Peony and Parakeet

5 Ways to Love Yourself When Painting

Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read her post about how to love yourself when painting.

Here’s my recent watercolor painting. It’s called Icebreaker, and can I publicly say that I love it? Love, love, love. So this week, I daringly blog about how to selfishly love yourself when painting.

This is not my typical post. I would normally post things like “11 Ways to Make Your Painting More Abstract” or “7 Reasons Why Negative Painting is the Best Technique” or “3 Tips for Getting Closer to Your Style”. But after painting Icebreaker, I kind of melted. It became more true to me than ever before that we paint because we want this special kind of acceptance – the acceptance from ourselves.

When I whole-heartedly accepted what I had created, I didn’t just receive love from myself. I saw a long row of people congratulating me. All deceased, unfortunately, but still! There was my mother, saying that she knew I could do it. There was my father, looking away so that he could hide his smile. I saw my grandfather, a creative person I never met, congratulating me generously. And my dear aunt Rauha (which means Peace in English) was waving, looking just as lively and restlessly happy as she used to be. Now, this kind of love is what I want more and also spread more!

So this post is about turning your inner critic to your best fan. It’s not easy, and it may take like a lifetime, but it’s worth trying, so let’s begin!

1) Love Rises from the Mess

As a former engineer, I feel drawn to two-state things. Zero or one, yes or no, black or white, thick or thin, geometric or organic, the list is endless. But when painting, I like to be in the grey area, especially in the beginning. After the horrifying view of blank paper, my watercolors are sighing with relief: “She sprays and splashes so she must be having a good time.” And yes, I usually am.

But this mess is not just any mess to me. It’s a sign of hope. I hope to figure out what to do with it …

Watercolor painting in progress by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Let’s love this hopefulness in us! It’s a superpower that keeps us not only dreaming but creating too.

Yes, this superpower can look like a bad thing. It can keep us awake too late at night. It can make us buy too many brushes and focus on insignificant details like wallpaper when watching a movie. But our life is never boring or lonely when we get hopeful just by making a mess.

So, make a mess, accept the mess, fall in love with the mess! The more time you spend with the mess, the more likely you will figure it out.

2) Love What Is Secondary

Ideally, I would always know what to do next. Practically, I often have moments when I have no clue. Hope seems lost. I feel fake.

Watercolor painting in progress by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read her post about 5 ways to love yourself when creating art.

The best cure that I have found is to seek secondary things. They can be tiny spots or pretty accidental shapes, or sometimes I only admire how wet paint glows. It’s like filtering out 95 percent of the mess and seeing a few single things that look fascinating. Lovable.

Watercolor painting in progress by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I call these elements secondary because often they are just parts of the background. But by toning down the obvious and bringing up the less apparent, I can change the direction of the painting. What anyone can see is no longer my norm. I have moved on to what only I can see.

A detail of Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

There’s so much more in us than what other people can see. Some skills and characteristics may seem secondary to others, but every one of us is allowed to love and grow them whole-heartedly.

A detail of Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

The hierarchy of the outer world doesn’t exist when you are in your inner world. You are free to appreciate discoveries that look secondary to others.

3) No Words, Just Color

It’s not easy to write about love. Love feels more like a combination of changing colors than a sentence with specific words. So when painting, let’s feel the love through color. When dipping your brush first to the paint and then to paper, exhale color. Next, put your face close to the paper and look at the spot so that it fills your view. Inhale. It’s your color. No one can take it from you. Love, love, love.

A detail of Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

4) Love the Vagueness

Yes, we want to find our style, our visual voice, our true self. But our boat is moving. We are changing, our life is changing, the world is changing. Everything is unsure and insecure. That also makes everything possible.

A detail of Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I like to build my paintings so that I leave this vagueness/possibility alive. Maybe there’s a flower, maybe not. Someone sees some triangles only, while others see a rosebud. There can be plenty of interpretations. I am vague, and everything is all right. My painting is a living organism, partly defined by the vague me, partly by the vague you.

A detail of Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Today we might love the current painting less than tomorrow. And our art may tell a different story after a couple of years. That’s ok.

No, that’s not ok. That’s fabulous!

5) Break It!

I admire brave people. I adore Tracy Chapman singing without a band. Her voice is not faultless, and many of her stories are not relatable to me. But I feel her honesty being present right there when I am listening to her through the headphones.

But for me, it’s often the fear that’s speaking. I hear myself shouting, “NO!” and that’s when I know that the answer should be “YES.” I know I am not alone here. We are often afraid to touch the painting even if we know it lacks something. The risk is real, but worth taking.

In this painting, it would have been so much easier not to paint that dark brown around the white area. But the ice wouldn’t start breaking otherwise.

