23 Dec 2014

Burning questions and Christmas greetings

Last day of work before the holidays! Tonight I'm heading off to my family in Brussels. Until then, I'll be working with one hand whilst stuffing my bag with pepernoten (gingerbread kind of Christmassy cookies) and presents with the other. The biggest questions at the moment are the following:

1. Can you compensate the lack of snow with an excessive amount of Christmas carols?
2. Will I be able to get up early enough tomorrow to watch Santa's hotline?
3. Will Santa accept phone calls also from people at the tender age of 26?
4. Will the Christmas turkey be as delicious in Belgium as it is in Finland?
5. Will I be able to persuade my boyfriend to taste gingerbread cookie dough?
6. How will I wrap a hula hoop?

Merry Christmas to you all, lots of chillaxing and Glühwein!

11 Dec 2014

A therapeutic doggie bag

Having something that you made coming from the printer looking _exactly_ like you dreamed it would is almost as rare as giant pandas. Yet, a while back the giant panda of printing happened, and for that I have the printer and a comment of a friend to thank for:

After I had designed a cat bag for SUPERSWEET x moumi collection, a good friend of mine complimented it by saying that she would order it, but she is more of a dog person. Without realising it herself, her comment put me on a serious mission called Doggie Bag. Inspired by our shared history of studying psychology back in high school, joking about Freud and his theories and even visiting his house in London a few years ago, I decided to draw her a dog with a therapeutic twist.

Now, anyone who has ever gotten their designs printed probably knows that usually there is always something - even just a tiny little detail or tint of colour - that isn't quite as perfect as you'd like it to be. On top of the usual risk factor, this was also the first time I was to have a digital design printed on textile, so I really didn't know what to expect from the result.

When I went to pick up the bag from the printer, that's when the giant panda of printing came along, making me a broken record repeating "thank you" and "it's perfect" over and over again. If I was any more sentimental, I would probably have had tears in my eyes! I was just so incredibly glad with the result, the bag looked just like I had hoped it would! It truly made the happiest and most thankful critical customer the printer had seen in a while.

I hope the dog and the memories of the times when our minds were filled with Freud-jokes (of questionable quality, I may add) and theories of psychological development will accompany my friend to many supermarkets, libraries, beaches or wherever tote bags go!

Now, I have a few of these bags left, so if you know a dog person or would like to carry a tribute to dogs over your own shoulder, you can get this tote bag for 22 euros + shipping. The doggie bag is 100% off-white cotton with long handles and no leftovers inside. If you are interested, just raise your hand and leave a comment or send a pigeon straight to e.m.ojala@gmail.com!

16 Oct 2014

The list of curious souls

One day last winter, on the 30th of January to be exact, my boyfriend and I were sitting in Café Brecht, one of our favourite places in Amsterdam. Sipping our drinks in the old armchairs, we noticed that the small table in between us had two drawers. Curios to see if there was something inside, we opened them. The drawers were empty.

"Should we put something in there...?" I pulled a small folded poster out of my bag, ripped it in two and wrote the following:

The list of curious souls
This is a list of all the curious minds who have opened the drawer, peeked in and found this note. Give your curious mind an applause and leave your traces here.

To Brecht's staff: Great, you're cleaning the drawers! :) However, keep in mind that bad karma will follow those who throw treasures in the bin...

A few months passed until the next time we visited the cafe. We were excited, of course - would someone had found our note? Would we have some messages waiting for us? However, much to our disappointment, the drawer wasn't there anymore. "They probably changed the furniture." We accepted the fact that we might never find out what had happened to the drawer, the note or if anyone had ever even found it.

Last weekend, after strolling around the city, we ended up in Café Brecht again. The place was quite busy, but we found ourselves two armchairs in the back of the cafe. It wasn't until we sat down that we noticed a small table between us. The table had drawers. "It's not the same one, is it?" My boyfriend opened the first drawer; nothing. The second drawer…well, see for yourself:

Ever single name and date on the list made us smile like crazy, and especially the small doodles on the paper's edges were hilariously sweet; a visualization of karma being a beach and a wurst from Vienna (see top right corner) were our favourites!

FYI, the note is still there, hidden at Café Brecht with an extra page attached! ;)

7 Oct 2014

The (almost) perfect pogacas

Pencils and papers aside, it's time to talk about something else!

