Color the Emotion

Pick a few colors and create without stiffness.

Roaming Instinct – Why Not to Limit Artistic Inspiration

This post is about artistic inspiration and spirituality and enabled by Arts Promotion Centre Finland. This is the seventh blog post of the project, see the first one herethe second one herethe third one herethe fourth one herethe fifth one here, and the sixth one here!

My second big painting is called “Roaming Instinct.”

Roaming Instinct - Vaellusvietti, an oil painting  by Paivi Eerola, Finland.
“Vaellusvietti – Roaming Instinct”, 120 x 100 cm, oil on canvas

This painting and the previous big one have been really significant to me.

Two big oil paintings in a small studio. By Paivi Eerola, Finland. Read what she thinks about inspiration and style.

Regular practice and the big size have helped me to relax and let go – break the glass between the inner and the outer world, as Wassily Kandinsky would say.

Can There Be Too Much Artistic Inspiration?

As long as I have created art, I have been inspired by a variety of things. It has often felt like it’s too much.

Here are some:

  • old portraits in fancy dresses
  • houseplants and their pots
  • midcentury-modern interiors
  • colorful kitsch
  • primitive dolls
  • dressage horses
  • English country gardens and cottages
  • Tibetan yaks
  • base jumping
  • mountain climbing
  • skateboards
  • graffitis
  • physics
  • outer space
  • mathematical algorithms

The list is ongoing and overwhelming!

I think this is not exceptional at all. The world is full of artistic inspiration. Like animals, we have a roaming instinct to explore further. No wonder they say that the hard choice for art-making is to choose what inspiration to pick.

Oil painting in progress.

But recently I have felt like I don’t have to pick. No matter what I paint, I can bring it all together. If I paint a flower, it can look like a nomad, or a mountain, or a furry animal, or a space station, I don’t have to define.

Shapes can have an identity of their own. A detail of an oil painting by artist Paivi Eerola, Finland.

Every element can have a strong identity and the overall scenery can have a strong sense of location even if I can’t name it. Some people say my paintings are underwater sceneries, others see outer space. For me, they can be both, and yet neither. I feel I am delivering more than what can be labeled.

Finding Your Artistic Voice/Style/Spirituality/Identity – Whatever You Call It!

I have created art for a long time expecting to become better at what to pick and why. I assumed that art would make me know myself better and yes, it has. But it’s surprising that now when I am painting, it doesn’t really matter who I am and how I get inspired. My art is not to limit or to focus but to integrate.

Paivi Eerola and one of her oil paintings. Read more about her thoughts on artistic inspiration!

When I started the project, one of the goals was to get clearer about my spirituality. My question was: “Can a former engineer create spiritual art?”

At the moment, I find it difficult to separate physical from the spiritual. All material things seem to have a spirit and everything immaterial seems to have a figure. When I paint, they mix and merge, and after a while, the painting seems to have a mind of its own. It tells what it wants, and my job is to obey.

Does this make sense? What do you think?

Emotional Catharsis Through Intuitive Art

This post about catharsis and spirituality in art is enabled by the grant that I got from Arts Promotion Centre Finland. This is the fifth blog post of the project, see the first one herethe second one here, the third one here, and the fourth one here!

Recently I have thought about Wassily Kandinsky so much that he has become an imaginary character in my mind. He seems to enjoy this life after death, and I like him hanging around when I paint. This time it led to emotional catharsis – a very powerful experience. Here’s the story!

Vanitas, intuitive oil painting by Paivi Eerola. Expressing emotional catharsis through art-making.
“Vanitas”, 65 x 81 cm, oil on canvas

Let’s Go to The Dark Side!

One morning, before starting the painting, I read one of my recent blog posts to Wassily:

“Because expressing light is impossible without painting the darkness, I have decided to explore spirituality’s ultimate opposites as well. Like insolence, materialism, and money.”

Colored pencil spread inspired by Lucas Cranach
A colored pencil spread made as a study for the painting.

“Let’s do it!” Wassily immediately exclaimed with his Russian accent. “Let’s paint what money looks like! Do you like money, Paivi?”

