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Peony and Parakeet

Artist’s Life – What’s Boring and What’s Not!

This week, I make a watercolor painting and talk about how artist’s life can seem different than what it is.

Summer catcher - Kesän sieppari, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola.
“Summer Catcher” – “Kesän sieppari”, watercolor, 38 x 56 cm >> Buy it here!

Let’s turn back time and see how this painting came to life!

Is the Art Understood – A Story about Hilma af Klint

It’s a hot summer day, and watercolors are calling me. So I wet a paper, and after the water has soaked in, I start painting with a big brush.

Starting a new watercolor painting. Getting over blank paper syndrome by using lots of colors and water.
The beginning: Lot of water and random strokes in warm colors.
The paper is Fabriano Artistico (cold press). I buy watercolor paper in big sheets and split them in half.

With the first strokes, I listen to the last minutes of an audiobook that has kept me company for a few weeks. It’s “Hilma af Klintin arvoitus” (The mystery of Hilma af Klint) by Pirkko Kotirinta. It’s a new book, published this year and currently only available in Finnish.

Even if the book is about Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), an interesting Swedish abstract pioneer, the companionship with the book hasn’t been pleasant. Mostly because I wanted to know about Hilma’s thoughts and philosophies – her inner life. But the book focuses on the external events and on the author’s background investigation for those.

A part of artist's life is to see art. Hilma af Klint's exhibition in Finland in 2014. Paivi Eerola enjoyed the big paintings.
We had Hilma af Klint’s art exhibtion in Finland in 2014. See my old post inspired by this exhibition!

When the book ends, I think about how people who admire artists from the outside perspective often romanticize things that are not romantic at all. There has been a lot of them around Hilma too. These people say: “The artist chose not to sell her art” or “The artist wanted to keep her art private,” but honestly, no professional artist wants that.

Instead, it can happen as it did for Hilma, that despite all the effort, the art was not respected or understood, and that breaks the artist’s heart. Hilma af Klint decided that the time would be more suitable later. So, she stated that her work had to be kept secret for 20 years after death.

Every artist wants to be current, but art has its own timeline. Sometimes it’s too far in the past, and sometimes – like Hilma’s – in the future. Painting freely is like a game where every layer is a new level. The result is unexpected, yet synchronized with the inner clock of the artist.

Spraying on watercolor paper. Getting colors mixed naturally.
I like to use a spraying bottle excessively in the first layer. It’s relaxing and leads to surprises!

Boring and Not – Two Sides of Artist’s Life

People who look at artists from the outside perspective think that they live a carefree and eventful life. Therefore, they try to solve the mystery of Hilma af Klint by tracking the external events instead of internal ones. Artist’s handwritten diaries can be too confused, and it’s less complicated to travel from town to town and follow the actual footsteps. But most of Hilma’s life was spiritual, and her 193 gigantic temple paintings, laborious to create.

From the external perspective, art-making is one of the most boring things if you measure it by the amount of silence and concentration.

Working in a studio as a watercolor artist. Concentration is a part of artist's life.
I change brushes between layers so that the painting has a variety of strokes.
Here I am working with a flat brush.

However, what happens in the inner world, can make the artist’s life most exciting. We get to fly to a new land, find a color, be a color! We get to transmit a spirit through shapes and their interaction.

Enjoying strokes when painting with watercolors. One of the pleasures of artist's life.
Some strokes are just water. I use them to spread the color and make lighter strokes.

At first, accidental spots of color cause traditional associations: “Here could be a leaf, there a flower.” But when we let them go, a more personal layer opens: “Here’s something that reminds me of teenage years.” And slowly, more layers unfold, colors give room to shapes, and something that first sounded like a foreign language reaches the natural rhythm, and everything falls in place.

Making a layered watercolor painting. By artist Paivi Eerola.
Details become textures after getting a color wash. It helps with the composition.
Negative painting – painting around the shapes – brings out light elements.

