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Peony and Parakeet

Three Design Styles, a Gelli Plate, and a Brush

One of my goals for this year is to learn surface pattern design. I want to move back and forth between art and design, and add more design to this blog as well. This week, I picked three of my favorite designers and played with Gelli Plate to imitate their style. These don’t replicate any of their work, just their style.

Three different design styles, monoprinting with a Gelli plate. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Three Designers from Three Centuries

My three favorite designers are Tricia Guild, William Morris, and Wassily Kandinsky.

Tricia Guild a designer from the UK, and she has a company Designer’s Guild, and I have been her fan since the 1990s when I discovered her book Design and Detail. It’s been my interior design guide for 30 years, and all my homes have got ideas from that book.

William Morris is also English, but he lived earlier, in the 19th century. Two rooms of our home have curtains designed by his company, and I regularly admire their clever repeats and ornamental shapes.

Wassily Kandinsky was more of an artist than a designer, but he taught designers in a famous Bauhaus art school in the early 20th century. For me, he is the father of modern design. I see his paintings in the works of most midcentury modern designers. Lately, he has felt even closer, when I have been built a class Floral Freedom that is based on his and Paul Klee’s teachings.

Who are your favorite designers?

Three Designers – Three Color Palettes

I have always liked making hand-decorated papers. Actually, my most popular blog post is this ancient one: How to Make Your Own Patterned Paper from 2010. So let’s get back to basics and make some!

First, I painted the backgrounds with acrylic paints and a flat brush. This set a color palette for each paper.

Three painted backgrounds. The backgrounds set a color palette for the papers.

Muted pastels and rich darker tones remind me of Tricia Guild. She often uses stripes or checks too. William Morris has greyish colors and many of his designs have dark backgrounds. Wassily Kandinsky often had a very light background in his paintings.

Three Design Styles – Three Kinds of Shapes

I continued each of the papers by mono-printing motifs with a Gelli Plate. For Tricia Guild’s style, I used a small plate and painted the motifs with a brush on a plate, then pressed the plate on the paper. Because Tricia’s style is often quite relaxed, there was less pressure for perfect outlines.

Monoprinting with a small Gelli plate. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

William Morris’s designs are very sharp and ornamental. I cut out ornaments freehand from paper and used both negative and positive shapes. I used both a big Gelli Plate and a small one.

Monoprinting with Gelli plates. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s how the paper looked after mono-printing.

Monoprinting with Gelli plates. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Wassily Kandinsky’s shapes are mostly geometric, so I cut templates that had circles, lines, squares and triangles.

Making a template for monoprinting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s how the paper looked after mono-printing.

Monoprinting geometric shapes.

Three Design Styles – Three Levels of Detail

After mono-printing, I finished the papers by painting. I used a narrow brush and made small tweaks only.

Adding details to a monoprint with a brush. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I like Tricia Guild’s designs because there modern meets classic and historical. They feel luxurious, but still comfortable. They don’t require similar perfection from the space than William Morris’s designs. So I didn’t perfect every shape or line, just added a bit more realism to the floral motifs. Here’s the finished paper.

A patterned paper inspired by Tricia Guild's design style. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

William Morris’s designs are full of outlined motifs, and I connect them with books. “For people who have a library,” I wrote in a notebook that I keep for studying. But I quite liked my mono-print, and didn’t want to stiffen everything. So I only outlined a part of the motifs, and added some small dots and thin lines inside the shapes.

Finishing a monoprint by painting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s the finished paper. I really like the big yellow motif! Maybe that could be a part of my future designs.

A patterned paper inspired by William Morris's design style. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Wassily Kandinsky’s work didn’t lack details either. But if William Morris is for bookworms, then maybe Wassily is for systematic thinkers – for more scientific than humanistic introverts, and for those who love mathematics.

Adding details to a monoprint with a brush. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I used the monoprint as a foundation for the composition of shapes and followed Wassily’s advice and ideas from his book Point and Line to Plane, the book that I teach in the class Floral Freedom as well. Here’s the finished paper.

A patterned paper inspired by Wassily Kandinsky's design style. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Three Wallpapers

I wanted to see how these papers could work as repeats. I didn’t have time to play with the repeats properly, but here are some quickly made images to demonstrate how the motifs would look in a smaller scale, for example, as a wallpaper.

A sketch for a surface design by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
A sketch for a surface design by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
A sketch for a surface design by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

It was a full day, but I had fun making these! Tell me, which three designers would you pick?

Artistic Growth – From “Huh” to “Wow”

This week, we’ll talk about changing artistic direction and how the first reaction doesn’t always matter as much as the second one.

Lovestory - an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read about her artistic growth!
My newest painting “Rakkaustarina – Lovestory”, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 cm.

