Friday, June 19, 2009

On 'mood wolves' and drawing

Have you ever tried drawing with your eyes closed? Finnish children's book writer and illustrator Riikka Jäntti makes it a regular exercise.

She visited me a few years ago, arriving in Tucson after taking the train from NYC to Flagstaff, via Chicago. Her sketchbook was filled with exquisite, funny, incisive pen-and-ink drawings of America as seen from the window of a train: diners and fast food joints, tenements, laundromats and corn fields. She told me that the other young people on the train were glued to their laptops and phones while she was glued to the window, soaking it all in.

I got a little nervous as her drawings began to show the southwest. What would it reveal of her thoughts? Well, Flagstaff was dead-on: quaint and funky with a bit of snow on the ground. Then Riikka turned the page and the drawing of the Grand Canyon took my breath away. And another page. Another drawing from the same vantage point, but this one bounced and quivered and provided its own soundtrack. "I did this one," she said, "with my eyes closed."

She pointed out to us the 'moodwolves' that appear on her sketches a la Oliphant's penguin, offering commentary on the scene, or on the quality of her dinner that day. In another scene at the Metropolitan Museum the moodwolf grumpily complains about the dreadful frame on Van Gogh's Starry Night. I didn't realize it at the time, but Riikka draws all of the moodwolves with her eyes closed.

Riikka's new book, Mielialasusi (Helsinki: WS Bookwell OY, 2009), collects the moodwolves that she and her sisters Eeva and Liisa have drawn over the years. The book informs us that "the wolf must be drawn eyes closed, so that it's easier to focus on the current mood."

The book is organized by moods, which are really more like states of being: "Every-day wolves" (just woke up, crowded in a tram), "Pub-wolves" (too many whiskeys, nostalgia), "What I'd like to do," "What I could do" (I love the "I could read more books!"), What I'm going to do (finish all the sewing), and so on.

She thoughtfully and hilariously subtitled it for me with post-it notes. The page spread shown above is "Egg-Burp" "Overtired, a little hysterical," "Shapeless ankle," and "This wolf hasn't been listening and tries to pretend that he knows what others are talking about." Heh. I've NEVER done that!

"I could read more books"
"I could sing"
"I could throw a party"

At the back of the book she and her sisters thoughtfully left pages for their readers to start drawing their own wolves, inviting them to "Have a Wolf-moment every day. It only takes two minutes."

I'm off to have a Wolf-moment myself.

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