Color the Emotion

Pick a few colors and create without stiffness.

From Artist’s Focus to Artist’s Between

This week, I challenge you to question what the word “focus” means to you as an artist.

Paivi Eerola, Kahden maailman välissä - Between Two Worlds, 40 x 30 cm, oil on canvas
Kahden maailman välissä – Between Two Worlds, 40 x 30 cm, oil on canvas

I thought a lot about the artist’s focus when painting this piece. This was one of the last paintings to be finished for my exhibition.

Artist’s Focus

Have you ever said this:
“I want to find my focus in art.”

Although I want to direct my energy wisely as an artist, something in that statement has always bothered me.

For me, the essence of art is not narrowing, but expanding – not isolating but inviting. The artist expresses not only herself but humanity in general. And as humans, we are rarely completely serene or focused. We seldom belong to only one group, one era, or one world. We are often one foot in one field, one foot in another.

Painting the first strokes. Artist's focus comes to mind when starting a new painting.

When we create, could the inspiring word be more like “between” than “focus?”

Oil painting in progress

Focus is nice and pretty, but is it art?

Inspiration from Albert Edelfelt

In this series of paintings, my inspiration was the Finnish master painter Albert Edelfelt (1854-1905). For the painting of this post, I took ideas for the color scheme from this pastel work by Edelfelt. This piece is currently displayed at the Albert Edelfelt Exhibition in the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.

Albert Edelfelt, Parisian Model in a Dressing Gown (Parisian Model in Robe), 1885
Albert Edelfelt, Parisian Model in a Dressing Gown (Parisian Model in Robe), 1885

While studying the colors, I thought about the end of the 19th century and the intelligent look of the woman. Wasn’t this also “between” rather than “focus?” Between a man and a woman, if you think about the relationship between the model and Albert. Between being a model and having her own thoughts, if you study a woman’s gaze. Between representation and abstraction, if you observe lines and shapes.

Abstract art began shortly after Edelfelt’s death. He probably already felt its presence, felt that he was between two worlds.

From Artist’s Focus to Artist’s Between

I decided to throw myself fully into being between two worlds in this painting.

An abstract floral painting in progress. Read more about finding artist's focus and what to think when you are creating.

“Between” is an uncomfortable state of being, so this painting couldn’t contain only easy and beautiful. “Between” is a bit like walking in nature and then bumping into apartment buildings. Or when you’re admiring clear water in a pond and your eyes fall on the filters. Focus can then only exist if you close your eyes. Not very eye-opening, eh?

Before and after finishing touches. An oil painting by Päivi Eerola, Finland.
Before and after finishing. Click the image or here to see it bigger!

This painting has two different styles and although it is small in size, I feel that it reveals the secret between what I do and what I think.

I noticed at the opening of the exhibition that I don’t like to talk about this work, because I find it somehow intrusive. Often when the paintings are created, they are nice characters, a bit shy and sensitive, but fun company. This one is straightforward and doesn’t hide its contradiction.

Paivi Eerola holding the oil painting "Kahden maailman välissä - Between Two Worlds". She claims that "artist's between" is a better concept than artist's focus.

However, there is a lot of power in the contradictions and lack of focus. I want to continue to challenge myself to draw artistic inspiration from it.

Do you also feel that you are between two worlds?
In art-making, could you replace the yearning for “focus” with the embracing of “between?”

Abstract Birds

There is a saying that if you don’t know what else to add “Put a bird on it!” But this week I want to talk about birds as the main object of the picture, not just as a decoration. This blog post is also about abstract birds and their connection with realistic bird art.

Kuningaskalastajat - Kingfishers, oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm. By Paivi Eerola, Finland.
Kuningaskalastajat – Kingfishers, oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm.

Here’s my new painting, also bird-themed!

The Love for Real Birds

As a child, I saw a lot of birds and at some point, I started to learn to identify them. Ornithologist sounded like a great word and I have always been fascinated by people who are extremely enthusiastic about something. I learned about birds from a bird book I got from my parents, which was illustrated with drawings. I also drew birds myself, and it’s quite easy to recognize them once you’ve once drawn every detail.

Since those times my knowledge has unfortunately deteriorated, and I never became an ornithologist! But even though I’m no longer good at identification, I know birds as animals well. After all, I have had pet birds for decades. At the moment I have two budgies, Leonardo and Primavera. Over time, my interest in wild birds has started to return and a dream has surfaced, which the newest painting “Kingfishers” also tells about.

Here’s how it started! Wild strokes here and there.

Starting a new abstract painting. After the first layers.
Here’s how the painting started.

I think most of us have some relation to birds – what’s your story? Could you bring more of that to your art?