My seed idea for this painting was slightly different from usual, and I wanted to see how it would grow on canvas. It took many sessions and lots of struggles with finishing. “There’s still something wrong with this painting, Paivi,” I said to myself after correcting a couple of shapes that my husband pointed out. Last night, I had a dream that I walked an ugly dog on a thin leash. The breed was an odd choice, but the dog was still mine.

“Huh” and “Wow” – First and Second Reactions

Isn’t it so that we want to change, but as soon as we begin to see the results, we are likely to bounce back? It’s so easy to say: “No, this is not for me, I’ll try something else. I’ll try a different style, a new technique, another art class, or find other artists to follow and admire.” And this is not only a bad thing. In the long run, bouncing back is about integrating the new stuff into our natural self. But in the short run, it can prevent the growth we want and need.

Oil painting in progress. Artistic expression on canvas. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
I use an easel when I want to see the big picture, and put the painting on the table when I work on the details.

I have been reading James Victore‘s Feck Perfuction as an audiobook. It’s a book about creativity and easy listening about things that are really tough in practice. It’s more like a two-hour inspirational speech than a down-to-earth guide, but it feels current with this painting. In the book, James Victore refers to an American pop artist Edward Ruscha. He has said: “Good art should elicit a response of ‘Huh? Wow!’ as opposed to ‘Wow! Huh?'”

This week, my favorite video podcast, One Fantastic Week, talked about “Instagram art” – pictures that the Instagram algorithm likes. It’s colorful, easy to consume and comprehend, but its exposure doesn’t ensure the artistic quality.

Artistic Growth and New Truths

When a painting is not for a class or a specific exhibition, I try not to think about the audience too much. I trust that you will pick what you like, and forgive me those you don’t.

But with this painting, I realized that I have played in the “Wow! Huh?” category, and this one tries to be more “Huh? Wow!” And that change makes me uncomfortable. It’s like I have been written a revealing story but in a code language, being afraid that anyone who stops to look will see to the core of me. And at the same time, worrying about that anyone who doesn’t, only sees a mess.

Oil painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
Oil paints are different from acrylics so that you can easily smoothen or remove the paint with cloth.

An Outside View to the Inside World

Teaching art has helped me to grow as an artist a lot. For example, when I get to see a student sharing a wonderful painting saying: “I don’t know about this one,” my gut reaction is then: “What!? This is beautiful!” But what’s “huh” for them is “wow” for me because I see the painting in a context that’s still new to them. They haven’t got used to seeing themselves like that. They are in the middle of a change, and it’s tempting to get back to the same old thing.

Oil painting in progress. Paints and palettes. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
In progress. Oil paints are stored in a wooden box that my husband made for them.
I recycle plastic lids and use them as palettes.

But when we do something regularly, it’s natural to miss the change. Floating on the surface isn’t enough anymore, and we get curious what’s deeper – “behind the glass” as we say in Floral Freedom, referring to Wassily Kandinsky‘s teachings. Then we need to learn, stretch, and redefine. Accept new truths.

Lovestory - an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

When looking at the mirror, I see more wrinkles than before. What was “huh” some years ago would be “wow” now. But with this wisdom, I hope long life for this painting. That the “huh” that it causes now will be “wow” someday. Maybe after I have fully accepted that my artistic growth is towards more and more abstract art.

Paivi Eerola and her oil painting. Read about her artistic growth!

It’s also good to accept that some paintings are just “huh-huh” and a few manage to be “wow-wow,” and what’s “huh” for some is “wow” for another. What do you think?

About Playfulness and Spirituality in Art

This week, I talk about spirituality in art and claim that you also need humor and playfulness to become a spiritual artist.

Artist Paivi Eerola and her visual world.
My world, and a new painting in progress too!

I like to gather my work – big and small – together and mix and match them like they would be pieces in a puzzle. It also helps me to see if my classes support each other and ponder if I have approached imagination and art-making from all angles.

Paul Klee and The Power of a Child

My newest class Floral Freedom is the most schoollike of all. It is based on Paul Klee’s and Wassily Kandinsky’s teachings of abstract art. In the class, I have tried to focus on two books – Paul Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook and Wassily Kandinsky’s book Point and Line to Plane. But the books’ teachings have inspired me to search for background stories – find what enabled these artists to invent the abstract methods and theories.

One of the things that needed an explanation was that Paul Klee’s book is full of diagrams like it would be written by an engineer, and yet, his artworks are often playful, some even childish. Look at this painting, for example!

Paul Klee, Scenecio - Head of a Man Going Senile, 1922, 40.3 x 37.4 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland
Paul Klee, Scenecio – Head of a Man Going Senile, 1922, 40.3 x 37.4 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland

During the first world war, Paul wasn’t a soldier for a long time but transferred to a safer job where he was in the middle of aircraft engineers. But earlier, when he started a family, Paul wasn’t very successful in art at all. His wife worked to support them, and Paul practically took care of their only child, Felix. It wasn’t usual to be a stay-at-home dad in the early 20th century!

