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.

Bloom and Fly – Don’t wait until you are more skillful, join the community now!

Have You Ever Felt Like an Outsider?

Gypsy Madonna, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, combining two Renaissance paintings into one

I have finished a new oil painting called “Gypsy Madonna.” I painted it at Emmi Mustonen‘s class during this spring while learning more about old masters’ painting techniques. It took about 42 hours from start to finish and about four months in calendar time. Every thin layer of paint had to dry before adding a new one. I show you some phase photos, but I focus on the deepest thing that I learned from this painting: feeling like an outsider and what to think about it.

The Basics of the Painting Process

My Gypsy Madonna combines two Renaissance paintings: Boccaccio Boccaccino‘s Gypsy Girl and Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine.

By Boccaccio Boccaccino and Leonardo da Vinci

First I was just on a mission to get better with the painting technique.

Making of a Gypsy Madonna using old masters painting techniques, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Then I wanted to play with the setting and discovered several stories that could be told through that (some of them are in this blog post).

Making of a Gypsy Madonna using old masters painting techniques, underpainting, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Experiences of Being an Outsider

One day during the painting process, I remembered a childhood memory of a real gypsy girl. The local library had a weekly hour for children to listen to fairy tales and to play together. We were playing a game where two of us danced in the middle while others were watching. There were a lot of children, all waiting for to be chosen. Someone picked me, and we danced in the center of the ring while others were cheering.

Then it was my turn, and my friend Anne almost stepped up. But I had seen a sad gypsy girl sitting there, head drooping. She knew that nobody would pick her up. It was one of those games that would only depress her. It broke my little girl’s heart to see her sadness. I just had to do it, leave Anne sitting and ask the girl to dance with me. I never forget that smile when we were swirling around. It may have been the best thing that I have done in my life so far.

Making of a Gypsy Madonna using old masters painting techniques, finishing, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

When I continued painting, it was suddenly me in the picture. I became the gypsy girl who gently scratches her pet. The outsider who never got children because she was much more enthusiastic about her love for animals. The outsider who was the only girl in most of the classes when studying technology. The outsider who dreamt about art while trying to tackle the more practical career. There are so many moments when I have felt like a black Madonna, not quite fitting in.

A detail of a Gypsy Madonna, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, combining two Renaissance paintings into one

Everybody Is an Outsider

To me, the finished image symbolizes the beauty of choosing differently, being different. Even if I know that it’s perfectly ok to be different, the painting helps me to connect with the feeling on a deeper level. It makes me empathize with other people as well. Everybody is an outsider despite their personal story. We all belong to a minority in some ways. We are all Gypsy Madonnas in one way or another.

A detail of Gypsy Madonna, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, combining two Renaissance paintings into one

Have You Ever Felt That Nobody Understands Your Art?

To be honest, I feel shy about showing this painting. It’s not what I usually create, and I have shared some very personal stories. It has crossed my mind for several times how you, as a reader of this blog, might feel confused: “Is this what Paivi is creating nowadays? Is she going back to the Renaissance age?” I have also feared that the dark colors of the painting will make you want to stop reading. But on the other hand, I don’t want to stop exploring. If you don’t explore, you are unable to integrate new things into your creative work. Pablo Picasso has said: “To copy others is necessary, but to copy oneself is pathetic.” So no wonder if there are times when nobody understands what you are creating!

It’s also difficult to grow artistic identity when a part of that experience is feeling like an outsider. When you start creating art, you want to find your personal way to do it, but those discoveries can also make you feel lonely sometimes. This contradictory has caused me to challenge myself. I want to be better at not only understanding my personal feelings but also supporting other artists in their explorations. In the end, we are all on the same journey. We are standing together on the border of art and the rest of the world, expressing the same view through different eyes.

Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, with Gypsy Madonna, one of her oil paintings. Read her blog post about feeling like an outsider as an artist and how to get through it!

Stay tuned for my new class for building belongingness, making art that matters, and strengthening your artistic identity! The registration will open in May!

4 Social Tips for Improving Your Art – with The Students of Peony and Parakeet

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Tina Mitchell, Nicaragua.

This blog post is mostly illustrated by the students of the online painting class Planet Color. I am rerunning this class from April 24th to May 7th! Join me to paint fun abstract and colorful art! Suitable for beginners. Sign up before the class starts!

Social Tips

I call this set of tips “social” because instead of just talking in design terms like “white space” or “focal point,” I want to emphasize that art is a messaging tool. We, visual people, are sensitive to visual messages. Every image contains them whether they are added intentionally or unintentionally. As a teacher, I see my role as a guide who helps you to see what your pieces communicate and how you can fine-tune them to express the message that you want to deliver. In this blog post, I explain why beginning artists fail in visual communication and how to fix that. These social tips with sample images will improve the quality of your art!

Colorful mandalas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read 4 social tips she has about creating art!

1) Bring Out The Leader, Express an Opinion

One of the things we all struggle the most is expressing an opinion. Even now, while I am writing this blog post, I am struggling with that. When I type the first few sentences, I become aware of all of you who might not like this post. I think of you who feels that you are more of a crafter, not a painter. And of you who thinks that this is too basic and you are far ahead. I am aware of you who likes fewer images, as well as you who don’t ever read a thing. Some images might look too dark or too white to your taste. Or you might not even like or value abstract art. What makes the writing even more difficult is that even my personal taste and opinions change over time, sometimes on a daily basis. And then I begin to think that who am I to write about this anyway. There are always people who know better and whose opinions could be more valuable.

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet browsing art journals.

It’s so easy to walk on that path of self-doubt and then rewrite the whole thing so that it actually says very little, nearly nothing. I might still remember the real meaning of the words myself, but you might not get anything to take with you.

