Peony and Parakeet

Embracing Artistic Origin – How to Make Images That Feel Genuine

Aquanora, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Finnish watercolorist. Read how she has become to embrace her artistic origin.

Here’s my recent watercolor painting called Aquanora (or “Akvanoora” if you say it in Finnish). I have always been passionate about art but never loved my paintings as much as I do now when I have been painting these wood spirits in watercolors (see this post and this one too).

I hope that this week’s post makes you ponder about your artistic origin. I claim that if you don’t recognize the origin when looking at your art, you don’t feel the connection with the images either.

My Cold and White Artistic Origin

The sad fact is that when I don’t paint, my life in Finland is about walking dogs and knitting. And most of the time, I dream about Europe’s glorious museums and palaces. Winters in Finland can be rough, and Stella and I don’t like them.

Finland in winter.

As you see from the photo, taken in winter a couple of years ago, Finland’s color is white. Not only winters are white, but Finnish people decorate their homes with white furniture. So even when it’s green and warm in summer, Finns stay cold in their white boxes. My home is considered very colorful, especially the bright yellow corridor gets glances. But recently, I have started to accept the Finn in me. I have come to love fresh white watercolor paper, filled with possibilities.

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

With watercolors, white has become my friend. Painting is like having a white fairy holding my hand, tightly at first, and then little by little she releases her grip.

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

Even if I would like to be the painter of the Renaissance palazzos, I am a Finn walking the dogs in bad weather, knowing the core of whiteness instead of gold.

Artistic Origin Can Be Opposite to Inspiration

We are often inspired by things that are new and exotic. Our origin can feel so common that it’s barely recognizable. It’s what we see and breathe every day and often, it’s what we want to escape when we create art. But the more I have created, I have started to think otherwise. Because I live observing moss and other nature’s wonders more than marble floors, maybe I should paint more of that greenness too.

Stone covered with moss.

Namely, when European nobility played minuets in the 17th century, Finnish savages were freezing and starving in the land of thousand lakes and forests. So we know our stones, mosses, and swamps – the language of our nature – better than musical notes or calligraphed letters.

A detail of a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read how she has come to accept her artistic origin.

When European priests and saints trooped on huge church halls, Finns believed in Tapio, the god of the forest. Even if old beliefs are only old stories anymore, maybe it’s no wonder that these little fairies of mine rise from nature sceneries.

Aquanora. A detail of a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I have always thought that my art should not be spiritual because I don’t want to offend anyone. I don’t have any particular religious view myself, and because of that, I haven’t felt eligible to create spiritual art. But recently I have found it impossible to separate nature, spirituality, and imagination from each other. Nature can be our church, and for our imagination, there’s no conflict of dressing a wood spirit in a Renaissance outfit. By bringing the noble (inspiration), the wild (origin), and the playful (creativity) together, it can all fall into place. Art is about freedom after all.

How does your origin show in your art?
How could you deepen the connection?

A sketchbook page spread by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Fairies and wood spirits. Read about giving more attention to your artistic origin.

Coming Up – New Watercolor Class!

My sketchbooks are full of ideas for the upcoming class. It will be about nature’s light, textures, and spirits. There are intentional drawing exercises with pencil and intuitive painting projects with watercolors. I am looking forward to being your guide in the woods of creativity and self-expression. The class will begin in January and the early-bird sale is soon on Black Friday weekend. So stay tuned!

A Fairy Called Shyeling – Finding Your Silence Instead of Your Voice

"Ujokki / Shyeling" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. A watercolor painting on Arches cold press watercolor paper.

I call this watercolor painting “Ujokki” which is not a real word at all. “Ujo” means shy in Finnish. Maybe it could be something like “Shyeling” in English, expressing a timid and sensitive fantasy figure.

What Is The Shyeling?

The shyeling sees the little miracles of nature, the growth of the plants and how the light hits on the petals. She smells the soil, walks barefoot on the moss and listens to dewdrops falling on the ground. The shyeling is the most delicate and vulnerable part of us that we wish to connect and show through our art. It’s a silent power that originates from the memories and nuances rather than a loud voice demanding the ownership of the stage.

A detail of a watercolor painting called "Ujokki / Shyeling" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

In my painting, the shyeling is pictured as a little flower fairy with big wings of imagination.

Why the Shyeling Is So Difficult to Find?

When I led IT projects and solved problems that involved different parties, personalities, and systems, the strength that I needed to possess was very different from what the shyeling has. Dealing with crises and interruptions echoed hard in my mind, and it scared my shyeling away.