Dreaming of Birds

Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to see the kingfisher. In recent years, I’ve started imagining how one would sit on top of our mailbox on a summer’s day when I come down the hill towards home. And this spring I’ve started imagining kingfishers flying around the ditch along my walking path. I know that these are unlikely to come true, but they are still wonderful thoughts. Kingfishers are very rare here in Finland.

Painting abstract birds. Painting in progress.

So when I started a painting inspired by the ditch, I wanted those kingfishers there. After all, I had already written “kingfisher” in my notebook earlier this year when I started planning the new series of paintings.

Painting abstract birds. Painting in progress.

And when I researched the subject more, I found out that there are about 120 species of kingfishers. So I could paint many different ones in the same picture!

Birds by Von Wright Brothers

This month, I want to blog about art history too. And as a Finn, I have to introduce the brothers Magnus von Wright (1805–1868), Wilhelm von Wright (1810–1887), and Ferdinand von Wright (1822–1906). One of the most famous paintings here in Finland is “Taistelevat metsot”.

Fighting Capercaillies by Ferdinand von Wright, oil on canvas, 1886.
Taistelevat metsot – Fighting Capercaillies by Ferdinand von Wright, oil on canvas, 1886.

Von Wright brothers drew and painted huge numbers of birds and are remembered as bird artists. I saw this pigeon painting in the Ateneum Art Museum in 2018 when they had a big exhibition of von Wrights’s art.

Pigeons by Ferdinand von Wright, oil on canvas, 1870.
Kyyhkysiä – Pigeons by Ferdinand von Wright, oil on canvas, 1870.

For the Von Wrights, the recognisability of bird species was essential, and they also depicted birds from the perspective of their authentic living conditions and behavior.

Mallard Duckilings by Magnus von Wright, oil on canvas, 1841.
Sinisorsapoikue – Mallard Duckilings by Magnus von Wright, oil on canvas, 1841.

The paintings were very stylish and very aesthetic, but because of their accurate details, they also worked as scientific illustrations.

Flowers and Birds in the Corner of the Garden by Ferdinand von Wright, 1853 - 1854.
Kukkia ja lintuja puutarhan nurkassa – Flowers and Birds in the Corner of the Garden by Ferdinand von Wright, 1853 – 1854.

Unlike the von Wrights, I am not interested in the exact description of bird species, but rather in describing the vitality of life through birds.

Flying Birds and Their Abstract Shapes

I am especially fascinated by the ability to fly and I always try to look as closely as possible when I see a bird flying in the sky. When the bird flies high, its image breaks up and becomes an abstract composition. The flying bird serves us modern art in the middle of the mundane reality. A museum experience without visiting one!

Peippo - Finch, oil on canvas, 2021.
Peippo – Finch, oil on canvas, 2021. Read more about creating this one: Free Like a Bird

I often see finches and magpies here where I live. I think magpies are really beautiful birds and this painting of Ferdinand von Wright is fabulous even if its theme is a bit brutal.

Magpies Around the Dead Female Capercaillie by Ferdinand von Wright,1867.
Harakoita kuolleen koppelon ympärillä – Magpies Around the Dead Female Capercaillie by Ferdinand von Wright,1867.

Many blackbirds live in our garden and I have also painted them in 2021.

Abstract bird. Mustarastas - Blackbird, oil on canvas, 2021, Paivi Eerola.
Mustarastas – Blackbird, oil on canvas, 2021. Read more about creating this one: Pros and Cons of Becoming an Artist

I find it fun to adjust abstract shapes so that they express the essence of the bird. Here’s the Kingfishers painting again, photographed by my husband in the front garden.

Kuningaskalastajat - Kingfishers, oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm. By Paivi Eerola, Finland.

And here are some pictures of details so that you can examine brush strokes and abstract birds more closely.

Detail of Kuningaskalastajat - Kingfishers, oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm. By Paivi Eerola, Finland.
Detail of Kuningaskalastajat - Kingfishers, oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm. By Paivi Eerola, Finland.

If you think about kingfishers, painting them can’t be just about flying near a stream, it has to be about catching fish too. To bring that up, the bird on the left below looks a bit like a fish.

Detail of Kuningaskalastajat - Kingfishers, oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm. By Paivi Eerola, Finland.

Not So Abstract Birds to Get to Know Them

Of course, a flying bird can also be created so that it’s not abstract but has many decorative details. This project is from the course Animal Inkdom and is drawn in several sessions piece by piece so that it’s more manageable and fun.

Animal art. Animal Inkdom. Illustration by Paivi Eerola.

In the center is a bird that flies into the animal world. When re-examining this, I hope that over time I would paint all kinds of animals in my abstract style. It is often necessary to study the animal for a long time before an abstract can be derived from it.

