Color the Emotion

Pick a few colors and create without stiffness.

How Your Personal Story is Related to Your Art

This week, I share how my newest painting was born. At the same time, I talk about how the artist’s personal story affects the outcome.

Unelmien kevät - The Spring of Dreams, 40 x 50 cm, oil on canvas, by Paivi Eerola, Finland
Unelmien kevät – The Spring of Dreams, 40 x 50 cm, oil on canvas

My paintings usually reflect the current season. But now, when there’s a fall in Finland, something springy appeared on my canvas. I call this one “The Spring of Dreams.”

Observing a Flower – Engineer’s and Romantic’s Approaches

Last spring was beautiful. The apple and cherry trees were blossoming.

Apple and cherry trees blossoming.

And with the early summer came wonderful irises.

Purple irises in the garden.

I often take photos in the garden and examine the plants. As a former engineer, I try to see how they are constructed. Not how the petals are attached and such, but how the light constructs the flower, adding its own brushmark to it. As a romantic, I try to see a face of a flower. I look at it like it would be an animal or a human – like it has a name and a history. I am not searching for its eyes but trying to sense its needs and dreams.

This way, I don’t need to copy photos but can paint freely and intuitively. Then when random shapes begin to look like a lighted plant, I try to give it what it wants, even if it’s often a species that doesn’t even exist.

The Fight Between Too Stiff and Too Messy

However, the painting process is not always as straightforward as it sounds. Often the engineer adds something stiff, and the romantic wipes it off. Then the romantic makes a mess, and the engineer tries to clean it.

Wiping off paint. Painting in progress. Bringing in the personal story.

The engineer in me likes to build things with a brush: “There’s a chair, look!”

A detail of an abstract painting in progress.

The romantic in me likes leaves and swirls more.

Artistic Direction and Setting Guidelines

To stop the fights, I gave an artistic direction that set challenges for both of them: “We will be making a dreamy floral that has purple. The painting should fit a modern, feminine home that has some rustic elements as well.” Both the engineer and the romantic understand had a common understanding of style when picturing a space where the painting should fit. When I use this method, I choose a location in my home or a picture in an interior design book, or a photo found on Instagram.

Abstract floral painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola, Finland. Read more about her personal story.

When I was studying industrial design, these kinds of simple and concrete guidelines were called design drivers. Design drivers are different from design principles. Design principles are general guidelines to make your image more expressive and aesthetic. Design drivers are project-based and loosely define the outcome.

A detail of Unelmien kevät - The Spring of Dreams, 40 x 50 cm, oil on canvas, by Paivi Eerola, Finland. Setting design drivers for art and how they relate to your personal story.

Design drivers prevent me from painting this and that, but I try to make them so general that I can get creative and freely express myself. For example, the requirement to use purple in a painting is not a big limitation.

Personal Story and Art Projects

Behind design drivers, there’s a more general foundation, an artistic vision. My paintings always lean toward the past and have a historical feel. As an artist, I want to combine the past and the present in an uplifting way, creating a fantasy of immortality for the interior space. Because I lost both of my parents at a young age, I never thought I would live old. This way, my artistic vision, and personal story are connected.

Paivi Eerola and her oil painting Unelmien kevät - The Spring of Dreams. Read more about her personal story and process of making abstract florals.

I claim that art-making has many layers. It’s not only about the process, techniques, or assignment. The artistic vision and the personal story matter as well. You always have a chance to bring them in, whether you are painting or drawing. For example, if a course sets the starting point, the creative challenge is how to include your artistic vision and story in the projects. This time, rather than listing things you love, go deeper and think about your struggles. How do they define what you want to achieve in art?

6 thoughts on “How Your Personal Story is Related to Your Art

  1. Hi Päivi,

    You seem very interested in the “competing” entities that “appear” when you are attempt a painting. I recall other entries in which you have shared them with us. Of course, you have the basis of your engineer training versus your art to bring together in a sort of synthesis. This is an engaging way to approach a piece of work! I, on the other hand, seem to work from only one perspective and that is from the mystical/romantic realm–as much as possible, of course.

    I have been deeply involved with my late husband’s work which centers on mysticism (he was an expert on the subject) and I actually had a mystical experience when I was in my 20’s which has influenced my view of the world greatly. The artists I mostly love have a connection with something “otherworldly” that comes through nature or perhaps, some profound personal encounter with the unconscious, inner world. Either way, these works will be “coloured” with a spiritual element. (Because of this, I appreciate “magic realism”, a term I only discovered recently.) Of course there are other connections–music, poetry and literature are amazing inspirations. I’ve tried to introduce these into my art and recently I have done some “haiga” (illustrated haiku) and some abstract mandalas. I want to investigate and go further into “sacred” realms–“Everything as Divine”, as the great mystic Meister Eckhart said. At the moment, it seems as though I’ve only just begun and wish I had concentrated on these ideas earlier in my life! Mysticism is not a starting point for most people–you need to be open to it and then drawn in and it’s a slow process. (I just remembered that revisiting the “Floral Freedom” course is on my long list of to do’s.)

    Thanks so much for introducing this valuable and absorbing topic. I would love more discussion along these lines. Hopefully, others will follow…

    1. Thank you, Lynne! Your projects sound fascinating! I don’t know if this is helpful, but I believe that there’s always some fight between reasoning and romanticizing/believing. Recognizing this division when we make creative decisions can be helpful, no matter what our approach to art is. For example, we can assume that we drew a shape from intuition or from an insight, but it can be that we feel we need to get the job done quickly and our reasoning offers a quick shape, a circle for example.

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