Surface Pattern Designer & Illustrator

I am Heidi Vilkman, an illustrator and surface pattern designer. My art is influenced by my Nordic roots and the folktales and mythology of nature around me and in my soul.

I have always loved and made art, since I was a little girl. The act of creating marks, colours and stories on various surfaces and materials, contains the magic I see in the world, ready to be assembled together in various, often surprising ways. There is something truly wonderful about taking an idea in one’s head and turning it into a visible thing – a creation of the mind, fuelled by imagination, made concrete by fingers, and tools, whatever those may be.

So what is surface pattern design?

For over five years I have been selling my own products, including cards, gift wrap and stationery, printed with my own designs. For some reason, until about two years ago, I never considered that this type of design was called ‘surface design’, or in the case of repeating patterns, ‘surface pattern design’. Yet, the world is full of surface design, and it is the form of design, the majority of us see every day around us. Whenever there is a design on a surface, this indeed is called surface design. So, in effect, surface design means ‘design applied to a surface’, including: packaging, fabric, stationery, homeware and pretty much any product that we commonly see, buy and use. The term ‘surface pattern design’ refers to a repeating pattern within that design.

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Summer Rain

Summer rain is falling on the Finnish woods, sometimes accompanied by sunshine, at other times a bit of thunder and lightning. I don’t remember such a wet August for several years, although it pales in comparison to what I am used to in wetness, i.e. English Summers…

I made an extra trip to my native country and cottage in early June, eager to apply the linseed oil onto the top layer of my earthen floor, so that I could finally stay in my cottage in August. Linseed oil takes a good while to cure and since I applied four coats to the floor, I gathered it would be several weeks until it was dry and hard enough. I knew I would still have to apply wax coat on the floor if I wanted it properly durable and water repellent but that could wait, until August.

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Where did the years disappear? (I am still here.)

I can’t quite believe it has been so long since I last updated this blog – it’s not like I have been asleep for two years, far from that – I suppose the opposite is true; so much has happened that I haven’t had the clarity of mind to collect, reflect and write down coherent thoughts….
Not sure how many of you still follow the blog but in some ways I owe it to those who do, to keep the story going, because the story is ongoing – like with any living craft, natural building is not something with a definite end, the building lives and breathes and changes along with Nature and its seasons, so there will always be something to make, mend or figure out.

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Dream a Little Dream

The rain has ceased for the moment, but it has been battering these grounds for days on end now. After weeks of intense heatwave, the Finnish skies are finally pouring down on these lands, properly, almost restlessly. What it means to me is that I have something to listen to when I press my head on my pillow, pillow which only yesterday found its way into my cottage. Two days ago I helped my father to build a sleeping platform inside my little house, so I could fulfil my wish, to spend a night in my heart space before I go.

The other night, I carried a mattress and a little blanket up the builder’s ladders (the wooden one I am hoping to climb up with is still needing to be built…) and snuggled down, with some celtic music and flickering candlelight. While the rain drops were falling on the skylight above me, I lied down, cozy and warm against freshly sawn wood, looking and smelling and thinking and mainly wondering. How did I get to this amazing point of existence? To be lying here, surrounded by earth, trees, forest, sky, rain – and to know that where I lie has come from my heart; through the love I have for Mother Earth and this landscape I used to play in as a child. The love, which has been transformed, with the help of my family and friends, into this muddy cottage I so love.

The candles are lit for Luontoäiti / Mother Nature

   
My view for the night.

I lied there, in the Earth’s womb, feeling totally in awe of how all this came to be, feeling totally grateful for Mother Earth and Universe for letting me build this place; for the lessons, experiences, help, love, struggles, compassion, interest, hard work, motivation – and tears emerged for the sheer joy of being in this place in this moment. While the sound of rain drops mixed with the sound of some strangely random elven music, I looked to my left and saw a fox’s eye looking at me. Fox is my totem animal and has had a strange way of appearing to me at times when I need wisdom, self-reliance and confidence. And there it was again, looking at me, slyly smiling. Never mind that the eye was a part of the wooden rail in front of me but the energy was very strongly there. I knew I was being watched over, and it made me feel safe and joyful.

When I returned to my parents house a few hours later for a night’s sleep, I gave a hug and thank you to my father and in the morning, when my mother had woken up, to her also, thanking them for the possibility of being able to build my cottage on their land and for their help in building it. I know with great certainty that this is one of the biggest personal achievement in my life, and has a great symbolic meaning to me, in form of artistic identity, my roots, my relationship with my parents, my future, my beliefs, my loves, my children and the world I want to behold, appreciate and live in.

Before I got to this point however, I had been working on this cottage for weeks, on most days, apart from some family days off. I had been mixing, plastering, boiling, smearing, stamping, measuring, experimenting, pouring, plastering a bit more, painting, getting confused, wondering, realising, sawing, nailing, lifting, dragging, digging and yet again painting. Don’t ask me how many hours, as I have no answer to your question. It is better not to know. And even if I knew, I would only know the answer to a question: how many hours have you loved?

