Finding Tove

September 24, 2016

Tove Jansson, tove, jansson, helsinki, finland, tove artist, artist, artistry, helsinki art museum, moomins, moomin, moomin mural, moomins mural

I’ve made no secret of my love for Moomins, but I’ve not spoken as much about how much I adore their creator, Tove Jansson. There are a lot of people who enjoy the characters of a particular world without knowing a lot about the creator – and that’s fine, but for me it’s a bit different. I was a Moomins fan as a kid via the anime and first few books, but I grew out of it and unlike Sailor Moon, I totally forgot about the existence of the Moomins until I was around 20.

I ran into Tove Jansson and her books for adults whilst studying for my degree, and became enthralled with her precise, compact writing. Tove’s writing is an exercise in stringent editing, clarity of expression and neat integration of ideas. Up until then I had been attracted to a maximalist tendency in art; all abstract references, excessive adjectives and full orchestras. Tove’s writing (and her paintings, as I later discovered) is not like that – it is intricate and purposeful and sparing.

Tove Jansson, tove, jansson, helsinki, finland, tove artist, artist, artistry, helsinki art museum, moomins, moomin, moomin mural, moomins mural

It took me a while to put two and two together, but when I realised the wise, minimalist Tove of my artistic re-awakening was also Tove Jansson, the creator of my childhood favourites I dove straight back into the Moomin books. The Moomin series gets increasingly more surreal and bizarre as the series goes on. Main characters disappear or break down, locations continually morph and in the final book, the titular Moomin family are completely absent. Tove’s life changed enormously whilst writing the Moomin books and Moominvalley is a place where she explores those changes.

Tove always felt she was a painter first and writer second, and she strove for authenticity and honesty in her work. Her words have had a profound effect on my ideas of artistry and work, and I am inspired by her success in different mediums. Artists struggle a lot; what are we doing, what do we stand for, why? Tove asked these questions repeatedly, and points a lens on herself throughout her writing. Her books for children and adults alike are sprinkled through with her perceptions on art and life, love and work.

Tove Jansson, tove, jansson, helsinki, finland, tove artist, artist, artistry, helsinki art museum, moomins, moomin, moomin mural, moomins mural

To Finland

Whilst visiting Helsinki I re-read my favourite of her books. Given my current state of mind I found them incredibly reassuring – reading about Tove in her twenties, trying things out and learning what kind of artist she wanted to be gives me hope. I intended to visit MoominWorld in Naantali (3 hours away). Our original plans involved heading over there at 8am, visiting for 4 hours and getting the latest train possible back to Helsinki. It all seemed very tiring and rushed.

Tove turned down many opportunities to commercialise the Moomins in her lifetime, only taking offers she deemed creatively rewarding. It  explains why there is a Moomin ballet and a suite of eclectic Moomin music, but no all-star blockbuster Moomin film or collectable models. The Jansson family retain rights to the Moomins and have turned down multiple offers from Disney and Warner (who would no doubt franchise the hell out of it).

Tove Jansson, tove, jansson, helsinki, finland, tove artist, artist, artistry, helsinki art museum, moomins, moomin, moomin mural, moomins mural

MoominWorld was specifically built on a small island rather than an area of land that could be expanded later. Intentionally, there are no traditional theme park rides so visitors can explore the park at a gentle pace together. The more I thought about it, the more I realised trekking to Moominland in a frantic hurry was just not a fitting tribute to find the Tove I admire and have tried to understand.

Instead I stayed in her beloved Helsinki and ate bread with lingonberry jam for breakfast, as her characters sometimes do. I visited the Helsinki Art Museum and their permanent Tove Jansson gallery. We drank coffee from the stall she mentions in her books, and sat in the park next door. I visited her building; Tove’s studio still exists and you can still see the Jansson name on the door. It is almost as though you’ll find Tove in there, hard at work in her turret. I left feeling inspired, energised, eager to get home and work; head full of Tove’s words. I guess in a way, you still can find Tove and her wisdom if you just know where to look.

Tove Jansson, tove, jansson, helsinki, finland, tove artist, artist, artistry, helsinki art museum, moomins, moomin, moomin mural, moomins mural, tove jansson house, tove jansson turret, tove jansson studio

Tove Jansson, tove, jansson, helsinki, finland, tove artist, artist, artistry, helsinki art museum, moomins, moomin, moomin mural, moomins mural, tove jansson house, tove jansson turret, tove jansson studio


If you’d like to know some of the spots I visited in Helsinki related to the Moomins and to Tove Jansson then keep an eye out for a guide next week. Please note – I’ve blurred the other names in the above photo as it is still a residential building. My camera is fine!

12 responses to “Finding Tove”

  1. Keith Haney says:

    What a very neat experience. I hope it helps you in your writing career.

  2. Keith Haney says:

    What a very cool experience. I hope that helps you better connect with the artist and it may even help your unlock you artistic spirit as well.

  3. It’s such a lovely post about Tove Jansson and Moomins! So glad that she kept her decision, not making a huge themed park with all-things-Moomin just for marketing or whatsoever, and that she never sold Moomins for Disney or Warner… I didn’t know that she saw herself first as a painter and then a writer. I think it was really good to stay in Helsinki doing some things that are on the book, next visit you can plan to go to the other town. So good to feel energised that way, hope you wrote a song about the visit! Wishing you a great weekend!
    DenisesPlanet.com

  4. I’m not into arts that much, but it’s a good experience that you got through!

  5. Shirley says:

    Like the post very much. Very artistic and different something to read. Wish you will writing such posts in future as well.

  6. Natasha says:

    Oh I loved this post Laila! The Moomins were one of my favourites growing up and my Mum still adores them now so being able to have a peek into Jansson’s life is really interesting – I love her artwork, and I actually didn’t know she’d done that as well as bringing the Moomins to life. Love the fact you ate bread with lingonberry jam too, that must have been so yummy! – Tasha

  7. Kimberly C. says:

    Nice post. I’ve never heard of Moomins or Tove, but from I can tell that they really inspire you. Can’t wait to see what the next post brings.

  8. lex says:

    awesome post, great read and your writing skills is top notch, this is sure a good way to connect with the other side.

  9. Kari Jonard says:

    Love and work stuck with me on this. It is very important to have Love come first and work second yet without work you can’t support your love. I hope your trip helps you with your passion!

  10. Laura says:

    you should definitely come and visit turku/naantali/moominworld now while i’m living here, hehe! xxx

  11. ALLAN KAKAI says:

    Am an avid enthusiast of your writing…….i think you should visit Kenya……………cant wait to read that blog

  12. […] beautiful paintings. I am a huge fan of Tove’s non-Moomin work; if you can’t quite manage the trip to Finland then this seems a very thorough place to start exploring her […]

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