This week, I talk about spirituality in art and claim that you also need humor and playfulness to become a spiritual artist.
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!
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!
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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!
Even if I want these blog posts to be a celebration of art-making, I also want to paint and write from the heart. This week’s post is about sadness and its’ effects on creativity.
Here’s my latest acrylic painting called “If Grief Smoked.” Like many of the recent paintings, this also has a connection to a poem. The title is from Eeva-Liisa Manner’s poem “Jos suru savuaisi.” But this time, I didn’t follow the poem but used the title as a prompt only.
I have been very melancholic this fall, and to be honest, building a new class Floral Freedom, has been my savior. It’s been a captivating escape from a life that feels emptier than before. My loyal companion Cosmo died in September, and it’s like a part of me has lost a purpose.
Cosmo was our family member for over 15 years, and there’s a lot I miss about him. Small things, often quite insignificant ones, like how he used to pick a sock when he wanted attention. My heart breaks when I remember how softly he did that, not leaving a single mark. In the end, he was a good dog and didn’t want to behave badly.
So yes, my grief has been smoking and burning. A wind of time has taken some away but also spread it further. When it started to feel that the grief would scorch my brushes, destroy the paints, and make the studio a smoky place, I knew it was time to paint. Not that it would take the grief away, but force me to deal with it.
Persuasion Can Replace Inspiration
Art is not always about inspiration. You know Picasso’s saying that the inspiration has to find you working. I find self-persuasion especially useful. “After this, you can paint whatever you want,” I said to myself.
If we don’t paint these paintings that need to come out, it can cause a creative block. I have had some major ones in the past, and I didn’t want that to happen now.
“Follow the color,” I said to myself like many times before. It’s a quote of my own that boosts my confidence when I am working.
Stepping Into The Painting
This scenery had been in my mind for weeks. It was like an overdue baby, pushing through the brush.
I just had to open my heart and welcome it.
Wassily Kandinsky talks about a glass between the artist and the painting, and how to remove it. It’s one of the hardest things when in grief, but also the most impactful one.
When we paint without the glass, the image becomes more personal. It doesn’t matter what other people think about it because you are living and breathing it. But oddly so, removing the glass also makes the image more general. My loss gets connected to everybody else’s losses. We are all behind the same glass, under the same blanket.
If grief smoked, we would all be covered in it. Even if it’s the saddest thing, it’s also beautiful to let go of someone or something you love. You can no longer help them, and it’s time to give them away.
Mental Queue – Images That Need to Get Painted
Art helps us with things that can’t be solved intellectually. I also think that artists have a mental queue. If we try to jump over the hard images, we don’t have the energy for the more cheerful ones that come next.
I hope this inspires you to pick the brush and paint the image that has been waiting for its turn.
This week, I want to be direct because I feel really passionate about this: what happens when art is stiff and why it should not be. There’s too much talk about balance and composition and too little about the stiffness of the mind.
How to Be Less Stiff and Start Painting More Loosely
I know this is what you think: “I want my art to be less stiff.”
The modern master Paul Klee would answer: “Art does not reproduce what we see; rather, it makes us see.“
Let me elaborate. There’s a door between the outer and inner world. As a painter, you choose whether you step outside or inside.
You can walk outside, pick a flower, and try to reproduce what you see. It’s often the easiest way – for a teacher too – because the comparison has more absolute rights and wrongs. Yet, many who paint realistically say that their flowers look too heavy, that the details are difficult to get right, and they wish they could be looser.
Then there’s the other way. You can step in. You can paint the line, a shape, bring tension and interaction, and slowly begin to see. Flowers of the inner world are not passive nor lonely. They have no restrictions of the real world but can fly, sing, and dream!
When you want to see further in your artistic path, you want to step in.
You don’t want to paint what’s already been seen, but bring out the invisible – how we feel. Life is full of sceneries that can’t be photographed but need to be painted.