Since some of you want some proof that I actually did do some or all of the beforementioned activities, I have added some photographs below. They may be in slight random order, because my head has been in random order and my days with the mud get very mixed up, as do the hours of the clock – usually my work is interrupted by baby duties (my daughter is 14mths) or my mother asking whether I still eat food these days.

Lime plastered (with pigment) cob dragon oven

My mother helping out

My father helping out

Making mix for the earthen floor (wet cob)

So, after all of this doing, I am left with a cottage which is not finished but it is not far off from that.
I need to patch up some walls, do more painting inside and out, add some details and finish to the earthen plaster – but the main thing missing is a proper floor. I have completed the first layer of earthen floor but there is still a lot to do. The drying process took much longer than I anticipated and very soon I realised that in rainy conditions, I could easily wait weeks for the floor to dry. I don’t have weeks. But I do have a place, where I can sleep and be happy. Next Summer I know this place will have a floor and after that any remaining jobs will be mere details that I can attend to whenever.

This is how I am leaving the cottage for now.

With my heart filled with love, I know anything’s possible when you have faith in your idea – and so much love to carry it through that nothing can stop you. The only thing that can make something happen is you. And the only thing that can stop you making something happen is you. Next time you tell yourself an excuse why something didn’t happen, look deep inside yourself and ask some real questions.

And then – Dream a Little Dream. Just like children do. Until we meet again.

With Love,

Heidi,
the Forest Dreamer

Icing on the Cake

I landed in Finland on Tuesday night, during a heat-wave. This beautiful Northern landscape which enjoys long daylight hours in any case, is now a hot, sunny haven. Well, not a haven for everyone (are we ever totally happy about the weather?) but I personally would choose hot sun over cold rain any day. And apart from a pretty dry and barren green roof, my little cottage seemed to enjoy the sun as much as I do.

My cottage hadn’t been touched for almost a year. I did what I could in the three weeks I was there a year before, with a newborn in tow, but had to admit my defeat when it came to dreams about finishing the cottage.

This year I am truly and finally hoping to make my dream come true. I have about six weeks. Yes, I also have surplus dreams about building other natural dwellings, including composting toilet, sauna, large cob oven/bench and natural swimming pool but I think it’s safe to say this time around my biggest dream is to be able to spend even just one night inside my cottage, before I have to leave Finland again in the end of August.

Not a lot to ask, one may say and it is definitely doable but I have a lot to do. I am obviously prioritising the internal work and leaving the external work for a later time. My baby daughter is now just over 1 year old and she toddles about, fairly content in the company of my parents, although often wants my cuddles, even when my clothes are covered in clay. But, in many ways it is a good introduction to her about what mummy does and loves doing, with her Hands and Heart in mud.

I bought English fine china clay i.e. kaolin from a ceramic store here in Finland. 50 kilos of it. It is just a number as I have no idea how much clay I will need. I have all the walls to plaster and a floor to pour. I am using plaster made with kaolin as it’s very smooth, plastic and white. I mean there is nothing wrong with its Finnish common cousin, the grey lumpy stuff I have dug from the backyard and used for everything in the building so far – but to be honest, even a simple forest girl like me, does appreciate some finesse in things at times….

I also ordered fine sand, 3m3 of it. Again, it is just an abstract number, as I have no idea of the amount needed. Plus the truck that delivered it, could only hold three cubic metres. And then I boiled some wheat paste, some random amount, to add into the mix. So there, I have my ingredients for the perfect coat of plaster. Just in time to remind myself there is no perfection. Only perception (as one of my friends puts it).

Every day I have plastered a bit of the walls, occasionally with the help of my son. Once even my brother showed up for an hour. Mostly I am on my own though, mixing the plaster putty with my fingers, in my own little elven hut. I can only say that it is one of the most pleasurable things, mixing that putty. Feeling the lumps of sand dissolve into the clay slurry, the creaminess of the mix coating my fingers, getting slightly stuck on my palms. Then taking a lump and smearing it onto the rough wall. I could keep on doing this forever I think, if only my skin didn’t fall off at the contact of numerous little stones in the wall. My palms are somewhat sore to touch after five days of barehand plastering but my heart is full and I love the work. I LOVE it.

I feel totally connected to my humanness while working on this cottage, with these basic materials, in this natural way – it is my own personal meditation. I find it amusing that I am smearing very fine English clay over the very rough Finnish one. It almost feels like I am making a full circle with this cottage, including the materials I am using, about who I am, my identity as a Finnish person, who is no longer just Finnish but has some English layers. I am icing the Finnish forest cake with English cream. Maybe these are all layers of myself emerging inside and outside this cottage.

I bought three different kinds of trowels for this job, but I do not want to use them, even if I could (the walls are way too uneven and sculptural, ha!), because I would miss out on the feeling and touching and smearing and smelling and pulling and pushing – and loving. I suppose I am a bit nuts about the white stuff but it will definitely help me to finish this job.

