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Design Principles Translated to Intuitive Painting

This week, I talk about design principles for intuitive painters. This is for you who paint because it’s a spiritual act!

Snowwhite's Land - acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola
“Snowwhite’s Land – Lumikin maa” – acrylics, 50 x 61 cm

While making this acrylic painting, I thought about how intuitive painters often feel a disconnection with general art advice like “make sure you have a focal point.” Even if I teach online classes, I often find advice that solely focuses on the technical part misleading because it talks so little about artistic expression and the experience of making art. Design principles can be like a bible for technically oriented people and a blank book for those who want to approach the subject more emotionally. But it doesn’t have to be like that!

Design Principles and Intuitive Painting

Intuitive painting differs from following a predefined idea, a reference photo, or a sketch. Let’s take the focal point as an example. Intentionally, you should start what matters the most and make it noticeable. This way, you have a clear focal point, and your painting delivers a clear message. But when you paint intuitively, there’s no message when you begin. The painting process is about connecting with your spirit and being open to what wants to come out. Here’s what my painting looked like after the first layers. Yes, there’s some resemblance with the finished piece, but not so much that the advice would make sense.

Intuitive painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

The focal point (the small pale yellow rectangle in the dark area) and its supporting element, the row of white dew drops, were added much later. Here are the dewdrops and the many layers more closely.

A detail of an intuitive abstract painting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

On the other hand, I don’t agree with those who say that lighting candles and taking a spiritual mindset should be enough. There are also those who believe in natural talent – that you either can or can’t paint – which I most strongly oppose.

For me, intuition is about bringing knowledge and creativity work together and listening to what they have to say. When I want to move forward, sometimes it’s about growing my knowledge, sometimes increasing my creativity, but often it’s also getting better at listening – quietly observing what the painting wants to become.

Details of a painting in progress.

When I notice a shape that looks like it’s whispering to me, I want to strengthen it. And sometimes, these shapes later disappear under new ones, but they still showed me the way.

Let’s go through 7 design principles and translate them from intentional to intuitive painting.

#1 Emphasis

In intuitive painting, aiming for emphasis is often about finding a suitable title and adjusting the painting to express the title. For me, painting is quite far before the first ideas about the title come up. However, the first ideas are usually the most conventional ones, so I keep painting and diving deeper.

I thought this piece was finished, when it looked like this. The title that I had in mind was “Windy Tales” or “Wind Blows in a Fairytale.” But it was still too generic, so I kept asking: What fairytale?

Acrylic painting in progress. A view to a studio. Design principles in practice.

After the painting session, knitting late at night, I got the answer: Snowwhite! So next morning, I added some more white and other colors of Disney’s Snowwhite.

A detail of an intuitive abstract painting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I feel that these small adjustments released the spirit of the painting.

A detail of an intuitive abstract painting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Intuitive doesn’t have to mean fast. We can take breaks and let our intuition and connection grow between the sessions.

#2 Balance and Alignment

The emphasis needs extra effort, but balancing is what we do naturally and so much that it suffocates expression. Be aware that “intuitive” often become “balanced” and nothing else.

The easiest way to balance a painting is to make it symmetrical. So taking an asymmetrical approach – even just for a couple of layers – makes you more expressive than any meditation! Imagine a horizontal and a vertical line in the center of your work and force yourself away from constant balancing strokes.

Painting intuitively. By a Finnish artist Paivi Eerola. Read how she translates design principles to intuitive art.

So for intuitive painters, getting off-balance is more important than creating a balance right from the beginning. In the end, you can balance the image with a few strokes if needed.

#3 Contrast

Intuitive painters have a strong connection to colors. I often begin with a specific color combination in mind, and colors feed my ideas. Yes, I like pinks, turquoises, bright yellows, bright greens … but I also have to remind myself that like a spring flower, a spirit of the painting rises slowly from mud.

Intuitive painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola.

