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The Swedish Art School Chronicles: Month 1

Zeynep Colpan

I have decided to document my year at art school. Since we are currently veering into Week 7, the last few weeks will be short recaps. I hope to provide more timely and nuanced updates going forward.

Week 1: And So It Began … with some jellyfish and volcanoes

What happened: We spent the first day of school walking around the premises and being shown where things are and meeting our classmates. We are 16 people in total and I am by far the oldest at 32 years old. The average age is early to mid-20s with some classmates as young as 18. However, there are a few 25-27 year olds that make me feel less ancient.

After walking around school, we learned about charcoal. I made a jellyfish and volcano drawing experimenting with blowing charcoal and dropping charcoal-imbued string on various paper.

The rest of the week was a blur. We worked more on charcoal, learned about stretching out paper, and the qualities of paper. In line with that last topic, we went to the East Asian museum to look at a paper exhibit and to Liljevalchs to look at Lars Lerin’s watercolour works. On the Friday we had a school wide activity day.

How I felt: Shattered.

Week 2: Oil Painting

What happened: We started oil painting this week, where we learned how to mix our own oil paints (linseed oil + pigment) and how to gesso paper.

How I felt about it: I was mostly in awe at the level-ing up that took place this week. From the cozy confines of my 3-month private introductory art course to school, I looked around and thought to myself, this is next level.

Week 3: Shingle Bells

I missed an entire week due to my bout with shingles. Which, I am sure, resurfaced because I was so latently stressed out about starting Nyckelvik.

Week 4: The Week of the Toilet Cry

How I felt:

I was really upset this week and had a solid bathroom cry every day. I’m not sure if it was the combination of PMS and recovering from shingles but this was the week where I began questioning my decision to quit my stable job and embark on this creative journey. I felt overwhelmed by the teaching being in Swedish, and, having missed out on about 30% of the course, I felt like my classmates and I hadn’t bonded adequately so I couldn’t really be myself around them (in English).

I realized that everything I had ever prided myself on and built my identity around (such as my IB diploma, moving to so many countries and making friends, surviving in Sweden, being good at writing, my McGill and LSE degrees - great schools by one measure, now completely irrelevant, being smart, speaking multiple languages, ALL OF THE THINGS I USE TO DEFINE MYSELF) do not matter at all in art school.

Who I was before is relevant in my new reality the way a distant relative is relevant at a wedding: there in the background, but not part of the main event. Add to that the layers of insecurity around my creative abilities, the conditions were set for daily bathroom cries and flinging myself on my bed sobbing in manner of Disney princess.

What we did:

In logistical updates, however, I came back from Shingles Leave to oil painting for Tuesday and Wednesday. I painted a mango and a bottle of olive oil. Learned more about oil paints and how to strike a brush confidently on to the “canvas,” which in our case this week was wallpaper covered with lindseed oil. Our teacher, Anders, is the King of Artist Life Hacks.

Thursday we switched to “trä” which in Swedish means wood. Our teacher is Ola Nilsson, an artist who works with conceptual and installation art. I LOVE his work. You can see his website here.

We spent the first two days of woodwork first doing a project in pairs, and then joining with another pair to create a piece of artwork based on sounds and memories. It was really fun, but it also highlighted how much one controlling aspect of me does not like to work in teams, especially when it comes to creative work. Food for thought!

All right, I will update Week 5 in its own separate installment as there’s a lot to write!

 My charcoal jellyfish! I imbued string with charcoal powder and dropped it onto the paper to make the tentacles!

My charcoal jellyfish! I imbued string with charcoal powder and dropped it onto the paper to make the tentacles!

 I blew charcoal on spray painted glue on the paper to create a textured volcano effect. I am finding I like to experiment with materials and get away from making perfect drawings.

I blew charcoal on spray painted glue on the paper to create a textured volcano effect. I am finding I like to experiment with materials and get away from making perfect drawings.

 My oil painting of a mango

My oil painting of a mango

 Black and white oil painting. Might I add that we oiled our own cheap artist palette - apparently companies jip amateur painters by selling fancy palettes when all you need is a sanded down one and can linseed oil it yourself!

Black and white oil painting. Might I add that we oiled our own cheap artist palette - apparently companies jip amateur painters by selling fancy palettes when all you need is a sanded down one and can linseed oil it yourself!

 I really enjoy mixing colours in oil. Please note that we have basically painted on thick wallpaper.

I really enjoy mixing colours in oil. Please note that we have basically painted on thick wallpaper.


Zeynep Colpan

My mom's friend, my namesake Zeynep, sent her pictures of these photos from the mid 1970s while they were working as English teachers at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. 

Zeynep is the wild, curly haired beauty second from the left with the read sweater and requisite cigarette. My mom, Seyyare Silivrili (her maiden name) is to her right, with the flowered, mint green dress. This was about a decade before I was born, which makes my mom in her late 20s here.

I am sure the daughters, sons, partners of all the people in these pictures have a beautiful tapestry of stories to weave in, but I wanted to write about it for me. 

I am well familiar with the feeling of homesickness. The gravitational pull of mixed feelings, gnawing. Sometimes I even get nostalgic for the various homesickness feelings I have had at different times of my life. But looking at these photographs of my mother, I'm timesick. Nostalgic for a time that I didn't even exist in. 