A watercolor painting in progress. Expressing with light and shadows. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I have also mistakenly thought that shyelings are everywhere and for anyone. All my life, I have created art so that it pleases other people’s outer expectations. I haven’t even always noticed that. It’s been partly a subconscious and partly a practical thing. Shyelings don’t understand money, time, or numbers. They are weak and meaningless creatures in today’s busy world. But still, if we find ours, we don’t want to let go. We often talk about finding a visual voice, but I believe it’s more about finding our silent power.

Taming Your Shyeling

A watercolor painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola, a Finnish watercolor artist. See the blog post to see this one finished!

I have many paintings and drawings, where I have started to walk towards my shyeling but my impatience has taken over. The fact is that the less you have created, the longer the journey feels. But when you keep going, the destination will feel closer, and you will enter the zone where your shyeling skulks.

Painting a detail with watercolors. Focusing on a small spot to get deeper into the painting process. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Also, remember that shyelings are like wild animals that need to be tamed. Taming needs skills, and skills need practicing. So be open to learning from other people’s shyelings. Yours might not be ready to appear from the bushes yet, but she’s been watching you, feeling more comfortable day by day.

Watercolor painting session in a studio. A studio dog is watching.

Get Closer to Your Sheyeling!

Recently, four things have taken me closer to my shyeling. First, I have stopped questioning my love for painting plants and flowers. If I like to do that, so be it. It’s not really about replicating the plants that I see anyway, but to use their shapes for creating new organic systems.

Do this: Create a piece about things that feel too familiar to you. Keep the idea process short, almost non-existent, create what you find the easiest. But, at the same time, lengthen the time that you usually take to create a piece like that. What do you discover during that extra time?

A detail of a watercolor painting called "Ujokki / Shyeling" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Second, I questioned why many landscape paintings look so empty to me. I found the answer from a childhood memory, always imagining nature as a luxurious place. I wrote more about this in the previous blog post.

Do this: Look at the old photos or dig our old things that reconnect you to the age when you were less than ten years old. What can’t be seen in the photos? What did you do when you were alone and nobody took pictures?

A detail of a watercolor painting called "Ujokki / Shyeling" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Third, I have challenged myself to become more skillful in expressing the atmosphere and space with light and shadows.

Do this: Evaluate your recent pieces so that you list things that lack there. Collect a list of things that you want to be present in your art. Then pick one thing that you start practicing more.

A detail of a watercolor painting called "Ujokki / Shyeling" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Fourth, I have practiced drawing and painting human figures without references. When I paint without references, I feel free and peacefully silent. Then there’s always a chance for my shyeling to appear.

"Ujokki / Shyeling" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. A watercolor painting on Arches cold press watercolor paper.

What do you need to practice next to get closer to your shyeling?

10 Black and White Art Techniques with Personal Stories

One of the many black and white art techniques: Drawing a pattern, and making an image from it. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I have made the first ten prompts of Inktober 2019, and want to share the art techniques and stories behind the images. I have been following the official Inktober prompts that are single words. By brainstorming around the prompt, I have decided what the first element is, and then worked from one association to another. After creating the image, I have documented my thoughts in writing. For me, Inktober is as much about finding personal stories than making the drawings. The stories help me to see where I am as an artist and as a person in general.

For these first ten images, I also set an art technique to make creating in black and white more interesting. I hope you find these black and white art techniques inspiring too!

Day 1 – Ring

Technique: A big solid shape in the background. I like to use a brush pen for large black areas.

Inktober 2019, Ring. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: As a teenager, I read Jane Austen’s novels and wondered if those handsome and honorable men really exist. But when I moved to a bigger town to study at the university, I found my Mr. Darcy. Dark hair, brown eyes, doesn’t smile or talk much, but when he does, it’s always worth listening. He looks at my art like Mr. Darcy watches Lizzie playing the piano. He has many skills, but he never brags about them. What others might consider as faults, are what makes him whole to me. So here’s to commitments and true love!

Day 2 – Mindless

Technique: Strong shadowing so that the outlines disappear to the background. It is quite time-consuming but I love the 3D effect.

Inktober 2019, Mindless. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See more black and white art techniques in the blog post!