This design principle is not so much having different colors, but having differences in lightness and darkness. For intuitive painters, it means that we have to process colors that we lay on the painting. So not just squeeze tubes, but to create our own color mixes so that the spirit is not only on the paper or canvas but also on our palette.

Acrylic paints, brushes, and a color chart. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

When we slowly create the color mixes, we have time to connect with the tone, adjust its darkness, seek for the genuine response that has a longer-term effect than what has been industrially produced.

#4 Repetition

The best way to think about repetition is to express echo. Instead of constantly balancing your painting by looking at the big picture, focus on one shape that you have just painted and imagine its spirit. How would the shape echo itself?

A detail of an acrylic painting. Design principle: repetition.

The echo is never identical to the original spirit. The echo is weaker, and there’s never just one sound, but a few.

#5 Proportion

In intuitive painting, we paint energy. Energy gathers to form cells, then clusters that get bigger and bigger. It’s easiest to see these clusters by looking at the painting from a distance or by taking a photo and reducing it.

A big painting in stam-sized image. A design principle proportion and how it can be applied in practice for intuitive art.

If your painting is full of clusters, all the energy is static, and you need more openness in shapes and lines. If all the clusters are similar in size, then the overall energy is impermanent and less powerful.

#6 Movement

Intuitive painting connects us with the tradition of storytelling. We don’t just deliver a spirit but a story about its power. In visuals, we can build paths from one element to another so that the eye can effortlessly move around the painting like it’s listening to an impactful story.

Intuitive painting in progress. Expressing movement. Design principles for intuitive painting by Paivi Eerola.

Rather than painting separate elements, connect them with lines or layering one slightly over another. Make sure that all your elements are not round and stop the eye, but pointed that move the eye forward and build flow and movement. So, when you feel the connection with the painting, create connections visually too.

#7 White Space

Intuitive painting is less about arranging space and more about filling space, but white space is still relevant if you think about it as breathing. A painting doesn’t only need a spirit – it needs to breathe. If you paint boldly, everything bland will help with breathing. Adding muted yellows around a bright yellow spot makes the yellow spot breathe.

A detail of an abstract painting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Design Principles Apply To All Art

So, you see, intentional and intuitive painting are not so different after all. The process and the values are a bit different. Still, it’s like humans – we come from different countries and cultures, speak different languages, but with some translation, we can feel togetherness across the borders.

Snowwhite's Land - Lumikin maa, acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola

If you like this article, you will love my class Floral Freedom! There I translate Paul Klee’s technical and Wassily Kandinsky’s spiritual teachings so that you can paint abstract florals freely. >> Buy Here!

Building and Breaking – Revealing Artistic Potential

This week, I talk about the hidden potential behind artworks and how we can reveal that by not only building but also breaking.

Modern Maximalist

Modern Maximalist, a surface pattern collection by Paivi Eerola.

I have just designed a collection of surface patterns called Modern Maximalist. It’s drawn digitally in Adobe Illustrator and more modern than my work usually is. However, I love modern, especially the 1960s and 1970s styles. I was born at the end of the 1960s, live in a house built in the same era, and my love for retro has been too hidden in my art. But still, I didn’t want to design the collection based only on the images of others, but to build a bridge from my art to design. So, most of the motifs were based on this watercolor painting that I made a couple of weeks ago!

Maximalist, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola
Maximalist, watercolor, 37 x 55 cm.

More Artistic Potential by Building and Breaking

Often when we create art, we build. We communicate the big picture and compose bits and pieces so that they work together. We get happy accidents (and sometimes some not-so-happy ones) and aim to make an image where the overall atmosphere takes over the details.

But to reveal more, we also need to break. Then the romantic flower that was painted to represent a dreamer, becomes a more stylish and symbolic figure.

Avant Garden, a surface pattern by Paivi Eerola. From the collection Modern Maximalist.

Yellow flowers and all the yellow washes can be more geometric when they are away from the big picture.

