope your writing on this blog and connecting with fellow artists/makers-of-things will help you discover some helpful truths.

  5. I suppose the wisest thing is to reply to your comments here, even though I usually try to avoid leaving comments on my blog myself. It's kind of creepy, I don't know why :)

    painted fish studio - thank you, thank you, thank you. I've been wondering if my recent post are of any interest or even worth the read. My intention is to keep on rambling for a while, and see where all this thinking leads to.

    katie - I had to go check and I'm actually going further away from all of my Australian readers. Well, I'll do my best to make it to Australia one day too. But I suppose I should make a living first... Your sunny hello was much needed this morning, it's gray and loud here. No sun today, and the workers have clearly found their loud tools again. I'm sitting here with my earplugs on, contemplating between breakfast and bed.

    ibb - I really do owe you an email :) Oh, and of the matchboxes posted, one of them is the one I made for you, will send it to you after Christmas!

    shirley - You're absolutely right. Sometimes it's just that knowing what the truth is, doesn't make it any easier :)
    Right now I'm redefining myself to myself, not just because I want to say something that feels true (to me) to the strangers who ask what I am, what is it that I do. I don't think I need to fit in or change or whatever you may call it, this is more about evaluating my options :) I think my problem with the word "artist" is real only in the Finnish language, since after writing this post I realized I've called myself an artist in English numerous times, but it is 98% sure I've never done it in Finnish. The Finnish word "taiteilija" has some negative connotations, at least to me it has. It sounds more like "a pompous craftster" than "a serious person making meaningful things". It's in the word itself, not in the way it's used here, I think. Also, I don't think what I make would be considered art in Finland as easily as it would somewhere else. Maybe we're a little behind on things.

    Re: telling people what a bookbinder does: I do tell people, but I find it truly frustrating at times. Depends on who's asking. If they're truly interested, I have no problem at all, I'm very good at talking about my work. In a way it's my obligation to inform people of this amazing thing called bookbinding, but it grows old when you have to explain that not all books are made by hand, there are machines that make books, the handbound ones are extra special super books (and naturally more pricey than the ones that will fall apart at touch). And no, I don't just make the covers. Ah, sometimes when people ask how books are made, I just reply "with skill", and flash them a nice big smile. Maybe it's arrogant, but some people expect I can thoroughly describe the process of making a book in a sentence or two (and include the fact it takes skill and vision to really make it work), and it kind of makes me sick to my stomach. Maybe I'm just sad because no one seems to know anything anymore. Sometimes I'm a bit serious (often just giggly and fun, though). So much information, so little knowledge.

    It's pretty irrelevant what I call myself, but I believe it's important to think of all these questions. You learn something new, you grow, you see something that's always been in the clear view for the first time. Sometimes you need to go round and round with the irrelevant to get to the relevant.

    I hope this feverish thinking makes some sense.

  6. behind the tarp, dear friend, they painted the town white.

  7. oh so lovely kaija. i love reading you reaching out like that, it's so refreshing. the word artist is so loaded isn't it! i always wanted to be called 'an artist'. now i say i'm an artist and designer. i think of my original works on wood and my books as my artist side and my prints and everything else as my designer side. i always felt really embarrassed to call myself an artist, like i was bigging myself up or something. like it was up to someone else to call me an artist, not me. it really is such a loaded word! maybe i make it that way. there is definitely some snobbery about whether you are an artist or a designer too, like being an artist is the pinnacle.

    anyway. you are an artist. if you want to be specific when people ask - a book artist. what you do is fascinating, beautiful and an actual skill! there's not much skill around these days! imagine me trying to descibe what i, i make these little books, out of wood, and they open up in a concertina, and each piece is like a page, with an illustration on it...huh?! sometimes i feel i sound like such a loser!

    so glad i dropped by today! x

  8. Francesca, good to have you here again :)

    I think 'designer' is a good thing to pair with 'artist'. To me it feels more earthy, more like a proper (ha!) job, since it includes the designing part of what you do in a more direct way. Maybe people see artists as people who just make something visionary out of nothing... And for me the most important part of what I do, is what happens before I begin physically working on a project. (But I'm not a designer, ugh, I wish I was...)