It's impossible to know who was feeling, thinking what in these photographs. I have asked my mom and she says that this was just a regular Friday night with her colleagues, but I want to know everything. If Ankara was a warmer, kinder place. How did everyone relate to each other? What were they joking about? What had happened that day in the news? 

Mostly, I want to go back in time and be my mother's best friend, to know her objectively, separately and not as someone part of her. Who did she like? How did she feel taking the campus bus home on a cold winter night, was she lonely? I know I have the luxury of asking her now, but words and answers are simply a simplified abstraction. I want to spend time with her, observing her, maybe talking on the phone after we both get home. How was she in the face of uncertainty? 

I spend hours thinking of this in circles, and each time I have to pull the brakes on myself and to jet back to the present. And to simply look at the photos for what they are: capturing light reflecting off of biological and man-made surfaces for a tiny sliver of time. But, if anything, that timesickness feeling helps me reconnect to the fact that we're all doing the best we can, across time and space. That we are flawed and perfect, all at the same time. 


I want to be a Minimalist but I don't know how

Zeynep Colpan

Yesterday I watched Minimalism, a documentary about "Examining the many levels of minimalism by looking inside the lives of minimalists from various walks of life." 

It basically centers on two rich white dudes that decided the path to true happiness laid in getting rid of all of their stuff and stopping the mindless consumption of goods. 

I wanted to be skeptical. Yeah, yeah, of course two white corporate guys can afford to give up everything and have one pair of socks for the rest of eternity. But what about the rest of us. I wanted to roll my eyes. And I did, for a while. Especially in the segment about tiny houses concerning a heterosexual couple. Again, I respect the people who choose this path of environmental and spiritual sustainability. I do. But in all honesty, most of my respect centered around how a couple living in such close proximity to each other had not murdered each other yet.

Having lived in a Tiny Dorm room in Montreal and a Tiny, Dirty Council Flat Room With Two Roommates in London, my vast experience with Tiny Living mostly made me question a) how they can keep such tiny spaces clean and b) most importantly, how she hasn't stood over their tiny bed with a giant glinting knife before looking to the heavens, gathering strength and stabbing him forty times for leaving out the tiny cup beside the tiny sink for the billionth time and so on. 

It also didn't help matters that I had just ordered a fabulous FlowLife massage pillow that my lower office-chair-beholden back was very excited about. I cradled the pillow, the massage balls moving while flashing red, to my chest, not wanting to let it go. My partner rolled his eyes as I cried out, "But I LOVE THIS PILLOW." 

And yet, a small, thoughtful, Wise part of me stirred and started spewing thoughts that I finally caved into and agreed with. Buying without consideration, adding more and more stuff to our lives doesn't necessarily make us happier. Bowing down to a system that treats us like dopamine addicted rats doesn't bring us joy and fulfillment. To be more aware before decisions, whether it's reaching in for a mindless snack or purchasing a massage pillow (!) can be the ignition of change towards not destroying human lives and the planet. 

So ultimately, the message of the documentary caught up to me and I was converted by the end of it. I will spend the next few weekends truly decluttering and putting financial limits on my credit cards before I spend mindlessly on objects that don't make me "happy."

*This is all with the caveat that I completely recognize that this is a very privileged position and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to buy anything at all.

How I ended up in Stockholm

Zeynep Colpan

I get this question almost on a daily basis so I thought I'd write it out here so when future digital archeologists excavate the dark, boring, dusty corners of the internet they will be inspired by my epic story. 

 I ended up in Sweden for a six month internship on a whim, almost five years ago. I had finished my Master's in health policy and was trying to stay in London where I had been living for about three years. With recent policy making it bureaucratically very difficult for non-EU (and I guess now also EU citizens, hello fellow unwelcome friends, please, come, take a seat, may I offer you some Turkish tea and a sympathetic hug?) folks to stay in the UK unless they were earning a salary the size of the GDP of a small country, I was looking for jobs anywhere and everywhere. My master plan was to emigrate to Canada, but the process still had a few years to go. So, I was job hunting while nursing a painful dental surgery.

I made myself send out one job application every single day, which wasn't that hard since I couldn't engage in any of my two favorite activities (eating snacks while watching TV and talking). I randomly saw a job advert for a Dutch intern on a health economist organization website. I figured perhaps the same medtech consulting company needed a Turkish intern (emerging markets! a population of 80+ million! a rising middle class!) and applied. Perhaps due to the gentle high of the high-dose pain medication I was on, I am pretty sure I thought the company was in Amsterdam. It was only later I discovered the company was based on the outskirts of Stockholm. 

Stockholm. What did I know about Stockholm? Even colder, even darker, even wetter than London, three facts (which I had absolutely no control over) which I had been complaining about for the entirety of the three years I lived there. Great. 

But, it was either living in Stockholm for 6 months or parents' couch for an indeterminate period of time. I figured I could always leave if I was unhappy and figure something out. So, a few months later I packed a few bags and headed to the great unknown. Risk-taker galore!

Almost half a decade later, I'm still here, alive and kicking. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made #noregrets.