Peony and Parakeet

Why I Paint White Flowers – How Your Artistic Voice is Influenced by Others

There’s a lot of talk about finding your artistic voice, but very little about how other people affect it. So this week, I share a story about my mother and her influence on my art.

Painting the Same Thing Again and Again

A couple of days ago, I was on a morning walk near my home in Southern Finland. The air was fresh as well as the view, dominated by the blue sky and white clouds. My beagles’ busy noses and a glimmering brook followed a sown field that had already started to green. Both birds and earphones fed entertaining listening. But all I could think of was my painting. Was it finished? Should I add more color to the flowers? What else did I need to adjust to make most of the tens of hours? I was alone with my dogs, but the inner critic kept me company: what kind of artist doesn’t even know the meaning of her images?

An oil painting in progress by artist Paivi Eerola, Finland. Read her article about how artistic voice is not only our personal choice, but can be influenced by others.
Signed, but is it finished?

Yes, I am no artist at all. I paint white flowers, the easiest anyone can imagine, and the worst that my mother knew. “No white flowers,” she repeated to my father when her wedding anniversary came close, and he was about to buy a bouquet. “White flowers mean death.” And now, long after she has passed away, all I want to paint is white flowers.

Cherimona. Watercolor painting by artist Paivi Eerola.
Icebreaker. Watercolor painting by artist Paivi Eerola.
Torchbearer. Watercolor painting by artist Paivi Eerola.

Commenters are Your Art Coaches

Rebelling had no place in my upbringing during the 1970s and 1980s. As a teenager, I tried to respond to my mother’s corrections and criticism with an ignorant smile. Not for long. She didn’t hesitate to tell that it wasn’t a proper reaction. She was both a direct and shy person. Her presence was almost invisible in public gatherings, but at home, in her empire, she was the master of rights and wrongs. So when I showed drawings to her, she either approved or disapproved. She didn’t talk to me as directly as to my father – what to do or what not – but her words and facial expressions told everything.

My mother was like a strict gymnastic coach with high expectations, but she lacked one essential skill – the ability to show how the tricks could be done. She was as honest to herself as to anyone in this matter and put her energy for finding time, supplies, and art education for me. Time to create was the easiest part. My mother was a housewife. She had left her job at a young age right after she got married. She didn’t want her daughters to have the same destiny, so she did her best to keep me out of the kitchen and constantly reminded me how children would prohibit me from doing what I love.

Artist Paivi Eerola and her mother. Read about how she has influenced her artistic voice.
Me and my mother in 1984

We lived in a small town near the Russian border, and our family wasn’t wealthy. The only income came from my father’s pension. In the evenings, my mother wrote all the expenses on a small black book. But purchasing pens and paper was mandatory. To her, it was the lowest level of civilization, more important than books. Our town had one bookshop that sold some supplies, but after we got more knowledge from local art groups and competitions, it became evident that I needed a better and broader selection. So every month, when my parents drove to a bigger town, I was often with them, selecting paper, paint boards, crayons, and acrylic paints from a real art supply store.

A Praised Piece Sticks into Your Mind

When I was some years over ten, in one spring morning, I decided to try out a new set of crayons. It was just a warm-up, a quick landscape without using any reference. “Look, mother, what do you think,” I said like so many times before. She looked at the image, tightened her lips, but unlike her, she didn’t say much. Later, when I opened a narrow kitchen closet to pick an iron, I stopped. The landscape was taped inside the wooden door. “I like to look at it,” she said after seeing my puzzled face.

Landscape with crayons by artist Paivi Eerola. From her teenage years.

I was devastated. That little landscape didn’t deserve the place. So many times I had poured my heart out on paper and soon found out that it wasn’t to her liking. And now – I didn’t even color all the paper!

Finding the Why Behind Your Artistic Voice – Connecting the Appraisals and Repetitions

Fortunately, my mother was not the only one commenting on my art. My two big sisters had different opinions, and my teachers and friends as well. One piece didn’t satisfy them all, but there were always kind words from someone. It encouraged me to keep painting and drawing, as everyone, especially my mother, expected.

