This week, I talk about the balance between following others and doing your own thing.
– Do what everyone else does.
That’s what my mother often told me when I was a child. Her point was to encourage me to learn and be part of a crowd – important skills, but I hated that phrase. As if you shouldn’t deviate from the path, stop, or run faster!
As an adult, I learned that life is not just about moving on your own. Everyone needs public transport.
Helsinki Bus Station Theory for Artists
Have you heard about Helsinki Bus Station Theory? It is particularly familiar to us southern Finns. Most of the buses in Helsinki go a long way on the same road until they take a different direction. “Stay on the bus, don’t hop off too soon,” we advise. This also applies to many things in life.
As artists, we don’t want to be like everyone else, but to hop off and find our own thing. And yet, to get to our own remote area with our treasures, we have to sit on the bus for quite a while. If we leave too early, we won’t find the caches, because they are much further away than we initially thought.
If we get off too early, our talents won’t emerge. Ingenuity turns into chaos in the eyes of the viewer. Intuitiveness makes us do ordinary things because we can’t express its nuances. Sensitivity appears as unnecessary cautiousness. Analyticity produces a rigid impression and our personality is covered in an internal struggle about what the image should look like.
Through art history, I have understood that traveling with a companion can be enormously inspiring. As artists, we are always part of the past generations. When we look at old paintings, we can have a dialogue not only with ourselves and with our current teachers, but through our imagination, also with the masters themselves.
Before I started this painting, I was looking at a portrait of Louis Pasteur by Albert Edefelt. Did Edelfelt guess how important a person Pasteur would become? I told Albert that we still benefit from Louis’s inventions. So, his glass bottles and notebooks were like gold caches.
My gold caches are found in nature. When I walk on the wide path of a nearby park, I often turn my gaze to the shadows. When the sun hits there, a humble plant suddenly finds itself at the center of the scene.
When that happens, I don’t only stare at the star of the show, but look around and notice all kinds of other wonderful things.
As a child, I already knew that it is not always good to march on and act like everyone else. It just has taken all my life to express that by painting.
Did you know about Helsinki Bust Station Theory before? Where your gold caches could be? What do you think about all this?
I’ve been going through my art supplies lately and reflecting on my path as an artist so far. In recent blog posts, I’ve featured drawings, but now we’re moving on to watercolors. This post is about painting watercolor fairies and the wilderness around them.
Watercolor Surfaces – Aquabord vs. Paper
I love thick watercolor paper, but I made a special find in my stash: a hard base meant for watercolors. I bought it years ago but had forgotten it. But now I had to try this Ampersand Aquabord!
Watercolors have a built-in sense of surprise that keeps me interested in the work. Still, you can also do accurate and illustrative details. I like to use a lot of water at the beginning and less at the end. Even if Aquabord is surprisingly absorbent, I prefer the effects that a good-quality paper creates. But maybe this is the thing that would need more practice. It is said that to get to know a certain paper, tens of experiments are needed.
When the painting progresses I move on to negative painting, so paint the background in such a way that I leave the shapes from the previous layers exposed to maintain the brightness.
Aquabord turned out to be more convenient than paper in keeping the painting light. It is easy to wipe off color with either a rag or a dry brush. But even if lifting color is harder on paper, I still would prefer watercolor paper, especially 100% cotton, because it feels so wonderful! However, for beginner watercolorists, Aquabord is great because you can erase and start over!
About four years ago, my watercolor set was a close friend, and I thought I was at my best in watercolor painting. One of my favorite subjects in watercolor was fairy-tale characters – spirits of nature that rise from the surrounding greenery and have the sensitivity of a butterfly. It was also fun to come up with names for them!
When painting a watercolor, a character can appear by accident. It’s fascinating to see who comes up as the round shapes of the plants encourage the spirit to emerge.
Even though nowadays I mostly paint with oil, I still want to step into wild nature with a brush and listen to my intuition. Watercolors have taught me a way to first splash freely and then finish with intention.