After five days I have done most of it. I will have to keep re-misting the plastered walls so I can eventually burnish them smoother when I am ready. My plan is to make a coloured kaolin paint and paint the walls in more natural tone after the burnishing. And then I am hoping to apply linseed oil to the finished surface. And only then I can start thinking about the floor….at the moment my head is definitely in the walls, most certainly also the clouds 🙂

I leave you with few progress photos and hope to write again soon. It is hard to find the time and concentration to do this but I know it’s good for me to try to share the journey in smaller bits.


Oh, in the mean time, please remember to dream – because dreams do have the tendency to come true.

Almost Eternal Journey


I thought I was going to write about my cottage building journey while in Finland, but life had other plans. Being a mother to a newborn baby and trying to finish my cottage was harder than I thought. Despite of my loving son and my parents helping out whenever they could, despite of the weather yet again being very favourable, despite of all my best intentions, it wasn’t going to happen. So many loving arms around my baby girl was a blessing, yet I found it very difficult to replace the required energy withdrawn during the frequent feedings and sleepless nights. At times of despair, when one is completely sleep-ridden and frustrated, it is easy to see oneself only as a breast, not even as a mother, let alone an artist or a creator. I had some of those moments initially but strangely enough, I could still see through the fog eventually, when I relaxed into the environment and situation I was in. Which basically meant that I gave up.

I gave up trying to finish the cottage. I gave up silly plans. I gave up stressing about it.

There were many things on my to-do list, way too many for three week stay. So I had to think practically, an activity I sometimes excel in and sometimes am awful at. But really I had to prioritise the work ahead. On the exterior, I knew I needed to do lime-rendering of the strawbale part of the walls, as that was still lacking and another cold Finnish Winter was looming ahead. I also needed to cover up the remaining exposed strawbales with earthen plaster inside the cottage, which I hadn’t had time to do last Summer. And I desperately wanted to release the roof from its excess plastic overhangs, which I had left on to protect the cottage better from the harsh elements. Trimming the plastic off the eaves was my very first job, which felt so good, it was like giving the cottage’s roof its much needed hair-cut, even though its hair (vegetation) was sadly thin, dry and lifeless. I climbed on the roof and set my toes in what felt like a soft, brown desert. This green roof was dying of thirst, after such a hot, dry Summer! Here I am trying to salvage it, while offering some of the cold refreshment to my son (underneath) as well. 🙂

The cottage is situated in such an all-day sunny spot that many plants don’t thrive on its roof, particularly in dry conditions. On top of that, we hadn’t had time to add enough soil on the roof the previous Autumn, which meant that any seeds planted wouldn’t really have enough depth to establish roots or thrive. We added some more compost on the roof and my father did several trips to the forest to pick up different types of mosses and grasses, in order to add to the wig of this cottage. Even some of my mother’s flowers and over-grown lettuce somehow found their way onto the roof…

 

What a difference a bit of green love makes! My cottage immediately looked soooo happy! As did I!

My cottage with a happy green wig.

Next up was the lime rendering, which needs a fair weather to apply and since that is what we were having, I thought to set to work. Lime also needs time to set properly, and since it’s sensitive to frost, I needed to apply it in apt time before the first night frosts arrived. Mixed with sieved sand (a job irregularly done by my 10-year old son Eemil, in exchange for some Lego and few Euros), chopped straw and experimental quantities of red iron oxide pigment, I started applying this on the back wall, which would be most sensitive to the Finnish Winter of frost and snow.
 

Here I am mixing lime-plaster in a bucket.
My son Eemil working.

My son Eemil not working.

On each clear, bright day I mixed and applied a bit more lime render to the wall, every batch being of slightly different quality, consistency and colour. Nothing like making a patchwork cottage. 🙂 Eventually, I reached the baby dragon on the other side, at which point I stopped, as this is also where the strawbale wall finished. The rest of the cottage still needs to be rendered of course, but that is a story for another time and another Summer.

Wet lime-render at the back of the cottage.

Making a bloody (pink) mess 🙂

Job done… for now.

I then had to replace all the stones I had taken off from around the stemwall of the cottage before lime-rendering. It was an annoying job of almost eternal ‘stone rolling’ but beneficial in that it hid most of the awful, pink limey mess I had made around the cottage…

While I was working outside, I had also started touching up the inside of the cottage. The first and most boring job was to cover up the exposed strawbales with an earthen plaster, which was basically quite thick and pretty clayey cob mix. And who best to do the mix than my wonderful mama! With all the stomping experience of last Summer, she eagerly (…I hope…) set to work and watching her do this Summer’s first cob dance, it made us both fondly think about last Summer’s weird and wonderful experiences.

My mum makes me the first batch of cob.