I work from light to dark and slowly add depth. The process of moving from traditional to natural is the toughest one for me. It requires to face many unpleasant memories – mental monsters that guard the paradise. From the outside perspective, I only make slow strokes for hours. But inside, I am crossing a storming sea feeling afraid of failure and success at the same time. The monsters are roaring on both shores and the only way to get through is not to beat but tame them.

Painting details in watercolor. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
Sharp elements over fuzzy layers make the painting look finished and less flat.
This painting took two days and several sessions.

The monsters are often visible in my paintings too. People often point them when choosing their favorite details: “I like this. How did you do that?”

Summer catcher - Kesän sieppari, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola.

The two sides of art – the technical and the spiritual – are always present. Thus, art is always about both learning the strokes and living the strokes.

Paivi’s Watercolor Classes & Exhibitions

A watercolor journal in progress. Recording artist's life.

No matter what media you end up loving, watercolors have a lot to teach! Color washes, the negative painting technique, making simple shapes more elegant – all these techniques are useful for any art. Paivi likes to think about her watercolor set as a little assistant, always eager to work, and someone who sets her back on track.

If you are in Italy or Finland, come to see Paivi’s watercolor paintings! “Shyeling” is displayed in the international group exhibition in Fabriano from June 20 to Oct 31. “Torchbearer” and “Maximalist” are displayed in the Akvart gallery in Helsinki from July 12-25, 2021.

Also check: Original watercolor paintings available in the shop

5 thoughts on “Artist’s Life – What’s Boring and What’s Not!

  1. Paivi! How beautiful, both the painting and the post. I so enjoy reading, not only of the history of our artists, but your process of thoughts while painting and the beautiful results after having processed so much. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Congratulations on the paintings that grace the walls of the exibitions! Much love to you Paivi. XO

  2. Another venture into the mystical, right on the heels of your last post! I’ve been interested in Hilma af Klint for some time, but always promised myself that I would study her and her work in depth later–and later hadn’t arrived until now. Thank you so much for reintroducing her. When I first saw the amazing diagramatic works that people said were obscure or unintelligible, I immediately thought: she was a mystic. On reading some references this afternoon, I think I’d be inclined to say “intensely mystical visionary” work; she was a spiritualist, interested in a variety of occult subjects, attended seances and attempted “automatic writing.” Of course, without her writings, her actual words, we can’t be assured she was a mystic, but when I read about her progression in her art, changing from one way of seeing to another throughout her life, I might cautiously say “yes”. Interesting that Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian were also profoundly concerned with the unseen dimension. It would be so fascinating to read Hilma’s “Studies on Spiritual Life” (1200 pages!) This reference: “I describe the way and meanwhile I am proceeding along it” (which seems to be a quote from her) has a mystical authenticity, to my way of seeing. But I was surprised that she wanted her art hidden for 20 years after her death. I almost think that she might have understood that as we would “progress” in the 20th C. , the world would become more oriented to the sciences and technology and much less to the “metaphysical”. But it is to our benefit that her pieces have survived. I would love to see more studies done on Hilma and not only her incredible paintings, but her writing too! Please let me know if you find any books in English about her ideas.

    In this post, your ideas on the inner life of the artist coincide with my remarks in your last post relating to the spiritual element of art. I love negative painting, but find it difficult–something to work on! It is wonderful that you are able to exhibit your art this summer and I hope you have incredible success! Thank you again, Paivi!

    1. Thank you, Lynne! I think you and Hilma would be good friends, at least! Because Hilma had a lot of connections with Finland, we Finnish are very much interested in her work today too. We have had a few exhibitions, and I have seen her work in two. Very impressive pieces which seem to be not only spiritual and fantastic but also intellectual in some ways.

      About negative painting: I think it’s like world’s wonders: difficult at first, but once you get it, there are opportunities for it all the time. I like the mental shift of seeing beyond the obvious that comes with it.

  3. for Lynne/Louisa: This may or may not be what you’re looking for: https://amzn.to/3gXr9Cx (Hilma af Klint: Notes and Methods) which claims to be the first (2018) English translation of her notebooks.

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