After my mother’s death, one stormy weekend, I traveled to the childhood home to pick things that I wanted to keep before we would sell it. The house was cold, but I knew it was the last time when I would see it like it used to be. Everything was clean and tidy. Performing tasks effectively with high quality had always fascinated my mother. “If I could choose what my profession was, it would be a researcher of work – if such a profession existed.”

When I got up the stairs to an attic, the sight would surprise anyone but me. The attic had always been nearly empty. In one corner, under a sloped sealing, my father had built a small closet for safe storage. I opened its little door, and there they were, neatly in a big cardboard box – my paintings and drawings. Not all, but a collection that my mother had curated over the years, the little crayon drawing included.

So a few days ago, when I was walking by the field and looking up in the sky, my mother came to me in the form of the freshly colored landscape. I now knew that my urge to paint white flowers hadn’t been an act against my mother, but a yearn for her acceptance that blank white blobs had once given to me. Now my question is: can I let go of them, or do I want to keep her in my art forever.

Paivi Eerola and her painting in progress. Read her thoughs about artistic voice and how other people affect it.

Who has influenced your art? Can you recognize how?

P.S. I also teach drawing and painting flowers in the class Floral Fantasies.

Painting Through Difficult Times – 4 Easy Tips!

"Baroquai" - a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read her tips for painting through difficult times.

This painting, called “Baroquai” is about painting through difficult times by discovering a secret place at home. A couple of weeks ago, I watched the movie Knives Out. It had a wonderful big house with secret doors, ladders, and all. I would like our house to have similar kinds of secret spaces, it would be so uplifting to change the scenes without leaving home!

In a way, art offers us those secret spaces. When I start a new watercolor painting with random splashes, it’s like seeking the hidden door.

Splashing paint to relieve stress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

“What to Paint?” – “Wallpaper!”

Social distancing during the pandemic has made me reduce the requirements for my art. I try to paint what brings me the most joy and keep the ambition level low. If I ask myself “What to paint?”, I just answer “Wallpaper” every single time. It’s the easiest thing that I can think of painting, and the more I paint it, the more hidden doors seem to appear.

A decorative watercolor painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

The thought of a wall of ornaments that come to bloom is both calming and inspiring. When I examine and alter the shapes with the brush, hidden spaces begin to reveal.

A decorative watercolor painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

The space that I am sitting seems smaller, and the other space – that’s in my mind – gets larger.

Focusing on the details. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

How Does Your Art Sound?

It’s also inspiring to think about what sounds the painting evokes. For this one, it’s baroque cembalo music, Jamiroquai, and softly singing choir of colorful budgies.

A decorative watercolor painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Mixing and Matching – The Reality Check

Painting wallpaper is also about creating something that complements and refreshes the reality.

Mixing and matching hand-made art. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I used a pansy – painted and cut for my box of joy – to test my “wallpaper.” The fit looked so perfect that I painted some pansies there too!

A watercolor painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s a close look at my finished “Baroquai.”

A detail of "Baroquai" - a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read her tips for painting through difficult times.

Artful Impact on the Wall

Always remember to celebrate the result! Add the signature once you are finished …

"Baroquai" - a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read her tips for painting through difficult times.

… and place the painting on the wall! The space that art creates extends the limited physical space.

Having art on the wall and photographing it. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I also like to photograph my paintings when they are on the wall. In my studio, I have art on the table too. There’s a plastic cover that protects the pieces.

Art displayed behind a plexiglass in the studio of Paivi Eerola, Finland.

4 Easy Tips For Painting Through Difficult Times

  • Find a simple answer like “Wallpaper” or “Flowers” to be ready for the inner critic’s question: “What are you creating?”
  • See your art as soundscapes rather than landscapes.
  • Mix and match things you create, no matter how small they are. Think about decorating a secret room with a collection of stuff rather than going out in the open with a single masterpiece.
  • Find joy in the interaction between the surrounding space and your art. Art makes the space, and also, the space can boost art.

