perjantai 3. elokuuta 2012

Artist of the Month (July): Tove Jansson.

It's seemingly impossible to find a person in Finland who does not like the Moomins.
No matter if you like the Moomin story books, or the comics or the animation series there is something for everyone in the Moomin publication. I'm not a complete greenhorn when it comes to the Moomins. I have read the picture books and the comic strips. I once visited the Moomin museum and still watch the animated series. Not to mention I collect Moomin mugs and have a set of Moomin linen (omg the Moomin linen sets are so a-may-zaah! There are so many you can choose from). Yet there is still so much to learn from the Moomins (like read the story books).

Dancing Moominvalley.

July's artist is one of Finland's national treasures, Tove Jansson. Artist, illustrator, writer, doctor of philosophy and creator of Moomin, Tove Jansson was born into an artist family in Helsinki on August 9th 1914. Jansson's mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson was an illustrator and her father Victor Jansson was a sculptor, her two brothers became artists later on. Tove's family was part of a minority group of Swedish speaking Finns, which is why she is most often refered to as 'Swedish-Finnish' however her nationality was always Finnish. 
According to my research, Jansson drew her first Moomin sketch on the wall of their outhouse, but this proto-Moomin was thin and ugly and had devilish kind of tail (not the puffy one we're used to). Under the proto-Moomin she wrote 'Kant' as revenge on one of her brothers (she had lost a philosophical quarrel to him). If my memory serves me correctly, evidence of that outhouse Moomin exists, I just couldn't find any images.
It wasn't until the late 1930's when the proto-Moomin appeared again as part of Jansson's signature on her political cartoons.

In 1930 Jansson went to study at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm. After graduating in 1933 she moved back to Helsinki to study at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts. Jansson kept herself very busy studying and after completing her four years of studying in Helsinki, she moved to Paris to study at L'École d'Adrien Holy and L'École des Beaux-Arts. Personally I am amazed by how hard she studied for almost a decade. Even during her education period, she managed to display artworks in exhibition. I can only imagine how much time and effort she put into her education and promoting her art. It seems that Jansson was a very dedicated, blossoming artist from very early on.

Although, Jansson had began her 'career' even before she went to art school. In 1929 she worked as a cartoonist for the Swedish language magazine Garm and this relationship with Garm lasted for over two decades. Her cartoons were mostly political and she achieved a brief international fame with her drawing of Adolf Hitler. She worked with other smaller productions too, drawing them a cartoon or an illustration every now and then.

Moomin and the Comet.
Jansson's first Moomin book The Moomins and the Great Flood was written in 1945. This new Moomin, Muumipeikko (Moomintroll. I refuse to call them by their translated names), had now gained weight and reached his round bluish-white appearance we are familiar with. The Moomins origin story is rather funny xD When Tove was living with her Swedish relatives in Stockholm, her uncle tried to stop her from pilfering food by saying that a 'Moomintroll' lived in the kitchen closet. It would breath cold air on people's necks if they tried to pilfer food. Needless to say, Jansson was very inspired by her uncle.
Muumipeikko (Moomintroll) is the imaginative, benevolent main character who is always off to look for an adventure. Muumipeikko and Muumimamma (Moominmamma) are the primar characters of the Great Flood book, but there would be several principal characters in the later stories. It would take two more Moomin books to make Jansson internationally famous. Comet in Moominland 1946 and Finn Family Moomintroll (or The Magician's Hat) 1948 were the cornerstones of Jansson's success. 

The first Moomin books were adventurous, filled with danger, humour and supernatural events, spiced up with morality of the importance of family and love. The Exploits of Moominpappa 1950 is Muumipappa's personal story of his youth. Moominsummer Madness 1955 is about Moomins exploring an empty theatre and Muumipeikko and Niiskuneiti (Snorkmaiden) getting lost. Along with Moominland Midwinter 1957 came a change in style. These new Moomin stories were more realistic and psychological. Realistic in Moomin terms, not realistic realistic. The Midwinter story tells about Muumipeikko waking up in the middle of winter (Moomins sleep from November to April) and has to to cope in the new, strange world. Jansson's other books, Tales from Moominvalley 1962 (short stories), Moominpappa at Sea 1965 and Moominvalley in November 1970 deal with the same themes, isolation, fear of loss and fear in general.
Illustration from the Swedish translation of the Hobbit
After Moominvalley in November Jansson began to write for adults. The Summer Book 1972 is distinctly for adults though the topic is rather simple. It's about a young girl and her grandmother spending a summer on an island. In addition to her writings she illustrated Swedish translations of The Hobbit, The Hunting on the Snark (Lewis Carroll) and Alice in Wonderland. And it probably goes without saying that Jansson illustrated her Moomin books herself.

