Little Assistants – How Pets Help with Art Making

Surreal Stella, a sketchbook page made with Derwent Artbars and waterbrush. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I work at home with two dogs and four birds. My husband leaves early in the morning and then there are only us, the gang of seven. One of my little assistants is a beagle called Stella, a very cute little angel to every human but I think she would describe herself as a hungry hunter and would order a very different portrait than this one!

Gathering Inspiration

First, I take the dogs out for a walk. I solve most of my work-related problems and make plans in this private morning meeting, happening inside my head.  In the afternoon, there’s another walk, but that’s not as productive as the one in the morning.

I always carry a phone with me so that I can take photos if I happen to see something inspirational and artistic. As a result, I have a lot of pictures that are not so great or meaningful to memory keeping and such, but that look abstract art to me.

Photographing light and gathering inspiration for art.

This winter we have got quite a many snow storms. In February, it had snowed a lot during the day, so before we left our front yard, I was already taking photos of this mad whiteness that we were trying to overcome.

Snowstorm in Finland.

We had been wading for some time when I realized that I had lost my keys in the snow while taking photos. After a lot of sweat, and stepping back and forth, I finally found the keys in the middle of “the road.” During a year, there are many days in Finland where everyone else than dog owners have their meetings indoors.

Taking Healthy Breaks

On a workday, my dogs hang around quite a lot.  They have learned that if I set something on the floor, it’s not for them to lay down on.

Photographing art and having a pet around an art studio. Read more about the life of an artist who has pets!

They try to be patient when waiting for daily treats but maybe see their role as interrupters who force me to have short breaks now and then. Cosmo, the old one, is the leader who decides when to stop my work, and Stella quickly joins him.

Cosmo and Stella, Paivi Eerola's pets.

These breaks don’t always seem so healthy and fun to me. I am often in a very concentrated mode and find a soft touch of a nose just annoying. But who could resist these faces?

Getting Genuine Encouragement

The birds – four budgies called Henrietta, Citronelle, Dynamite, and Bonneville – see my work differently. They want to join me and encourage me when I am at my best. It means that every time I record videos, and they sense the excitement in my voice, they start chirping: “Go on, you are doing great! Oh Paivi, you are so inspiring!”

Paivi Eerola's fours budgies. Read about her life as an artist working from home.

Hearing the birds is a contradictory thing. My birds don’t lie so if I don’t hear any sounds when I am speaking, I know that my enthusiasm doesn’t show and I have to fix that. But despite the walls, the mic picks up the high-note sounds easily. So I have to stop recording, go to the library room to ask them to be quiet. Sometimes nothing else helps than darkening the room and adding a cover on their cage. It often feels cruel, especially after seeing them happy and excited first. So many of my videos have bird sounds in the background, and I hope that you forgive us!

Paivi Eerola's art studio.

Having Pets as Models

Cosmo and Stella are very proud of their modeling skills, and they think that the reward they need for every minute is very moderate too. However, it’s often cheaper for me to take a photo and use that as a reference.

Cosmo and Stella, Paivi Eerola's pets. Read how she describes her life as an artist working from home with pets.

Unfortunate for them, but I don’t often paint dogs. But this month, when the monthly theme of Bloom and Fly is stretching the imagination and adding surreal elements to art, I wanted to express how cute Stella is in my eyes.

Paivi Eerola's art studio.

Learning Leadership Skills

My position as the leader of the pack has strengthened during the past years. We all wait eagerly for my husband in the afternoons but I am often the one my pets turn with their needs. My husband loves them as much as I do, and it hasn’t always been this way. But the time spent with them matters, and it gives me the sense of satisfaction when I don’t have to leave my pets alone.

Paivi Eerola and her beagles. Read how she works from home with her pets!

This year, leading an online community has been new to me. In fact, when I left my day job in 2014, I thought that I would be just making self-study classes and taking care of the pets! There’s a false sense of independence built in the art making because most of the creating happen alone. But after running my first workshop, I realized that I can help more when there’s more interaction.

With the community, it has dawned on me that the role of a leader doesn’t mean that I have to know it all. We are all learning from each other. It’s a liberating thought, and it doesn’t only empower the leader, but the members as well.