The topic of the day is pogacas, the amazing Turkish pastries that rank just as high on my list of Awesome Edibles as savoury scones (I was about to pass out of happiness when I tasted the ones in the cafe of Victoria & Albert Museum a few years ago). Pogacas are kind of like bread rolls with herbs mixtured in the flour, filled with cheese and/or potatoes. The first time I ate pogacas was in Turkey in a small seaside village called Gümüslük. We were drinking tea, when my boyfriend decided to pop into a bakery nearby. Without knowing that he was about to give me a piece of heaven, he bought a simple dill and feta cheese pogaca. Ever since, I have been more or less (mostly more) obsessed with those pastries. We can find them here in Amsterdam in Simit Sarayi as well, but as I find them quite rip-offish, it has become my mission to learn to make them myself.

There are tons of recipes for pogacas online, and I have tried about 5-6 different ones. First batches I made were pretty far from the heavenly pastries I was aiming for; no matter whether I used baking powder, soda or yeast, my pogacas just wouldn't rise as much as I wanted them to. As a result, they would always end up too firm, flat and chewy.

A while back, I decided to continue with my battle against the chewy pogacas. I just knew there had to be a recipe for the perfect pogacas hiding somewhere in the depths of internet! I asked Google "how to make pogaca soft" and found a recipe from a blog called Mum! What's for dinner?. The blog belongs to Donika, who had found her own solution to the chewy problem. I decided to give her instructions a go and followed them with a few alterations.

As I was working my way through Donika's recipe, my expectations began to rise with the dough that was doubling its size in a bowl. And indeed, when I took the pogacas out from the oven, they had risen beautifully and were soft as cotton balls! My greatest achievement in the kitchen since learning to flip pancakes, no doubt!

Here's my version of the recipe (original version here) for the almost perfect pogacas with a few tricks and some tad bit healthy, fiber-rich changes.

  • 1,2 dl (or 1/2 cup) yogurt
  • 1,2 dl lukewarm milk (or 1/2 cup)
    The milk shouldn't be too warm, otherwise the yeast will refuse to grow and prosper!
  • 1,2 dl olive oil (or 1/2 cup)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 dl all-purpose flour
  • 3 dl whole wheat flour or oat flour
    Oat flour is super easy to make - just grind some oats into fine flour with a blender!
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • at least 1/2 dl dried dill - the more the better, if you ask me!
  • around 200 g crumbled feta cheese

Dissolve sugar in warm milk. Mix in the yeast with a non-metallic spoon or fork and let foam rise. (Apparently, there isn't any scientific proof of metal killing yeast, but the fist time I made pogacas with yeast, I used a metal spoon and the dough didn't rise properly. Maybe it was the metal, maybe it was me, but anyway, I thought it'd be wise not to take any risks.) Be patient, because this will take a few minutes. Add the yogurt, olive oil and egg to the yeast mixture and whisk together till blended. Pour in the flour with salt and knead till you have a soft dough. Cover the bowl of dough with cling wrap, put it in the fridge and let the it rise overnight. (If you are impatient, you can also place the bowl inside a bigger bowl filled with very warm water. The warmth will help the dough rise and make it ready for baking within an hour or two.)

When the dough has risen, add the crumbled feta cheese and dill to the mixture. (Some people prefer their pogacas with a filling, but I like them better when the cheese and dill are nicely spread all over the pastry.) If necessary, add some flour to make the dough easier to handle. Take small portions of the dough and roll them into balls. Place them on a baking tray. Brush the pogaca balls with egg yolk or water for a nice, golden colour and garnish with sesame seeds or black seeds. Bake in the oven in 200°C for about 20-30 minutes until the pogacas are golden. Voilá...or what ever they would say in Turkey!

After all this praise, you might be wondering why I call these master pieces just almost perfect. As my very critical jury aka boyfriend pointed out, despite these pogacas being much better than the earlier tryouts, the texture was still not quite right: apparently, they were a bit too spongy and lacked some crust. Therefore, my experiments shall continue ― one day, I will master the art of baking perfect pogacas with a crust and no almosts attached!

20 Jun 2014

What happened after 279 hours and 30 minutes of illustrating and a few months of waiting

Some months ago, I wrote about what happens in 279 hours and 30 minutes. Time has passed, and after the process of designing, proof printing, revising and finally printing, I found a very pleasant package waiting in front of the door when I returned from Istanbul last week: a children's book called EGGS, the very first children's book I have illustrated, wrapped inside a white package with an Australian stamp on it!

