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Peony and Parakeet

Artist’s Life – What’s Boring and What’s Not!

This week, I make a watercolor painting and talk about how artist’s life can seem different than what it is.

Summer catcher - Kesän sieppari, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola.
“Summer Catcher” – “Kesän sieppari”, watercolor, 38 x 56 cm >> Buy it here!

Let’s turn back time and see how this painting came to life!

Is the Art Understood – A Story about Hilma af Klint

It’s a hot summer day, and watercolors are calling me. So I wet a paper, and after the water has soaked in, I start painting with a big brush.

Starting a new watercolor painting. Getting over blank paper syndrome by using lots of colors and water.
The beginning: Lot of water and random strokes in warm colors.
The paper is Fabriano Artistico (cold press). I buy watercolor paper in big sheets and split them in half.

With the first strokes, I listen to the last minutes of an audiobook that has kept me company for a few weeks. It’s “Hilma af Klintin arvoitus” (The mystery of Hilma af Klint) by Pirkko Kotirinta. It’s a new book, published this year and currently only available in Finnish.

Even if the book is about Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), an interesting Swedish abstract pioneer, the companionship with the book hasn’t been pleasant. Mostly because I wanted to know about Hilma’s thoughts and philosophies – her inner life. But the book focuses on the external events and on the author’s background investigation for those.

A part of artist's life is to see art. Hilma af Klint's exhibition in Finland in 2014. Paivi Eerola enjoyed the big paintings.
We had Hilma af Klint’s art exhibtion in Finland in 2014. See my old post inspired by this exhibition!

When the book ends, I think about how people who admire artists from the outside perspective often romanticize things that are not romantic at all. There has been a lot of them around Hilma too. These people say: “The artist chose not to sell her art” or “The artist wanted to keep her art private,” but honestly, no professional artist wants that.

Instead, it can happen as it did for Hilma, that despite all the effort, the art was not respected or understood, and that breaks the artist’s heart. Hilma af Klint decided that the time would be more suitable later. So, she stated that her work had to be kept secret for 20 years after death.

Every artist wants to be current, but art has its own timeline. Sometimes it’s too far in the past, and sometimes – like Hilma’s – in the future. Painting freely is like a game where every layer is a new level. The result is unexpected, yet synchronized with the inner clock of the artist.

Spraying on watercolor paper. Getting colors mixed naturally.
I like to use a spraying bottle excessively in the first layer. It’s relaxing and leads to surprises!

Boring and Not – Two Sides of Artist’s Life

People who look at artists from the outside perspective think that they live a carefree and eventful life. Therefore, they try to solve the mystery of Hilma af Klint by tracking the external events instead of internal ones. Artist’s handwritten diaries can be too confused, and it’s less complicated to travel from town to town and follow the actual footsteps. But most of Hilma’s life was spiritual, and her 193 gigantic temple paintings, laborious to create.

From the external perspective, art-making is one of the most boring things if you measure it by the amount of silence and concentration.

Working in a studio as a watercolor artist. Concentration is a part of artist's life.
I change brushes between layers so that the painting has a variety of strokes.
Here I am working with a flat brush.

However, what happens in the inner world, can make the artist’s life most exciting. We get to fly to a new land, find a color, be a color! We get to transmit a spirit through shapes and their interaction.

Enjoying strokes when painting with watercolors. One of the pleasures of artist's life.
Some strokes are just water. I use them to spread the color and make lighter strokes.

At first, accidental spots of color cause traditional associations: “Here could be a leaf, there a flower.” But when we let them go, a more personal layer opens: “Here’s something that reminds me of teenage years.” And slowly, more layers unfold, colors give room to shapes, and something that first sounded like a foreign language reaches the natural rhythm, and everything falls in place.

Making a layered watercolor painting. By artist Paivi Eerola.
Details become textures after getting a color wash. It helps with the composition.
Negative painting – painting around the shapes – brings out light elements.

I work from light to dark and slowly add depth. The process of moving from traditional to natural is the toughest one for me. It requires to face many unpleasant memories – mental monsters that guard the paradise. From the outside perspective, I only make slow strokes for hours. But inside, I am crossing a storming sea feeling afraid of failure and success at the same time. The monsters are roaring on both shores and the only way to get through is not to beat but tame them.

Painting details in watercolor. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
Sharp elements over fuzzy layers make the painting look finished and less flat.
This painting took two days and several sessions.

The monsters are often visible in my paintings too. People often point them when choosing their favorite details: “I like this. How did you do that?”

Summer catcher - Kesän sieppari, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola.

The two sides of art – the technical and the spiritual – are always present. Thus, art is always about both learning the strokes and living the strokes.

Paivi’s Watercolor Classes & Exhibitions

A watercolor journal in progress. Recording artist's life.