We often have intentions to create a certain kind of art or share our art but postpone it because we feel that we need to figure it out by ourselves first. Some of the things that I have postponed are diving deeper into watercolor painting and develop more ways to use art for self-exploration.

A Detail of "Surreal Stella", a sketchbook page made with Derwent Artbars and waterbrush. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

But the truth is that when you have the support, changes start to happen. You get structure and kindness that gives you courage. There’s no need to struggle alone or wait until you are ready. The life is not so long after all.

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Minimalism in Creating – Making the Most of What You Have

Ikebana, a mixed media painting with watercolors and colored pencils by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Here’s my latest little study in watercolor, called “Ikebana.” I finished it today, but for a long time, it was just a piece of watercolor paper with random doodles and colored spots. I had started the piece in December 2016 when running a local art class. I had just painted mindlessly while discussing with the students and then left the piece unfinished.

Choosing Not to Toss Away

When I was holding the unfinished, ugly painting, I thought of my choices. I could toss the paper away and forget the thing. Or I could treat it as a treasure and make the most of it, despite the controlling straight lines that went through the page and other uninspiring details. To me, choosing to continue the painting, is usually always the better choice. Making the most what I have calms me down, gives me a sense of purpose, and positively challenges me. I don’t consider it so much as a choice of saving money or space but getting a peace of mind.

I have also noticed that when I work on with the old pieces, I find new ways to make them more expressive. That in turn, helps me to develop better classes and help my students. This time, I was inspired by April’s theme of Bloom and Fly – surreal art!

Getting back to old doodles also reminds me that even if I can’t make all the details work together, art is never fully perfect. Often the minor “mistakes” add personality and interesting tension to the piece.

Storing finished pieces. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I also like to store the finished pieces organized in folders.

Using Up Old Art Supplies

One of my favorite things is to organize art supplies once in a while. I try to find the best places for them so that they get used up. I find it much more pleasurable to buy new supplies when there’s the actual need. It’s also nice when I have had time to think what to purchase next.

So when I noticed that some pans of my White Nights watercolor set are getting empty, I decided to experiment and fill some with paint from the old tubes. I found an old gouache tube by Schminke, the pink that I totally love but had forgotten, and I hope it will keep on wetting well even after the pan is fully dried.

Filling watercolor pans with tube paint. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read about her approach to minimalism!

One of the pans that I made, the muddy green, is a color mix. It’s a color that I usually use for watercolor paintings to give brighter colors more power.

My Meditation – Cleaning Brushes

The longer I have created art, the more I have put a focus on my brushes. I used to buy them carelessly and toss them away once they didn’t seem to work anymore. But nowadays, I like to appreciate what I have and take time to clean the brushes carefully after each painting session.

The cleaner that I currently use is The Masters Brush Cleaner, recommended to me by my artist friend Eeva Nikunen. I have saved many old brushes by cleaning them properly with this cleaner, and I couldn’t even think of cleaning oil paint from the brushes with anything else.

The Masters Brush Cleaner

This cleaner is a solid soap. You dip the brush in water and then rub the soap with the brush. Formerly, I only washed the brushes with warm water after watercolor painting. Now I use the cleaner for watercolor brushes too, and it’s lovely to begin a new painting session when my brushes are like new!

No Need for Inventing New Ideas

To me, looking old stuff with fresh eyes is one of the best things in art, and it applies to ideas as well. See “From Innovation to Experience” from 2014 and Origami from 2016-2018!

Art by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read how she embraces minimalistic thinking!

Is This Too Much Minimalism?

I was hesitant to write this blog post because I don’t want to take the joy out of buying new stuff and starting new art. I also enjoy that! But often the best cure for procrastination is to stop thinking what you don’t have and start using your creativity to make the most of what you already have. Bonding with the old supplies and ideas can give a sense of independence and freedom too.

“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.” – Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

I heard this quote from one of the members of Bloom and Fly, and it feels appropriate here too!