The Connection Between Letting Go and Not Letting Go

Painter of abstract birds. Paivi Eerola and her painting Kingfishers photographed in the garden.

So if you wish that your expression would be freer, one way is to go deep into the subject. Not just to look at what a kingfisher looks like, for example, but to live its life, experience a deep identification with it and look for forms that express that emotional connection.

Often both the forms and the connection are first found through creating art that is less abstract and more accurate. I think that it would have been quite easy for the Von Wright brothers to become abstract bird artists, but the time wasn’t right for them. They left a legacy though, and I am one of their followers.

Dreamy Watercolor Flowers

I’ve been down with bad flu and haven’t been able to blog for the past week. But now I have recovered and continue the spring blog post series, where I go through techniques and themes that have been important in my artistic development. This week the topic is watercolors, flowers, and expressing dreaminess.

Watercolor roses, a digital watercolor painting in Procreate, by Paivi Eerola.
Watercolor Roses – A digital painting in Procreate.

Flower is a popular subject in art and I also like painting flowers very much. I don’t use models, I paint abstract shapes that look like flowers.

What Makes a Flower Dreamy?

In 2019, I painted a lot of flower-themed watercolors and then I thought about what flowers are all about for me.

Painting dreamy watercolor flowers. "Long Hot Summer", a watercolor painting, Paivi Eerola, 2019.
Long Hot Summer, watercolor, 2019.

The species of flower is not important to me. I often paint flowers that have no real equivalent. For me, the interesting thing about flowers is their relationship with light.

After Winter, a floral watercolor painting, Paivi Eerola, 2019.
After Winter, watercolor, 2019.

Without light, there are no flowers. The light continues the flower and makes it bigger and more beautiful.

Spring crocuses
Look at the light and shadows in these spring crocuses! The variation of darkness and lightness can be seen as loose and random. There’s no need to overanalyze it to create a dreamy flower picture.

When you paint light, dreamy watercolor flowers grow into the picture as if by themselves.

Using ProCreate and Apple Pencil to paint dreamy watercolor flowers.

In ProCreate, it’s easy to zoom in and out, pick colors, and change brushes. Apple Pencil is also surprisingly pleasant to work with.

In real watercolors, splashing water more fun, but maintaining lightness is more challenging, especially when you only use the whiteness of the paper.

Adjusting details of a large floral watercolor painting.

Then you start with light layers and gradually add color. It’s surprising how much you can fix and fine-tune the details when working this way.

Dreamy Flowers by the Water

A digital flower painting in ProCreate using the default brushes.
Watercolor Poppies – A digital painting in ProCreate.

Another important element is water. That’s why flowers and watercolors go well together. Light, water, and flowers are a refreshing combination. I try to bring the element of water into the picture in one way or another.

Life Gives Me Plenty, dreamy watercolor flowers, Päivi Eerola, 2019.
Life Gives Me Plenty, watercolor, 2019.

I used to paint a lot of vases, but nowadays flowers grow more freely near water.

The Spring of Dreams, oil on canvas, Paivi Eerola, 2022.
“The Spring of Dreams”, oil on canvas, 2022. Oil paints have more substance and the overall impression is heavier than in watercolor.

I think that when a plant blooms, it dreams – just like we do when we make art!

Floral Fantasies – Paint Dreamy Watercolor Flowers!

For all flower lovers, I have a flower painting course Floral Fantasies, from which the watercolor part can also be purchased separately.

Floral Fantasies, an online course about painting dreamy watercolor flowers.
One of the projects of Floral Fantasies – dreamy florals in a vase

Floral Fantasies – Intuitive and loose approach to flowers – Buy here!

Wonderland Art – Inspiration from Alice in Wonderland

Last fall, I was asked to participate in a small gallery exhibition called Kaninkolo (Rabbit Hole). I thought that the name was a funny reference to the Alice in Wonderland book and an opportunity to create fantastic wonderland art. I had previously covered the wonderland theme by drawing for the Magical Inkdom course. It was fun to see how the theme would lend itself to my painting style, which is much more abstract.

Wonderland Rises From the Dark

Älä pelkää ihmemaassa - Don't Be Afraid in Wonderland, 60 x 60 cm, oil on canvas. By Päivi Eerola, Finland.
Älä pelkää ihmemaassa – Don’t Be Afraid in Wonderland, 60 x 60 cm, oil on canvas

For me, wonderland art calls for dark colors. I’ve seen Tim Burton’s movie Alice in Wonderland and I think it has some wonderfully gloomy scenes. I would really like to paint dark paintings because exciting things can happen in the dark. However, I try to curb this desire, because Finnish homes are light and light paintings sell better!