    This may just be me, but what you do sounds exactly like something an artist would do. You can't really explain art! Maybe that's why I'm kind of worried about my books, because they can be explained (fancy books, made by hand, totally awesome). I fear people think I'm silly if I consider myself an artist, when it is, after all, books that I make. And I'm not very fond of the term book artist, in relation to what I do, it's silly really why I think this way! Book artists make artist books. Eh, I don't know... I just make books you can use to create your own art... Of course I'm a book artist, but there's still something wrong with that term too. This is naturally a language question too, for me, even though I speak English, I still think in Finnish (even though I actually don't anymore, when I'm talking or writing English, it's strictly English). I have a Finnish brain, that's the best way to put it :) And I don't think Finnish brains really get much art stuff. (Sorry, my Finnish readers! Feel free to chime in. How do you feel about the definition taiteilija?)

  9. hi kaija,

    i only stumbled over your blog a few days ago and
    i love what you make and those sweet little boxes they're so unique!
    and this post is so honest -i'm going straight over to reading that blog! and francesca is so right!

    i do live in london and am totally up for talking and stuff. i'm a graphic design/illustration student and really understand how you feel about the 'artist' thing.
    i can't call myself that either. if i meet someone new i just tell them i'm a student...

    so, if you like to, get in touch. btw have you been to faulkners last time you were here?

    greetings to far away finland! dina

  10. Hi Dina, thanks for stopping by and leaving this lovely comment :)

    I think being a student is the best thing in the world. You're always studying something, you're never ready. So I suppose I should just stick with that definition, and if someone asks what I study, I can just shrug and say "Life?".

    I believe Falkiners is now Shepherds (there's probably a story behind this, but I don't know it), and yes, I've been there and it was pretty close to heaven. There's a Finnish woman working there, so when I brought up I'm from Finland I didn't even have to explain in English which papers I wanted. It's a small world. (And just today when I was looking at some maps I realized how funny it is to complain about Finland being such a small country - the UK would probably fit here three times. But there are way more people in London alone, than in Finland.)

    At the moment it looks like I'm going to be there Jan 10th-15th, but nothing has been booked yet. It would be great to meet you there :)

  11. Of course you are an artist. There is no doubt. You could also add maker of things, poet, and bookbinder too, then they would know what kind of artist you are:)

    Kaija is 100% artist, maybe even 110%.

  12. Shannah is 110% amazing :) (and right, too)

    Thank you.

  13. I think that
    1) you are an artist - trust it,


    2) you could be one of the few poets of books, if you like.

  14. Hi Kaija

    i like your ponderings. I came across this quote by Rudolf Koch (calligrapher, typographer)and it seemed to me he made it OK to be an artist (bookbinder) without being "an artist".

    "We are type designers, punch cutters, wood cutters, type founders, compositors, printers and bookbinders from conviction and with passion, not because we are insufficiently talented for other higher things, but because for us the higher things stand in closest kinship to those ends"

    I think he is giving permission for all of us who don't paint to consider ourselves as artists too!

    Go well

    Maleny, QLD, Australia - hot and sunny

  15. Fiona,

    thank you for the lovely quote, and for coming here. Koch couldn't have said it better. To me bookbinding and the other little things I make ARE the highest passion. I do believe passion is what matters the most, when it comes to defining whether or not someone is an artist, not what comes out of the passion.

    (cold, cold, cold! sunny, but terribly cold.)

  16. What a lovely post, Kaija. I haven't checked in on my bloglines for a while, I was surprised to see you've been posting so much lately. You went through a bit of a 'dry' patch. I find it hard to open up much on my blog... it's always more of a picture and one-liner kind of place. But I've been wanting to change that. You're inspiring me to give a bit more.

    By the way, your 'little boxes' are a bit more than that... they are definitely pieces of art. So delicate and thoughtful.

    Take care,

  17. It's good to have you here again, Sherrin. My dry patch wasn't an easy one and I'm still feeling rather unstable. It was good thing to work really hard for over a month, but now it's time to find some balance. Opening up a little more, and working on new things regularly. The feedback I've gotten this past month is very important to me. I feel much more energetic, when it comes to creativity, now. Thank you, Sherrin and everyone else reading this.


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