Of course before this I had to ‘dive’ into the frog pond, aka clay pit, which strangely enough was full of water (despite of the Summer being so dry!). My son happily followed in my muddy footsteps, even if only to catch the numerous frogs and toads that had made the pit their home/swimming pool. With freezing cold, gray water up to my thighs and my son splashing next to me, I dug up wonderfully gooey clay gloop from the bottom of the pool and thought about Beez, one of my wonderful volunteers, who spent so many mornings and afternoons in this pit last Summer…


Mr. Big – a huge toad involuntarily discovered.

After too many frog discoveries and two wheelbarrows full of clay, I had had enough (of course only for the day). Next job, applying the mix to the wall. Can’t tell you how happy I was to get my hands dirty again. Really! Happy!

First layer of plaster being applied – both on the top row of strawbales as well as few bottom parts of the wall, where some earthbags were still exposed. My knees and thighs really felt the job of bending down and stretching up the following day(s).

Plastering over the earthbags in the stem wall – such an awkward, knee and back breaking job!
Plastering over the strawbales near the ceiling.

 While I was plastering, we started talking with my father about the sleeping platform which I wanted to build inside, to maximise the usable space and to take advantage of the high ceiling in this cottage. My father had cut down a maple tree as well as some younger fir trees and peeled them for me in the Spring. The fir tree logs were really meant for the outdoor toilet I was hoping to build this Summer, but since I had no time for it this time around, we ended up using some of the logs for the sleeping platform instead. Here we are trying out the possible size of the sleeping platform with these logs. The central upright is a part of a maple tree, with some branches left on (not sure if I will keep these or not).

Planning the sleeping platform/loft with my father.

Our friendly neighbour Jani came to help again for few days, which was great because I didn’t really know much about building the platform. While I was entertaining some visiting relatives, Jani and my dad built the framework for the platform with the logs, ready for some planking later.

 
Platform main frame completed. You’ll have to take my word for it 🙂

When the platform frame was built and the boys were out of my way I could start thinking about a second earthen plaster coat on the walls. Again all the walls need doing, but I knew I wouldn’t have time, so I made a decision to apply it to the strawbale walls, since these are the ones that need more protection from vermins and elements. (Talking about vermins, while I was plastering the walls, a mouse ran out of the cottage from underneath the step of the front-door. I didn’t shriek but hoped it would find another home and filled the gaps under the step. I am sure it had had a nice time wintering under one of the earthbags in the wall but I would rather not have a mouse family live inside my cottage with me. In any case, I never saw it again.)

I made a more runny plaster with coarse sand, runny clay and sandy soil (which I have mainly been using for the cob mix). Our stack of coarse sand was dangerously low but I managed to make it last for the duration of my stay. Next year, I will have to purchase some more, as the sand-pit I originally got it from has now been filled and there is no access to it, which is a great shame in many ways. But it warms my heart to know that part of the landscape (sand-pit) in which I used to play as a child, and which is no more, is now part and inside of my walls…

Reading a bit of advice on the second plaster coat, I decided to work with two types of plaster, a runnier one for general surface cover and another one, much more sticky and thicker, for sculpting. I had always wanted to sculpt a female form into the wall but didn’t quite know how to go about it. I didn’t just want to ‘stick it on’, it would have to form naturally. But the only things that naturally came to my mind were the spirals of a magical, fractal tree, which adorned the cottage already outside and which I thought should somehow connect to the inside also. After all, the cottage is called Tree of Life.

In the evening, left on my own, I mixed a bit of natural blue pigment with water and started ‘sketching’ on the walls. It is so incredible how in the middle of all building, any kind of artistic activity feels so refreshing and outright magical. Once in a while I would sit down in a chair and look at the freehand swirls I had produced; did I need more here, some there? Was there a natural flow to it all? And where had the idea of a woman disappeared, as all I was left with were swirling branches of a tree? Never mind, let’s forget about the woman and make the tree, I thought – and went to bed.

Drawing on walls – with permission!

The next day I started working on the design. Adding a layer of runny plaster on the wall (which had been hosed down several times in the previous days to create a moist surface to which the next layer would bond – not as easily done as I initially thought), I then worked with the thicker, sculpting cob to add the design and 3-dimensionality on the wall. I just LOVE this part of making, working with cob. Burying my hands deep into a bucket of cob, feeling the grit, the straw, the mud, the earth, the love, the creativity flowing out of brain, through the materials, from my fingers, onto the wall. It’s like making love with nature! Pure bliss.


And soon I was making more tree branches and swirls and strands…. of hair. And then out of nowhere, she started emerging. Not as a whole body as I had thought, but as a huge head….

my Mother Nature, with tree branches as locks of her hair…. she kept coming out of the wall, into the wall, forming intuitively along the bumps and curves and textures. It’s almost as if I let her arrive, ever so gently calling her through my mind and shaping her with my loving fingers….

She had emerged and kept growing. I sculpted a little bit more of her every day, staring at the full moon once in a while and then continuing… 😉
Eventually she had spread her hair over half the cottage wall, all the way from the back of it to the front-door entrance. She had taken over…. it was my homage to Mother Nature, the landscape, my childhood, and the natural materials that had found their way into this cottage and also made all this work possible. 
 
