This week’s theme is the artistic spirit. I share a new painting, glimpses of my painting fever, and inspire you to explore the zone between abstract and realistic art.
Here’s an acrylic painting that I just finished yesterday. It’s called “Paradise” and it’s quite big: 61 x 50 cm, about 24 x 19,5 inches.
Painting at Late Evenings and Wee Hours
I like to paint in the late evenings when the world quiets down. Now when it’s summer, Finland floods in light, and nights are short. When the blackbirds begin to sign at 3 am, I know it’s time to wash the brushes.
After a long night, I rush to the studio in the morning: “What have you done! You’ll never be able to finish it!”
But with this painting, I decided to accept whatever comes up. And with that, I have a little story to tell. I shared it on Peony and Parakeet’s Facebook page recently, but if you missed the post, here it is, with one of the paintings from the teenage years.
My Story about Artistic Spirit
As a teenager, I browsed big art books at the local library. I started hanging around with Matisse and Picasso and they said: “Hey Paivi, take this obsession from us, and make the most of it.” First, their inspiration was like a fever: mustpaint…mustpaint… mustpaint. Then, after too many matissepicassos, it became a burden and I went to study engineering.
During the past five years as a full-time artist, I have been hanging around with other guys – like Da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Rubens. Even if I first thought so, they are not much different. After too many rubenscaravaggios, the empty feeling takes over again.
But recently, I went to my studio secretly, picked the brushes, squeezed the paints, and in silence, I met a spirit. It was not me or any of my masters, but the spirit that arrives when we are ready to let go of the ego.
To paint like me, I need to let go of me. I am pretty sure Matisse and Picasso already told this, I was just so impressed by their names that I didn’t listen.
Abstract, Realistic, or Stylish?
Every time I make a class, I don’t only teach but also learn new things. The newest class Decodashery boosted my confidence to paint decorative motifs right from my imagination. Between “abstract” and “realistic,” there’s a zone that’s “stylish.” Then you simplify what’s real, and complicate what’s not. By simplifying, you dig the artistic spirit out of tangible things, and by complicating geometric shapes, you make the spiritual things more tangible.
I really like this painting, and hope that you enjoy these close-up pics too.
Wishing you many happy moments with painting and drawing!
There’s a lot of talk about finding your artistic voice, but very little about how other people affect it. So this week, I share a story about my mother and her influence on my art.
Painting the Same Thing Again and Again
A couple of days ago, I was on a morning walk near my home in Southern Finland. The air was fresh as well as the view, dominated by the blue sky and white clouds. My beagles’ busy noses and a glimmering brook followed a sown field that had already started to green. Both birds and earphones fed entertaining listening. But all I could think of was my painting. Was it finished? Should I add more color to the flowers? What else did I need to adjust to make most of the tens of hours? I was alone with my dogs, but the inner critic kept me company: what kind of artist doesn’t even know the meaning of her images?
Yes, I am no artist at all. I paint white flowers, the easiest anyone can imagine, and the worst that my mother knew. “No white flowers,” she repeated to my father when her wedding anniversary came close, and he was about to buy a bouquet. “White flowers mean death.” And now, long after she has passed away, all I want to paint is white flowers.
Commenters are Your Art Coaches
Rebelling had no place in my upbringing during the 1970s and 1980s. As a teenager, I tried to respond to my mother’s corrections and criticism with an ignorant smile. Not for long. She didn’t hesitate to tell that it wasn’t a proper reaction. She was both a direct and shy person. Her presence was almost invisible in public gatherings, but at home, in her empire, she was the master of rights and wrongs. So when I showed drawings to her, she either approved or disapproved. She didn’t talk to me as directly as to my father – what to do or what not – but her words and facial expressions told everything.
My mother was like a strict gymnastic coach with high expectations, but she lacked one essential skill – the ability to show how the tricks could be done. She was as honest to herself as to anyone in this matter and put her energy for finding time, supplies, and art education for me. Time to create was the easiest part. My mother was a housewife. She had left her job at a young age right after she got married. She didn’t want her daughters to have the same destiny, so she did her best to keep me out of the kitchen and constantly reminded me how children would prohibit me from doing what I love.
We lived in a small town near the Russian border, and our family wasn’t wealthy. The only income came from my father’s pension. In the evenings, my mother wrote all the expenses on a small black book. But purchasing pens and paper was mandatory. To her, it was the lowest level of civilization, more important than books. Our town had one bookshop that sold some supplies, but after we got more knowledge from local art groups and competitions, it became evident that I needed a better and broader selection. So every month, when my parents drove to a bigger town, I was often with them, selecting paper, paint boards, crayons, and acrylic paints from a real art supply store.