By 1952, the Comet in Moominland and Finn Family Moomintroll had been translated into English. Jansson was becoming rather famous which led a British publisher to ask if Jansson would like to draw comic strips about the Moomins. Evidently Jansson had already drawn a long Moomin comic loosely based on the Comet story for a Swedish newspaper. She accepted the offer and in 1954 started drawing the comic strip 'Moomintroll' for the Evening News. With her brother Lars Jansson, Tove drew and wrote (okay this info could be way off! One of my sources says that she spend 21 years drawing Moomin comics, whilst my other source says that she drew 21 long Moomin stories!) 21 Moomin comics. According to my research, Jansson wasn't happy at all drawing the comics. Drawing Moomin comics seemed fun and inspiring at first, but apparently Jansson grew tired very quickly. Working on the strip didn't leave her enough time to write or paint. Tight deadlines and lack of inspiration led Tove's brother to take over the strip which he continued until 1975.  The Moomintroll comic appeared in over 40 countries between 1954 to 1975. The Moomintroll comics are now available: The Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip Vol 1-5.

Comic strip from 'The complete Tove Jansson comic strip'. Volume 1.

Besides the Moomin novels, novels and Moomin comics, she wrote and illustrated four original picture books: The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My 1952 (I have this book! It's so awesome, it's like a peek-a-boo game, but it's a book), Who will Comfort Toffle 1960 (another  awesome book and a beautiful story. Note that 'Horray!' the 2012 celebratory Moomin mug features a scene from this book), The Dangerous Journey 1977 and An Unwanted Guest 1980. And not forgetting her semi-autobiographical book the Sculptor's Daughter  written in 1968.

Jansson's books are translated to over 30 languages, including several Theatre, Opera, Film and Tv adaptations. Jansson continued painting and writing for the rest of her life, although she rarely drew or painted the Moomins after the 1970's. She had a studio in Helsinki, but lived much of her life on a small island called Klovhary (near the town of Porvoo) with her female partner, the graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä. Jansson died in Helsinki on the 27th of June in 2001 at the age 86.

Personally I really love Jansson's Moomin paintings. They are very colourful and practically radiate the positive and charming aspects of the Moomin characters and stories. 
Her painting style is really unique, from the colour choices to the look of the characters and items we can see how much her personal likings and imagination influenced her. When I was little I especially feel in love with the flowers I saw in the Moomin animated series. In the image above, you can see what I mean, those flowers are so pretty and unique! Especially the flowers in episode "Hurry Up Snufkin" (my favourite episodes are The Golden Fish, The Giant Pumpkin and The Vampire) seemed so special to a little girl (still do). I am very greatful that the animation series 'Tanoshii Mūmin Ikka' matches to Jansson's paintings perfectly. I watched a document about Jansson on christmas eve 2011, and in the document she said that she really didn't want the Moomins to be animated. However the Japanese were very persuasive and evetually she allowed them to make a pilot. As it turned out, Jansson liked what she saw very much and so 'Tanoshii Mūmin Ikka' was born. If you aren't too familiar with Jansson's paintings, the animation series is a great way to study her style. Even though Tv Tokyo made it happen, the look of the series is rather Jansson like. Well, all those who like Japanese art and stuff are able to see that the series is influenced by Japanese painting style, but personally I think the style of the series is more about honouring Jansson's style than trying to Japanise it. In Jansson's paintings we can clearly see the magical and secure world the Moomins live in. It's a place of happiness and innocence which Jansson's painting style convey's beautifully. Looking at this painting makes me think of my own happy childhood in Finland.
one of the most precious aspects of the Moomins is their plausibility. And personally I think every child should have the chance to live the life of a Moomin for a while. When I was a child, I did live like a Moomin briefly. I went out into my family's woods and picked flowers without a care in the world. I ate pancakes outside with my family and went rowing with my dad hoping that we'd find a desert island where I could find amethysts. In case you were wondering, Moominvalley is situated in the forests of Finland ;)