 

Strangely enough, my remaining cob mix finished exactly at the moment my sculpture reached the front-door and its final destination (for now). It really was as if it was meant to be. Next Summer I will continue the theme on the rest of the walls (I think), unless another idea comes along and grabs me instead.
Afterwards, I painted with some ochre pigment on the sculpture, just to see what it may look like with colour. The next plaster coat will be smoother and finer and have pigments added, although I am not decided on the colours, if any, as of yet.
What still remains then, is the making of a floor, which I have some ideas for. I will most likely make an earthen floor with some wood slices set into a spiral design. All the walls need another coat of plastering. Externally the lime rendering needs to be extended to the remaining cob walls. And the platform needs to be built inside the cottage for us to be able to sleep inside together as a family. I am sure I can finally finish this place next year, at least in a way, which enables me to finally spend some time there, and move onto the next natural project….

Still unfinished but getting there. At least she is blushing now.

I have sooo many ideas, so many dreams. I am so in love with mud. I never thought I could be so much in love with it. Having said that, my initial reaction to seeing photos of houses made with mud (cob) was to burst into tears, so maybe that said a lot – of how much this material touched my heart, my creative fires, my understanding of life – what I appreciate about our human existence. To creatively use materials from nature – nature that enabled us to be here and that gives us everything we need every single day – is a blessing. I almost cry when I write this. Thank you universe for showing me how amazing mud can be! Even dreaming about it is (almost) amazing enough.

Those three weeks I spent in Finland flew by. I was blessed with good weather and I was happy to see my family and for them to see my baby daughter Pinja. During the time in Finland, I buried her placenta next to the forest and planted an alpine pine tree over it. She will therefore always have roots in the place, along with me and of course, we will be spending many good times there in the future, hopefully building together as a family and appreciating the nature around us. I was also interviewed to a Finnish magazine ‘Meidan Mokki’ and the article comes out within a year, I will post more details of when. In the mean time, I keep bringing up my children in England and dreaming of more natural projects in the future. I have many ideas, very many. I hope to make at least some of them, because working with cob and natural materials equals love for me. And what is better than being in love?

All my loves – and a small pine tree for Pinja.

Until next time, we shall meet in dreams, preferably those of the mud kind. The ones I like best. But what ever you dream about, the main thing is that you do.
Thank you for reading.
x

Through All Seasons, The Trees Still Stand.

A half a year has passed and seasons have changed. Truly. Majestically. At the moment it feels like a half of life-time has been squeezed into these short months of my life and what has emerged reminds very little of what was there before. In April we packed up our flat, left London and moved up to West Yorkshire with my son, settled as an expanded family in a small arty Northern town and started a new life here, surrounded by hills and forests of green. I can already breathe better, even though my heart is still adjusting to all the changes, as is my son’s.

My baby daughter, Pinja (Finnish for pine tree), was born three weeks ago – she emerged finally – after spending eight extra days in my womb – happily, still inside her watery home, into another one, that of the birthing pool and then – my loving arms. Pinja, the pine tree of my soul, was here with us.

I kept her placenta and part of the sac she entered this world in, to be taken to Finland next month. Just like when my son was born, I took his placenta to Finland, dug it into the ground at my parents house and planted a cherry tree there. So now I want to do the same with my daughter’s membrane. But this placenta will go next to my cottage and a little pine seedling will be planted there, on the top of the membrane, which connected her to me, me to her and both of us to the great cycle of life. Feeding, nurturing, protecting. Just like Mother Nature does to us and has done to me, while I was building my cottage.

I saw my cottage in real life in February when I visited Finland for a short time. The house was frozen but beautiful, it hadn’t suffered that much from the Winter winds, but of course it was hard to tell how gently the Spring thaw would treat the little elven house. This is what I was most worried about; possible frost heaving, cracking, bending. Luckily, there has been very little damage to the cottage so far and at least from the photos that my parents have taken, my Elaman Puu looks as lovable as when I left it in last September. I am so very happy about this, because it confirms my belief that work made with love is strong and durable and also that our relationship with nature is of the utmost importance; if I appreciate it and work with it, it will make all the difference. Seasons will come and go but hopefully my little cottage will stand the test of time and remain part of my life and the landscape it so easily blends into and was born from. If it bends, breaks, or survives, then it will do all these alongside the nature that surrounds it.