Floral Harlequin, a surface pattern by Paivi Eerola. From the collection Modern Maximalist.
Pansy Power, a surface pattern by Paivi Eerola. From the collection Modern Maximalist.

The juicyness of the fruits and other decorative details can be reorganized.

Fruity Living, a surface pattern by Paivi Eerola. From the collection Modern Maximalist.
Juicy Breakfast, a surface pattern by Paivi Eerola. From the collection Modern Maximalist.
Spiritual Refresh, a surface pattern by Paivi Eerola. From the collection Modern Maximalist.

Picking Ideas from Other Images

We can also add more fuel, and break and pick from other images. This design called “List Maxima” uses motifs from the painting, but also the idea of a list that came from playing with the name of the collection, and fashion pictures that showed puffy and full dresses of the maximalist style.

List Maxima, a surface pattern by Paivi Eerola. From the collection Modern Maximalist.

By breaking and picking, we also develop our ability to curate – to see which inspiration suits what we have already done. It’s an essential part of a style-development and and growing artistic vision.

I saw a pleated skirt on Prince Charles’s wife Camilla Parker-Bowles, not a maximalist style at all, but wonderfully modern so I broke and picked the image and got creative from that.

Camilla Moe, a surface pattern by Paivi Eerola. From the collection Modern Maximalist.

Artists often say to me: “I need to focus!” But by focusing on narrowing, we non-creatively force ourselves to do one thing. By breaking and picking, we can curate all kinds of inspiration and be creative so that it grows our artistic vision.

Sweet Sensations, a surface pattern by Paivi Eerola. From the collection Modern Maximalist.

Revealing the Artistic Potential

No matter where you are in your artistic journey, your art benefits from the idea of building and breaking. Build to go deeper into the experience and break to reveal more ideas and potential! In practice, building often means painting, and breaking is often connected to drawing – even if, of course, you can use any techniques that suit you.

What was first a watercolor painting, could now be a quilt!

A quilt mockup from the fabrics designed by Päivi Eerola. From the collection Modern Maximalist. Read her blog post about revealing artistic potential.

Building and breaking can alternate endlessly when we combine new ideas and results with old ones.

Printed surface patterns. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here I am breaking and picking to create something new into my art journal.

A paper collage in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s what I built by cutting and glueing new prints and old hand-decorated papers.

A paper collage by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

And I couldn’t resist checking if this could work as a repeat too!

A surface pattern from collage art. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I hope you found this post about building and breaking inspiring!


Need help for finding your artistic potential and building artistic vision? Sign up for my coaching program called Artistic Vision!

Painting Poems – Watch the Video!

This week, we’ll continue the theme of painting poems from a couple of weeks ago. I create a small painting from a poem in a video and also talk about overcoming perfectionism.

Mennyt tulee takaisin - Past Comes Back, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Watch how she creates this in a video. See her examples of painting poems!

Here’s the acrylic painting that I created from Saima Harmaja‘s old poem “Olkoon niin!” I also include some examples from the class Floral Freedom at the end of this post.

Painting Poems – Watch the Video!

In the video, I show how a poem can make a painting more finished and meaningful. I also talk about why I thought I can’t paint Finnish poems and how I have realized that aiming for perfection doesn’t always help.

More Poetic Paintings

I created these two paintings for the class Floral Freedom. The first one is inspired by Anna-Maija Raittila’s poem Ruiskukkaehtoo (Cornflower Night).

Ruiskukkaehtoo - Cornflower Night - an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

And the one below is inspired by Katri Vala’s poem Kukkiva maa (Flowering Earth).

Kukkiva maa - Flowering Earth, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola. Based on an old poem, watch Paivi's video about painting poems!

Paint Dreamy Florals to Free Your Spirit!

Floral Freedom – the abstract floral class based on Paul Klee’s and Wassily Kandinsky’s insights – will begin on Dec 4, 2021. In this class flowers are not just passive decorations, but they fly, sing, and dream! >> Sign up Now!