Story: Instead of mindfulness, I practice mindlessness. I like to think about thinking, imagine the impossible, and when I relax, I knit, because it can be done mindlessly. Pick a circular needle and row never ends – until it’s 3 am and the low energy level makes you stop! The mindless world of imagination where no one needs to do laundry, make dinner, or find a missing sock, is what we humans need every single day. It’s a world of magic that we carry inside us, and no matter how mindless it feels, it’s one of the best things in being alive.

Day 3 – Bait

Technique: Using white space. The earlier I get the idea about the content of the image, the easier it is to leave white space as well.

Inktober 2019, Bait. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: In today’s world, money seems to be everything. Still, we know that there are more precious things like saving the globe. Sometimes I wonder if someone gives us small rewards just to distract our attention from the bigger destruction. Is the world only a big purse waiting for the next coin, or can we stop the fire?

Day 4 – Freeze

Technique: Spraying black ink. It’s often the best way to remove blank page syndrome!

Inktober 2019, Freeze. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: I love historical places and old art. When I begin to create, I imagine time-traveling to the past. My pens take me to an old palace and start vigorously blowing dust away. I imagine revealing all the beautiful designs under white cloths, opening windows and letting fresh air come in. What’s frozen begins to warm up and get color. My biggest dream is that I can make the forgotten world bloom again.

Day 5 – Build

Technique: Using lots of circles and round shapes. I also like to start with a simple circle and then slightly adjust it. See the jewels, for example!

Inktober 2019, Build. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: When we draw, we are free to build anything. Impossible becomes possible, small can be big and big can be small. All the things we see and collect can be toys for the imagination.

Day 6 – Husky

Technique: Shades of grey. I sprayed ink to make the start grey already. Then I added more grey shades by drawing thin parallel lines.

Inktober 2019, Husky. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: Having a dog of my own – that was my dream as a child. I drew dogs and imagined taking them to shows and running a kennel club. I read books about dogs, learned to identify hundreds of dog breeds, knitted stuffed toys that were as close to real dogs as possible. I wondered how it would feel to be a dog, to look at the world from the animal’s perspective, to run with four legs, and to love undoubtedly. It was a long wait. I was over 20 years old when I finally got a dog, a little spaniel. Now I have two beagles, and I hope I don’t ever have to live a day without a dog. Yes, I am definitely a dog person, what about you?

Day 7 – Enchanted

Technique: Rectangular blocks in watercolor. I used only Dr. Ph. Martin’s Hydrus liquid black for the image.

Inktober 2019, Enchanted. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See more black and white art techniques in the blog post!

Story: If I had to choose between outdoors and indoors, my choice would be indoors. Now when it’s autumn, it’s easy to make the home look like an enchanted place. Just switch off most of the lights, light some candles, and make sure you have houseplants, preferably bonsai trees. They look magical in the dark and bring some outdoors to the indoors as well!

Day 8 – Frail

Technique: Combining watercolors and drawing. Some of the areas are painted only so they look softer.

Inktober 2019, Frail. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: I hope that it wouldn’t be so difficult to remember that people are like plants, not always saying aloud what they feel, think, and plan to do. Their pots can be broken, their roots can be too dry, and their vision can be blurry. But they function, participate, and comprehend anyway. Their beauty is more about persistence than perfection. Their origin is more about cohesion than separation. I wish I could remember that like plants, every person is unique but still shares the need for warmth, hope, and attention.

Day 9 – Swing

Technique: Detailed figure as a focal point, and abstract freely-painted shapes in the background. I love to play between abstract and representational.

Inktober 2019, Swing. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

⁣Story: Rococo is one of my favorite historical styles, and I always try to find a way to include some of its abundance in my art too. So no wonder that today’s prompt immediately brought a famous Rococo painting to my mind. It’s Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Swing, where the main character is a young woman, and other people and details are secondary to her. When we are creating, we are that lady on the swing. The outer world becomes more distant, and we get to rest in the sceneries of our minds.⁣

Day 10 – Pattern

Technique: Designing a pattern, then making it look like a representational image.

Inktober 2019, Pattern. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See more black and white art techniques in the blog post!

I drew a few black shapes in Photoshop and arranged them so that they formed a pattern. Then I traced the printed pattern on another paper by hand. By changing the darkness of the shapes and the background, I made a fall scenery.

Inktober 2019, Pattern. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: I haven’t ever taken an ink blob test, but I assume I would see plants. Bonsai trees, orchids, herbs, flowers in bloom, seedlings, you name it. “I hate nature,” I said as a child when a teacher praised my essay. She was astonished: “But you write so beautifully about your surroundings!” I have always wanted to get away from the influence of plants but have never succeeded in it. They enchant me with their silent whispers. Their organic shapes are like stamps in my mind when I start drawing. They never leave me alone, let me be who I am not. The more I age, the more I surrender. My imagination lives in a pot, blooming only when plants are.