Here is a photo sequence of my cottage in all Finnish seasons:

Autumn 2012

Winter 2013
Spring 2013
Summer 2013

After my daughter’s passport gets ordered and organised, I am hoping that in about a month’s time, I will be standing there, looking at the view in the last photo and listening to the fluttering of the birch leaves (and my heart) near-by. Three weeks is all I have but I am hoping to achieve a lot in this time. Lime-plastering of external walls, earthen plastering and sculpting of internal walls, making an earthen floor, building a sleeping platform, trimming and finalising the green roof, filling in cracks, setting up a solar panel for electricity, firing the pizza oven. And – starting on a composting toilet behind the cottage with the left-over strawbales and some roundwood that my father has yet again kindly cut down from the forest and left to dry for me in the Spring time. It does sound like a lot to do, particularly with a 2-month old baby who grants me very little time and sleep, but then again, time is only a concept – and also, time constraints only exists through one’s mindset, and my decision with this cottage is to work with love and natural time. That is the lesson I learnt from last Summer: you can’t rush nature as it does what it pleases – and once you surrender to your work, it will take the time it needs to take. If necessary I will continue the work next year, and the next, and the next. This project, like my life, is an evolving one… 🙂

If you want, I will be happy to take you on another part of this journey with me next month, when I get my hands stuck in the mud (and maybe my baby’s hands too). I will be there and you will be here, but hopefully as a little glimpse of inspiration, I can share a part of my love for the Nature and natural building through these pages and photos. Until then,

let the Summer winds carry you…… x

Life in the Trees

Time to think. There is much of that in the Winter time, when the days are short and the darkness is such a frequent visitor. It is easy to lose hope of ever seeing the sun again, when the clouds have gathered and rain is pouring down outside and filling the London street gutters with brown water. But in my heart there is love for my little place called Finland and even a littler place called ‘Elaman Puu’ :).

When I started building my little dwelling, I always wanted it to be a homage to the nature and trees that saw me grew up and of which some are now standing inside my cottage. Even though they lost their precious lives, from now on they will always be greeted by smiles and most likely even warm hugs when entering this sweet little space. But even in the midst of cold and snow, my cottage looks like it belongs to the earth and to its surroundings, it is a building of nature, from nature, in nature, regardless of the season.

 
My Elaman Puu in a snowy, Finnish landscape.

It has been snowing a lot in Finland, there is about 50cm snow on the ground by now. This is what my mother tells me, and what I can see from the photos my brother sent me just before Christmas. My tiny cottage has a thick snow hat on and the forest floor is covered in pure white. Everything seems frozen still. Yet, when I look at the photo, I feel such warmth inside. Almost like one of the Moomins, hibernating over the Winter, my cottage is waiting for me, yet it lives in nature’s time, as part of nature, patiently watching life and seasons, day by day. I so miss that place, even though there is nothing as in way of work I could be currently doing there, it is far too cold for that. But of course I would love nothing better than sit inside, to listen to the sounds of the cottage and nature outside, feel how different it all is from when I last set my foot inside.

Apart from few vertical cracks that have appeared in the cob walls, I hear the cottage is doing well. Although that is just judging the exterior, as no one has been inside for several weeks, as the front door has swollen shut. We’ll see what happens when I go to Finland in about six weeks and try to get in – will the cottage grant me entry? Or will I only be able to peep through the door hole to my elven nest?

What a difference three months makes in this climate.

Candles on the window sill.

I must be patient, just like nature is. It knows no constraints of time, it hurries nowhere. The only existence it has is the existence of now, and in that now everything is perfect. My 10-year old son sometimes asks me: ‘Mum, why is life so hard?’ And I say to him, life is not hard, but we make it seem that way. We worry, get anxious, overwhelmed, stressed, angry – mostly unnecessarily. And when I say we, I mean me as well. The past year has been such an incredible journey in my life, and it seems it will continue as an incredible journey still. There are moments when I think I have just grasped it, seen the meaning and felt the purpose why I am on this planet. Then, life gently kicks you in the backside and makes you return to a state of not knowing, uncertainty and confusion. I know I have the best advice for any situation within me – so close, yet at times it seems so far away from reach. I keep saying: Trust life to carry you Heidi. Trust life. It has gotten you this far, and as long as you live by your heart, it will keep on carrying you. Yet, in my weak moments I sometimes  falter….

A new calendar year is just around the corner. Of course it is only a concept that we have given our human existence, to somehow be able to deal with it better, in more understandable chunks. I am thinking of all the things that will take place this year that we are about to enter. Wow they are big things, much bigger than I could have ever imagined. In fact if I could have ever imagined all that has happened in the last twelve months, I think I would have curled up in my bed, pulled the blanket over my head and stayed in, abandoning all hope. One needs courage to embrace the unknown, despite of all the fear, but finding that courage makes life worth living, and the experiences that follow cannot be found under the cover of one’s cozy blanket. So I tell myself……

In the meantime I will let you in a secret, just like I sometimes do with my precious trees…

The Tree of Life, the spirit of love and nature, has started a life of its own within me. In February when I return to cottage, I will be carrying a precious nature spirit inside of me – and in the Summer she will see the cottage with her own baby eyes. It will be a while longer until she can take part in the building work – but I know that from the very first moments of her life, this cottage will be a part of her, just as it is part of me. X

Autumn Winds

Whilst November rain is licking the windowpanes of my chilly London flat, I think about my little cottage by the edge of woods, wondering how the Autumn winds and freezing Finnish nights are treating my earthen baby. Even though the Fall in UK has been busy for me, making all kinds of crafts to stock up my Etsy shop TaikaEarth, my curiosity and longing to see a glimpse of ‘Elaman Puu’ has grown each and every day. Last week while I was talking to my mother I couldn’t wait any longer, so I asked her to take a few pictures and send them to me. Here is what I received…

My cottage in the beginning of November. The seasons have changed but it’s still as beautiful as ever.