A Praised Piece Sticks into Your Mind
When I was some years over ten, in one spring morning, I decided to try out a new set of crayons. It was just a warm-up, a quick landscape without using any reference. “Look, mother, what do you think,” I said like so many times before. She looked at the image, tightened her lips, but unlike her, she didn’t say much. Later, when I opened a narrow kitchen closet to pick an iron, I stopped. The landscape was taped inside the wooden door. “I like to look at it,” she said after seeing my puzzled face.
I was devastated. That little landscape didn’t deserve the place. So many times I had poured my heart out on paper and soon found out that it wasn’t to her liking. And now – I didn’t even color all the paper!
Finding the Why Behind Your Artistic Voice – Connecting the Appraisals and Repetitions
Fortunately, my mother was not the only one commenting on my art. My two big sisters had different opinions, and my teachers and friends as well. One piece didn’t satisfy them all, but there were always kind words from someone. It encouraged me to keep painting and drawing, as everyone, especially my mother, expected.
After my mother’s death, one stormy weekend, I traveled to the childhood home to pick things that I wanted to keep before we would sell it. The house was cold, but I knew it was the last time when I would see it like it used to be. Everything was clean and tidy. Performing tasks effectively with high quality had always fascinated my mother. “If I could choose what my profession was, it would be a researcher of work – if such a profession existed.”
When I got up the stairs to an attic, the sight would surprise anyone but me. The attic had always been nearly empty. In one corner, under a sloped sealing, my father had built a small closet for safe storage. I opened its little door, and there they were, neatly in a big cardboard box – my paintings and drawings. Not all, but a collection that my mother had curated over the years, the little crayon drawing included.
So a few days ago, when I was walking by the field and looking up in the sky, my mother came to me in the form of the freshly colored landscape. I now knew that my urge to paint white flowers hadn’t been an act against my mother, but a yearn for her acceptance that blank white blobs had once given to me. Now my question is: can I let go of them, or do I want to keep her in my art forever.
Who has influenced your art? Can you recognize how?
This painting, called “Baroquai” is about painting through difficult times by discovering a secret place at home. A couple of weeks ago, I watched the movie Knives Out. It had a wonderful big house with secret doors, ladders, and all. I would like our house to have similar kinds of secret spaces, it would be so uplifting to change the scenes without leaving home!
In a way, art offers us those secret spaces. When I start a new watercolor painting with random splashes, it’s like seeking the hidden door.
“What to Paint?” – “Wallpaper!”
Social distancing during the pandemic has made me reduce the requirements for my art. I try to paint what brings me the most joy and keep the ambition level low. If I ask myself “What to paint?”, I just answer “Wallpaper” every single time. It’s the easiest thing that I can think of painting, and the more I paint it, the more hidden doors seem to appear.
The thought of a wall of ornaments that come to bloom is both calming and inspiring. When I examine and alter the shapes with the brush, hidden spaces begin to reveal.
The space that I am sitting seems smaller, and the other space – that’s in my mind – gets larger.
How Does Your Art Sound?
It’s also inspiring to think about what sounds the painting evokes. For this one, it’s baroque cembalo music, Jamiroquai, and softly singing choir of colorful budgies.
Mixing and Matching – The Reality Check
Painting wallpaper is also about creating something that complements and refreshes the reality.
I used a pansy – painted and cut for my box of joy – to test my “wallpaper.” The fit looked so perfect that I painted some pansies there too!
Here’s a close look at my finished “Baroquai.”
Artful Impact on the Wall
Always remember to celebrate the result! Add the signature once you are finished …
… and place the painting on the wall! The space that art creates extends the limited physical space.
I also like to photograph my paintings when they are on the wall. In my studio, I have art on the table too. There’s a plastic cover that protects the pieces.
4 Easy Tips For Painting Through Difficult Times
Find a simple answer like “Wallpaper” or “Flowers” to be ready for the inner critic’s question: “What are you creating?”
See your art as soundscapes rather than landscapes.
Mix and match things you create, no matter how small they are. Think about decorating a secret room with a collection of stuff rather than going out in the open with a single masterpiece.
Find joy in the interaction between the surrounding space and your art. Art makes the space, and also, the space can boost art.
Let’s give art the possibility to gently lift our spirits!
Here’s my recent watercolor painting. It’s called Icebreaker, and can I publicly say that I love it? Love, love, love. So this week, I daringly blog about how to selfishly love yourself when painting.