No matter what media you end up loving, watercolors have a lot to teach! Color washes, the negative painting technique, making simple shapes more elegant – all these techniques are useful for any art. Paivi likes to think about her watercolor set as a little assistant, always eager to work, and someone who sets her back on track.

If you are in Italy or Finland, come to see Paivi’s watercolor paintings! “Shyeling” is displayed in the international group exhibition in Fabriano from June 20 to Oct 31. “Torchbearer” and “Maximalist” are displayed in the Akvart gallery in Helsinki from July 12-25, 2021.

Also check: Original watercolor paintings available in the shop

Monet in the Box – Creativity and Shame

This week, I show my latest finished painting and talk about Monet and the hall of fame – no! – the box of shame!

Bluesomnia, oil painting by Paivi Eerola.
Bluesomnia – Sinisomnia (Finnish), oil, 65 x 81 cm

Last week, I participated in an online event organized by the Finnish Illustration Association. One of the speakers was Eeva Kolu, who talked about maintaining balance in life, not letting work take over all of it. She referred to a book that she had written which is unfortunately available only in Finnish. It’s called “Korkeintaan vähän väsynyt” (free translation: A Little Tired At Most)

I have been listening to the book on daily walks, and even if I am not finished yet, I already like the inner dialog that it raises. It makes me stop to ponder, sometimes agree, other times disagree. It’s not only pleasant, and yet, it’s definitely worth reading. One of the things Eeva Kolu brings up is shame. She says that shame defines the size of the box where we live. The box can become so small there’s not much room for life.

Starting a new painting. Painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola.

Eeva Kolu made me think about all the things I am shame of. Surprisingly, one of them is central to my art.

My Relationship With Old Art

When I was in my twenties and thirties, all I wanted to see was contemporary abstract art. In museums, I rushed through the old paintings because representational and traditional art was for mediocre people, and I didn’t want to be one of them. I felt shame about my uneducated family and the lack of abstract thinking in the surroundings where I came from. I had a new life with higher education, and my love for mathematics was well aligned with geometric shapes and lines.

Oil painting in progress. Painting water. Painting intuitively. By Paivi Eerola.

But age has made me understand more about my background and art as well. I have begun to love old art, and still, it’s something that causes me shame as well.

“Waterlilies,” my husband said when he saw this painting.

It made my box shrink. My intention was not to do any Monet. I just painted the dreamy blue that needed to come out, not make any imitation of anything.

Painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I Kind of Hate Monet’s Waterlilies

I have seen them in National Gallery in London. They are captivating. People love them.

But instead of making what people easily love, I would like to be an artist who sees to the future. Who builds paintings that are like complex machines. I should be a Leonardo of this age, imagining something technical that engineers will skillfully implement someday.

But my art has a mind of its own. No, a mind of mine. Or would I dare to say: a mind of my shame. I am stuck to the past, so I paint the past. I reach the worlds that feel excitingly unknown first but turn out familiar once the painting is finished. I end up recreating instead of inventing. That’s my shame.

A detail of Bluesomnia, oil painting by Paivi Eerola. Read her post about Claude Monet and creativity!

In my classes and in this blog, I talk about old art now and then. But compared to the amount I think about stiff renaissance portraits, romantic baroque sceneries, frilly victorian dresses, cubistic still-lives, and all the masterpieces from the 15th to 20th century, it’s very little.

“My Readers Want Their Art to Be Current”

That’s what I say to myself often. The readers – you – don’t like old art so I try not to write about it. And still, the expected goal to be current seems ridiculous sometimes. There’s a bridge between current and old, and it’s very difficult to be current without knowing what’s not.

That bridge – or should I call it a long historical timeline – is the place where my creativity naturally lies. My shame is also my utmost love. When I paint, I don’t think about Rubens, Monet, Picasso, or Kandinsky. When you love something deeply, with the skills, it comes out naturally.

A detail of Bluesomnia, oil painting by Paivi Eerola.

“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.”

Claude Monet

Monet’s attitude seems very unintellectual. And yet, if you think about what you create and have created, can you relate? That sometimes it’s necessary to omit the feeling of intellectual understanding, bypass the shame, and simply love – so, widen the box instead of trying to get out of it?

A detail of Bluesomnia, oil painting by Paivi Eerola.

Thumbs up or down for talking about art history and old masters? Share your thoughts in the comments!

P.S. Claude Monet is “a guest teacher” in the class Floral Freedom!

Your Art and Loosening Up

This week, I talk about being unique and loosening up in a video. You also get to see me working with a new oil painting.