Sleeping Baby Dragon – she is hibernating over the Winter to be re-awakened next Summer.

The last weeks and months of my life have been quite tough and emotionally draining, but when I saw the photos of my cottage, the biggest pixie smile imaginable on this side of our galaxy appeared on my face. Ah! I LOVE this place with all my heart ❤  I wish I could have teleported myself next to it and given it a big squeeze. And after that pursue to squeeze all the trees in the forest. And the mosses. And the rocks. And you get the point.

The next time I see my cottage in person will be in the middle of snowy, freezing Winter. I can already picture the view in my head, the green roof covered by a thick snow hat and the baby dragon patiently waiting. I am hoping I can spend some time inside of my tiny house regardless of the cold, and recharge my emotional and physical batteries. As I will be needing them later on in the year. Not only because of my plans to finish the cottage but also because of… something else that will require a lot of focus, love and courage. But I can’t tell you yet, I promised the tree I will keep it as a secret.

When I reflect back on the past Summer, in many ways I feel it was a dream. Not a dream I slept through but which I actively participated in. However, the end result is the same; an enchanting, personal story that is somewhat surreal but totally magical. And of course like the best of stories and life itself, it is not finished yet. The trees of my life have many more stories to tell…. maybe even some secrets… ❤


A Labour of Love

Approaching the last few days of my stay in Finland, a loud, annoying clock started ticking in my head, making me realise just how surreal this build and in fact the whole Summer had been. When I started, I had NO idea how long it would take to build a cottage like this. When I started, I had NO idea how to build a cottage like this… So, realising I had gotten to the point of: two more days and ‘almost finished’, I started to get a little bit nervous amidst gentle exhilaration.

It somehow felt worse to have almost completely finished the cottage, rather than almost completely not finished it… And SO little to do… ahem… that was the loud mental mutter to myself, although of course, in reality there was still so much to do. Then again, I had often said to people asking that I would have been mad to count the hours that have gone into this build. Not only because it would be insane – but also because it wasn’t a job I needed to force myself to do – it was a labour of love. Who counts the hours one is in love?

When I say love, I mean it. I have had less than five days in total during whole summer, when I haven’t ‘felt like’ doing it. And those five days have been mostly affected by illness and physical exhaustion. And even those days, it hasn’t been days, but hours – maybe 30 minutes when I have thought about giving up. I scream a little, cry a little, throw a short childish tantrum – and continue. And the smile returns. Every time.

There is magic in the earth, of the Earth. 🙂

Me with the almost finished Elaman Puu cottage before my return to London on Sunday.

 On Friday night, we had few celebratory drinks inside the cottage with my parents and our neighbour Jani (and his wife and daughter), who has been so wonderfully helpful throughout this build. After midnight, when everyone else had gone to bed, I went back to the cottage and sat down on one of the chairs, in this dim, candle-lit space. I realised it was the first time I was seeing and particulary, feeling, this space properly. And what an amazing feeling, to run my eyes along the rough, organic forms of the cob, smooth textures of the wood, rough spiky straw protruding out of the plaster on the strawbale wall. I could smell the earth, straw, wood and tar.

I felt completely covered by Mother Earth, like sitting inside a soft, natural womb of a kind. And there I had thought, that I had given birth to this cottage. Whereas in reality, it had probably just as much given birth to me…

Soft whisperings of nature. Raindrops on the roof window. Wind blowing through some gaps in the still unfinished top of the cob wall. And the warmth of the night inside this wee house of mine. There aren’t many words to describe that feeling – that suddenly everything I had worked on for over 2 months, on almost every day, was there, around me, to be experienced. I had dreamed this cottage into reality, just like I had thought would happen. And why? And how? With a lot of help from one’s friends, and more particularly, my tirelessly loving parents and our neighbour, who selflessly worked on my cottage, when we needed it most. Plus all the other friends and people, who found it worthwhile and interesting to come and lend a hand. I am grateful and moved beyond mere words. You know you are in my heart (I hope) – and in my cottage. 🙂

Previously happened:

My friend, Michelle, arrived from London to rescue me from a total forest lunacy after a day alone working on the cottage. Which was as well, because I realised that a joint energy is a good energy, as long as the joint energy is good energy haha. There were some sillyness, some drunkenness, some sogginess – but also steady progress every day, probably much more than I could have mustered on my own alone. Once in a while, Jani, our neighbour, popped round to fit the door he was working on and help me to get some more sand and rocks from the nearby sandpit. Forever grateful to him, I don’t think Jani realised quite how much he helped by ‘not having a clue about what he was doing’, as he himself put it. 🙂

Jani fitting door he was building into my very asymmetrical doorway.
Michelle plastering the strawbale wall with earthen (cob) plaster.
Bored of stacking up the last remaining cob wall, I also continued some cob sculpture over the doorway and over to the ‘dragon wall’
Michelle in the clay pond, scraping the bottom of the near bottomless pit… 🙂

Jani balancing on the roof top with the skylight.