Floral Freedom is 20% off for the rest of November, so now is a good time to sign up!
>> Sign up now!

Art Inspiration from Flowering Trees

Dulciana, an acrylic painting by paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Inspired by flowering trees.

Here’s my latest painting, “Dulciana.” It’s inspired by flowering trees and their power to bloom year after year. This spring was special because I got to see blossoming cherry trees in a park that was filled with them.

Paivi Eerola in a flowering cherry tree park.

Embracing the Decorative Side of Art

This spring has also been different concerning my artistic endeavors. I have been building a new class, but a little slowlier than what I usually do. I have been really intentional about what I include in the class and how the class is structured. It’s has felt like it’s my life’s work even if it’s still a very light-hearted and fun class.

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

The class is called Decodashery, and it dives deep into the decorative side of art. The projects that I have made for the class have given me new skills and ideas about including decorative elements in my intuitive paintings too.

Light Paints the Flowering Trees

Now when summer has come to Finland, I have also spent more time in the garden. I wouldn’t really have to because my husband is crazy about gardening. He has found his passion, and I am so happy for him.

Garden view with flowering trees.

But when I look out of the window, and the sun is shining, I can’t help going there, walking and weeding, taking photos, and admiring how light paints the view.

And when I start a painting, I can’t help thinking about light, and how essential it is for the magical atmosphere.

Starting a painting. Abstract shapes, shadows and light. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

So most times, when I paint freely, I start with random strokes expressing light and shadows.

Starting a painting. Abstract shapes, shadows and light. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Art, Cembalos, and Flowering Trees

To make the painting shine softly, I like to add washes whether I paint with acrylics, watercolors, or oils. Washes have just a small amount of pigment and plenty of painting medium. For washes, I use water in watercolors, water and glazing gloss in acrylic paints, and the mixture of dammar varnish, french turpentine, and linseed oil in oils. This one is an acrylic painting.

Intuitive painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

When I paint without any assignment, I usually do it late at night. I listen to cembalo music when I start digging out the elements from the mess. Cembalos sound like the light I want to capture in my paintings. The sound is pompous and full of energy, and still, there’s something so delicate and vulnerable that it almost shatters.

The vulnerability is also in the flowering trees. They seem sturdy and unapologetic, but they know how bypassing the blossoming is. It looks like they miss the flowers already, and the dark trunks feel heavy and burdened by the upcoming work of making fruits of them.

Apple blossoms. A flowering tree.

I try not to make one painting at one go but take several sessions. Like trees, the painting also has seasons. It needs time to grow, and time to rest.

Artist Paivi Eerola and painting apple blossoms.

Often it feels that when I am not painting, the painting progresses best. Ideas come when I get out of the studio and talk to the trees.

Endless Flow of Swirls and Ruffles

After making the projects for the new class, Decodashery, I have enjoyed painting decorative shapes than ever before. I especially like swirls and ruffles.

Acrylic painting in progress. Focusing on swirls and ruffles inspired by flowering trees. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Similarly than old cembalo music sounds like a melody that never ends, all kinds of little curves can make even a small painting feel like it’s a world of its own. The eye travels from one place to another so that there seems always to be something to discover.

Dulciana, an acrylic painting by paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Inspired by flowering trees.

Here’s “Dulciana” with the last week’s painting “Ceruleana.”

Dulciana and Ceruleana, small acrylic paintings by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Decodashery – Registration Will Open Next Week!

The registration for the new class Decodashery will open next week, and the class begins on June 29.

Decodashery, sneak peeks, an online art class by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.,

In Decodashery, we will create a beautiful and comforting world that has some jazz too. We will enjoy painting flowers, lace, cakes, dollies, and break the border between vintage and modern art. When building it, I have been inspired by Jane Austen movies, old jazz clubs, Russian handpainted floral plates, and skillful crocheters and cake makers around the world. I hope you will join us! Until next week!

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