Create Fantastic Art!

Fly to your imagination and paint the emotion.

Peony and Parakeet

Design Principles Translated to Intuitive Painting

This week, I talk about design principles for intuitive painters. This is for you who paint because it’s a spiritual act!

Snowwhite's Land - acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola
“Snowwhite’s Land – Lumikin maa” – acrylics, 50 x 61 cm

While making this acrylic painting, I thought about how intuitive painters often feel a disconnection with general art advice like “make sure you have a focal point.” Even if I teach online classes, I often find advice that solely focuses on the technical part misleading because it talks so little about artistic expression and the experience of making art. Design principles can be like a bible for technically oriented people and a blank book for those who want to approach the subject more emotionally. But it doesn’t have to be like that!

Design Principles and Intuitive Painting

Intuitive painting differs from following a predefined idea, a reference photo, or a sketch. Let’s take the focal point as an example. Intentionally, you should start what matters the most and make it noticeable. This way, you have a clear focal point, and your painting delivers a clear message. But when you paint intuitively, there’s no message when you begin. The painting process is about connecting with your spirit and being open to what wants to come out. Here’s what my painting looked like after the first layers. Yes, there’s some resemblance with the finished piece, but not so much that the advice would make sense.

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

The focal point (the small pale yellow rectangle in the dark area) and its supporting element, the row of white dew drops, were added much later. Here are the dewdrops and the many layers more closely.

A detail of an intuitive abstract painting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

On the other hand, I don’t agree with those who say that lighting candles and taking a spiritual mindset should be enough. There are also those who believe in natural talent – that you either can or can’t paint – which I most strongly oppose.

For me, intuition is about bringing knowledge and creativity work together and listening to what they have to say. When I want to move forward, sometimes it’s about growing my knowledge, sometimes increasing my creativity, but often it’s also getting better at listening – quietly observing what the painting wants to become.

Details of a painting in progress.

When I notice a shape that looks like it’s whispering to me, I want to strengthen it. And sometimes, these shapes later disappear under new ones, but they still showed me the way.

Let’s go through 7 design principles and translate them from intentional to intuitive painting.

#1 Emphasis

In intuitive painting, aiming for emphasis is often about finding a suitable title and adjusting the painting to express the title. For me, painting is quite far before the first ideas about the title come up. However, the first ideas are usually the most conventional ones, so I keep painting and diving deeper.

I thought this piece was finished, when it looked like this. The title that I had in mind was “Windy Tales” or “Wind Blows in a Fairytale.” But it was still too generic, so I kept asking: What fairytale?

Acrylic painting in progress. A view to a studio. Design principles in practice.

After the painting session, knitting late at night, I got the answer: Snowwhite! So next morning, I added some more white and other colors of Disney’s Snowwhite.

A detail of an intuitive abstract painting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I feel that these small adjustments released the spirit of the painting.

A detail of an intuitive abstract painting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Intuitive doesn’t have to mean fast. We can take breaks and let our intuition and connection grow between the sessions.

#2 Balance and Alignment

The emphasis needs extra effort, but balancing is what we do naturally and so much that it suffocates expression. Be aware that “intuitive” often become “balanced” and nothing else.

The easiest way to balance a painting is to make it symmetrical. So taking an asymmetrical approach – even just for a couple of layers – makes you more expressive than any meditation! Imagine a horizontal and a vertical line in the center of your work and force yourself away from constant balancing strokes.

Painting intuitively. By a Finnish artist Paivi Eerola. Read how she translates design principles to intuitive art.

So for intuitive painters, getting off-balance is more important than creating a balance right from the beginning. In the end, you can balance the image with a few strokes if needed.

#3 Contrast

Intuitive painters have a strong connection to colors. I often begin with a specific color combination in mind, and colors feed my ideas. Yes, I like pinks, turquoises, bright yellows, bright greens … but I also have to remind myself that like a spring flower, a spirit of the painting rises slowly from mud.

Intuitive painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola.

This design principle is not so much having different colors, but having differences in lightness and darkness. For intuitive painters, it means that we have to process colors that we lay on the painting. So not just squeeze tubes, but to create our own color mixes so that the spirit is not only on the paper or canvas but also on our palette.

Acrylic paints, brushes, and a color chart. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

When we slowly create the color mixes, we have time to connect with the tone, adjust its darkness, seek for the genuine response that has a longer-term effect than what has been industrially produced.

#4 Repetition

The best way to think about repetition is to express echo. Instead of constantly balancing your painting by looking at the big picture, focus on one shape that you have just painted and imagine its spirit. How would the shape echo itself?

A detail of an acrylic painting. Design principle: repetition.

The echo is never identical to the original spirit. The echo is weaker, and there’s never just one sound, but a few.

