I just keep on drawing pictures of saunas – Pive Toivonen, Saunakettu
In Finland every house has a sauna. Additionally, there are lakeside saunas, summer cabins with saunas, saunas in swim centres and other public saunas. I once made a list of all the saunas I had visited. The total was over 400. Later I set myself a goal of visiting up to 1 000 and started to “collect” saunas.
Then I thought it would be nice to capture my impressions somehow and I decided to draw a picture every time I visit a new sauna. I have drawn old public saunas with a huge stove and serene atmosphere. I have drawn swim centres’ noisy steam rooms and tiny electric saunas of private homes. One of the finest saunas I have captured so far is a massive underground smoke sauna inside a rock. It was easy to lose myself in its dark and gentle embrace.
I always go to a new sauna with a sketchbook and a pencil. First I bath and cool down. Take a look what is special about the place. Then it is time to draw a picture. Sometimes it is a view from the outside. Sometimes the most interesting details are in the dressing room. Mostly I draw the stove and myself or someone else relaxing on the benches. When paper gets too moist from steam and sweat, the drawing should be ready.
I have my own style of making pictures. Composition and light are essential for me. Each picture has to convey the atmosphere and experience of the visit. When I am back home, I finish the picture with watercolours on the same day or the day after. People are depicted in animal form. I am a fox. Orange. Other characters remind bears and otters.
Finns prefer to bath completely naked but staring is avoided. However, staring is ok when looking at a drawing or a painting and therefore I have decided to present sauna-goers as animals. Anyone can relate to animal characters despite the age, hair colour or gender.
So far I have drawn 80 saunas. My sauna series is documenting Finnish sauna culture inscribed on the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. It has also been exhibited wide and far.
My other favourite topics besides saunas are the seas and islands, which I like to explore by kayaking and sailing. I love islands and cliffs. Finland has a unique archipelago with thousands of rocky islands. In wintertime, some of them are even accessible on skates.
If an island has a house, it has a sauna too. My biggest dream is to build my own sauna on a small remote island. I’m also dreaming of exhibiting my sauna pictures at the National Museum of Finland. Also, bringing the exhibition to Japan would be great, a dream come true.