If you're happy and you know it, take a pic! (snap, snap) 

EGGS is an imaginative picture story book about six eggs, who each have their own dream of becoming something different. The book is written by Ebony-Jane Carroll, an Australian kindergarten teacher and passionate writer, who created the book specifically with children and teachers in mind. Next to illustrating the book, I worked with her to create a set of free educational activities from colouring pages to word games. I think it's really brilliant that also parents can have fun with their kids after reading the book by printing out some activities accompanying the story. The activities could also be a good way to keep the kids in the back seat happy with a few less are-we-there-yets on summery road trips, hint hint!

It's been a yearlong relationship I've had with those six eggs, which makes it the longest and the most intense (and polygamous?) illustrator-character relationship I've had so far. Finishing the last illustration for the book in January felt sentimental. Sending in the last design for the educational activities felt sentimental. Holding the book in my hands feels sentimental. It's been a great year, and those little dudes will always have a special place in my heart. I will miss drawing their oval shapes. (Luckily, there's a new illustrated character I'm busy with at the moment, and she is quite chubby, too - a great round rebound, I'd say!)

The book that Ebony-Jane sent to me has a personal note saying "thank you for making my dream come true!". I could say the same to her.

Oh sob. Where are the napkins…?

Amongst other places, EGGS is now available on Amazon and Book Depository.

18 Jun 2014

Istanbul (not Constantinople)

A few weeks ago, I took a one week semi-holiday to visit Istanbul for the second time in my life. I was told to send postcards from the trip, but as you know, buying postcards and hunting for stamps is one of those things that you usually end up doing on the last day of your trip. That happened to me as well. In fact, I was already at the airport, when I saw a rack of postcards and the "oh yea, I should buy some postcards" thought hit my mind again. But did I really want to buy a set of typically lame holiday cards with radiant letters running over a collage of touristic photos, only to do the writing on the plane and glue Dutch stamps on the envelopes at home whilst pretending they were sent from Istanbul? Not really. What would those cards have told about our trip, anyway? We spent our time sitting in cafes, drinking Turkish tea and playing backgammon whilst it was rainy and grey outside. Walking around parks, meeting friends, eating watermelon when it got too warm and stuffing ourselves with the ever-so-yummy local pastries called poğaça. The only tourist attraction we visited was Galata tower, and even that was just because we happened to buy ice cream somewhere near by and there happened to be a nice place to sit next to the tower.

I decided to forget about buying postcards and spent the flight with my sketchbook and pencils instead. Here's the result, which is on its way to seven different mailboxes as we speak!

See the letter L...? One day in a park, we saw a cat that had climbed all the way to the top of a tree. He was so high that you couldn't reach him even with a tall ladder. The poor cat was just hanging on to a tree branch, helplessly swaying in the wind. We didn't see how it all ended, as people were advised to leave so that the cat might be able to find the courage to try coming down. I hope he fell on his feet and will be smart enough to stay away from trees the next time he wants to admire the views.

1 Jun 2014

It's a freelance life

Looking for jobs is a pretty big part of being a freelancer. Your eyes are always open for new projects, and your ears are alert, constantly trying to spot possibilities even in casual chats. Sometimes, when projects are scarce and your pencils don't get out of their pencil case as much as they'd like to, the "looking" turns into "desperate hunting". At that point, you are not searching for something - you are looking for anything!

Those times are always very frustrating. Next to writing tons of messages to potential clients, not having a big project leaves plenty of time for questioning things such as the meaning of life and being a "starving artist". I'm still learning to deal with the fact that sometimes cooking dinner will be the biggest achievement of the day. Indeed, the less work I have, the more time I tend to spend on cooking. Filling the freezer with homemade falafel or fish patties is my favourite activity on quiet days - even if my pencils would get sadly bored in their pencil case, cooking keeps me satisfied for having spent at least a few hours on something truly productive.

Next to excessive cooking and messaging, the quiet times might also lead you to do some small designs and test jobs. Most of the times, they don't pay much (…if anything), but hey, the freezer is full, you've got time and should definitely do something before your pencils want to get a divorce. That is why I have done things such as...

...grown some veggies...

...baked a digital Hawaiian pizza...

...and become friends with a unusually colourful lion.