Alice in Wonderland

As a colour fanatic I prefered Jansson's colourful paintings over her ink drawings, until recently. In college I discovered just how special and imaginative Jansson's ink drawings and illustrations really are. Whilst her paintings are really tender, her drawings are wild. Personally I think Jansson was very gifted with black ink even before she started illustrating the Moomins. We can see how much attention she is paying to her drawing style. She literally creates a different shape and/or pattern for every element. What kind of pattern would indicate water? And how the trees look like? It's not hard to see that experiment and imagination fueled her to create such beautiful drawings. Not to mention she was very skillful with the medium. Trying-out techniques and styles was something Jansson was clearly very good at. Perhaps trying-out is not the right word. I mean that Jansson's previous drawings must have helped her develop her style until she established the style we now know her from. 'Moomin' (image below) is a great example of Jansson's exquisite drawing style and ability to grasp a feeling. She has perfectly captured the atmosphere of a cold winter night, when everyone else in the Moominhouse is hibernating, except for Muumipeikko. It's extra dark in winter and Scandinavians know how scary winter can be. To be alone in a big house, just snow and forest as far as the eye can see (then again, if the night sky is clear, then it's rather luminous outside). This drawing is a great example of how Jansson worked with black and white. She dared to leave huge areas white and to top that she was not afraid to draw some areas pitch black. It seems rather odd that Jansson choose to draw Muumipeikko almost black. I get it that it's the play of light and shadow in this drawing, it's just interesting to see the bluish-white Muumipeikko in different colour. Even in her comics, the Moomins are white, symboling their innocence I suppose, so it's very interesting to see a black Muumipeikko. The diversity of black and white in her drawings and illustrations is incredibly refreshing and daring. There aren't many artists out there who would be bold in enough to leave so many areas white. The Moomin drawings give us an idea of what great understanding Jansson had of shape and shaping things. 

In Finland the Moomins are a commodity. Arabia (Finnish interior design and ceramics brand) has been manufactoring Moomin dish ware products since the late 1950's. The very first moomin dish set featured Niiskuneiti (Snorkmaiden) and Muumipeikko (Moomintroll). But the real 'Moomin boom' had to wait until 1990 when everyone suddenly wanted to get their hands on Moomin dish sets and limited edition products. And lets just say that the limited edition products have become quite the collector's items. I, along regular buyers and collectors, collect Moomin dish sets. Well to be more specific, I collect Moomin mugs. So far I have 6, two of them are standing designs. The other 4 are limited edition mugs. I love all of my Moomin mugs very much =^.^= I'm not one of those who collect stuff and put them in the cupboard and keep them there until their value has tripled. I use my mugs on a daily basis, they make great tea cups <3 
However this year I'm making an exception. Since Helsinki is the design capital of 2012, Arabia launched a special celebratory Moomin mug featuring a scene from Jansson's book 'Who will comfort Toffle?'. And this is a mug I wanna keep in my cupboard and wait until its price has tripled. Naturally, I got two ;D One for myself to use everyday and one to put in the cupboard. It costs little under 25€ so maybe after 5-10 years my extra mug could earn me 300€ ;D Below a photo of my mugs and their info. Now off to buy 'Moominpappa' mug!

I'm so happy that there is so much information about Jansson on the internet. And if you are interested to learn more about Tove Jansson and see more pictures, go to It's a really good website =)

As some of you may now, there is a museum for the Moomins in Tampere. It features all kinds of Moomin stuff =) I have been to that museum once and it's about time I go again. There is also a 'theme park' for the Moomins' in Naantali called Moomin World (Muumimaa), I have never been there, but it looks cute =^.^=

I hope you enjoyed my review and so sorry I posted it late. Like I explained in my RANT RANT post, I was too busy at work so I couldn't complete this on time. Still I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it =D

See you very soon!


5 kommenttia:

  1. Hi! Awesome blog post Tove has been guite the man and a heck of an artist i might say. I have gotten moomin mug's for a present for ages and you are right they are keepers! Althou there has to been one mug you can sip coffee or tea time to time :)

    Earlier i found this nice shop who has moomin stuff for sale and you can even send a picture off your mug and they tell it's worth :)

    You might wanna check out what they already have and ask about you'r collection :)

    1. Thank you =) I'm defo in love with Tove's work. Her work really is a contribution to Western (and Scandinavian) literature and art.

      Thanks for the link! OMG they even have that summer 2009 'On the Beach' mug that I have been crawing for! Cheers! =)

  2. Great blog post! I'm a Moomin collector and blogger and strangely enough I was invited to the Oy Moomin Characters office on the day that you posted this, August 3rd. It's pretty much a museum there (check it out here and they had the outhouse door there, although it was inside a crate. I can't find any images of it but perhaps it will be at the Tove Jansson exhibition at the Ateneum museum in Helsinki next year to celebrate her centenary? I am going to contact Moomin and beg them! Check out my blog :)

    1. That's amazing, good for you that your blog and interest in the Moomin is taking off ^_^
      And Oh My God Adele your blog is a-may-zaah! =D Very original and looks gorgeous!
      Yes it is possible that Ateneum shows the outhouse door at their Tove Jansson exhibition. After all it started Moomin =)
      I just came across Moomin mugs in Soho. They are sold in a comic book store.

  3. Hi!
    Thank you for this great post! I was wandering if you know the technique she used in her color illustratios. Is it guache, acrylic or...?
    Thank you!