The question alone was vulgar and intrusive, and the whole subject made me shiver. “What’s the problem? Haven’t you ever painted the dark side?” Wassily asked and looked confused and a bit more gentle too.

Well, I hadn’t. Not in this scale, anyway. The idea of spending the next few weeks with blacks and bloody reds felt heavy. In my life, there have been times when I had liked money too much, for example, when I sold IT solutions to big organizations. Secretly, it felt almost as good as making art. Back then, I bought lots of art supplies, but the time for using them was much more limited. Too limited.

Mixed media flowers. Mixed media art supplies.
Playing with supplies, from 2013.

“Wassily,” I said, “money almost took me away from creating, so how can I create a painting about it?” But Wassily is a funny guy. He doesn’t answer questions that he wants me to answer through creating. Then he just stares at me silently like a watchdog, preventing the escape from the studio.

Paivi Eerola starts a new oil painting in her home studio. How to paint intuitively so that it's cathartic.

So I can do nothing but start.

From a Pet to a Beast

While filling the blank canvas, I tried to comfort myself by thinking about how money can be a good thing too, enabling grand and beautiful things.

Intuitive art techniques. Painting with finger and wiping off paint.

“I will paint all the luxury,” I said to Wassily and picked Indian Yellow, the color of gold.

Intuitive art techniques: using a variety of brushes.

It all went fine for a long time. The painting was like a lion cub, cute and pretty at a young age, a true pet.

Intuitive oil painting in progress.

But then slowly, the colors got stronger, and shapes began to stretch in all directions.

Intuitive oil painting in progress. Creating art to achieve emotional catharsis.

The pet had become a beast, and I couldn’t control it anymore.

Emotional Catharsis – Letting Go of Control

Just before I was about to give up the fight, Wassily stepped towards and said: “What was it like as a teenager before you chose money” He was pointing me with a brush that had Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Red. The colors that I used so often back then.

Painting with colors that speak to you. Experiencing emotional catharsis through colors and shapes.

“Not now, Wassily, I can’t be weak now. I have this beast to handle”, I gulped, pointing towards the painting. But he grabbed my hand and, unlike his usual self, brutally fed it to the growing lion. The pain took over, the colors splashed uncontrollably, and for a short time, moments of my life ran through me when the lion ate me bit by bit. I was a teenager trying to find her painting style and become an artist. A young adult losing her parents and, as a result, counting pennies.

But then, just before the last ray of light burned out, I heard Wassily’s demanding voice: “You are not dead yet. Open your eyes and finish the painting.”

Oil painting supplies.

Days went by, and I visited the painting now and then like it would be a rare animal in a cage. Something had happened, but what? Wassily got frustrated: “Can’t you see it? It’s vanitas!

Vanitas – Emotional Catharsis Explained

Vanitas paintings are still lives that express the inevitability of death in symbols. They were in fashion in the Netherlands in the early 17th century, but they have inspired artists later too.

Edwaert Collier, Vanitas, 1661, detail. Finnish National Gallery.
Edwaert Collier, Vanitas, 1661, detail. Finnish National Gallery.

Suddenly, my lion shrank to only a skull, and there were bubbles, smoke, candles, musical instruments, playing cards, flowers, a bowl … all kinds of historical symbols for the futility of pleasure and certainty of death. Now finishing was easy. I just made the objects a little more distinct.

Here’s the closeup of the lion skull.

Vanitas, intuitive oil painting by Paivi Eerola. A detail.

Playing cards are flying in the air.

Vanitas, intuitive oil painting by Paivi Eerola. A detail.

Here’s the crown, thrown in the mud.

Vanitas, intuitive oil painting by Paivi Eerola. A detail.

If you look carefully, you can also find lots of other symbols too. For example, a red bowl in the middle broken by icy water. And the yellow bottom expresses musical instruments and their sounds.

Vanitas, intuitive oil painting by Paivi Eerola. Read how she experienced emotional catharsis when making this.

My favorite part is what the imaginary Wassily painted:

Vanitas, intuitive oil painting by Paivi Eerola. A detail.

“This is how money looks like,” said Wassily in his teaching voice. “Don’t feel pity or fear about it anymore. Now you are free to paint whatever you want.”

