Color the Emotion

Pick a few colors and create without stiffness.

How Your Personal Story is Related to Your Art

This week, I share how my newest painting was born. At the same time, I talk about how the artist’s personal story affects the outcome.

Unelmien kevät - The Spring of Dreams, 40 x 50 cm, oil on canvas, by Paivi Eerola, Finland
Unelmien kevät – The Spring of Dreams, 40 x 50 cm, oil on canvas

My paintings usually reflect the current season. But now, when there’s a fall in Finland, something springy appeared on my canvas. I call this one “The Spring of Dreams.”

Observing a Flower – Engineer’s and Romantic’s Approaches

Last spring was beautiful. The apple and cherry trees were blossoming.

Apple and cherry trees blossoming.

And with the early summer came wonderful irises.

Purple irises in the garden.

I often take photos in the garden and examine the plants. As a former engineer, I try to see how they are constructed. Not how the petals are attached and such, but how the light constructs the flower, adding its own brushmark to it. As a romantic, I try to see a face of a flower. I look at it like it would be an animal or a human – like it has a name and a history. I am not searching for its eyes but trying to sense its needs and dreams.

This way, I don’t need to copy photos but can paint freely and intuitively. Then when random shapes begin to look like a lighted plant, I try to give it what it wants, even if it’s often a species that doesn’t even exist.

The Fight Between Too Stiff and Too Messy

However, the painting process is not always as straightforward as it sounds. Often the engineer adds something stiff, and the romantic wipes it off. Then the romantic makes a mess, and the engineer tries to clean it.

Wiping off paint. Painting in progress. Bringing in the personal story.

The engineer in me likes to build things with a brush: “There’s a chair, look!”

A detail of an abstract painting in progress.

The romantic in me likes leaves and swirls more.

Artistic Direction and Setting Guidelines

To stop the fights, I gave an artistic direction that set challenges for both of them: “We will be making a dreamy floral that has purple. The painting should fit a modern, feminine home that has some rustic elements as well.” Both the engineer and the romantic understand had a common understanding of style when picturing a space where the painting should fit. When I use this method, I choose a location in my home or a picture in an interior design book, or a photo found on Instagram.

Abstract floral painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola, Finland. Read more about her personal story.

When I was studying industrial design, these kinds of simple and concrete guidelines were called design drivers. Design drivers are different from design principles. Design principles are general guidelines to make your image more expressive and aesthetic. Design drivers are project-based and loosely define the outcome.

A detail of Unelmien kevät - The Spring of Dreams, 40 x 50 cm, oil on canvas, by Paivi Eerola, Finland. Setting design drivers for art and how they relate to your personal story.

Design drivers prevent me from painting this and that, but I try to make them so general that I can get creative and freely express myself. For example, the requirement to use purple in a painting is not a big limitation.

Personal Story and Art Projects

Behind design drivers, there’s a more general foundation, an artistic vision. My paintings always lean toward the past and have a historical feel. As an artist, I want to combine the past and the present in an uplifting way, creating a fantasy of immortality for the interior space. Because I lost both of my parents at a young age, I never thought I would live old. This way, my artistic vision, and personal story are connected.

Paivi Eerola and her oil painting Unelmien kevät - The Spring of Dreams. Read more about her personal story and process of making abstract florals.

I claim that art-making has many layers. It’s not only about the process, techniques, or assignment. The artistic vision and the personal story matter as well. You always have a chance to bring them in, whether you are painting or drawing. For example, if a course sets the starting point, the creative challenge is how to include your artistic vision and story in the projects. This time, rather than listing things you love, go deeper and think about your struggles. How do they define what you want to achieve in art?

Turning Memories into Paintings

This week, I talk about memories and art-making and how the connection between them can be loose but still important.

Tiikerinsilmä - Tiger's Eye, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm. By Paivi Eerola, Finland.
Tiikerinsilmä – Tiger’s Eye, oil on canvas, 100 x 80 cm

With this new painting, I want to talk about …

Books and Memories

My parents never visited another country, and as a child, I never traveled abroad. My first foreign trip was to England when I was 21 years old.

So when I think about my childhood, the first feeling that comes to mind is boredom. “Äiti, mitä mie tekisin – Mother, what could I do next?” I often asked. But my mother’s suggestions were never inspiring, and if my friends weren’t around, I usually chose to walk to the local library so that I could see the world.

My body was local, but my mind was international. Maybe it’s because our family had the book Tuhannen ja yhden yön satujaOne Thousand and One Nights, and I found it fascinatingly exotic at a very early age.

Childhood memories, with flowers
Admiring flowers in the 1970s

So the local library became my globe. As soon as I opened the door, I glanced at England, to the bookshelf where Jane Austen‘s novels were in a row. Then I went to Africa and Asia by browsing big encyclopedias of animals, searching for big cats. I traveled to Egypt when admiring the treasures of the pyramids. I spent hours in France and Italy, contemplating whether I liked impressionism or expressionism more. Pictures of folk dresses took me to the east, across the border. I traveled west over the sea to meet my friends Uudenkuun EmiliaEmily of the New Moon, Laura Ingalls, or Vihervaaran AnnaAnne of Green Gables. And I also spent quite a lot of time in a fictional American town through Spoonriver Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.

