Maybe my craziest idea so far

It all started with a vision. Imagine it: an outdoor art show with silk paintings hanging from tree branches in the very forest that inspired them.

Hmm… amazing as that sounds I wasn’t quite sure my silk paintings would be able to withstand the elements. Then I remembered, there’s a tiny cabin on the island where we live that has been empty for the past 30 years or so. It’s surrounded by pines, birches, rowan trees and junipers. It’s right next to a shore where terns screech and reeds sway. All the things I love. Plus, it’s ancient, really old, and I really like old things. It was perfect. I decided I would turn it into a gallery; a summer gallery in the magic forest that tickles my imagination and inspires me to paint. 

Well, when does anything ever go as planned? It was originally a completely realistic project, and I had plenty of time to turn the little shack into a gallery whenever we visited the island during the spring. But then I came down with Covid, which turned into post-Covid, and was simply unable to do anything, really, for weeks on end. Come midsummer, I was finally getting my strength back, and I thought I could quickly transform the abandoned house then. That in itself was of course ridiculous because before any transforming could be done the place needed to be emptied. But alas, we had a heat wave and it was too hot to do anything much. Besides I was busy with other work, I was on a deadline. So, nothing happened then either.

By the time July came around, I started wondering if realizing this dream was even possible anymore or if it would just have to wait until next year. I was quite disappointed by the thought and I wavered and I wondered. Then I decided, no, I was going to make this happen if it was the last thing I did. I can and I will!

Off I went to my studio in Helsinki to pick out some paintings to hang in the gallery. Note, at this point no renovating had been done yet. I came back a couple of days later and sent out invitations to the opening. It was high time because people obviously need several days’ notice. That gave me exactly nine days to turn the place into the much dreamed of gallery. 

At this point I have to tell you, I have done some painting and wall papering in my time, but in no way am I a professional, nor do I really like it that much. Also, my husband who is good at all things renovation and very supportive of all my endeavors, no matter how headless, was not able to help me very much. I was on my own. 

Every day I trekked through the forest to the tiny house, lugging paint and other supplies one way and giant bags of old stuff and trash the other. And as is typical for old houses, every time I did something in the house, I was met with unexpected, ugly surprises that needed to be dealt with before I could continue.

There were mouse droppings everywhere, more than I had ever seen in my life. And there was bigger poop in a hole in the wall that had to be scooped out. I can only guess that it had come from a marten. I was trying to come to terms with the fact that my gallery was also a wilderness toilet. 

Every once in a while, I would traipse to the hardware store in town, my husband in tow, asking for help to solve whatever my latest challenge was in the fastest and cheapest way possible. I mean I was working against the clock. At one point, when a very helpful salesperson was suggesting one intricate solution after the other, solutions that in normal circumstances would have worked perfectly fine, my husband exclaimed, “It doesn’t have to look good, it just has to work!” The poor man, the salesperson that is, something seemed to die a little inside him as I tried to stifle a laugh. 

I worked every day all day. My body ached all over and I even had to take Ibuprofen a couple of times in the evening in order to be able to sleep. I constantly second guessed myself, thinking I must be mad, but I just kept telling myself keep going, keep going, keep going. At least I was saving the house from complete decay. 

Then all of a sudden it was the day of the opening. Everything wasn’t done, but the most important things were. The walls were painted, the paths cleared. Signs had been put up and the paintings were hung (my husband actually had to help me with this last part because by then I was a nervous wreck). There were tags on the wall beneath the paintings and brochures on the table. Refreshments had been bought and set out on the table on the lawn outside the gallery. It wasn’t even raining (although they had originally forecasted 21mm of rain for that day…). We were ready for guests. 

So, we waited. At first no one came. We took some pictures and poured ourselves some bubbly. Still no one. I was getting worried.

Then suddenly they started coming. Over 20 guests in total walked through the forest to see my little gallery. We talked, we laughed, and we had a great time. They admired my paintings and I even sold a couple! 

And, as it turns out, a gallery in the middle of the forest in the Finnish archipelago isn’t such a crazy idea after all!

My summer gallery is open until August 14. If you’re in the neighborhood, do drop by. Contact me for exact coordinates or visit my Instagram account @ingrids_silk_painting for pictures and more information.

Now I’m happy and tired and more than ready to take a few much-needed days off. Over and out!

Does control kill creativity?

One of the things I do at The Art Place Finland is host silk painting workshops. Having never had formal training in silk painting, I’ve come up with my own techniques over the years that I’ve later understood aren’t generally done on silk. I’ve simply not had the sense to understand what you can and cannot do… 

When painting on silk, the colors spread more or less uncontrollably along the thin threads and silk painters often use different types of resist to control the process. I, on the other hand, don’t use any type of resist at all. 

I never planned to do things differently. Like most things in life, it just happened. After I received my PhD a few years ago (seven actually), I took up silk painting again after a break of several years and painted with my kids in the summer at our getaway in the Finnish archipelago. After all, I didn’t have a thesis to work on anymore, so what on Earth was I going to do with all that free time?!

We were out on the island and I ran out of gutta, the resist I liked to use at the time. I was practically in the middle of nowhere with an itch to paint but with no way of getting more gutta any time soon. So, I decided to paint without gutta, and fell completely in love with the process of allowing the paints to move around on the fabric any which way they pleased and working with that. 

Little did I know that it was the start of something new for me and a method that a good friend of mine later named ‘the no-resist technique’.

However, I find that there is a lot more behind this technique than just a lack of resist. It’s a wonderful metaphor for collaboration and dialogue – for life. 

Just like in life, if I didn’t accept what is happening in my paintings as I paint – because it truly does live a life of its own – take it from there and work with what I have, I would never complete a piece. Correspondingly, in true dialogue with others, we have to listen and accept what the other person is saying and build the conversation from there. If we don’t, it isn’t actually a dialogue. We talk at each other instead of with each other and fail to find a mutual understanding. (This is a method also used in improvisation theater, by the way. You have to think ‘yes, and…’ instead of ‘no, but…’ in order to be able to build on what the other actors are doing and saying.)

I teach the no resist technique at The Art Place Finland. It’s fun, but it also fosters an attitude and a state of mind that you can take with you to your work or everyday life. 

In June, I had a lovely group of ladies over for a workshop. One of them was an academic and a thinker like me, and after the workshop, when she posted pictures on Facebook, she asked the following question: “Can you create without taking risks?” Or, in other words, can you create or be creative without letting go? 

I’ve been thinking about that and, at least when I paint, I‘ve noticed that the paintings turn out better when I do indeed let go and don’t try to control the process. I allow my brushstrokes to move in a way that feels natural, and instead of trying to create a certain look or end result, I pick up on and emphasize happy accidents and surprising details that evolve on the canvas. 

Painting commission can therefore be tricky. I accept commissions and enjoy doing so. Being involved in realizing someone’s vision or dream is magic it itself. However, it involves more or less controlling the process and creating a piece of art that corresponds to what has been agreed upon. It means you can’t lose yourself quite as much and let the process take you wherever it wants to go.

No, I don’t think control kills all creativity, but I definitely think it hampers it. If we are too controlled we don’t come up with all those seemingly wacky ideas that lead to brilliant innovations. Something to consider in a world where we increasingly try to control our surroundings?