Peony and Parakeet

From Decorative to Expressive Art

"Self-Portrait as a Knitter", a mixed media artwork by Peony and Parakeet

Last Friday, I traveled two hours by train to a yarn shop at Tampere. Not just to purchase new yarn, but to meet a famous knitting pattern designer Stephen West who had been invited to Finland. While I was attending his workshop, I was excited by the knits he showed and the stories he told. There were silent moments. We, Finnish women, counted stitches and pondered about what we heard. We Finnish can look very serious, quiet and occupied, even if we are about to burst with excitement. Stephen put it kindly: “Finnish carry themselves well.” That introvert attitude is also visible in this recent mixed media artwork, “Self-Portrait as a Knitter”. The person’s focus is so much on details that the inspiration, the yellow spot in the back of the head, doesn’t have room to show up.

From Over-Decorative to Expressive-Decorative

Sometimes similar kind of thing happens when we create art: the inspiration does not show in the result. There can be so much decoration going on, that not much room is left for the expression. We cover the background with little motifs and surface patterns, instead of enhancing what’s already there.

A watercolor background by Peony and Parakeet

I admit it’s fun and fulfilling to work with thin brushes, pens, and pencils. Making a circle after a circle is like knitting a shawl, stitch by stitch.

Using Derwent Artbars, by Peony and Parakeet

However, it’s good to add a little more variety and contrasts so that the expression comes through. It’s like changing the yarn or needle size once in a while!

Using Faber-Castell Gelatos, by Peony and Parakeet

And like in handknits, just when you think your work is ruined, you need to calm down and do the finishing.

Unfinished artwork by Peony and Parakeet

When knitting, you sew the seams, iron everything carefully and add the final balancing details.

Decorative art. Folk bags by Peony and Parakeet.

When creating art, you bring up the most important details and connect the dots so that everything falls into its place.

You Can Create Both Expressive and Decorative Art

Sometimes there are debates whether decorative art can be expressive as well.  But you can be both decorative and expressive. You can give meaning to your motifs. You can let motifs be pieces of a puzzle instead of covering everything evenly.

"Self-Portrait as a Knitter", a mixed media artwork by Peony and Parakeet. Creating both expressive and decorative art.

More decorative-expressive art with watercolors: Watercolor 101 for Intuitive Painting
If you are a knitter, check this out too: Folk Bag Workbook

18 thoughts on “From Decorative to Expressive Art

    1. Hi Bethanne, I usually never plan with that kind of accuracy but go with the flow! The face came after playing with artbars and gelatos. I have developed a process which starts from vague ideas (like the idea of softness in this painting) and ends with a lot more focus. (I have created exact exercises guiding through this process and teach them at a 4-week online workshop “Liberated Artist”, which will be run next time in next year.)

  1. absolutely inspirational as always — love your artwork and your outlook — loved inspirational drawing and look forward to liberated artist next year

  2. I love how you see things That is my hard spot I look and look but just don’t see Yet I can lay on the lawn and see the clouds and find all sorts of things Why I can not see it when I paint I do not know and it frustrates me I will next look at your drawstring pouches I love to knit and especially cables It brings such peace especially when My kitten Sammy is sleeping not lurking behind the chair to attack the yarn.

  3. Dear Paivi

    Once again your artwork has captured my attention. I love this painting. My dream is to one day be able to see past the background colors, in hopes that I can paint like this.
    We are in the process of moving and I am missing my journal drawings terribly.

  4. I love the way you developed this image and your colours are beautiful. Wish I could have done your painting course this Autumn. Do hope that I can do it next year.

  5. Seeing this develop from the photos you took along the way was inspirational. You don’t outline the images, but enhance and define and you create new images through darkening and lightening your background, not drawing the new image in. This post has provided even more emphasis on creating ART not just playing with beautiful colors – since ART requires focus (not on images but ideas) and those ideas develop they aren’t just made from what shows up. You let the thoughts marinate and develop and that is what makes your piece great. I think this one shows all the decisions used in creating art and having it say something to the viewer. Paivi, you are so good at providing instruction. This piece I would hang over my art table to keep me focused and inspired.

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