Starting a new painting. Creating wonderland art. Paivi Eerola in her studio.

But now I got permission from myself to paint one dark painting, in which I also rejoiced with colors.

New is a Wonderland

I started with confidence, but at some point in the frenzy of painting, I stopped: “Could I paint so boldly? Should I tone down a bit?” But then the painting replied: “Päivi, don’t be afraid in wonderland!”

A fantasy-themed painting in progress. Creating abstract wonderland art - art inspired by Alice in Wonderland.

And yes, whenever we are on the verge of something new, we are a bit like Alice in Wonderland. Then you just have to keep experimenting and painting. I admire brave people and I would like to paint with courage. It’s not always possible to do that, but I’m going to continue to let loose from time to time!

Wonderland Art – Queen, Alice, and Others

This “Don’t Be Afraid in Wonderland” piece was really fun to paint. Among the characters in the book, my favorite is the Queen of Hearts. Of course, Mad Hatter also had to be painted.

A detail of Älä pelkää ihmemaassa - Don't Be Afraid in Wonderland, oil on canvas. By Päivi Eerola, Finland.
Queen of Hearts (center) and Mad Hatter (top left corner).

I also included Cheshire Cat, as well as the twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

A detail of Älä pelkää ihmemaassa - Don't Be Afraid in Wonderland, oil on canvas. By Paivi Eerola, Finland.
Alice (bottom), the twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (left, above Alice), and Cheshire Cat (all over the place!)

In this painting, Alice is a flying flower!

Wonderland Art – Wheel of Fortune

When I started building the Magical Inkdom course in 2019, one of my first drawings was this Wheel of Fortune.

Wheel of Fortune, a gameboard drawing with a separate center wheel. Wonderland art by Paivi Eerola, Finland.

When drawing all the details, I thought about how I would divide the lessons. I got the idea to make a separate central circle for the drawing, which can be rotated and thus change the heads and outfits of the characters. You can see the wheel at the end of this video:

Magical Inkdom – Buy here!

Drawing a gameboard with a wheel helped me to come out with the idea of playing cards and a bag for storing them.

Wonderland art. Art inspired by Alice in Wonderland. From the course Magical Inkdom by Paivi Eerola.

So when I went more abstract and thought about the concept of the wonderland, it fed ideas for several lessons.

Moving from Wonderland Characters to Wonderland Mood

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between representational and abstract and what can be expressed with abstract imagery. For example, could I paint an abstract outdoor tea party?

A magical bunny and a teacup. By Paivi Eerola, Check out her online drawing course Magical Inkdom!
A rabbit and a teacup for the course Magical Inkdom

I saw the arbor and the delicate porcelain cups in my mind, but could I detach the motifs from the cups and fly to the place as a magician who removes the excess realism?

Starting an oil painting.
Starting point: just a few colors first.

When painting abstract, I try to change the original idea to a mood, and then paint the mood. My mind is then in a 3-dimensional dynamic space rather than trying to maintain a 2-dimensional static image.

Creating wonderland art. Paivi Eerola painting a small piece inspired by Alice in Wonderland.

I think this tea party themed little painting turned out pretty well!

Taikurin teekutsut - Magician's Tea Party, 40 x 32 cm, oil on canvas, by Paivi Eerola, Finland.
Taikurin teekutsut – Magician’s Tea Party, 40 x 32 cm, oil on canvas

Art is a wonderland where you can do anything!

The Finnish artist Päivi Eerola and her painting Taikurin teekutsut - Magician's Tea Party.

Here you can see the size of the painting better: 40 x 32 cm, about 15 3/4 and 12 1/2 inches.

Does Drawing Help for Loosening Up in Expression?

Oil paintings in Paivi Eerola's studio.
Paintings in my studio.

I have wondered if my abstract painting style would ever have been found without drawing figuratively. But I don’t think that would have happened. To become looser, it has been important to learn how reality works and how to express it with shapes.

Playing with hand-drawn collage pieces and art journaling. See the courses Animal Inkdom and Magical Inkdom to create your own wonderland art.
Playing with hand-drawn collage pieces.

That’s why I’m really happy that my way to wonderland has been through a bend. And even that kind of a bend that I can share with the rest of you through the Magical Inkdom course among others.

Paivi Eerola and her painting Älä pelkää ihmemaassa - Don't Be Afraid in Wonderland, 60 x 60 cm, oil on canvas.
Älä pelkää ihmemaassa – Don’t Be Afraid in Wonderland, 60 x 60 cm, about 23 1/2 x 23 1/2 inches.

April 8-27, 2023, Kaninkolo group exhibition at Gallery Art Frida, Korkeavuorenkatu 25, Helsinki

Does Alice in Wonderland inspire you?

Scroll to top