#5 Proportion

In intuitive painting, we paint energy. Energy gathers to form cells, then clusters that get bigger and bigger. It’s easiest to see these clusters by looking at the painting from a distance or by taking a photo and reducing it.

A big painting in stam-sized image. A design principle proportion and how it can be applied in practice for intuitive art.

If your painting is full of clusters, all the energy is static, and you need more openness in shapes and lines. If all the clusters are similar in size, then the overall energy is impermanent and less powerful.

#6 Movement

Intuitive painting connects us with the tradition of storytelling. We don’t just deliver a spirit but a story about its power. In visuals, we can build paths from one element to another so that the eye can effortlessly move around the painting like it’s listening to an impactful story.

Intuitive painting in progress. Expressing movement. Design principles for intuitive painting by Paivi Eerola.

Rather than painting separate elements, connect them with lines or layering one slightly over another. Make sure that all your elements are not round and stop the eye, but pointed that move the eye forward and build flow and movement. So, when you feel the connection with the painting, create connections visually too.

#7 White Space

Intuitive painting is less about arranging space and more about filling space, but white space is still relevant if you think about it as breathing. A painting doesn’t only need a spirit – it needs to breathe. If you paint boldly, everything bland will help with breathing. Adding muted yellows around a bright yellow spot makes the yellow spot breathe.

A detail of an abstract painting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Design Principles Apply To All Art

So, you see, intentional and intuitive painting are not so different after all. The process and the values are a bit different. Still, it’s like humans – we come from different countries and cultures, speak different languages, but with some translation, we can feel togetherness across the borders.

Snowwhite's Land - Lumikin maa, acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola

If you like this article, you will love my class Floral Freedom! There I translate Paul Klee’s technical and Wassily Kandinsky’s spiritual teachings so that you can paint abstract florals freely. >> Buy Here!

Expressing Inner Storms by Painting

This post is dedicated to all who have lost their creative inspiration during these challenging times when outer storms cause inner storms too.

This Too Shall Pass, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola
This Too Shall Pass – Ohimenevää tämäkin, oil, 60 x 73 cm

I have always loved art that uplifts and is more on the bright side of fantasy than in the darkness. I have defined myself as an artist who does not express agony or suffering or bring out what’s wrong in society. My art has based on the possibilities of imagination. It’s about the richness of the inner world. “Spiritual freedom” has been my word.

But the longer I have painted, the more courageous I have become. How flowery do my paintings have to be? To free up my art and to free up my thinking as well, I have begun to accept all kinds of shapes, colors, and emotions. The same flowers that bloom in my watercolor pieces become little monsters when I paint more freely in oil. It’s like there’s a new world under the inner world I only used to know.

Painting Inner Storms

At the end of January, I started a new big painting. It had dark colors, but I intended to brighten it. “When the time is right, I will make it more cheerful,” I promised to myself. Weeks went by, and it always felt like I had something more important to do. I didn’t have the energy, or I had too much energy. The more I postponed the finishing, the moody I became. “This pandemic gets to my nerves,” I said to my husband.

Oil painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola.

But when my spirit got more and more low, I had to do something. One night I picked paints and brushes, abandoned all the happy stuff I was creating and continued the painting. The brushes felt heavy at first. The paint tubes were like stones. But then I remembered the magic words: “Päivi, you can paint!” This confidence, even if it always feels false first, energizes my strokes and thoughts. The painting begins to speak to me, and my responses become more and more natural.

Expressing inner storms. Abstract art by Paivi Eerola.

This Too Shall Pass

“What are you painting, Päivi,” I heard my inner critic saying after a while. “The piece is still very dark.” My immediate answer was: “Yes, it’s dark, but this too shall pass.” At that moment, I knew the name of the painting and why it should not be forced to look more cheerful. Inner storms can be as beautiful as the happy moments and little monsters as clever as any flower.

Oil painting in progress. Adding finishing touches by laying the painting on the table. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
Expressing inner storms. An oil painting in progress by Paivi Eerola.
A detail of This Too Shall Pass, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola

When I woke up the following morning, my mind was calm and still. And when I look at the painting, it gives me hope no matter how stormy and gloomy it seems.

Here are some detail pics.

A detail of This Too Shall Pass, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola
A detail of This Too Shall Pass, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola
A detail of This Too Shall Pass, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola

Here’s the whole painting again.

This Too Shall Pass, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola

Sometimes the lack of inspiration is a sign of not letting out what needs do so.

Have a creative Easter!

P.S. My abstract painting class Floral Freedom is now available as a self-study. Watch the video below!

My free painting style is based on Paul Klee’s and Wassily Kandinsky’s timeless teachings presented in this class. >> Buy here!

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!

Scroll to top