Let’s give art the possibility to gently lift our spirits!

"Baroquai" - a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read her tips for painting through difficult times.

Inspiring projects for flower lovers: Buy my class Floral Fantasies!

5 Ways to Love Yourself When Painting

Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read her post about how to love yourself when painting.

Here’s my recent watercolor painting. It’s called Icebreaker, and can I publicly say that I love it? Love, love, love. So this week, I daringly blog about how to selfishly love yourself when painting.

This is not my typical post. I would normally post things like “11 Ways to Make Your Painting More Abstract” or “7 Reasons Why Negative Painting is the Best Technique” or “3 Tips for Getting Closer to Your Style”. But after painting Icebreaker, I kind of melted. It became more true to me than ever before that we paint because we want this special kind of acceptance – the acceptance from ourselves.

When I whole-heartedly accepted what I had created, I didn’t just receive love from myself. I saw a long row of people congratulating me. All deceased, unfortunately, but still! There was my mother, saying that she knew I could do it. There was my father, looking away so that he could hide his smile. I saw my grandfather, a creative person I never met, congratulating me generously. And my dear aunt Rauha (which means Peace in English) was waving, looking just as lively and restlessly happy as she used to be. Now, this kind of love is what I want more and also spread more!

So this post is about turning your inner critic to your best fan. It’s not easy, and it may take like a lifetime, but it’s worth trying, so let’s begin!

1) Love Rises from the Mess

As a former engineer, I feel drawn to two-state things. Zero or one, yes or no, black or white, thick or thin, geometric or organic, the list is endless. But when painting, I like to be in the grey area, especially in the beginning. After the horrifying view of blank paper, my watercolors are sighing with relief: “She sprays and splashes so she must be having a good time.” And yes, I usually am.

But this mess is not just any mess to me. It’s a sign of hope. I hope to figure out what to do with it …

Watercolor painting in progress by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Let’s love this hopefulness in us! It’s a superpower that keeps us not only dreaming but creating too.

Yes, this superpower can look like a bad thing. It can keep us awake too late at night. It can make us buy too many brushes and focus on insignificant details like wallpaper when watching a movie. But our life is never boring or lonely when we get hopeful just by making a mess.

So, make a mess, accept the mess, fall in love with the mess! The more time you spend with the mess, the more likely you will figure it out.

2) Love What Is Secondary

Ideally, I would always know what to do next. Practically, I often have moments when I have no clue. Hope seems lost. I feel fake.

Watercolor painting in progress by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read her post about 5 ways to love yourself when creating art.

The best cure that I have found is to seek secondary things. They can be tiny spots or pretty accidental shapes, or sometimes I only admire how wet paint glows. It’s like filtering out 95 percent of the mess and seeing a few single things that look fascinating. Lovable.

Watercolor painting in progress by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I call these elements secondary because often they are just parts of the background. But by toning down the obvious and bringing up the less apparent, I can change the direction of the painting. What anyone can see is no longer my norm. I have moved on to what only I can see.

A detail of Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

There’s so much more in us than what other people can see. Some skills and characteristics may seem secondary to others, but every one of us is allowed to love and grow them whole-heartedly.

A detail of Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

The hierarchy of the outer world doesn’t exist when you are in your inner world. You are free to appreciate discoveries that look secondary to others.

3) No Words, Just Color

It’s not easy to write about love. Love feels more like a combination of changing colors than a sentence with specific words. So when painting, let’s feel the love through color. When dipping your brush first to the paint and then to paper, exhale color. Next, put your face close to the paper and look at the spot so that it fills your view. Inhale. It’s your color. No one can take it from you. Love, love, love.

A detail of Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

4) Love the Vagueness

Yes, we want to find our style, our visual voice, our true self. But our boat is moving. We are changing, our life is changing, the world is changing. Everything is unsure and insecure. That also makes everything possible.

A detail of Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I like to build my paintings so that I leave this vagueness/possibility alive. Maybe there’s a flower, maybe not. Someone sees some triangles only, while others see a rosebud. There can be plenty of interpretations. I am vague, and everything is all right. My painting is a living organism, partly defined by the vague me, partly by the vague you.