And the best part of all this...? Sooner or later, one of the test jobs, chit-chats or applications will score you a new project. And then you have a reason to cook pasta in 10 minutes again. That, my friends, is real luxury!

24 Apr 2014

The makeover of a yogurt bucket

For years, yogurt has been an important part of my breakfasts, and after having been introduced to the Turkish cuisine and their yogurt based sauces, I've started eating it next to dinners as well. I'm not only a lover of yogurt, but I am also a bit of a snob; although I wouldn't refuse any yogurt, I know what I like: half litre jars of skim natural yogurt that is so thick it could stand on its head! (My favourite brand is Konings BioGarde - I get the same kind of kicks from digging my spoon into it as some others get from cracking the surface of créme brûlée.)

Luckily, I'm not alone with this fetish. My boyfriend loves yogurt as well, and although he is not as obsessive about it as I am, he is quite an expert, too. He prefers the creamier kind, the real Turkish yogurt, which we sometimes buy from the local Turkish market. They sell it in 1 litre buckets, and by time we have gotten ourselves a nice collection of empty buckets. Now, that kind of buckets can come in very handy, especially if you live in an old house in a tiny room without much storing space and plenty of snacking opportunities for mice. We store our pastas, breads, nuts and lentils inside the empty buckets, keeping all the food away from any unwanted peeping guests. One day, I looked at our kitchen counter and got an idea: if we were to keep the buckets piled up in there, then at least I could make them look a bit nicer.

So, that was my little project yesterday:

Our pasta box shall be next in the DIY line!

19 Feb 2014

More aww-invoking than a YouTube video

Although cat clips are surely the most popular animal films on Youtube, I'm not a regular cat clip viewer. In fact, I much prefer guinea pig videos. However (and in spite of the cruel way my great aunt's cat bit me when I was an innocent five year old), I do love cats. If I was to take any pet, a cat would be my first choice.

That said, I have a few cool catful things to share. First one is a print, which I designed for a brand called
SUPERSWEET x moumi - clothing made by cats, for people. I've already had the honour to make a banner for their online store last year, but creating a print for a tote bag was something else! The SUPERSWEET team is such a nice one to work with, I'm so incredibly happy that there are such quirky indiepreneurs left in this corporate world! Go you! (What an overwhelming amount of exclamation marks in one paragraph!)

The second cat-thing of the week is a brilliant colouring book, which I spotted on the website of Doodlers Anonymous a few weeks ago. With the help of their global community of contributing doodlers, these anonymous pencil maniacs have published already three colouring books. However, I hadn't noticed that they had also made one dedicated to cats and cats only! "The Quintessential, Quirky Compendium of Cats" has been put together to support an animal rescue organization called APSCA. A good cause, cats, illustrations...what else could you ask for (except a few guinea pigs)?

The "Around the World" tote bags will sold at SUPERSWEET's pop-up store in Thailand and "The Quintessential, Quirky Compendium of Cats" is available for ordering here.

14 Feb 2014

Every bat needs a robin

Following the same sidekick-superhero theme I had on Valentine's Day last year, I illustrated a non-mushy card for the day of love and friendship this year as well.

I shall stick to this annual tradition of superhero inspired Valentine's day illustrations until the day I run out of funny references...if that ever happens, I might start buying the mushy heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Meanwhile: have a happy Valentine's Day all you friends, strangers, heroes and sidekicks!

13 Feb 2014

Look mom, I illustrated a bible!

"The next time someone asks me what I do for living, I'm going to say I illustrate bibles and stuff," I told my boyfriend. And that's practically correct: I have illustrated a bible. Not a religious one, though, but a more lighthearted edition called De Blog Bijbel. Sharing tips and tricks about setting up your blog, building a strong reader base and dealing with ups and downs of blogging, De Blog Bijbel is every (Dutch speaking) girls' guide to starting a blog.

The book is written by Carlijn Bekker, a freelance journalist and blogger, whom I met at Meet The Blogger event in Amsterdam last October. I happened to sit at the same table during a coffee break, and after a little chit-chat we found out that she had written a feature about my book Dear Fashion Diary. Speaking of a small world! We exchanged business cards (oh how professional), and a month later met up again at a coffee table to talk about Carlijn's own book. She wanted to embellish it with quirky and fun illustrations with a tint of sassy humour, and I couldn't but say yes, yes and yes! Lucky me, I also got to do the the design of the inside pages. I love projects that let me work on the overall design instead of just parts of it, and I had so much fun setting up the style for the contents and adding my illustrations in it. Hashtag heart - that's what a blogger would say, right?