Many muddy days later, I had built up a fair amount of the last remaining cob wall, Michelle had finished plastering the exterior strawbale wall with the first coat and moved indoors to continue work there. My parents eventually returned from their summer house and my father started to install pieces of windboard and insect netting in the gap between the strawbale wall and the roof. My mum was mixing cob, I started lime/clay plastering the exterior wall and just in time, Jani arrived to help to fit the skylight window on the roof. As luck would have it, Jani happened to have an experience of installing similar roof domes as a job at some point in his life, so we were in for a chance…! On one Wednesday evening we started work on it after a lot of wandering and wondering by myself, my father and our neighbour. First we stripped off the tarp off the roof, laid some old rugs, cardboard and underlay down, to cover the wooden, at times sharp, planks from piercing the waterproof layer (pond liner) that would go on next.

Me, my father and Jani wondering what to do and how to do it.
Me and Jani spreading out the huge (8x8m) pond liner onto the roof, over a underlay. What a job!

After what ended up being hours, during which the sun set and mosquitos woke up, we struggled to spread out the liner and danced on a very slippy surface, trying not to damage the expensive piece of plastic. Then Jani set out to install the roof window onto a wooden frame he had previously made, to fit the skylight. With sharp pair of scissors in my hand, I cut a hole into the middle of the plastic, for where the window would go. No turning back now…

Jani installing the skylight.

While I kept looking away while Jani was balancing barefeet on the windowframe with a gaping hole underneath him, he kept on steadily working, swinging an electric screwdriver in his hand. A beautiful sunset by the way…. eventually it was all done, we retreated off the roof and went to check the results of the work inside – amazing – even though the sun had set, the remains of the light entered the cottage through this wonderful dome – making it into a very different, more open space – a success!

In the next few days I was lime-plastering the walls, the front-door was finalised and fitted, gaps filled and finally, also the last cob wall reached the ceiling height. Not perfect, not even fully level or built, it was good enough – I could now even light my cob dragon oven, without having to worry about the smoke coming indoors over that gap in the wall. And that I did…

The last thing I wanted to start before going home, was the green roof. I wanted it to be as natural and forest-like as the rest of the cottage. I bought some blocks of turf from the shop and went scavenging for moss and berry plants (including bilberry and lingonberry) in the woods near-by. Slowly, lifting the pieces of forest floor onto the roof, it started taking shape. Would need an awful lot more trips to the woods to fill the almost 50m2 of roof space, much more than I had time left to do. But luckily, my parents, my brother and even Jani said they could do that in my absence. Which is really wonderful, and necessary, for the protection of the tarp (from UV rays) as well as the integrity of the roof itself.

The beginnings of a green roof

I am not at all sure if the forest, the way I would like it, wants to live on top of my roof. I love the plants that are there, because they remind me of my childhood and trips to the forest. How I used to lie on the mossy bed and watch the ants trail. Eat and pick bilberries and grin at the taste of sour lingonberries. But, we will see, only time will tell – such is the story of this cottage it seems…

So, I am back in London, with a slightly heavy heart, knowing there are still cracks in the walls, gaps in the cob, unplastered strawbales, final lime plaster missing, internal floor undone, green roof unfinished etc etc. Yet, at the same time, my heart is also heavy with love, because I feel immensely happy that I managed the build even to this point, fumbling in the dark, in the unknown, in the mystery of leap of faith.

To inspire and to be inspired, one of the fundamental riches of being a human. I am so very inspired by nature, in everything I do I try to bring out and express that love. I am moved by people’s comments when they say they are inspired by my story and my cottage – because in a way, that creates a full circle. From nature back to nature. The same loves resonates through people; the smells, the shapes, the organic forms of nature. The joy. The beauty. The playfulness within. It gives me hope that people can learn to re-connect with the same nature in a way, which makes them think. How precious it is. How we need to preserve it, in order to enjoy it. We are all part of it regardless.

I may be lucky enough to return to Finland in a month to finish few more jobs before the harsh winter begins. It would make me feel more at ease. I worry about my baby, like any mother would. On the other hand, it is not my baby and it seems a bit preposterous to assume nature couldn’t take care of its own better than I do. I know the cottage isn’t going anywhere, but of course the winter winds may treat it unkindly and scar its pretty face. Perhaps I just need to accept this and continue where and how the nature leaves my cottage next Spring. All I know is that however it all goes, this is one of the best things I ever set out to make. And probably like all mothers, I will love this child as long as it lives….

Thank you for following my journey – I leave you with a dream… xxx