– “I want to paint a couple of big floral still lives inspired by the 17th-century Dutch masters!” The relief and enthusiasm filled my mind.

– “Whatever,” yawned Wassily. Clearly, it would not have been his choice, but I hope he’ll keep sticking around anyway.

Painting a big floral. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Have you ever experienced emotional catharsis through art-making? So, feeling purified after going through the climax of negative emotions? Do you always create for beauty or do you like to step to the other side too?

Getting Inspired by Removing the Obvious

This week, I have finished the first painting of the new series, enabled by the grant that I got from Arts Promotion Centre Finland. This is the second blog post of this project, see the first one here!

Valon valtakunta - The Empire of Light. An oil painting by Paivi Eerola, Finland. Read how she got inspired by removing the obvious.
“Valon valtakunta – The Empire of Light”, oil on canvas, 50 x 61 cm

I wanted to combine two different styles for the painting.

Struggling with Differences

First, I wanted to honor Sandro Botticelli, a masterful painter from the Italian Renaissance, and include some of his colors and ornaments. I especially like the pastel colors in his paintings. Yellow ochre and ultramarine blue look beautiful in the mixtures. Botticelli’s painting The Madonna of the Pomegranate was my main inspiration for the color scheme. I also listened to Renaissance choir music and imagined how he felt when he painted and analyzed his work.

An oil painting in progress.
In progress – Still in a background stage

I also had another tutor, Wassili Kandinsky, from the 20th century. I reread his books On the Spiritual in Art and Point and Line to Plane and imagined him talking about releasing the inner sound of a shape.

An oil painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
In progress – too sharp contrasts and shapes

But knowledge and advice and all the left brain stuff can only help to a certain point. When focusing on facts and words, I lost not only Botticelli’s and Kandinsky’s voices but my own too. I ended up making too bold moves and the spirit of the painting was lost.

Indoors – Outdoors

Fortunately, I had to take many sittings because dogs require pauses. It feels that I am constantly moving from indoors to outdoors nowadays!

Two beagles in a field. Taking breaks from creative work.

Then it hit me, that painting, life, and spirituality are not about defining two states like outdoors and indoors. I can bring indoor elements like lamps with outdoor elements like trees. Botticelli broke the division by painting decorative flowers that continued from the grass to clothes.

Removing the Obvious Limitations

And if indoors and outdoors can be one, why not break other obvious limitations too – for example, combine science and beliefs in the same painting.

Painting abstract art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
In progress – the spirit of the painting becomes visible

So I painted a chandelier, Botticelli’s divine rays, a light bulb to honor Thomas Edison, a tiny cross to represent spiritual beliefs. I allowed one association to freely lead to another. My mind was exploding when I thought about light and its all interpretations.

A detail of The Empire of Light - an abstract painting by Paivi Eerola. Read how she suggests removing the obvious to get more spiritual and abstract expression.
Details of the finished painting

Some people collect chandeliers, others search for a proper lightbulb in a supermarket. Sometimes we believe in science, other times we have different beliefs. Some see angels instead of flowers. Sometimes we need darkness to see light, and other times we may need more light to the lightness. Light can be glitter that saves the day or a more permanent feeling of hope. Art and spirituality don’t have to be separate from the rational and mundane, but they can be the glue between the inner and outer world. We can remove the obvious, and express the diverse experience instead of a single thing.

Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. She creates colored pencil illustrations and abstract oil paintings in intuitive style.
A colored pencil study and the finished painting. See this blog post to read more about the journal spread!

Releasing the Inner Sound

In the light of removing the obvious, Kandinsky’s idea of releasing the inner sound can simply mean this:

Make subtle changes to an element
so that the obvious interpretation becomes vaguer
and a variety of new ideas are raised.

A detail of an abstract painting by Paivi Eerola. Exploring Kandinsky's idea of releasing the inner sound of a shape.
A flower, a veil, a spirit, or what?
A detail of an oil painting by Paivi Eerola.
I almost forgot the signature!

What could “removing the obvious” mean to you? Tell me what you think!

Art Journey to Spirituality – Let’s Begin!