The book is published by B For Books and is available for ordering online.

31 Jan 2014

What happens in 279 hours and 30 minutes

When working on a project, at some point you are likely to end up staring at your computer screen till 1 AM and penciling your days, nights and weekends away, either because of a deadline or just insane enthusiasm. On those moments, when everybody else is asleep and you just keep on going despite everything that your parents ever taught about sensible bedtimes, it's fun to toy with the idea of finishing the project and ponder how you will celebrate it. Maybe a dinner at your favourite restaurant? A weekend full of absolute nothingness? A movie night with friends? Skipping all the healthy options in the morning and going for a fresh croissant instead? Whenever I'm in a swamp of work with a deadline that temporarily kills my free time, thinking about all those nice things helps me ignore the fact that my eyes are hurting from all the drawing.

This week, I finished a big (massive!) project that I have been working on since autumn. It's a children's book, and although I won't be able to reveal too much before it's going to be published in May, I can tell you that it has been one of the most laborious but also one of the most fun projects I have ever worked on! It took 279 hours, 30 minutes and one sketchbook to complete. Me and the client, an incredibly sweet and passionate Australian author, exchanged 549 emails of which roughly 50% were spiced up with smileys and one included pictures of puppies. Her morning was my midnight and my daytime was her bedtime, but surprisingly enough we managed to communicate very smoothly. I sent her illustrations and she replied with feedback right before going to bed and the first thing in the morning. It has been great working for someone who is so dedicated to the project that a solitary freelancer like me feels like she actually has an invisible colleague right here...despite the fact that we are literally on the opposite sides of the world. (Isn't that strange...? Two people can complete an entire book by being connected through the Internet...oh the wonders of the World Wide Web!)

A sneak peek from my sketchbook

For the past few weeks, I have squeezed all my illustration juices into this project to get it finished on time. I spent many late nights working and fantasising about the moment when all the illustrations would be finished, thinking about how I would reward myself. Now the book is finished from my part, and it's time to put those fantasies into action. I shall celebrate with home-made hummus (eaten straight from the jar, because that's the way, aha aha, I like it) and tea with a friend!

10 Jan 2014

Hello 2014!

It's 2014. Here are ten nice things about the year so far.

1. My hair got chopped up to my shoulders and I haven't missed those 25cm of it that were left on the hairdresser's floor. Not even once.

2. I have one illustration project 99,9% finished, another one 75 % done AND a new idea for the next project of my own! I'm really excited about it and think it's a pretty good one. That kind of ideas don't come every day, so it definitely deserves an extra hurray."Hurray!"

3. I have (almost) finished dealing with the nuisance of filing quarterly taxes.

4. Most of the time the weather is cold and rainy, but our radiator works and we have a hot water bottle, too. When he (yes, he) is full, he looks like a chubby old man. We call him Bob.

5. I have one unread issue of Frankie and at least five unwatched episodes of The Mindy Project. (Update: one unwatched episode of The Mindy Project left - just finished watching the other four.)

6. I got introduced to a new dish, when a friend cooked it for New Year's Eve. It is really tasty, cheap and easy to make. Next to that, it is also vegetarian, so all you fellow starving artists and friends of animals: Mercimek Köftesi is the dish of the year!

7. I have three new friends keeping me company whilst working; a trio of small, pretty robins. They were drawn by a lady called Habiba, whom I met a few months ago. She is a harpist and a singer-songwriter, but obviously she is a great artist on paper, too!

8. Our small attic room has new curtains and I am very fond of them. Having my desk right in front of the window, the curtains are quite a prominent element in my daily field of vision, and that should be reason enough to appreciate their niceness.

9. The second edition of Dear Fashion Diary has arrived, and I have a few copies waiting to be picked up from the post office. Next to that, I have finally started filling a diary of my own, which has been really fun! Sneak peeks will follow later!

10. The list of movies me and my boyfriend have watched together since we "hooked up" (Do people still "hook up" these days or is it just something youngsters did back in the 50s..?) has reached the number 240. Last week, we started watching the Rocky hexalogy, and although no one will ever take the place of Indiana Jones in my heart, I must say I like Rocky, too.

+1. Weekend!