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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!

35 thoughts on “Have You Ever Felt Like an Outsider?

  1. Paivi, is there anything you can’t paint? She is lovely! Was there anything about your creation that you felt was a stretch?

    1. Joyce, thanks so much! The last 3 hours was a big stretch! You know everything is ok when you know you can fine-tune the details later. But when they needed to be finished and done, it became tough! My feet were trembling, and my mind went blank. I had a long list of tiny details that I needed to adjust, and when one thing affects another, it became complicated! There are still many things that don’t quite please me but I am satisfied with the overall look and especially with the experience.

      So glad you asked about the stretching! I wanted to share it but when writing the blog post, I tried not just to throw everything there but stick with the chosen theme.

  2. Thank you for sharing your beautiful painting and the story of the gypsy girl and you. The artist identity is certainly a struggle for me. I am thankful that you have shared your journey with us.

  3. I find myself looking at this painting over and over, Each time finding myself touched by something different. The expression on her face, the way her hand almost caresses the fur, even the richness of the velvet on her sleeve. I am learning so much from you. Thanks for sharing your art with us.

  4. A beautiful story to go with a beautiful girl and a beautiful artist. Honestly, when someone is as talented as you are, there is nothing that you won’t be able to create and make your own. Your finest talent is in describing what goes on inside your head and helping others to grow through your words. I think she is sad for all the possibilities that surround everyone, knowing that many of those chances won’t be made into reality due to life getting in the way. I feel that she is looking into my eyes and telling me something. Amazingly beautiful and so contemplative.

  5. I never knew I was so sensitive, your entry made me cry! lol Sorry. Not my finest response. But wanted to let you know how your art, your words, and your expressions touch people from all over the globe. I love love love this beautiful, thoughtful painting of yours, as well as everything else that you have created. I say, why limit ourselves to a single style? Are we that static? Do we forever retain the same tastes and preferences? Absolutely not! We are dynamic. And I see and fully appreciate that dynamism and pure raw talent in your beautiful work. As always, thank you for creating, thank you for sharing and thank you for giving us a glimpse into your beautiful world!

  6. It’s a beautiful painting Paivi and quite an accomplishment for a first effort at Renaissance painting! I’m so impressed that you were able to combine both paintings into one that looks so natural. I think, like every artist I know, that you are too hard on yourself. You are asking yourself all the right questions and you’ve expressed so well the journey that it is to be an artist. Because it is a journey it must also remain somewhat unpredictable to be an adventure that excites not only ourselves as the artist but the viewer as well. Thank you for sharing gypsy self/soul with us.

  7. I enjoy your unique perpective on art and making art, and always learn something about myself when reading your blog! Thank you for sharing and being who you are Paivi!

  8. She is beautiful. Thank you for sharing her story with us. I think you can pretty much do any kind of art that you want. I enjoy seeing you explore different methods and always learn from you when you do.

  9. I enjoy trying out many different styles. It is helpful to see artists I admire doing the same thing. Somehow it is like getting permission to doing art totally outside my wheelhouse. This painting you’ve just done is lovely. Thank you for sharing your work and your thoughts.

    1. Thank you, Lin! I whole-heartedly believe in creative exploration and creative play, and I think that even if many artists do that, they keep that hidden. That can make people think that you need to repeat only one style, one way, one idea.

  10. I just love this piece, Paivi, I find it both sensitive and soothing to look at. Also the juxtaposition of renaissance art and pink hair! I think I am learning that being arty is different from being an artist. Your pink hair expresses an arty side whereas the painting clearly shows the artist that you are. I think if we see ourselves as arty, rather than an artist, it takes the pressure off, it then doesn’t matter if others ‘get’ what we are doing or not, that helps me not feel the outsider.

    1. Christina, thank you for your interesting comment. Personally, I am driven by achieving more skills and increasing the quality of my art, so “arty” is not an answer to me but I can see that it can take the pressure off and allow more creative play!

  11. I just love your art and the peaceful person you are. Thank you for being brave and sharing <3

  12. Paivi – your painting is beautiful, and you are so brave to honestly share your feelings. It is important to speak those truths to ourselves and to each other. Many commenters have eloquently shared the thoughts I have, so I will not try to repeat them. I just want to thank you for sharing your art and your thoughts.

  13. Paivi, you have such courage and strength of character. I admire your honesty and willingness to “put yourself out there.”

    I think the Madonna looks like you. Am I right?

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