A detail of Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Today we might love the current painting less than tomorrow. And our art may tell a different story after a couple of years. That’s ok.

No, that’s not ok. That’s fabulous!

5) Break It!

I admire brave people. I adore Tracy Chapman singing without a band. Her voice is not faultless, and many of her stories are not relatable to me. But I feel her honesty being present right there when I am listening to her through the headphones.

But for me, it’s often the fear that’s speaking. I hear myself shouting, “NO!” and that’s when I know that the answer should be “YES.” I know I am not alone here. We are often afraid to touch the painting even if we know it lacks something. The risk is real, but worth taking.

In this painting, it would have been so much easier not to paint that dark brown around the white area. But the ice wouldn’t start breaking otherwise.

A detail of Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read her blog post about how to love yourself while creating art.

Let’s love this creativity that wants to break what’s almost working. Let’s cherish this wild force that we have in us.

Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read her post about how to love yourself when painting.

Let’s love who we are when we paint, and when we are surrounded by our paintings!

Paivi Eerola and her watercolor paintings.

Icebreaker and other watercolor paintings are for sale at paivieerola.com

I currently teach an online watercolor class Magical Forest with themes hope, spirituality, flow, and curiosity. You can still hop along! The class ends at the end of April, so there’s lots of time to catch up! >> Sign up here!

Out of a Creative Rut – Do What Illustrators Would Do!

Illustration by Paivi Eerola. Read her post about how to get out of creative rut by thinking what illustrators would do.

I am currently reading James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. It’s about growing skills and making changes in life a small step at a time. James Clear doesn’t believe in setting goals as much as building a new identity. James tells about a person who lost weight by thinking “what would healthy people do” every time he had to make a decision about eating, sleeping, and exercising. 

Bird and desserts. Illustration by Paivi Eerola. Read her post about how to get out of creative rut by thinking what illustrators would do.

Out of a Creative Rut by Asking What Would Illustrators Do

Since last fall, I have been practicing “what would illustrators do.” I have wanted to make art that is less abstract and more joyful and rememorize the things I learned when studying design several years ago.

Butterflies. Small drawings by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

When building the latest classes Animal Inkdom and Magical Inkdom, I have wanted to include more small projects than before so that you can quickly grab a pen and draw more regularly. James Clear advises building habits by combining them with our current ones. When we do something like having a cup of tea in the evening, we can also grab a pen and doodle a bit. It’s not much, but when it’s repeated regularly, the results will come.

Sealife. Bird and desserts. Illustration by Paivi Eerola. Read her post about how to get out of creative rut by thinking what illustrators would do.

To me, drawing small collage pieces has brought back the joy of drawing. I haven’t always had the time to do a lot, but I have made it a regular practice because “that’s what illustrators do.”

Illustrations by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Bullet journal art.

Drawings are Like Pets – Treating Them Gently

I have also developed gentle self-talk by thinking of these animals as my pets. That way, I don’t try to control the outcome too much or negatively judge a single piece. They are my pets, and I love and care about them because “that’s what animal lovers do.”

Hand-drawn collage pieces and illustrations by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Breaking a Creative Rut and Moving Forward

At the same time as I have developed the illustration classes, I have also built my illustration portfolio

Illustration by Paivi Eerola. Read her post about how to get out of creative rut by thinking what illustrators would do.

During the next couple of months, I am doing more “what illustrators do” when I am making images for a book. I will share more pics about this commission later.

Practicing illustration has also brought new perspectives to my fine art projects and what I want to create in general. So, I highly recommend practicing “what illustrators do” – especially if you are in a creative rut or have a too strong inner critic.

Start now – Animal Inkdom Is for Sale!

Online art class Animal Inkdom. Taught by Paivi Eerola, a Finnish illustrator.

This weekend: Buy Animal Inkdom for 59 EUR (normally 79 EUR).
The sale ends on Sunday midnight Sept 1st, 2019 (PDT).
>> Buy here!

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