What can’t you escape? What do you keep creating time after time?

The Only Thing You Desire to Paint – Whether You Are Aware of It Or Not

"Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.
“Heaven and Earth” – one of my latest oil paintings

I finally painted something that I have tried for years – my view of life and my personal mystery.

Art, Religion, and View of Life

Art and religion have been connected for centuries. Some see it primarily as a business connection – churches have ordered paintings and artists have made their living.

Murals of Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy

But I like to think that the connection is not only about money but that’s spiritual too. At best, art expresses what we think about life and death. This doesn’t mean that an image has to be gloomy, or that it has to illustrate any particular religion. Vice versa, I believe that every person has their view of life. Let’s call it a personal mystery!

Searching for Personal Mystery

Your personal mystery sets the direction of your deepest thoughts, but it’s difficult to put into words. Now and then, you can catch it emotionally. But intellectually, it can feel impossible to reach.

Church of the Savior on Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia
Church of the Savior on Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

Even if your personal mystery is unique for you, it’s so authentic that it resonates with many other people too. When I go to historical places like the Church of the Savior on Blood, they have a flavor of my mystery. But still, it’s not quite in line with my deepest thoughts and feelings.

The Only Thing You Desire to Paint

Your personal mystery dictates your artistic goals. Whatever you say you want to accomplish, the deepest desire is to express your personal mystery. You can say you paint because you want to escape everyday life, but in truth, the escape is about reaching your mystery. No matter how successful you want to be, you also want to be authentic – and that requires discovering your mystery! Your visual style may seem like the primary goal but believe me, it’s secondary – just a tiny hammer in a big toolbox that you need to reveal your mystery.

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

No matter how orderly you begin the painting, the final goal of the process is to let go and become one with your mystery.

Painting Your Mystery

In the middle of the painting process, your mystery like a secret whisper, so sacred that it feels forbidden even to try revealing it. This secrecy sends mixed messages to your creativity and the process gets confusing and disappointing.

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

When painting the woman and all the colorful details, I started to hate the mess and get disconnected with it. The image felt too complicated and decorative, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I was traveling through strange places and wondering how to reach an unknown destination.

At this point, it’s tempting to give up. I put my painting away for months. My plan was to wipe the paint away with turpentine so that I can re-use the canvas for another painting. But about a month ago when I picked the unfinished piece again, I knew instantly how to finish it.

Making of "Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

Five Tips for Revealing Your Personal Mystery

I don’t think there’s a straightforward formula for revealing the mystery, but here are some things that are helpful:

  • Grow visual skills so that you can freely choose what you paint whether it’s representational or not. Learn to use references creatively, and study the principles of abstract art (my favorite book about abstract art).
  • Grow confidence so that you can let uncomfortable, erroneous, silly, and “wrong” things happen while creating. You won’t find the mystery if you stay in your normal zone (breaking the rules)
  • Grow imagination so that you can jump from one association to another and come up with a unique solution. Creating from prompts help with that (I recommend Inktober).
  • Curate what you love and value. List things that inspire you and keep filling and editing the list (remember to include innocent little secrets)
  • Become more aware of details and nuances in all art-related things. The more general you think (“I am an abstract artist”, “I draw faces only”, “these are pretty flowers”), the more difficult it is to connect with your uniqueness and find inspiration.

I used to think that when painting people, humans should look as realistic as possible. But I am more of an engineer and an innovator than a portrait painter. By trying to make the woman look like a real person, I had blocked my personal view of life appearing on the canvas.

"Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

When I realized that the woman is just an anonym observer, the painting was very straight-forward to finish.

A detail of "Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

My Personal Mystery

In my mind, science, beauty, and spirituality are all connected.

A detail of "Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

The biggest miracle for me is how the universe works, and how I can take parts of that to create a new world.

A detail of "Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

Historical buildings and paintings connect me to the origin of our culture and universe emotionally. To me, the painting looks historical enough to fit in.

Paivi Eerola at Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy.
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy

In the future, I hope to create more pieces that express my personal mystery.

"Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

For Finnish readers: Come to see this piece and more of my art! I show about 10 artworks in a group exhibition this month in Helsinki. Lisätietoja täällä!

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