Magical Forest with Watercolor Fairies
I have also made a watercolor course about this kind of intuitive nature painting: Magical Forest.
Magical Forest combines light with hope, trees with spirituality, water with flow, and wilderness with curiosity.
Flower or Fairy?
In this work on Aquabord, I first thought that the weird purple flower could be enough of a character. But after looking at the flower for a while, I felt that someone was squatting under it.
And it wasn’t a shy spirit either, but quite lively.
I even painted hands for her.
The butterfly flew there too as if by accident!
What Makes a Fairytale?
In my opinion, a watercolor painting with a fairy tale character can leave a lot of guesswork. The mystery is allowed! There may be abstract shapes that only describe the atmosphere rather than anything else.
When the shy watercolor fairies started appearing in my art in 2019, they represented the part of me that is needed for making art. Now my artist fairy is more confident and cooperative and is not afraid to appear when called.
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I now got the fourth one finished, and I couldn’t resist taking a photo of them together. These are only 6 by 6 inches, and the small size enables me to study a style or an idea before making a bigger painting. So, in a way, these are like pages in an art journal – small art that is delightful to create and look at but that doesn’t fill a wall. It’s the first time I feel I can create quick experiments directly in oils. And this brings us to the topic of art supplies.
Crayons, Inks, and All the Possibilities
I have now painted on canvas in oil for over two years, and most of the other art supplies don’t inspire me so much anymore. I have all kinds of crayons, inks, and paint tubes that were purchased in a different mindset many years ago.
I like many of the pieces that I created back then, but now when I look at those boxes of crayons, the magic has gone away. All I can hear is the calling of my beloved oil paints.
There are two exceptions though.
Colored Pencils Are the Easiest Art Supplies
Colored Pencils bring me back to my childhood when I was drawing with my elder sisters, admiring what they did with them. For me, colored pencils were not just pencils, but dolls that had names. It was sad to see a doll that I loved get shortened and then finally thrown away!
Compared to oil paints, colored pencils have an advantage. There’s no preparation involved. When I paint with oils, I need to build the palette, clean the caps, select the brushes, protect the tabletop, etc. But with colored pencils, I can just grab a piece of paper or open another page in a journal and start coloring freely. When I am tired but still want to create something, it’s really nice.
I have also liked to maintain my illustration skills, and colored pencils are great for that too. For example, see the newest course Doll World!
Watercolors Are a Great Teacher
I am also emotionally connected with my watercolor set. Even if I haven’t used it much lately, I feel that painting in a watercolor set my style. Many techniques that I use in oil were learned when I was painting in watercolor, for example, negative painting and building an image layer by layer.
I also learned a lot about pigments and their behavior back then. It was a good learning experience to paint many pieces in a row.
What about all those inks, crayons, and such, did I learn anything from them? Yes, of course, but when I look back, it feels like when I started to focus more on one media instead of mixed media, I also took a big leap forward in skills. My art went forward when I no longer tried to find a solution by changing the media but by growing the skill. I was also able to get a more emotional connection with the supplies and somehow that feels very important to me.
Oils vs. Acrylics as Art Supplies
Before oils, I painted in acrylics for some time. They are more practical. They don’t smell like wet oil does. The painting mediums have less odor too. They dry fast so painting is much faster, no need to wait for days before adding a new layer or making the finishing touches. Acrylics don’t require a similar kind of knowledge of pigments and painting mediums as oils do. In oils, you have to be careful with some pigments and the use of mediums because they may cause crackling.
Despite all that worry, when I open my box of oil tubes, I feel different than if I pick acrylics.
The Emotions I Get When Painting in Oil
The oil paints connect me to the past. They take me to the time before I was even born.