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Limited Creative Time – A Personal Story

The Sense of Time, a watercolor painting created in limited creative time. By Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s my latest watercolor painting “The Sense of Time”, made just a couple of days ago. I limited my creative time immensely when painting this. But this time I want to share the whole story, not just images of how I made the painting. At the same time, you will see some of my summer crafting projects and learn a couple of fun facts about Finnish summer.

Peonies Embrace the Midnight Sun

When people ask what would be the best time to come to Finland, I always suggest summer. Finnish summer begins in June and ends in August. In my opinion, the best month is July. Even in the south, where I live, you can experience the midnight sun, warmth and see the best in Finnish people. Like peonies, we are all introverts in the dark and cold winter, But when the sun comes up, it’s all smile.

Finnish peonies grown under the midnight sun. By Peony and Parakeet.

Colors Compete with Shapes

My husband always has his summer vacation in July. As dog owners, our possibilities to travel are limited to day trips unless we take them to kennels or arrange somebody to look after them. As both of us love old art and antique, we always go to Billnäs and Fiskars for an antique fair. If you have watched a British television series Lovejoy, these are the places where you could see him and his assistants if they traveled to Finland. There are two antique fairs at the same time. They last 4 days and are packed with people selling and buying antique items in the middle of Finnish countryside. The fairs are partly indoors, partly outdoors and truly a collector’s heaven whether it rains or shines.

At an antique fair. Art class designed by Kaj Franck. A photograph by Peony and Parakeet.

When looking at the sales tables, I always notice color first. My husband, a skillful woodworker, examines the shapes. Together we are unbeatable!

Art Rises from the Dollhouse

It was both unfortunate and fortunate that I found an old display cabinet from Billnäs. Fortunate, because it’s just what I had dreamed of for my doll collection. Unfortunate, because I didn’t have the space for the dollhouse anymore. I had to empty the tiny kitchen with miniature wine bottles and delicacies as well as all the other tiny rooms filled with similar items.

Dollhouse dining table. By Peony and Parakeet.

While taking the little paintings off from the walls, I realized that one of them wasn’t just printed image. It was a cross-stitch project that I had made years ago! I remembered not being very happy with it. When I started it, I thought that I could make more than one and then sell some. I didn’t have any pattern and the end result didn’t look as painterly as I would have wanted. So I gave up the idea of making more and placed the piece above the dining table, in the spot where it wasn’t as visible as other pictures. No wonder I had forgotten it!

Miniature cross stitch sea painting. By Peony and Parakeet.

But now, it looks just perfect to me. Now I see more than just clumsy stitches. I see how my love to combine arts, crafts and design came out even when I was decorating a dollhouse.

William Morris Visits Ikea

One of my creative routines is organizing things. Even at antique fairs, I sometimes get the urge to rearrange items and I have to restrain myself. This spring, I was organizing a storage space of our house and found an old Ikea Moppe mini chest of drawers. Putting old stuff to use is a creative challenge that I am often willing to take. I went to Pinterest, saw boards like this and was ready to get started.

The first challenge was that I also wanted to use up old paints. The only paint with the suitable quality was baby blue. I wanted to place the mini chest in the library room near my doll collection and store fashion doll clothes in it. I had a hard time seeing baby blue suit to the style and color scheme of the library room. We have decorated the library room in the styles of 1890-1930s. The curtains have William Morris’s pattern. How could the Ikea mini chest ever with the style? Trusting that I could figure it out, I refused to buy new paint as I had another purchase in mind. I wanted to buy ceramic knobs for it.

Interior decoration and crafting. By Peony and Parakeet.

If I had to choose one material that I adore, it would be a difficult decision between ceramics and glass. But I think the winner would be ceramics. Even if I have never really dived deep into creating with clay, I love ceramic items. Especially if they are both decorative and expressive. I also like them to be a little rustic, have some handmade feel without being overly clumsy. The knobs I wanted to buy should also have some baby blue, some William Morris, look both old and modern and be traditional but somewhat innovative. Despite the high expectations, I optimistically began to search handmade ceramic knobs. It took a couple of days but my optimism paid off and I found just the perfect ones! They are made by an English woman living in Israel. Her Etsy shop is called “Clay is My Art”, a heaven for anyone who loves rustic, but sophisticated ceramics.

