Finland Sketchbook Revisited

I am currently in the process of updating my entire website filled with my sketches and blog posts. As I looked through the sketches that I prepare to upload, I thought that it would be a great opportunity for me to write a series of new posts that look back on some of my older drawings. I have been sketching since 2013 when I was a little high schooler in love with contemporary art but not entirely sure if I wanted to study architecture. Little did I know, 4 years later, I would publish an 180-page book filled with sketches and writing about my travels near and around Helsinki. I still cannot believe the opportunities given to me and I will forever be grateful to my publisher, Mika Siimes and Nina Tarvainen for believing in me.

This is why I would like to begin this series of blogs with a look back on Helsinki, a time when I was far away from home. I student architecture at the University of Waterloo, where students are required to go on internships every other term. The winter of 2016 was my first internship through the school and I applied to around a hundred architecture firms in cities I knew nothing about. I was a young and naive second-year student, thirsty for an adventure. Next thing I know, I was offered an opportunity to work at ALA in Helsinki. ALA is a young but incredible architecture firm filled with exciting projects that push our understanding of architecture. Next thing I know, I was flying to Finland in the middle of a harsh winter.


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I found a place to stay through a Facebook page and secured a small room near the city centre in Punavuori. I was extremely fortunate that my housemate, Tuomas, was an extremely nice law student who taught me a lot about the city and brought me to have the best Finnish meatballs in Helsinki near the end of my internship.

As an urban sketcher and architecture student, I was ecstatic to live in a city famous for its design culture and began sketching Helsinki almost every day. Prior to my internship, I 'trained' myself to sketch in the cold and drew on the streets of Toronto during Christmas time in -10C. Contrary to my habits from sketching in the tropical city of Hong Kong, I learned to sit in the sun and sit near building entrances, hoping for a few seconds of warmth every couple minutes.

As I was about to finish my first sketchbook, I thought that it would be nice if I could do something with the drawings. I began emailing publishers to ask if they might be interested in publishing a book with my sketches. Weeks went by without success, but a woman from one of the larger publishers referred me to a smaller publisher called Nemo. After emailing Nemo, they replied to my email within the next day or two and that is how I met Mika and Nina. We met and over some snacks, we discussed many possibilities for the book and looked over some of their other publications. A couple weeks later, I was signed to Nemo Publishing, working on a book about a city I knew little about at the time.

Over the next two to three months, I began researching more about Finland's history from the Swedish era to the Russian era. The sun sets really early in the winter in Helsinki so I would sketch before I went to work then scan the drawings and write the book after work in a cafe. On the weekends, I would travel away from the city centre, to other parts of Helsinki or entirely different cities like Porvoo and Turku. There are so many stories to tell about my time in these other cities as well and I will write about it another time.

Although I was working hard on my book, I couldn't help but feel a little lonely and I wanted to meet some people. There aren't a lot of people on the streets in the winter so I decided to try to join some events hosted by the local universities. I attended several events and made a few friends that I would hang out with occasionally. Education in Finland is free for all European citizens so there were a lot of students coming from all over Europe and I had the chance to meet this diverse group of people ranging from Croatians to Dutch. It was like I had a glimpse of every country in Europe.

Time flew by and spring arrived in Helsinki. Although there was still plenty of snow, the lonely streets I knew began to disappear as furniture started to line the edge of the street with people chatting over coffee. The city was transformed from the winter wonderland I knew so much about to a green vibrant neighborhood. By that time, I only had one more week left in Helsinki before I return to school. I spent the week jogging along the shore, exploring and sketching a few more hidden gems in the city. I don't know when I will visit Helsinki again but I look forward to the day I can revisit the places I sketches, maybe in the summer this time.

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