The same thing happens easily in art making too. By making every detail equal in size, sharpness, and color, we end up expressing something that’s nearly nothing. It’s just a gang of evenly spread elements waiting for a leader to be picked. But when you do that – choose a leader, express an opinion, say something with clarity that can make people take sides – then the impact is also born. See how Elaine Wirthlin does that in her painting!

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Elaine Wirthlin, USA.

2) Build Bridges, Don’t Stay Alone

When I saw a room full of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings in Musée d’Orsay, I was in tears. Yes, the original paintings were much more than what you could expect based on the photos and prints. But there was another reason too. I was crying because the room was packed with people. Knowing how lonely Vincent had been, it felt heart-breaking. Surely, if there had been social media at his time, he would have got his fan base! A small group of forward-thinkers, perhaps.

I don’t think loneliness is good for anyone. Don’t get me wrong – I am all for introvert lifestyle. Being an introvert myself, I wouldn’t dream of reducing my quiet, creative moments. But in the end, being isolated and expressing isolation is never a solution. Sometimes we are in the wrong place at the wrong time like Vincent did, but with the internet, there are soul-mates for everyone. With your art, you can build connections, not enforce divisions.

A detail of a mixed media painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

When being interviewed after a long career, Finnish opera singer Jorma Hynninen said: “All artists want to connect with other people through their art.”

Images that include bridges and closeness make us feel happy. In Sue Jorgensen’s work, I see the message how different personalities can work and move on together.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Sue Jorgensen, Australia.

3) Play with Many Identities, Become Free of Limitations

When I became more serious about art, I questioned my love for crafts. One of my crafty hobbies was scrapbooking. I took photos and wrote stories about my everyday life. Sometimes I challenged myself to journal and sometimes, I let the photos and the decorations tell the whole story like on the layout below that shows the four seasons by focusing on trees.

Four Seasons. A scrapbooking layout by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

“An artist who also scrapbooks” sounded like a big joke to me back then. But the more ambitious I have become in my art career, the more I have learned to value other things that I do, scrapbooking included. After a long workday, it makes me feel free to take the dogs for a walk and listen to scrapbooking podcasts. After using embellishments and photos, it makes me feel free when I pick up my brushes and work with canvases, without limiting myself to the concept of scrapbooking.

One person can wear many hats. Some people might have seen you only wearing one, and their opinions about you only relate to that. However, don’t let it limit and define yourself in the other areas of life. People who knew me as an IT project manager saw a different side of me than you who reads this blog. I may have inherited my detailed style from the engineering part, but there’s so much more that I want to express and play with, than one chapter in my past.

An art journal page spread by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. She has a class called Planet Color for painting colorful abstracts!

Susana König’s painting reminds me of IT business and how it’s all teamwork too!

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Susana König, Germany.

In Debbie Kreischer’s painting, the decorative style can take a more expressive twist, showing how things are not so black and white after all.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Debbie Kreischer, USA.

In Lisa Clemmer’s painting, the colors are soft, but the shapes are dynamic. This controversy makes it compelling.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Lisa Clemmer, USA.

Linda Thompson’s painting has playful colors and the dynamics of a fun game.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Linda Thompson, Canada.

Lois Dimler’s painting is like a happy circus where everybody has fun!

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Lois Dimler, USA.

4) Listen to Others, Let It Inspire You

I have always been an idea person. I invent new things quickly and have always been eager to find all kinds of unique approaches, also in art. However, I have also noticed that we often overestimate the uniqueness and the originality of our first ideas. But when we start combining many ideas into one, the result can be something new. My idea of drawing your own coloring page is not that unique but the way I have colored it gives it a modern twist. (Also read: How to Transform Ideas into Paintings)

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet with her art journal.

It’s not good to try to protect yourself from seeing what others do. We consume all the time anyway. If not art, then something else. Listening to other people, seeing other people’s art and getting to know art history is not a threat but an enabler to your personal style. Sometimes it can be a real eye-opener to create from a similar standpoint with somebody else and then compare.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Meri Andriesse, USA.

Compare Meri Andriesse’s and Pirkko-Liisa Mannoja’s paintings above and below! They have many similarities, but their style is different. Meri’s piece is soft, carefree and modern while Pirkko-Liisa’s is strong, detailed and historical.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Pirkko-Liisa Mannoja, Finland.

I love people who speak enthusiastically about what they have done. Even if they would talk about something that I would never even want to try, like deep-sea diving, it’s fascinating to hear how they express their experiences. While listening, I imagine the places that I would explore if I were that person. It gives me ideas that I wouldn’t ever have found by myself.

We never know enough about art history, other artists, other people, other fields of expertise, other anything! Artist’s mindset is being an immaterial collector – collecting thoughts, stories, visuals, any ideas and then expressing that inspiration. By developing the ability to see nuances in other people’s talk and work, you will also begin to see what’s unique about you.

What tip would you give?

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet with her abstract painting made for the class Planet Color.

Planet Color is available as a self-study class: Buy Now!

Celebrating Artist Friendships

Together, a watercolor and gouache painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See the video of making this using liquid watercolors, aqua markers and gouache paint tubes.

There’s a theme that has been waiting in my blogging queue for a long time. It’s the meaning of friendships in the art world. I was about to write the blog post but then I thought it wouldn’t be as genuine as a video.

In this video blog post, I create a painting using art supplies generously donated by my student. The supplies are Spectrum Aqua Markers, Dr. Ph. Martin’s Hydrus liquid watercolors and Turner acryl gouaches.

Here are the links to the websites mentioned in the video: a ceramic artist Johanna Rytkola, a visual artist Emmi Mustonen, the stick figure drawing class as a part of Imagine Monthly Fall 2016, a local workshop in Finland “Innostu taiteestasi”

Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the video!