Ikea Moppe mini chest of drawers. Hacked by Peony and Parakeet. Ceramic knobs by Clay Is My Art Etsy shop.

As you can see in the photo, I was able to find decorative papers that not only matched the knobs, they fit perfectly to the style of the library room. The papers with palm plants are leftover wallpapers. The other two are from my scrapbooking paper stash.

Ikea Moppe mini chest of drawers. Hacked by Peony and Parakeet. Ceramic knobs by Clay Is My Art Etsy shop.

But wait, this story continues …

Leftover Flosses Praise the Pattern

Have you ever had anything in your home that was ok before you changed everything in its surroundings? My number one thing was a small key storage cabinet, which was fine in our old home on a muted dark red wall. But when placed on a bright yellow wall of our current home, it really bothered me. With the experience in cross stitching for dollhouses, I got an idea of stitching a dollhouse carpet pattern from Janet Granger‘s book Miniature Dollshouse Carpets.

Key cabinet with a cross stiched design and its new cover. By Peony and Parakeet.

It took all spring when working slowly but at the beginning of summer, I got it stitched. I also repainted the wooden parts. This time I did buy the dark green paint but this is still a project using leftovers. Namely, I didn’t just use the few colors set in the pattern. I used leftover skeins of embroidery floss creatively so that the carpet looks like an old antique one. I much prefer this look to using only a few colors.

Key storage cabinet with a cross stitch cover using leftover flosses. By Peony and Parakeet.

The cabinet looks great on the yellow wall. I temporarily took it down for photographing it in a better lighting. There was also another reason, connected to the watercolor painting …

Limited Creative Time – Craft Projects Inspire the Painting

This time I had limited creative time. Before I started painting, I placed the three handcrafted items on the table in front of me. The key cabinet, the mini chest and the miniature cross-stitch work were all there to inspire me. Then I glanced my watch and gave myself 15 minutes to paint the first layer. Namely, I had another project in progress too. I was editing one of the videos for Imagine Monthly Fall, the art journaling class that begins on August 1st. Editing videos requires a lot of concentration and I wanted to keep the quality good by taking small breaks. So after 45 minutes of editing, I had 15 minutes for my painting, all day.

Craft projects inspire the painting throughout the limited creative time. By Peony and Parakeet.

If you work in short periods of time like this, inspiration items become essential. Seeing the same objects again and again, even if you are not actually recreating any of them, maintains the focus and direction.

After four 15 minute sessions I was at the point where I had painted this and that with five different brushes but had no clue of what I was trying to express. It was fun to paint like this but clearly, I couldn’t finish the painting without setting up a longer session.

Watercolor painting in progress. By Peony and Parakeet.

Finishing – Summing Up

I soon discovered that being so aware of the time had also affected the painting. I saw clocks and pointers which made me ponder about the concept of time. It flies so quickly in creative activities that it’s difficult to think about it as a simple measure. This, in turn, made me think about the antiques and how great designs last time. After my husband and I are gone, there will always be new enthusiasts who will drool over those Kaj Franck‘s bowls.

I often finish my watercolors with colored pencils to easily add new layers of details and decorative lines. But this time, I was reminded of my craft projects: “Make the most of what you currently have.” So I resisted the urge to go to another room and get the jars of colored pencils. It only took an hour to finish the painting.

The Sense of Time, a watercolor painting created in limited creative time. By Peony and Parakeet.

Some midnight sun, some glassware, mini horizons, small amounts of leftover colors, block shapes and last but not least: the description of how my inner artist sees the sense of time.

The Way I Process Ideas and Produce Classes

This blog post demonstrates how I work with ideas. It’s not only one idea that goes into one piece of work, it’s a collection of ideas that have different levels. Some are more abstract, others are more concrete. I believe that every good art class is filled with multi-level ideas that in turn, embark your own ideas. That’s why I never underestimate the importance of the background study that I do for my classes. I listen to audiobooks. I go to libraries to browse books. I collect Pinterest boards and inspirational items. I make sketches and paintings that I call pre-class paintings (yes, the one above is one of these). They prepare me to bring my best to the classes that I produce. They ensure that the class is not only about one whimsical thing that I fell in love with but about a holistic, yet clear and inspiring view to the subject. All in all, we all have limited creative time.