This is not my typical post. I would normally post things like “11 Ways to Make Your Painting More Abstract” or “7 Reasons Why Negative Painting is the Best Technique” or “3 Tips for Getting Closer to Your Style”. But after painting Icebreaker, I kind of melted. It became more true to me than ever before that we paint because we want this special kind of acceptance – the acceptance from ourselves.
When I whole-heartedly accepted what I had created, I didn’t just receive love from myself. I saw a long row of people congratulating me. All deceased, unfortunately, but still! There was my mother, saying that she knew I could do it. There was my father, looking away so that he could hide his smile. I saw my grandfather, a creative person I never met, congratulating me generously. And my dear aunt Rauha (which means Peace in English) was waving, looking just as lively and restlessly happy as she used to be. Now, this kind of love is what I want more and also spread more!
So this post is about turning your inner critic to your best fan. It’s not easy, and it may take like a lifetime, but it’s worth trying, so let’s begin!
1) Love Rises from the Mess
As a former engineer, I feel drawn to two-state things. Zero or one, yes or no, black or white, thick or thin, geometric or organic, the list is endless. But when painting, I like to be in the grey area, especially in the beginning. After the horrifying view of blank paper, my watercolors are sighing with relief: “She sprays and splashes so she must be having a good time.” And yes, I usually am.
But this mess is not just any mess to me. It’s a sign of hope. I hope to figure out what to do with it …
Let’s love this hopefulness in us! It’s a superpower that keeps us not only dreaming but creating too.
Yes, this superpower can look like a bad thing. It can keep us awake too late at night. It can make us buy too many brushes and focus on insignificant details like wallpaper when watching a movie. But our life is never boring or lonely when we get hopeful just by making a mess.
So, make a mess, accept the mess, fall in love with the mess! The more time you spend with the mess, the more likely you will figure it out.
2) Love What Is Secondary
Ideally, I would always know what to do next. Practically, I often have moments when I have no clue. Hope seems lost. I feel fake.
The best cure that I have found is to seek secondary things. They can be tiny spots or pretty accidental shapes, or sometimes I only admire how wet paint glows. It’s like filtering out 95 percent of the mess and seeing a few single things that look fascinating. Lovable.
I call these elements secondary because often they are just parts of the background. But by toning down the obvious and bringing up the less apparent, I can change the direction of the painting. What anyone can see is no longer my norm. I have moved on to what only I can see.
There’s so much more in us than what other people can see. Some skills and characteristics may seem secondary to others, but every one of us is allowed to love and grow them whole-heartedly.
The hierarchy of the outer world doesn’t exist when you are in your inner world. You are free to appreciate discoveries that look secondary to others.
3) No Words, Just Color
It’s not easy to write about love. Love feels more like a combination of changing colors than a sentence with specific words. So when painting, let’s feel the love through color. When dipping your brush first to the paint and then to paper, exhale color. Next, put your face close to the paper and look at the spot so that it fills your view. Inhale. It’s your color. No one can take it from you. Love, love, love.
4) Love the Vagueness
Yes, we want to find our style, our visual voice, our true self. But our boat is moving. We are changing, our life is changing, the world is changing. Everything is unsure and insecure. That also makes everything possible.
I like to build my paintings so that I leave this vagueness/possibility alive. Maybe there’s a flower, maybe not. Someone sees some triangles only, while others see a rosebud. There can be plenty of interpretations. I am vague, and everything is all right. My painting is a living organism, partly defined by the vague me, partly by the vague you.
Today we might love the current painting less than tomorrow. And our art may tell a different story after a couple of years. That’s ok.
No, that’s not ok. That’s fabulous!
5) Break It!
I admire brave people. I adore Tracy Chapman singing without a band. Her voice is not faultless, and many of her stories are not relatable to me. But I feel her honesty being present right there when I am listening to her through the headphones.
But for me, it’s often the fear that’s speaking. I hear myself shouting, “NO!” and that’s when I know that the answer should be “YES.” I know I am not alone here. We are often afraid to touch the painting even if we know it lacks something. The risk is real, but worth taking.
In this painting, it would have been so much easier not to paint that dark brown around the white area. But the ice wouldn’t start breaking otherwise.
Let’s love this creativity that wants to break what’s almost working. Let’s cherish this wild force that we have in us.
Let’s love who we are when we paint, and when we are surrounded by our paintings!
I currently teach an online watercolor class Magical Forest with themes hope, spirituality, flow, and curiosity. You can still hop along! The class ends at the end of April, so there’s lots of time to catch up! >> Sign up here!