This week, I challenge you to question what the word “focus” means to you as an artist.
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.
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.
When we create, could the inspiring word be more like “between” than “focus?”
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.
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.
“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?
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
The paintings were very stylish and very aesthetic, but because of their accurate details, they also worked as scientific illustrations.
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!
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.
Many blackbirds live in our garden and I have also painted them in 2021.
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.
And here are some pictures of details so that you can examine brush strokes and abstract birds more closely.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Without light, there are no flowers. The light continues the flower and makes it bigger and more beautiful.
When you paint light, dreamy watercolor flowers grow into the picture as if by themselves.
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.
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
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.
I used to paint a lot of vases, but nowadays flowers grow more freely near water.
I think that when a plant blooms, it dreams – just like we do when we make art!
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
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!
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!”
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.
I also included Cheshire Cat, as well as the twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
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.
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:
Drawing a gameboard with a wheel helped me to come out with the idea of playing cards and a bag for storing them.
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?
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?
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.
I think this tea party themed little painting turned out pretty well!
Art is a wonderland where you can do anything!
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?
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.
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.
April 8-27, 2023, Kaninkolo group exhibition at Gallery Art Frida, Korkeavuorenkatu 25, Helsinki