A detail of Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read her blog post about how to love yourself while creating art.

Let’s love this creativity that wants to break what’s almost working. Let’s cherish this wild force that we have in us.

Icebreaker, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read her post about how to love yourself when painting.

Let’s love who we are when we paint, and when we are surrounded by our paintings!

Paivi Eerola and her watercolor paintings.

Icebreaker and other watercolor paintings are for sale at

I currently teach an online watercolor class Magical Forest with themes hope, spirituality, flow, and curiosity. You can still hop along! The class ends at the end of April, so there’s lots of time to catch up! >> Sign up here!

Happy New Year from Paivi’s Art Studio – Greetings in a Video!

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

On this last day of the decade, I share some moments from my art studio in Finland. Watch the 1-minute video!

Many times when people look at art, they say admiringly: “How did the artist do that?” They assume that the artist intentionally painted every spot. But often, art is more about seeing what accidental spots to preserve rather than how to intentionally paint them. It’s the nature of art to explore the wild and uncontrollable side of life, and it’s the job of an artist to make it serve the expression.

During the past years, I have tried many art techniques, many approaches, but this the journey that’s for me – to produce and teach art that goes out of control at times, and that has unrealistic and abstract elements as well.

Start the New Year by Painting the Magic

Magical Forest begins on January 1st, 2020! >> Sign up Now!

From Portraits to Stories – How to Dive Deeper in Visual Expression

"Mirimer" - a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See her blog post about moving from portraits to stories in visual expression.

Here’s my latest watercolor painting called “Mirimer”. The name is a combination of “Miracles” and “Meri” (sea in Finnish). I love to invent these names that mix the two languages!

When I started this piece, I had two things in mind: I wanted to use Cobalt Blue Spectral (see the previous blog post about this gorgeous color), and I also wanted to continue my series of watercolor fairies.

Watercolor fairies by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet

These fairies really speak to me. I feel that I should have started making these story scenes a long time ago and not wasted my time for stiff self-portraits, for example.

Life in Self-Portraits

As a teenager, I stared myself at the mirror and made self-portraits all the time. Any cardboard or piece of paper had my face!

A self-portrait by Paivi Eerola. See her blog post about how to move from portraits to stories.

Every time I wondered if this would be a portrait of an artist: “Would my dream come true? Is this piece good or not?”

It has taken tens of years to move from literal self-reflection to expressing my emotions and my inner world. If I could turn back the time, I would peg myself to move from technique back to childish imagination, because there’s always enough time to learn the techniques, and never enough time to deepen the expression.

A self-portrait by Paivi Eerola.

This is a self-portrait from a couple of years ago, and I like that the inner world finally begins to show.

However, for me, the greatest satisfaction of art is not in self-portraits or portraits in general. I want my art to move from portraits to stories, be more dynamic than just staring faces, tell about my experiences, and how I can see them in a new light. I believe that our inner world is full of stories that connect us to other people on a deep level. When I have thought about my artistic style or whether my art is “good” or “bad,” I have often neglected this story-telling aspect.

Mirimer – From a Portrait to a Story

When painting “Mirimer”, there was a magical moment when I heard my mother calling my name. She passed away tens of years ago, and I thought I had forgotten the exact tone in her voice, but the painting brought back the memory. It must have been because of the blue color, her favorite. I realized that I wasn’t painting a portrait of a fairy anymore. I was painting the story of accepting loss as a part of life.

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

Mirimer became a blue-hooded angel, and the drops of water got some red to indicate that life carries pain that we can’t get to choose.

A detail of a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola. See the blog post about moving from portraits to stories.

Illustrating Stories by Lucas Cranach

Stories also came to my mind when I went to see Lucas Cranach’s exhibition in the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Lucas Cranach (The Elder) and her son, Lucan Cranach (The Younger), were not only German master painters in the 16th century, but they also knew how to run an art business. They had a workshop, an illustration studio, which had many employees, a logo, a style that everyone had to follow, and they produced prints too. So even if they lived in the Renaissance, they did what most artists today dream about. They built a visual world around stories that people yearned for.

Lucas Cranach the Younger, Diana and Actaeon.

Many of the Caranachs’ stories were from Greek mythology. This painting, my favorite from the exhibition, tells a story about Actaeon turning into a stag when Diana and the nymphs splash water on him. They don’t like him to watch them, and his dogs begin to attack him too!

Paivi Eerola and Lucas Cranach, the Younger. See Paivi's blog post about moving from portraits to stories in visual expression.

In the painting below, there’s Venus and her child, a little cupid. The cupid has been stealing honey and the bees have bitten him.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Venus and Cupid the Honey Thief

There’s also an old poem, written in Latin on the top corner of the painting too:

As Cupid was stealing honey from the hive
A bee stung the thief on the finger
And so do we seek transitory and dangerous pleasures
That are mixed with sadness and bring us pain

A detail of a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola.