This week, we will begin a journey to express spirituality through art. Think about this and the upcoming blog posts as an interactive diary that you can adapt to your own work. The idea is to question and examine first and then intuitively find more truths.

Introduction to the Journey

Paivi Eerola in her studio

As I wrote last week, I have got a grant from The Arts Promotion Centre Finland to create a series of paintings and write about the process.

In the series, I will dive deeper into Wassily Kandinsky’s idea of unleashing the inner sound of form (check the class Floral Freedom). I will also examine the art of the 16th and 17th centuries and get influences from there. My paintings will express spirituality, but they won’t be subject to any particular worldview or religion.

I will work both systematically and intuitively. I will create studies in my colored pencil diary that help me to build a formal language for each intuitive painting (check the class Intuitive Coloring).

Keeping a colored pencil sketchbook

I hope this 3-month project inspires you to start an art journey to your spirituality! Take a bit of time for it every week, have a sketchbook or an art journal, maybe create a few paintings too. You can also write down names, quotes, and personal thoughts. The idea is to keep ideas and associations flowing while art gets created!

I hope to hear your thoughts in the comments! If you want more social support, purchase any of my classes and you will get to my community Bloom and Fly for the rest of the year. We will have discussions about this project in the Facebook group of the community.

Ok, let’s begin!

How to Define Spirituality

First, let’s ask what spirituality is! Google replies:

“the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.”

But as artists, we don’t have to obey any general answer. Rather, it’s expected that our art expresses our personal points of view. I also believe that any word can start a journey. The first answer is just a ticket, and the answers get deeper piece by piece.

Paivi Eerola and her art. Follow her art journey to spirituality in her blog!

Connection, empathy, and understanding – I imagine squeezing these three words in my hands like they would be paper tokens. I want to connect with artists in the past, empathize with their shapes, and understand how to go deeper. But instead of getting overly serious, I also want to learn to play. The goal is to create a spectrum rather than one truth. 

What three words would you pick as your tickets to a spiritual journey?

Meeting Sandro Botticelli

The first painting of the series will be the one that started last July. It was then black and white, an underpainting only.

An oil painting in progress. Black and white underpainting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

This week I got back to it and brought in more colors.

Oil painting in progress. Starting an art journey to spirituality. By Paivi Eerola.

Even if the painting is not finished yet, the colors took me to meet the first companion of my journey – Sandro Botticelli.

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli
The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) was an Italian painter. I have seen his famous paintings Primavera and The Birth of Venus in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, but many other pieces inspire me too.

Botticelli equals perfection in many ways. His shapes and lines are so flawlessly beautiful that they make me shiver. He didn’t paint alone but had apprentices. I wonder what it would be like to work in his workshop – trying to paint a curvy line that would get his approval! Botticelli was born again in the 1850s when the Pre-Raphaelites found him. The easy way to fall in love with Botticelli’s work is to look at, for example, Evelyn de Morgan’s (1855-1919) romantic ladies. After those, it’s easy to greet Sandro too.

Botticelli’s Spirituality

I made this little study of Botticelli’s style in colored pencils to examine how his shapes are. It’s often good to let the hand think instead of using only the mind.

A study of Sandro Botticelli's art and spirituality by Paivi Eerola. Colored pencils notebook.

When I imagine discussions with Botticelli, he whispers out romantic mysteries. “Your stories would make great plays,” I tell him. But what interests me most is not the characters themselves, but how ornamental their speech is and how much in detail he describes their clothing and the overall setting.

Madonna of the Magnificat by Sandro Botticelli
Madonna of the Magnificat by Sandro Botticelli

I think the spiritual in Botticelli is the way he empathizes with things. For example, how a thin vail looks like the extension of the soul. Or how the flowers that are on the ground continue on the dress and fly in the air. Sandro’s people look immersed in their surroundings.

Primavera by Sandro Botticelli
Primavera by Sandro Botticelli

Like Wassily Kandinsky would say, they seem to be not watching something as outsiders but being an integral part of the overall experience. I hope that this understanding will somehow help me to finish the painting!

Colored pencils study for an oil painting. Exploring spirituality through art.

Tell me, who is the first companion in your art journey to spirituality? Botticelli or somebody else?

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