Bad Ideas Make You a Better Artist!

Handdrawn Paper Doilies by Peony and Parakeet

About four years ago, I got a crazy idea to draw doilies on a watercolor paper and cut them out like they would be crocheted pieces.

Handpainted Paper Doilies – Not So Good Idea

Handpainted Paper Doilies, a phase photo, by Peony and Parakeet

The process of painting the background circles and then decorate them with doodles was so much fun that I got carried away and made plenty.

Handdrawn Paper Doilies by Peony and Parakeet

After I had finished a pile, I enthusiastically showed them to my husband: “Look what I have made!”
– “What are these?”, he said. “What are you going to make from these?”
– “Maybe I share the idea in my blog or make a big wall hanging by joining the circles together. Wouldn’t that be cool!?”

I saw it on his face. He didn’t get it. And furthermore, he didn’t want paper doilies on our walls either.

Mandala Madness

But to me, the doilies made perfect sense even if they weren’t crocheted. By painting them, I wanted to build a bridge from crafts to art. The paper doily was a raw idea, and as I, fortunately, learned later, raw ideas can look really bad at first.

Big Ideas Come from Bad Ideas

The idea of a doily translated into art didn’t leave me alone. Last year, three years after inventing it, I launched a workshop called Planet Color, where I teach people to paint abstract compositions.

Planet Color and Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

For the class, I needed a lot more ideas. I also needed to build a system and a structure that any beginner can follow. I needed to set it loosely so that everyone can use their imagination, but make it clear so that there would be no room for frustration. The idea of a paper doily was a seed, but it took some time to grow the flower.

Sowing flower seeds

Often when we admire other people’s art, we see the flowers instead of seeds. Most artists don’t show the seeds because many times, like in my case, they are pretty pathetic. Still, it’s the seeds, the raw ideas, that make the published work possible.

Finland 200 – Not So Good Idea

Before I started making a new big painting, I saw some elegant yet simple still lifes in my mind. I had just seen a superb piece of art, a Finnish sculptor Laila Pullinen’s bronze sculpture Spring in Man. So I wanted to start a new painting with the intention to create something grand and dramatic to celebrate Finland’s 100th anniversary. “This would be called Finland 200”, I declared.

First layers of an imaginative painting by Peony and Parakeet. Read how you can turn your bad ideas into good ones!

After painting for a couple of hours or so, I began to wonder what I wanted to say. Starting the painting with this much drama felt like a bad idea and I wasn’t convinced about the centerpiece either. Would that be some kind of mushroom or what? Then my bad ideas just got worse – I decided to continue by writing an imaginary story about Finland after 100 years.

Writing a story in an journal, by Peony and Parakeet

While quickly pouring the words out on my journal, I didn’t realize that I was actually writing a dystopia. The idea of a catastrophe in nature seemed exciting at first, but while painting, I realized that my visuals became very gloomy and weird-looking. I tried to make something positive out of it. I wrote a happy end to my story and painted a pink bubble with rare flowers inside it. That would be a new treasure of Finland, something everyone would want to come and see.

An imaginative painting in progress by Peony and Parakeet. Read how you can turn your bad ideas into good ones!

Even if the painting wasn’t finished yet, I already hated it. My original idea was bad enough, and now I had some more. I felt the despair rising.

New Vision – Imagination Takes the Lead

Luckily, I have a secret weapon for these situations. I connect with my passion and use the imagination to go to my happy place. It sets the mood, reminds why I create art and loads the right atmosphere into my mind while I am creating. The side of me that wants to control steps back and the side of me that is good at persuading re-evaluates the work.

– “What about changing the orientation of the painting,” she said.
– “And loose all the hard work?”, my pessimistic side responded.
– “No, nothing would be lost, we would just add a little bit of color over it.”
– “Color? What color?”
– “Brown,” she said cheerfully.
– “Why on earth would I pick brown of all the colors?”

And then she reminded me gently about my passion, about what inspires me and how I can feel free.

Phase photos of an imaginative painting by Peony and Parakeet. Read how you can turn your bad ideas into good ones!

And she was right. I loved the painting after adding layers with umber. It became clear to me what the painting would be. Not Finland 200, but expressing something that has been here for hundreds of years and most probably stays the same for the next hundred: nature’s wonders when exploring the garden. I continued the painting by adding flowers that I have had in the garden. I adjusted the elements in the first layers so that they became the building blocks of the new vision.

Garden-inspired painting in progress by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

My painting is not finished yet, but it’s already a good example of how the raw ideas can be translated to more inspiring ideas with the help of imagination.

Bad Art, Bad Ideas – Also Behind This Blog Post!

Before I wrote this blog post, I decorated my work planner to get ideas for it. I cut pretty ladies from a wedding magazine and put funny hats on them. While creating this, I thought how this kind of activity would be seen something that a “real artist” would not do, yet it’s essential to me to have a bit of play regularly. So that’s how I got the idea of revealing some bad ideas and how essential this kind of exploration is for producing work that you want to publish.

A planner spread using images from a wedding magazine. By Peony and Parakeet.

When Your Best Art Exists Only in Your Mind

Before I started making the paper doilies, I had wonderful daydreams inspired by my beautiful yarn stash. By seeing beautiful images in my mind, I came up with my bad idea, the ugly version of those daydreams.

Daydreaming is good, but it’s not successful when you try to translate something you see in your mind to paper. The creative process rarely works so literally. The images in our minds are often vague. Copying them detail by detail is practically impossible. The imagination is more like the leader who supports your art making, not a manager who controls it or the specialist who does the work. During the recent years, I have developed a method of using imagination to connect with the passion of creating art. I teach this method in the group coaching program called The Exploring Artist.