From Portraits to Stories – 5 Tips

  1. Allow more intuition and imagination into your process: Add splashes and other unexpected elements. Spend time with a color that speaks to you. Instead of actively painting something, spend time discovering and highlighting what already can be seen.
  2. Grow your skills from faces to body gestures. Learn to process a shape that’s on paper, in your head too so that you can find alternative ways to continue the painting.
  3. Play with the scale of the elements. We tend to make shapes that are all equal in sizes. But if you want to paint a tiny fairy, for example, you need huge flowers to indicate the small size.
  4. Let go of strict outlining, and leave room for spots of light and shadows. There’s no story without the atmosphere, and the atmosphere is created by setting the lighting.
  5. Take time to let the story unfold. Often, the stories have many layers, and the first associations are just the path to deeper ones.

Magical Forest – Discover Stories by Painting!

Magical Forest, an online art class by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Move from portraits to stories and paint nature and fairies in watercolor!

Paint watercolor fairies and nature’s spirits in their magical surroundings. Enjoy freeing up your expression while exploring flowery woods, shallow ponds, leaf chapels, and adventurous sceneries. Magical Forest begins on January 1st >> Sign up Now!

Embracing Artistic Origin – How to Make Images That Feel Genuine

Aquanora, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Finnish watercolorist. Read how she has become to embrace her artistic origin.

Here’s my recent watercolor painting called Aquanora (or “Akvanoora” if you say it in Finnish). I have always been passionate about art but never loved my paintings as much as I do now when I have been painting these wood spirits in watercolors (see this post and this one too).

I hope that this week’s post makes you ponder about your artistic origin. I claim that if you don’t recognize the origin when looking at your art, you don’t feel the connection with the images either.

My Cold and White Artistic Origin

The sad fact is that when I don’t paint, my life in Finland is about walking dogs and knitting. And most of the time, I dream about Europe’s glorious museums and palaces. Winters in Finland can be rough, and Stella and I don’t like them.

Finland in winter.

As you see from the photo, taken in winter a couple of years ago, Finland’s color is white. Not only winters are white, but Finnish people decorate their homes with white furniture. So even when it’s green and warm in summer, Finns stay cold in their white boxes. My home is considered very colorful, especially the bright yellow corridor gets glances. But recently, I have started to accept the Finn in me. I have come to love fresh white watercolor paper, filled with possibilities.

A watercolor painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

With watercolors, white has become my friend. Painting is like having a white fairy holding my hand, tightly at first, and then little by little she releases her grip.

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

Even if I would like to be the painter of the Renaissance palazzos, I am a Finn walking the dogs in bad weather, knowing the core of whiteness instead of gold.

Artistic Origin Can Be Opposite to Inspiration

We are often inspired by things that are new and exotic. Our origin can feel so common that it’s barely recognizable. It’s what we see and breathe every day and often, it’s what we want to escape when we create art. But the more I have created, I have started to think otherwise. Because I live observing moss and other nature’s wonders more than marble floors, maybe I should paint more of that greenness too.

Stone covered with moss.

Namely, when European nobility played minuets in the 17th century, Finnish savages were freezing and starving in the land of thousand lakes and forests. So we know our stones, mosses, and swamps – the language of our nature – better than musical notes or calligraphed letters.

A detail of a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read how she has come to accept her artistic origin.

When European priests and saints trooped on huge church halls, Finns believed in Tapio, the god of the forest. Even if old beliefs are only old stories anymore, maybe it’s no wonder that these little fairies of mine rise from nature sceneries.

Aquanora. A detail of a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I have always thought that my art should not be spiritual because I don’t want to offend anyone. I don’t have any particular religious view myself, and because of that, I haven’t felt eligible to create spiritual art. But recently I have found it impossible to separate nature, spirituality, and imagination from each other. Nature can be our church, and for our imagination, there’s no conflict of dressing a wood spirit in a Renaissance outfit. By bringing the noble (inspiration), the wild (origin), and the playful (creativity) together, it can all fall into place. Art is about freedom after all.

How does your origin show in your art?
How could you deepen the connection?

A sketchbook page spread by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Fairies and wood spirits. Read about giving more attention to your artistic origin.

Coming Up – New Watercolor Class!

My sketchbooks are full of ideas for the upcoming class. It will be about nature’s light, textures, and spirits. There are intentional drawing exercises with pencil and intuitive painting projects with watercolors. I am looking forward to being your guide in the woods of creativity and self-expression. The class will begin in January and the early-bird sale is soon on Black Friday weekend. So stay tuned!

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