When my fingers danced on the spines of the books, my mind contemplated where to go next. And always, I was able to find a place more pleasant than the small town in Eastern Finland.

Painting Freely, Inspired by Memories

This freedom of mind still inspires me. In fact, this blog is one channel to reach you who lives far away. Despite the distance, you may have read the same books, yet our memories are unique. The common stories and pictures get mixed with personal experiences and views.

Starting a painting, a studio view

No matter how current we want to be, memories always play some role in our art too. When painting freely, it’s not as literal as illustrating a story but more about the atmosphere and associations that a traveling brush can evoke.

Painting in progress. Painting freely and letting memories flow through associations. Creating intuitive art.

Like a child, we can get enthusiastic about very little – about a spot or a simple idea and then expand our thoughts, shapes, and colors.

Painting in a small studio, inspired by memories.

I believe that the more we paint, the more we remember who we naturally are.

My Artist’s Journey

My artist’s journey has been full of practice. A lot of it has been that I have developed a class of my recent revelations and then moved forward to find more. So, it’s been a very straightforward route that way, and I am oddly relieved that it has brought me where I am now, being able to use a brush as my pen and paint stories that go beyond words.

Right now, it doesn’t feel right to develop a new class about painting, especially when I already have the master class Floral Freedom.

Painting the edges of a big painting. The painting is sideways on an easel.
Painting the edges. This piece

However, with the current series of paintings, I have got new ideas for drawing. A big part of my painting skills and imagination have come from drawing practices, and I love the quickness and playfulness that pens and pencils enable. So stay tuned!

Tiger’s Eye – Memories into Painting

I painted this piece, Tiikerinsilmä – Tiger’s Eye, like it would be a good book, taking me to unexpected places. Just like a child sees the world in a library, as an artist, I try to stretch my memories and imagination so that I don’t get stuck in the mundane.

Paivi Eerola and one of her paintings in a garden.

What kind of memories and hopes came to your mind when reading this post? Did you, too, read One Thousand and One Nights, for example?

Angel Drawing for the Inner Child

As a child, I had a collection of scrap reliefs – small pictures printed and cut from glossy paper. A very common one was a simple angel with a head between wings. This week, I created my version of an angel drawing.

Angel drawing by Päivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See her blog post about making this one!

This is only a small piece on smooth watercolor paper, but the child in me likes it a lot!

My Approach to Drawing and Painting

My desire for art can be summed up in two parts. The first part is to go on an adventure by painting freely.

Painting freely from intuition. By paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

When I paint, I feel that it’s the only thing that I want to do and where I am good at.

But then, after washing the brushes, comes the second part. A child in me evokes and says: “Draw to me!” Like I often said to my father or to my sisters when I was only a few years old. The child doesn’t require much: “Something pretty!” (Watch a video about my inner child!)

Child’s Enthusiasm in Angel Drawing

I used to adore whatever my father or sisters drew. Now, similarly, I feel the acceptance of the child right from the beginning. No matter how I struggle with any detail, the child’s enthusiasm keeps me drawing.

Starting an angel drawing.

And even if I had just thought that I should only paint and do nothing else, drawing a small ornament feels as natural and enjoyable. The same creative stream seems to feed both parts of my artistic expression.

Coloring details after a rough pencil sketch.

A simple sketch gets more ideas when I start adding details. Coloring a halo with yellow feels boring, so I draw clouds, then a rainbow. An unwritten story begins to flow into the image.

Small Tweaks to a Simple Sketch Make the Angel Drawing

Creating colored pencil art by using imagination.

Simple shapes become more interesting when I keep drawing. Quick and simple wings get more decoration, and small adjustments to the face and hair add up.

Angel drawing in progress.

At best, I get the feeling that, like in painting, I can go in any direction and create a world of my own.

Adding details to an angel drawing.

This little weather angel became a treasure to my inner child even before it was finished.

Coloring an angel drawing.

And when I handed the angel to her, she was thrilled to have her in the collection.

Cutting out an angel drawing like it would be a scrap relief.

It feels that if I don’t cut the picture, it’s not ready for play!

Going Detailed with Colored Pencils

It has taken time to find colored pencil techniques to achieve similarly detailed touch like in Animal Inkdom and Magical Inkdom.

Boxes of handdrawn scrap reliefs by Peony and Parakeet.

Making small pieces with colored pencils is more challenging than with ink pens, but maybe it doesn’t matter. I remember having a huge paper doll as a child. So, I could go larger without disappointing the inner child!

Drawing scrap reliefs in colored pencils by Peony and parakeet.

What would you like to create for your inner child?