Your Art and Loosening Up – From a Former Engineer

With the video below, I want to get you to think about how much you do layering. But this time, I don’t talk about the actual layers of the painting, but the layers of you and your life – the more abstract stuff. Namely, we often lead our artistic direction too literally and don’t allow contradictory or silly ideas. I hope you enjoy this video!

This is a little different than many of my videos. I would be interested to hear how you like it! Do leave a comment!

Links Relevant to the Video

Three Design Styles, a Gelli Plate, and a Brush

One of my goals for this year is to learn surface pattern design. I want to move back and forth between art and design, and add more design to this blog as well. This week, I picked three of my favorite designers and played with Gelli Plate to imitate their style. These don’t replicate any of their work, just their style.

Three different design styles, monoprinting with a Gelli plate. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Three Designers from Three Centuries

My three favorite designers are Tricia Guild, William Morris, and Wassily Kandinsky.

Tricia Guild a designer from the UK, and she has a company Designer’s Guild, and I have been her fan since the 1990s when I discovered her book Design and Detail. It’s been my interior design guide for 30 years, and all my homes have got ideas from that book.

William Morris is also English, but he lived earlier, in the 19th century. Two rooms of our home have curtains designed by his company, and I regularly admire their clever repeats and ornamental shapes.

Wassily Kandinsky was more of an artist than a designer, but he taught designers in a famous Bauhaus art school in the early 20th century. For me, he is the father of modern design. I see his paintings in the works of most midcentury modern designers. Lately, he has felt even closer, when I have been built a class Floral Freedom that is based on his and Paul Klee’s teachings.

Who are your favorite designers?

Three Designers – Three Color Palettes

I have always liked making hand-decorated papers. Actually, my most popular blog post is this ancient one: How to Make Your Own Patterned Paper from 2010. So let’s get back to basics and make some!

First, I painted the backgrounds with acrylic paints and a flat brush. This set a color palette for each paper.

Three painted backgrounds. The backgrounds set a color palette for the papers.

Muted pastels and rich darker tones remind me of Tricia Guild. She often uses stripes or checks too. William Morris has greyish colors and many of his designs have dark backgrounds. Wassily Kandinsky often had a very light background in his paintings.

Three Design Styles – Three Kinds of Shapes

I continued each of the papers by mono-printing motifs with a Gelli Plate. For Tricia Guild’s style, I used a small plate and painted the motifs with a brush on a plate, then pressed the plate on the paper. Because Tricia’s style is often quite relaxed, there was less pressure for perfect outlines.

Monoprinting with a small Gelli plate. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

William Morris’s designs are very sharp and ornamental. I cut out ornaments freehand from paper and used both negative and positive shapes. I used both a big Gelli Plate and a small one.

Monoprinting with Gelli plates. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s how the paper looked after mono-printing.

Monoprinting with Gelli plates. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Wassily Kandinsky’s shapes are mostly geometric, so I cut templates that had circles, lines, squares and triangles.

Making a template for monoprinting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s how the paper looked after mono-printing.

Monoprinting geometric shapes.

Three Design Styles – Three Levels of Detail

After mono-printing, I finished the papers by painting. I used a narrow brush and made small tweaks only.

Adding details to a monoprint with a brush. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I like Tricia Guild’s designs because there modern meets classic and historical. They feel luxurious, but still comfortable. They don’t require similar perfection from the space than William Morris’s designs. So I didn’t perfect every shape or line, just added a bit more realism to the floral motifs. Here’s the finished paper.

A patterned paper inspired by Tricia Guild's design style. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

William Morris’s designs are full of outlined motifs, and I connect them with books. “For people who have a library,” I wrote in a notebook that I keep for studying. But I quite liked my mono-print, and didn’t want to stiffen everything. So I only outlined a part of the motifs, and added some small dots and thin lines inside the shapes.

Finishing a monoprint by painting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s the finished paper. I really like the big yellow motif! Maybe that could be a part of my future designs.

A patterned paper inspired by William Morris's design style. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Wassily Kandinsky’s work didn’t lack details either. But if William Morris is for bookworms, then maybe Wassily is for systematic thinkers – for more scientific than humanistic introverts, and for those who love mathematics.

Adding details to a monoprint with a brush. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I used the monoprint as a foundation for the composition of shapes and followed Wassily’s advice and ideas from his book Point and Line to Plane, the book that I teach in the class Floral Freedom as well. Here’s the finished paper.

A patterned paper inspired by Wassily Kandinsky's design style. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Three Wallpapers

I wanted to see how these papers could work as repeats. I didn’t have time to play with the repeats properly, but here are some quickly made images to demonstrate how the motifs would look in a smaller scale, for example, as a wallpaper.

A sketch for a surface design by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
A sketch for a surface design by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
A sketch for a surface design by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

It was a full day, but I had fun making these! Tell me, which three designers would you pick?

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