When Paul was taking care of Felix and struggled with art-making, he found humor and playfulness that later became a part of his signature style. But it’s not only that! When Paul became close friends with the masterful Wassily Kandinsky, he also made Wassily less serious and more playful. So here’s to all stay-at-home dads and mums!

Paivi Eerola and her paintings. Read more about her thoughts on spirituality in art.
I had a stay-at-home mom. Here’s my portrait of her, painted in 1987 when I was 18 years old.
There’s a recent finished painting in the background.

From Product Play to Spirituality

I believe that art happens when one extreme meets another. When my organized mind watches the snowstorm. When I want my art to be about happiness and life and realize that taking it deeper requires confronting fear and death.

In my experience, when you want your art to be more serious and spiritual, humor and playfulness must have some role too. And vice versa, the longer your walk in the path of play, the more serious and spiritual it gets.

When I started my blog over ten years ago, my art-making was very product-based. I bought new supplies almost weekly and experimented with all kinds of techniques and effects.

Art play with structure paste
Paivi’s Art Play in 2014

But the more I created, the more I wanted to move from materials to ideas and imagination. Instead of discovering ten new ways to produce circles on paper, I wanted to learn how to make the circles interact and transform into other shapes. This way, my art has gradually become not only more playful but more spiritual as well. 

Paul Klee said:
“Art does not reproduce what we see; rather, it makes us see.”

Rethinking Spirituality in Art

Nowadays, I connect playfulness with spirituality. It has also made me rethink how I approach spirituality in general. Here’s what I wrote this week on Peony and Parakeet’s Facebook page and on my Instagram feed:

The contents of the post about spirituality in art: When I was a child, my first art class was about icon painting. A group of adults gathered in the church near my home, and I wanted to be a part of them. They kindly accepted me, and I tried to paint as well as possible, carefully following the strict instructions. 

Madonnas and angels still arrive into my art now and then, but here's what intrigues me more: 

Making the painting more spiritual can be done by listening to the shapes and colors - what do they want, what kind of company they miss, and what kind of freedom they want to have? Then you don't have to paint an angel or a goddess but make their whispers visible. I claim that letting go of what you believe your spirituality to be, makes your art more spiritual. Your ego steps back, and the spirit of the painting comes up.

It would be interesting to hear what do you think. Does spirituality have a role in your art?

What to Paint on Canvas?

This week, I invite you to think about what you should paint. It’s a general question and applies to any medium, but if you have purchased a canvas, the pressure is even higher. My story starts with dogs, and even if they don’t seem to match with the painting, they do. Read the story!

Syvällä soi - Sounds in the Deep, an oil painting on canvas by Paivi Eerola.
“Syvällä soi – Sounds in the Deep”, oil on canvas, 50 x 70 cm

Childhood Without Dog of My Own

If I had to choose one thing that dominated my childhood, it would be the yearning for a dog. When my sister was pushing me in a stroller, I was pointing and screaming “hauva,” which a Finnish word for “doggie.” “How could you instantly recognize a dog from any other animal no matter how it looked,” she wondered.

My father was a policeman, and he had trained two german shepherds a long time before I was born. But a family photo album had a few photos. “Jumi,” was the name of the more handsome one, and I must have drawn him hundreds of times with a trembling hand of a toddler. I pictured the dog standing on the top of the mountain in a sunset. It was an exotic view because there weren’t any mountains in the countryside of eastern Finland. I only saw them if I kneed down, looked up, and stretched my imagination.

Walking in Nature with Imagination

My envy and admiration for all people who had dogs grew steadily, and at the age of five, I had several that were in constant observation. One of them was Kaisa, a vet whose mother lived in a big apartment building next to our house. She had a Finnish spitz and sometimes kindly invited the children of the neighborhood for a forest walk. We were a small and noisy crowd. Everyone had their turn to hold the leash, and even if it was only a few minutes, I still remember how powerful I felt.

So even as a young teenager, I imagined dogs around me whenever I went for a walk. The boring life in a small town became much more bearable when I didn’t have to look around, but only to a close distance. There they were, two brown labrador retrievers that behaved exceptionally well no matter where I took them.

Paivi's childhood photo with roses

I preferred labradors because the royal family of England bred them. I had always wanted to be the queen of England, so my labradors certainly originated from Sandringham. My friend Anne had got a hold of a catalog of the Crufts dog show, and I excitedly picked the parents for mine. Every time I drew or knitted a dog, I tried to invent the best kennel name for me. “Starway’s” was one of my favorites. By then, my sister had married a man who had a spaniel, and from the spaniel club magazines, I found a new favorite breed: an American cocker spaniel.

