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Peony and Parakeet

Monet in the Box – Creativity and Shame

This week, I show my latest finished painting and talk about Monet and the hall of fame – no! – the box of shame!

Bluesomnia, oil painting by Paivi Eerola.
Bluesomnia – Sinisomnia (Finnish), oil, 65 x 81 cm

Last week, I participated in an online event organized by the Finnish Illustration Association. One of the speakers was Eeva Kolu, who talked about maintaining balance in life, not letting work take over all of it. She referred to a book that she had written which is unfortunately available only in Finnish. It’s called “Korkeintaan vähän väsynyt” (free translation: A Little Tired At Most)

I have been listening to the book on daily walks, and even if I am not finished yet, I already like the inner dialog that it raises. It makes me stop to ponder, sometimes agree, other times disagree. It’s not only pleasant, and yet, it’s definitely worth reading. One of the things Eeva Kolu brings up is shame. She says that shame defines the size of the box where we live. The box can become so small there’s not much room for life.

Starting a new painting. Painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola.

Eeva Kolu made me think about all the things I am shame of. Surprisingly, one of them is central to my art.

My Relationship With Old Art

When I was in my twenties and thirties, all I wanted to see was contemporary abstract art. In museums, I rushed through the old paintings because representational and traditional art was for mediocre people, and I didn’t want to be one of them. I felt shame about my uneducated family and the lack of abstract thinking in the surroundings where I came from. I had a new life with higher education, and my love for mathematics was well aligned with geometric shapes and lines.

Oil painting in progress. Painting water. Painting intuitively. By Paivi Eerola.

But age has made me understand more about my background and art as well. I have begun to love old art, and still, it’s something that causes me shame as well.

“Waterlilies,” my husband said when he saw this painting.

It made my box shrink. My intention was not to do any Monet. I just painted the dreamy blue that needed to come out, not make any imitation of anything.

Painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I Kind of Hate Monet’s Waterlilies

I have seen them in National Gallery in London. They are captivating. People love them.

But instead of making what people easily love, I would like to be an artist who sees to the future. Who builds paintings that are like complex machines. I should be a Leonardo of this age, imagining something technical that engineers will skillfully implement someday.

But my art has a mind of its own. No, a mind of mine. Or would I dare to say: a mind of my shame. I am stuck to the past, so I paint the past. I reach the worlds that feel excitingly unknown first but turn out familiar once the painting is finished. I end up recreating instead of inventing. That’s my shame.

A detail of Bluesomnia, oil painting by Paivi Eerola. Read her post about Claude Monet and creativity!

In my classes and in this blog, I talk about old art now and then. But compared to the amount I think about stiff renaissance portraits, romantic baroque sceneries, frilly victorian dresses, cubistic still-lives, and all the masterpieces from the 15th to 20th century, it’s very little.

“My Readers Want Their Art to Be Current”

That’s what I say to myself often. The readers – you – don’t like old art so I try not to write about it. And still, the expected goal to be current seems ridiculous sometimes. There’s a bridge between current and old, and it’s very difficult to be current without knowing what’s not.

That bridge – or should I call it a long historical timeline – is the place where my creativity naturally lies. My shame is also my utmost love. When I paint, I don’t think about Rubens, Monet, Picasso, or Kandinsky. When you love something deeply, with the skills, it comes out naturally.

A detail of Bluesomnia, oil painting by Paivi Eerola.

“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.”

Claude Monet

Monet’s attitude seems very unintellectual. And yet, if you think about what you create and have created, can you relate? That sometimes it’s necessary to omit the feeling of intellectual understanding, bypass the shame, and simply love – so, widen the box instead of trying to get out of it?

A detail of Bluesomnia, oil painting by Paivi Eerola.

Thumbs up or down for talking about art history and old masters? Share your thoughts in the comments!

P.S. Claude Monet is “a guest teacher” in the class Floral Freedom!

3 Tips for Bringing More Life into Your Art

This week, we look for what’s natural and lively in a bit different way than usual. I share three tips for bringing more life into your art.

"Unchanging" - an oil painting by artist Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
“Unchanging – Muuttumaton”, oil, 65 x 80 cm

I just finished this green painting. It’s called “Muuttumaton” in Finnish, but this time, the translation “Unchanging” fits it better because the English word has a more active tone.

This painting was in progress in the video that I shared a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s the video again so that you can see me working with this in practice and compare the middle and the end!

So, that was the video, but in this post, I want to give you ideas on how you could bring more life into art.

These ideas are not technical because I think that my classes are better for learning the techniques, but more about changing the way you get inspired and observe what first appears on paper or canvas.

Tip #1 – Let Weeds be Weeds

In my painting, the main character and the focal point is a blooming weed. It appeared on the canvas right away and reminded me of Fernando Pessoa‘s poem that talks about a crop bending with the wind and then straightening once the wind stops. This kind of natural resilience that weeds also have is inspiring. In art, we usually make weeds look more like a flower. But could we loosen up and bring more life by letting the weeds be weeds?

A detail in the first layers and after finishing. Read more tips about bringing more life into your art.

So, I just made the big plant look a bit more defined and let it be the star of the show.

Tip #2 – Try to Ignore Color

Even if I took pictures of the painting in our garden, I have been more inspired by the untamed side of nature lately.

Photographing a painting in the garden. Oil painting "Unchanging" by Paivi Eerola.

With my beagle Stella, I have been exploring banks and woods that look ugly but are full of layers. For Stella, layers of smells, and for me, layers of shapes and textures. I have tried not to seek the most beautiful spring flower, but develop my eye to notice other than colorful things.

Walking the dog in nature.

What looks ugly first can be beautifully free.

A detail of a painting by Paivi Eerola. Abstract shapes, muted colors, and a lively feel.

Subtle changes in color can make the painting look more lively than if you throw in a bunch of strong colors.

Tip #3 – Embrace Destruction

When bringing life into art, it’s not that we have to start with life. We can look at broken and deserted things like fallen or chopped branches. They can then have another life in our art. Imagine branches falling further down and breaking the cover between the outer and inner world. What kind of life could you give them there?

Fallen branches can inspire for bringing more life into art. Read about how to handle inspiration to make your art more natural and lively!

Admire how the grass grows, but also, how it withers!

Growing and withering grass.

When we create, we can start with destruction and then use colors to make all the ugliness bloom. This way, we build a bridge between the garden and the wilderness – between the traditional beauty and nature’s aesthetics.

A detail of an oil painting by Paivi Eerola and tips for bringing more life into your art.

I don’t use references for my half-abstract paintings like this one. But I believe that things that we see and appreciate find their way to our art in one way or another.

So when you want to bring life to your art,
look for life as it is in the wilderness, not only as it is in your garden.

"Unchanging" - an oil painting and the artist Paivi Eerola.

When looking at this painting, I want to be like that weed, stand tall where I happened to fall. I want to believe there’s something unchanging in this ever-changing life that keeps us creating. I hope we can be Pessoa’s crop that straightens right away when it gets the chance!

Your Art and Loosening Up

This week, I talk about being unique and loosening up in a video. You also get to see me working with a new oil painting.

Your Art and Loosening Up – From a Former Engineer

With the video below, I want to get you to think about how much you do layering. But this time, I don’t talk about the actual layers of the painting, but the layers of you and your life – the more abstract stuff. Namely, we often lead our artistic direction too literally and don’t allow contradictory or silly ideas. I hope you enjoy this video!

This is a little different than many of my videos. I would be interested to hear how you like it! Do leave a comment!

Links Relevant to the Video

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!

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