Within seconds, I travel back to the beginning of the 20th century, meet the early abstract painters and impressionists, then continue my journey to the 19th century and meet pre-raphaelites, and move from them to those who wanted to capture the realism, and to those who were more romantics. Then again, within seconds, I go to the 18th century and admire all the floral still lives and women in beautiful dresses.
And at best, I continue the journey to the 17th and 16th centuries and see big paintings full of details. Then I also meet the masters that had the patience to make really thin layers and wait for each to dry before adding a new one.
This time traveling enables me to meet long-time friends like Wassily Kandinsky, Peter Paul Rubens, and Leonardo da Vinci and if I do some browsing before I start painting, I always find a new one that I want to meet and learn from.
There are many great artists today, but I feel that tracing what you love back to history is essential to artistic growth. I also get satisfaction from knowing that I belong to the chain of generations. Artists from the past, still live through me.
Paintings In Progress
I have been painting quite a lot recently, and there are many more paintings in the queue.
These are in-progress pictures! I will show you the finished ones in the near future!
I usually reserve a whole day for painting and try not to do anything else at the same time. If you want to follow a painting day, look for my Instagram stories where I usually post in-progress photos when I am testing the composition and such.
What are Your Favorite Art Supplies?
Tell us what are your favorite art supplies at the moment! It would also be interesting to know which supplies raise emotions in you.
What stories define you as an artist, and how could they inspire you to move forward?
“Satumaa” is a Finnish word that’s something like “fairytale land.” This painting is only 15 x 15 cm!
I call these miniature pieces attic paintings. Here’s the story behind them.
When I was a child, I dreamed about running a shop. My main interest there was in product development. I wanted to design things and offer an attractive selection. We lived in a wooden house with a big attic, and I established my shop there. It was called “Päivin puikko” – Päivi’s Needle and had a modest selection of hand-crocheted things.
I remember the joyful sound of footsteps on the staircase when my two sisters came to visit. They were a lot older than me and had coins with them too. When they admired the little handmade items on the table, the feeling of acceptance ran through me. One sister grabbed a long chain and asked how much it was. “Twenty pennies,” I said. “But this is so long,” said the sister, ” you worked hard for it, I give you fifty.” Sold!
Stories That Define Us
The stories where we experience big feelings define us. I realized that when I tried to figure out how much I have to raise the prices of my paintings. It was necessary as I have grown as an artist, and the general prices have come up too. But a little child in me said: “Don’t!”
“Why,” I asked.
“Because your paintings are already too expensive for my shop in the attic,” she whispered.
And yes, I couldn’t imagine selling my big paintings in that little corner. Yet, I wanted to have something for her too.
“Here’s what we do,” I said to the child. “I will raise the prices, but I will paint some small studies for you, only 150 EUR each.”
And that’s how these miniature paintings were born.
I call these attic paintings. The size is only 15 x 15 cm, and they are born from left-over paints. They are the same high-quality oil paints that I use for bigger pieces, but I often have leftovers on the palette after a painting session.
I am now much more comfortable with the higher prices when I have something for the attic – and for gift shops too!
The English word for “Valkovuokko” is “wood anemone.”
“Mansikkapaikka” is “a strawberry place” in English. I was thinking about wild strawberries here.
I like to paint sceneries that are overly romantic and full of fantasy.
Satumaa was inspired by an older painting called “Luvattu maa – Promised Land.”
Promised Land was so much fun to paint that I wanted to repeat the idea of using a limited selection of shapes and expressing plants traveling toward the light.
Attic Paintings – Expansion of Style and Love for Plants
I placed “Mercury Temperatures” with the attic paintings to see how the small ones go with the bigger ones.
My love for plants and yearning for nostalgia and fantasy are well presented in both, I think!
My husband and I are enthusiastic about plants, especially decorative ones. Our home is like a flower shop now when I have got some bouquets for my birthday and when orchids are blooming.
When I think about the shop in the attic, I wonder how I could not see its influence earlier. The stories that define us can prevent us from growing. But the stories can also be the key to solutions that enable growth and change.