Goodbye, Boredom!

The older I got, the more evident it became that I would leave my home town. Instead of frustratedly strolling in the fields and woods of the east, I would be happily hurrying on the busy streets of the south. And not alone, but with an American cocker spaniel of my own!

I would gladly say goodbye to lazy hot summer days when there was nothing else to do than examine the tussocks. When I once pointed them to my mother, she quietly said that our grass wasn’t proper like the apartment building had. But I found it much better. Instead of staring at individual blades, my imagination made wonders from the tussocks. They were luxurious carpets, cushions, and chairs, and when they looked up, I greeted them back. My grass tussocks were like dogs who had them – a flock that was always around and willing to join whatever I did.

When I got my first dog, I was already living in the south. It was an American cocker spaniel, of course. I lived in a flat, but between high buildings, there was a small wood. Unlike me, Anja had been born in an urban environment, and everything in nature wondered her. When she jumped back in surprise after seeing an ant, I realized that I was a country girl – no matter how much I loved palaces!

My next dogs have been beagles. With them, I am back in the world where looking down and examining closely is highly appreciated. Tussocks, hays, wildflowers, and brooks have returned.

What to Paint on Canvas?

In my artistic path from childhood to this day, I have thought that I should create the luxury that I don’t have. That my creativity is at its best when it produces what I miss. But in 2020, when the world quieted down, humble tussocks saw their moment. “Stop haunting me, you don’t even have a voice,” I whispered to them. “We have – and you used to listen, remember?” they responded.

And yes, when I pick the brush, I hear them again. Instead of trying to master the visual state of what I know very little of, I am painting the sounds in the deep. All that time when I wanted to be the queen of Sandringham labradors, I was, and I still am – a herder of mixed-breed tussocks!

Oil painting on canvas

How about You – What Should You Paint?

What you need to paint is not what you want to get and be, but what you have always got and been. The solution is not to find and paint what you love but to look in the opposite direction, find what’s been the most ordinary for you, even if it wouldn’t be that for others. The solution is not to paint how things look, but how they sound, smell, taste, and feel. In the book Point and Line to Plane, Wassily Kandinsky talks about releasing the inner sound of a shape.

Abstract painting in progress. Read more about what to paint on canvas.

With the tussocks, the teachings of the abstract masters Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky have been groundbreaking to me. They have enabled me to paint more freely than ever and I have also built a class Floral Freedom from these teachings. Floral Freedom is especially for you, who wants the painting to look loose and naturally abstract, but who hasn’t find satisfactory results from “just making a mess.”

Good Accidents – When to Improvise

Painting in the studio

Art is never about just making a mess. Artists who say so are just unable to put it into words. Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee were not only exceptional painters but also exceptional teachers. They defined abstract art in methods and diagrams. In Floral Freedom, you get their theories in an easily understandable form and use them to paint flowers.

In this video (after the first two minutes), Helen Mirren talks about Wassily Kandinsky’s art. She first assumed Kandinsky’s work was just improvisation – “instinctive and improvisational and wild and of the moment,” but later learned that his work is constructed with care and thought.

Here’s how she says this:

I can also relate to what Helen Mirren says about acting – that you have to give the impression of the improvisation and naturalness and learn what’s a good accident. But I also have the definition of a good accident in visual art: it’s what you have used to see and know.

I feel that I know everything about the soul of grass tussocks. When I paint them, I don’t have to worry about people not liking them, not even if someone can paint them better. This grass is not any grass but how a 5-year old Paivi saw it, walked on it, and what she imagined from it.

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

I paint sounds of plants as I hear them, freely and without references. I don’t plan what to paint on a canvas, and I don’t follow any image of my mind. It feels like improvisation, but the process is technical and systematic. One shape follows another and I dive deep into the painting, creating and releasing tensions.

I am filled with excitement and emotion, but work systematically and intentionally, translating from spiritual to visual.

Syvällä soi - Sounds in the Deep, an oil painting on canvas by Paivi Eerola.

I really enjoyed painting this one – the first one of the new year! It’s called “Syvällä soi” which is a bit difficult to translate in English but it means that some are playing instruments or singing in the deep so the translation could be “Sounds in the Deep.”

Floral Freedom – Paint Dreamy Florals to Free Your Spirit

Floral Freedom, online art class by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Painting abstract florals in acrylics.

Come to learn the theories behind abstract art, and paint flowers with me – Sign up for Floral Freedom! We use acrylic paints for the projects. The class has already started, but you can still hop in. You will get the published lessons right away, and you have plenty of time to catch up and connect with me and the community. This class is comprehensive, and suitable for self-study too. Sign up now!

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