6 Steps to Making an Impact

6 steps to making an impact with your art. Sign up for the Exploring Artist, a group coaching program by Peony and Parakeet!

The Exploring Artist helps you to connect the play with your deeper passion and use that to move forward in all levels of art-making. During this program, you will:
– lead yourself by playing and imagining
– grow ideas from your personal feelings and experiences
– remove blind spots and build skills through the challenges
– get confident for publishing your art, whether it’s just friends or a bigger group of your people

The Exploring Artist is also about connecting and soul-searching within a friendly group. We will work through 6 steps and have live group coaching sessions, where your art and your art-making is in focus.

This is not a class where you create after me and try to get to the similar result. It’s for you who wants to get support and guidance for creating freely from your personal standpoint. You can use any media you are comfortable with and apply the methods to your visual project(s). If you feel that you are “all over the place,” and want to find a creative direction, The Exploring Artist is the program for you!

The Exploring Artist - a coaching program for new artists by Peony and Parakeet

The Exploring Artist begins July 1st – Sign up Now!

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23 Responses to Bad Ideas Make You a Better Artist!

  1. Surana says:

    Paivi, I thank you so much for inspiring me. I hope you offer “The Exploring Artist” again…it is what I need. Timing and $$ conspire against me at this moment. You are as good a writer as you are an artist. You find the heart of what I’m trying to accomplish. Again, my thanks for the dedication you show.

  2. Louisa says:

    Hi Paivi!

    I very much enjoyed this post since I am so often frustrated when my original “idea” and enthusiasm for it does not match the disastrous ending. Your process here reminds me of a recent mistake in an art journal that I made to accompany an academic course. Unlike you, I used new online techniques (rather than my own ideas). The spread was a mess–my daughter flat out said she disliked it! There was no time to cover the page and start over. I left it in the journal and wrote about my error on a piece of vellum placed over the top. Another lesson!

    UnfortunateIy, I’m finding online courses too much for me financially these days–I search for free ones. But your posts are much appreciated and I love the little tutorials you have kindly supplied!

    Thank you.

  3. Peggy Lynn says:

    I always learn something from your writings!

  4. Kathy says:

    I quite love your paper doilies and would be perfectly happy to have them on my wall!

  5. CARLA says:

    Oh, dear! Gee…I love the paper doilies! I am taking your class, and I am not an art expert I have a hard time with the word “bad” and “good” applied to art. Some things I have seen that are supposedly “good” art I think are horrible and I love your “bad” doilies. What is a girl to do???
    I have painted over and reworked things until I was pleased…and sometimes I am pleased well before I thought a work would be done and I realize that adding more would ruin it. How to know? And what IS “bad” art???

    • Päivi says:

      Thank you, Carla! And great to have you at The Exploring Artist!

      “Good” and “bad” are a bit controversial words when it comes to art, it’s not so “black and white” science as computer engineering for example. There are general criteria for “good” art, the philosophy of art is the field that has studied it. They are not always so simple to adapt but they can be used as a basis when we set personal criteria for the pieces that we have made ourselves.

      How to know when the work is finished – My general advice is that the more beginner you are, the less probable it is that you stop too early than too late. I have also written a more thorough blog post on the subject:
      http://www.peonyandparakeet.com/how-to-know-when-your-artwork-is-finished/

      We will certainly discuss and analyze these at The Exploring Artist as well!

  6. Mary W says:

    You gave me excellent advice once that said let the muse inside get to play some! It seems to me that your final painting (not quite finished) about Finland started without your inner muse – more of a project that you wanted to make. I think once you discovered those gorgeous flowers in the clear bubble, it allowed you to let your muse take over for awhile and create a striking new direction that is ending with plenty of beauty and includes a great deal of meaning and art. Obviously the value of this blog post is allowing us to begin-just begin and the ideas will begin growing, also. Your doilies got me thinking about some old wipe up cloths that are stained with color. I can see them transformed into doily flowers through art mediums instead of thread and how they can make beautiful greeting cards and journal pages. Thanks!

    • Mary W says:

      Almost forgot, I adore Lily of the Valley flowers that pop up in the spring and see you included a sprig in your Finland piece. It was beautiful but that little sprig of flowers made it even more beautiful to me.

    • Päivi says:

      Thank you, Mary, you put it so well again!

  7. Nancy Kvorka says:

    I love those paper doilies too, they could make good collage pieces or even the background behind other art. I am in the new class and am looking forward to it.

    • Päivi says:

      Nancy, it’s so good to have you at The Exploring Artist. Thank you for a good idea, yes, I might use those for a background! Maybe I will scan them and then print the scan on the paper. That way it would not be so bulky!

  8. joan Lilley says:

    Thank you so much for this. Guess we have all been there!

  9. Liz wiz says:

    Your paper doiles are beautiful! I do not see them as a disaster! Why not use them as a framed wall art composition? I love them!!!

  10. Susie Dahl says:

    Your honesty is so refreshing. As creators we hesitate and judge ourselves- wanting/expecting the inner picture to magically fall out through our chosen medium. So offen for me it looks meager and a bit pathetic nothing like the inner vision. At that point I used to think my artistic skills were grossly lacking and I was doomed. But what I have come to see and I believe you are saying too is it’s a piece of the concept in our heads and it will be birthed; just not how and when we thought.” Allow” is my mantra now. Allow and let the dilation of the birth canal to happen.

    • Päivi says:

      Susie, the word “concept” is definitely the right term here! When seeing concepts instead of taking everything very literally, our creativity will get multiplied!

  11. florenel says:

    Thanks Paivi for this article. A very positiv manner to handle “mistakes”or “failures”.
    I always used to throw those awful things in my paper-bin, and never got the idea to use them as a new start for something more acceptable.
    Your point of vieuw gives me (as always) a boost for my own work.