Butterfly Art and Beyond

This week, I have some butterfly art, stories from the past, and plenty of inspiration for art-making.

Butterfly art with colored pencils by Paivi Eerola.

Here’s the newest spread of my colored pencil journal. I think it’s a little different than the pages so far – more detailed at least! You can see most of the previous spreads in this video; tell me what you think!

With this butterfly fantasy, I want to take you more than a hundred years back in time – to the end of the 19th century when a famous Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) painted Violets in a Japanese Vase in 1890.

Helene Schjerfbeck's flower painting Violets in a Japanese Vase.
Helene Schjerfbeck, Orvokkeja japanilaisessa maljakossa (Violets in a Japanese Vase). Oil on canvas. Size without the frame: 35 x 30 cm, 1890.

Although Helene wasn’t as famous back then, she had traveled and studied abroad. And now, she had just got back home after spending a year in Paris and England. After painting people, Helene was now drawn to make nature-themed pieces. It felt refreshing to change big and challenging portraits to small landscapes and still lives. Flowers became Helene’s consolation pieces. When she was sent to St. Petersburg to copy Russian masterpieces and thus bring educational reproductions to Finland (“here’s how the masters paint”), she painted flowers for her own joy in the evenings. (See Helene Schjerbeck’s later style and my adaptation for colored pencils in this blog post!)

I can relate to Helene. My main work is big oil paintings – abstract florals or landscapes – but I also make art that soothes and maintains rather than breaks through. While the first pieces of the new series are drying and waiting for their next layers, I feel drawn to the boxes of pencils.

Oil paintings in progress.
A couple of my oil paintings, still in progress.

At the beginning of the week, after painting the whole Sunday, I wanted to draw something just for me. “Butterflies!” my inner child asked.

Butterfly art with colored pencils. Drawing on a journal.

Here’s how far I got in one evening. This was before I traveled back in time to meet Helene – and another artist called Torsten Wasastjerna!

Fantasy Art in Villa Gyllenberg

In the middle of the week, my husband and I visited Villa Gyllenberg in Helsinki. It’s a museum that used to be the home of Signe and Ane Gyllenberg in the 20th century. The house was built in 1938, and it has a wonderful location near the sea.

Villa Gyllenberg, Helsinki. Art museum.

A part of the museum is a furnished old home with an extensive art collection, including Helene Schjerfbeck’s violet painting.

Villa Gyllenberg, Helsinki.

Just recently, Villa Gyllenberg got a new extension for art exhibitions. The new space has high walls and plenty of space, but still, there was something too big to fit there straight!

Falling Leaves, a huge oil painting by Torsten Wasastjerna, displayed in Villa Gyllenberg.

This is Torsten Wasastjerna’s oil painting Falling Leaves, made in 1897. It’s 550 cm high and 370 cm wide, one of the biggest Finnish paintings ever. My husband agreed to model beside it so that you get an idea of how big it is.

Inspired by Torsten Wasastjerna

Like Helene Schjerbeck, Torsten Wasastjerna (1863-1924) got an education in fine art and studied abroad too. But his consolation was fantasy. He did commission portraits to pay the bills but loved illustrating fairies and angels. He even wrote books. The first one was called Dröm och Värklighet – Dream and Reality.

Torsten Wasastjerna's book cover Dröm och Värklighet.

Torsten Wasastjerna’s fantasy world wasn’t as surreal as mine, but it felt close.

Fairy Tale Princess, an oil painting by Torsten Wasastjerna.
Torsten Wasastjerna: Sadun prinsessa – Fairy Tale Princess, 1895-1896. Oil on canvas, 106 x 162 cm.

When I got back home, I was inspired to work on the butterfly piece with much more detail than I first had planned.

Drawing butterfly art in colored pencils.

I added a person, a butterfly girl or a boy, to one of the wings.

Butterfly Art and Beyond

I am impressed by how dedicated Torsten was to his fantasy art, even if it was not valued by others.

A detail of the oil painting Fairy Tale Princess by Torsten Wasastjerna. Butterfly and a girl.
Torsten Wasastjerna: Sadun prinsessa – Fairy Tale Princess, a detail.

It made me think that I, too, can create “butterfly art” that goes beyond the butterflies – that challenges both my imagination and dedication.

So, I spent more hours than normally with this spread, adding details and then adjusting their shapes and colors.

Colored pencil inspiration.

It felt like my pencils reached a new level, getting closer to my heart than before.

Drawing and coloring butterflies with colored pencils.

The world that is naturally and effortlessly born in my paintings fed the more illustrative work too.

Colored pencil drawing in progress.

All this makes me think about how important it is to go to see art and use that for inner discussions: how am I different, what are my consolation pieces, and how do I show my dedication to art? Then butterfly art can go beyond butterflies in the same way as Helene’s violets are not just “violet art.”

A butterfly art spread in a colored pencil journal. By Päivi Eerola.

What do you think?

Scroll to top