Learning from Tove Jansson and the Moomins

I’ve spent the past few evenings attempting to recreate a Moomin illustration from Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson. This is part of my self-imposed study schedule of the greats of ink illustration, which has taken me from Tenniel to Peake. It’s probably my last of these for a while, but it’s definitely not the end. (There’s a reason for me doing all these, by the way, but I’m not going to explain for a while!)

Any way, the illustration I chose is a full-page plate, which is quite different from most of the Moomin illustrations. It’s possibly my favourite, and it’s the only one I can think of where the chiaroscuro lighting allows for the full 3D shape of Moomintroll to be described.

Once again I drew it in ink with a paintbrush, forcing myself to not make mistakes and do it without under-drawing. And crikey, what a lot I learnt. Starting with Moomintroll, the greatest lesson to be had is the direction of the pen marks, and the use of the highlights.

Tove Jansson was a master of using stark contrasts, and by leaving the band of white inside the outline, Moomintroll’s belly really pops out!

Another example of the line direction can be had in the window.

Again, the white is as important as the strokes, but the swirling effect of the lines brings out the beauty of the moonlit night. It also provides a contrast against the vertical strokes that colour the wall.

The method of shading the illustration is also of massive importance. There are some huge areas of pure black, and some huge areas of pure white. It’s a surprisingly brave thing to do, but never once do they take your attention away from the subject. The composition is perfect, as is the lighting.

And finally, the best thing that I’ve taken away from attempting to draw like Tove Jansson, is how time-consuming and patient you need to be to create work like this. I don’t know the size of the original, and it has a far better use and economy of line than mine, but the work involved in creating a piece like this is exceptional.

I admire Tove Jansson now more than ever!

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  1. Wow, that is most impressive! I love Tove Jansson too, and study her drawings a lot. But to recreate one, what a super exercise. I think yours is great because it has the same “feel” as the original, which is the most important thing with Moomins. They are so emotional and expressive but so simple, too.

    I am always curious (and can’t always tell) when an artist uses a pen and when they use a brush with ink. I have tried to find out which Tove used. You mentioned a brush – do you think she exclusively used one to draw with?

  2. Oh thank you! It was a big experiment, and I think I learnt a lot. I’d advise anyone to try and fill a page in the same way Tove did, as there’s so much work involved.

    I think the precise, nature of her strokes probably means that it was a pen Tove used. But I’m going to go and check now!

    Thanks for stopping by,

  3. This is definitely one of the most beautiful drawings by Tove! And yours is also fantastic, a different drawing but it has the same feeling.
    I wrote a few letters to her many years ago, and once I asked her which pen she used for the drawings in the books. So in her next letter, she sent me a pen that she used for “thousands of Moomins”. I still got it, and it is (of course) one of my most beloved treasures…:) It´s one of those old fashioned pens with a replaceable metal tip, for dipping in ink. The tip is very thin.
    It´s remarkable, imagine that she made a full-page drawing without a single ink stain???


  4. That’s so wonderful! What a terrific thing to receive. Many of my friends use proper ink dip pens, it’s something that one day i’ll give a little time to. Thanks for stopping by and writing that. It’s made my day.

  5. Being Finnish, the Moomins have been a part of my life for a long time. My mother used to read us the stories and when I was at school, I did a project exploring the other side of Tove, a writer of literature for grown ups. I have always been fascinated by the way she writes, it seems so effortless, yet every story has a darker, more mature edge but yet they can be interpreted as children’s easy reading tales.
    I started exploring her as an artist a lot later on and she is superb. Alex, you have done a fantastic job with the drawing! Particularly as you went with the ink straight away and with a brush, very brave. It must have been a painstaking process not to start ‘freelancing’ too much from the original. I understand that she learnt this technique from her father at a fairly young age. Do you use this technique in your books?

  6. thanks for your lovely comment! I’m starting to use more ink – particularly with the brushpen. I think it’s the effortlessness of Tove that I’m trying to achieve. I can’t help feeling that she drew very quickly, particularly with the later books. I guess that freedom comes with practice, and as I’m drawing so much these days, hopefully in time I’ll reach a point where I can draw with as much character as Tove did. In the mean time, it’s all a good exercise to learn from her.