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Organizing Art Supplies with Konmari Method

Flying with Balloons, an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet

This art journal page is about how less stuff can uplift us. I feel like a bird with balloons after I sorted out my art and papercrafting supplies.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

It all started from a book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It is written by Japanese professional organizer Marie Kondo and she calls her method “Konmari”, which is an abbreviation of her name.

Marie Kondo, Konmari, decluttering book, sweaters on a shelf

The Konmari method is fairly simple. First you get rid of all the stuff you don’t use or enjoy, and then you store them by type. The process is explained more in detail in the book. The book recommends starting with clothes so I organized my sweaters first. Most of them are my own handknits. Marie Kondo explains how to fold each type of clothing and recommends storing things so that you can see them in a row. I have always believed in little joys in life. However I had never thought of how much joy seeing those sweaters can bring.  Each time I open the closet, it joyfully reminds me how much I enjoy both knitting and colors!

Art Supplies that Spark Joy

Marie Kondo believes in handling each object separately and considering if it sparks joy. These spark most joy to me: colored pencils and watercolors! These most simple art supplies delight me more than any new product on the market.

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet with an art journal spread colored with colored pencils

If you have followed this blog for a longer time, you might have noticed that the variety of mediums that I use in my art has been reduced gradually, especially during the last year. I noticed that I had bought many of the products believing they would solve my creative problems. I thought they would make me create better art faster and make creating more fun. But when experimenting with new products I forgot how little ingredients are actually needed for creating meaningful art. Nowadays I feel sad when I see beginners reading instructions that involve a huge variety of art supplies. The long lists of supplies are overwhelming and prevent many from start creating.

I believe we should focus less on things and more in our inner world. And Marie Kondo thinks exactly the same! She believes that when we are surrounded by fewer things, we can treat them better and start thinking what we really want to do in life. I believe that when you use fewer supplies, a lot of energy is saved from picking and choosing for the actual creating. You will also grow attached to the supplies and start displaying them and taking care of them more often.

Working Area Before and After

Even if I organize my creative space regularly, I felt it was the time for a bigger change. I had already started re-organizing my creative space before reading Marie Kondo’s book, so it felt natural to continue that process.

Creative Space before and after, Konmari method, Marie Kondo

The photo on the left has been taken some time ago. After that I had already cleared the view to the window. But I had not actually got rid of anything, I had just removed some of the stuff to the nearest shelf unit. This time I picked out every single object and decided to give away or throw away those that I had not used for a long time. The photo on the right shows how the table looks like now!

Konmari Method Applied to Art Supplies

Marie Kondo suggests not to put items on the top of each other. That is quite difficult to achieve with art supplies. I managed pretty well though. Jars and boxes help with that.

Art supplies organized with Konmari method

My creative space also includes shelves. Here organizing was a bit more challenging and the end result might not be how Marie Kondo had done it. She would probably group all the paper booklets, albums, and magazines together. However, I quite like it as there’s enough logic in how everything is located. As one of my hobbies is scrapbooking I have a large collection of stamps. I was able to put them all in one place on the upmost shelf.

Art supplies organized with Konmari method

Marie Kondo believes that we should take time to consider which is the best way for storing each item. I found that odd bottles of ink are much happier in spray bottles with other liquid inks. Paints are now in boxes on the right side of the middle shelf. I love how easily accessible all the supplies are and how my art journals and inspiring magazines fitted there too.

How to Prevent Decluttering?

According to Konmari method the secret of staying organized is this: once you have dramatically reduced the amount of stuff  and organized by type, you will consider buying new things much more carefully. When you group items by type, you will remember what you already have. When I saw what I had bought during the years, I thought that many times I could have just left the store early and put the time in creating. Focusing on fewer art supplies has reduced my yearn for shopping, so I do believe what Marie writes about.

Make your colored pencils spark joy!
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