These past weeks have been black. Social distancing, pandemic, the news … However, I want to share some things that have brought consolation, hoping that they do the same for you.
This first image is a watercolor painting created as an exercise for my newest class Magical Forest. It’s painted quickly and systematically, and it’s less romantic than many of my paintings, but I really like it. I put a lot of effort and thought into all of the class exercises, but I am especially fond of the last lesson where realistic nature themes meet abstract art in unconventional ways.
Expressing Hope – Art is Needed!
One of the carrying themes in Magical Forest is spirituality, and I feel that the connection between art and spirit is more timely now than ever. The need for art that soothes will grow. It’s important that we artists create images that illustrate the inner world when there are chaos and uncertainty in the outer world. This way, we don’t only take care of our sanity but spread hope for other people as well.
Moss, Stones, Clouds – The Comforting Side of Nature
We haven’t got much snow this winter in Southern Finland, so I have had lots of opportunities to observe stones, both in our garden, and in nature. When the world is in a storm, it’s comforting to watch their stillness, and how the moss is like a warm blanket over them.
Last weekend, my husband and I took the dogs for a walk in the forest. When the sun shined through the trees, the view was like a sacred chapel.
Last year, I got a wish to include clouds in the class, and I was able to fit that in. Clouds are surprisingly fun to paint! When the bad news came, little paintings like this became even more important. I want to look at my clouds now and then. The softness of the sky draws in and refreshes my soul.
My beagle Stella also likes sunny skies. She has her chapel on the porch of the old shed that we have in our back garden.
I painted this floral bouquet last spring, and with it, I want to wish hopeful news and hopeful weekend. Let’s take some time to create comforting art!
Nature is definitely expressing hope here in Finland. Let’s keep creating towards brighter days!
P.S. Weekend Sale! There’s a new presentation video about Magical Forest, and to brighten the weekend, I have reduced the price too. The sale ends on April 5 (PDT), so be quick! >> Buy here!
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!
This week, I want to share something I don’t always do publicly: experimenting! The exploration and experimentation also have an important role in my upcoming class Magical Forest, so it’s a perfect time for some play!
Experiments are great, especially when: – you want to try out new art supplies – you are working on a bigger piece and need time to think between layers – you have a very limited time to create – you want to practice new techniques – the process feels more important than the outcome: you need just to relax
This time, I could tick all the boxes! I had bought some new pans last week. A bigger painting was in progress. It was a late evening when I started painting. I wanted to use mostly angular, not so many organic shapes than usually, and I had lots of cheap watercolor paper for fun.
Cobalt Blue Spectral – Using Color as an Inspiration
I like to start an experiment by deciding a color or a couple of colors that I particularly enjoy. This time, I had a special treat – Cobalt Blue Spectral.
I have a small local art supply store in Helsinki, Finland, called Diverse. There are bigger stores in Helsinki too, but the service is never as good. The owner always has time to talk, and he knows what he sells. I happened to mention that I loved Cobalt Blue Spectral and that it’s so sad that St. Petersburg doesn’t produce it anymore. It was just one little sentence, among many. However, the sentence was heard, and I was astonished when the owner suddenly handed me a blue pan saying: “This is the last one that I have, and it’s from my personal collection.” So now, I have this amazing color again: Cobalt Blue Spectral. It’s much brighter than the usual cobalt and quite extraordinary indeed!
I also bought a few pans manufactured by Roman Szmal. The brand name is Aquarius, and I like all the Aquarius pans I have. Here I am testing a wonderful yellow Quinacridone Gold. I can’t get enough of warm yellows, and this is the most beautiful I have had so far. It’s golden orange when it’s thick, and lovely warm yellow when thinned.
I like to paint many small studies at the same time so that when I wait one to dry, I can continue another one.
Looking for the Blank Spots
A big part of the play for me is to notice all the small little accidents, especially the blank spots, and figure out how to save and highlight them as the painting progresses.
Including Experimentation for More Serious Pieces
I like to start bigger projects with an experimental mindset too. I use a lot of water so that I can later decide which accidents to enhance and which to hide. A spraying bottle is my trusted assistant.
The size of this painting in progress is a half sheet (approximately 38 x 56 cm / 15 x 22 inches). It has 100 % cotton paper, and Cobalt Blue Spectral shows there too. Compared to the experiments, my painting pace is much slower.
My little art room has been a watercolor studio during the last weeks. I also bought a cheap interchangeable frame from Ikea and ordered a Passepartout from a local framer. Now I can easily display half-sheet paintings!
Magical Forest – Come to Paint and Experiment with me!
It’s soon October and with that – Inktober! Last year, I did all 31 prompts. Read about my previous experience here and here!
This year, I intend to make at least some drawings. And because Inktober was such a great experience for me last year, I want to support you to take it too. Here’s an Inktober warm-up exercise. I hope it inspires you to use inks and black felt-tipped pens to create black and white art. Follow the steps to keep going!
1) Paint an Abstract Composition
Let’s start by playing with liquid ink! Mine is Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink. I make the image on Leuchtturm 1917 Sketchbook.
Put a few drops of black ink on a palette. Mix some water to the ink so that it’s grey rather than pitch black. Make some pale strokes with a flat brush. Then add new strokes on the top of previous ones. Work slowly! Enjoy each stroke and the translucency of it.
Turn the brush upward and make narrow strokes by using the tip of the flat brush. Experiment with both wet and dry brush.
Pick a small round brush and add some ink on the top of the narrow strokes. Now you should have an abstract composition that has a variety of painted elements.
2) Fill Spaces Between the Painted Areas
Use a brush pen or black ink that hasn’t been watered down. Focus on the center of your composition.
Fill most of the spaces between the painted areas with black ink. Leave some white to highlight the best parts. Black adds depth to the grey composition.
3) Draw Realistic Objects
Select black thin-tipped drawing pens of various thicknesses. I use Copic Multiliners from 0.05 to 1.0.
Choose a realistic object that you want to repeat in the image. My choice was women’s faces. For example, flowers or birds could be great too.
Look at the abstract composition and seek for places where you can add the objects. Add more black, and adjust the shape of the pale areas so that they partly outline the objects. When drawing the objects, play with the scale so that some are big and some small no matter where they are located in the image. All the objects don’t have to be fully visible. Some can hide partly behind the abstract elements.
I like to draw faces so that I sketch it first with a thin ink pen, and then adjust it by adding a black element beside the face. (In my classes Animal Inkdom and Magical Inkdom, I show easy step-by-step methods for drawing all kinds of fun figures.)
4) Doodle Decorations
Continue with the black drawing pens, and doodle on the blank and pale areas. I also use a handmade oval template to get a big geometric shape that is fun to decorate.
For decoration, the sky is the limit, but I like jewels, frills, laces, waves, and flowers!
When doodling, I also add shadows to the elements by drawing thin lines side by side.
5) Finishing Touches: Shadows and Highlights
Squeeze your eyes and point all the white areas. Usually, there are too many and it makes the image look busy. Pick a brush and paint most of the white with diluted black ink.
Especially the areas that are near the edges are worth toning down.
I also like to paint over the shadowed areas to give them a softer look.
White gel pen can be handy for those areas that need a little bit more white.
Inktober Warm-Up – Finished Piece
Here’s my finished piece again. See how limited the number of white areas is.
I hope you enjoyed this Inktober warm-up! Tell me – are you going to participate in Inktober?