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Intentional or Intuitive Art – Create Both!

Tree of Friendship, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s my new watercolor painting called “Tree of Friendship.” It’s painted freely, first by splashing water, and then by changing to more intentional strokes. But I also show another piece, a more controlled one that I made after this painting. I like to toggle between intuitive and intentional approaches, and maybe this is a working solution for you too in your artistic journey.

Intuitive Art – Start with Freedom!

I regularly need the freedom to paint without any predefined image in mind. If everything that I do is sketched, pre-planned, pre-thought, it’s suffocating. Watercolors have become my favorite medium because they dry rather quickly. I can also splash them without worrying about my safety or the cleaning of the clothes and the studio.

Creating intuitive art. Splashing paint and painting freely with watercolors. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Even if I begin with abstract shapes, most of my work is representational, at least to some degree, when it’s finished. So I slowly discover what the painting could represent and move towards a more intentional approach.

Intuitive art in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

However, I try not to force anything and leave many elements so that they are not fully realistic. I love this freedom between representational and abstract art.

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

In the later stages, I practice intuition so that if I feel like I need to add irrational elements, I do it no matter how silly it is. Then I challenge myself to make them work. In this painting, some color was thrown on the forehead of the other fairy. The spot was connected with the big white flower by drawing a stem.

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

I also like to paint a small area at the time. Then time stops, and painting captivates me. It feels like an adventure, not knowing what will appear within time.

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

When I paint intuitive art, I often end up creating a challenge that feels almost too big. My self-confidence gets low, and freedom gradually becomes a chaotic prison.

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

After this painting, I felt pretty empty and disappointed. I barely managed to make it work, and I questioned many times if this is what I want to do as an artist. I painted this piece for about two days. It took one good night’s sleep to get over the disappointment!

Tree of Friendship, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See the blog post about creating intuitive art!

This painting is about the beauty of true friendship, secretly connecting two different souls together. When I create intuitive art, I am often able to express bigger themes and more deeply than if I work intentionally.

Intentional Art – Start with Order!

After some free painting, I am usually ready for order, and this time was no exception. Updating the watercolor chart grounds me. I try to do it whenever a pan gets empty and needs to be replaced. The more that I have painted, the more planned my storage has become. I have documentation about the new color that will replace the old one after it’s been used. The upcoming colors have been mentioned in the chart under the actual color.

Watercolor chart by Finnish artist Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

So I have this very controlled side of me that makes me paint a new chart and then memorize it so that when I paint, I don’t have to guess or search for a specific color.

This intentional part of me likes to paint or draw in an illustrative style. Then I often make a quick sketch first. This time, I sketched the face and other main elements lightly with a pencil on watercolor paper and then filled the outlines by painting. I got inspiration from pre-raphaelite paintings and had been thinking for a long time to include more clocks in my work because I really like them.

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

Even if I painted the textures, shadows, etc. freely, there was definitely no splashing involved. I used water much more sparingly and knew what I was doing most of the time.

Fairy watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

The intention of making this piece went so far that I had made a couple of collage pieces to test the style beforehand.

Painting collage pieces with watercolors by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I quite liked how they seemed to fit, and there was no emotional ups or downs!

Why Alternate Between the Intuitive and the Intentional?

If I only painted intuitively, my technical painting skills would stop growing and decay. If I only painted intentionally, my ideas would become too traditional, and I would express too little of myself.

Sometimes we intuitively feel the urge to one direction or another. When you say next time: “I would like to become an abstract painter”, maybe it can be interpreted so that you have left too little room for self-expression lately. Or, if you say “I find it difficult to understand or create abstract art,” maybe it means that you need to practice your technical skills to move forward. Whatever is the case, open the other door too. Permit yourself to let go, and then get back in control again.

Some readers may find this advice worrying, dangerous even when they want to find their style and be consistent in what they do. I would not worry about that too much. If you compare my pieces below, they are not very different from each other. The two approaches will strengthen your voice and make sure that you will keep growing your skills as well.

Matching an intuitive with an intentional painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I am currently building a class that consists of creating both intentional and intuitive art. I am interested to hear your thoughts on the subject! What do You think?

16 thoughts on “Intentional or Intuitive Art – Create Both!

  1. Since finding your YouTube channel I have learned to take that step back to consider and to take time off. My art is coming along; still a way to go. But I am moving along thanks to you.

  2. I think you are right. One of the reasons I don’t paint as much, is because I was taught the “intentional” way of doing art. Get an idea, sketch thumbnails, etc. I find it really difficult to paint or draw freely.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rae Lynn! It can be the case! At least for me, the passion for creating goes down if everything is intentional. I begin to rationalize everything and when the emotion goes out of the process, it’s difficult to be passionate. And if I am not passionate, I don’t create much.

  3. What a wonderful combination of both! I am drawn to your style and how you teach us to use our imagination. How images start to appear in our work and then we can develop what is showing. I have found in the past that having a picture to inspire me has held me captive to the image by trying to copy it. Yes copy. But you teach us to use the picture as an inspiration to see the image in the picture but we can then venture out and use our imagination to let our work grow into something else! Your techniques have taught me HOW to venture out and create new and pretty things. THANK YOU!

    1. Trish, thanks so much for your comment! Using images as an inspiration rather than a reference is central in my creative process and I think it’s very effective when we want to guide our creativity but not harness it too much. It’s wonderful that you have also found the technique useful and that it has made you freer!

  4. Paivi you are fabulous! I love your journey from your initial background of structure to your art of allowing art! Your description of how you felt after finishing the first painting was instantly familiar but you kept going and created another beautiful piece.
    I would definitely be interested in joining a class on Intentional or Intuitive Art or Both.
    Thank you for creating and sharing your posts, you are very generous with them and I look forward to receiving them and am always inspired!

  5. Yes, please do create a class that combines both intentional and intuitive art. I find myself drawn to both and I have a hard time deciding which way to go. I like your idea of alternating back and forth, to explore each way. Eventually I would like to combine both.

    1. Thanks, Cheryl! When contemplating about what to create, I often think too much of the techniques and styles and less about underlying themes. Recently, I have focused more on the themes, and it’s been rewarding. That’s also what I would like us to explore in the class – the differences and similarities between intentional and intuitive work. The class will also have a big theme and subthemes that keep the inspiration going.

  6. Always inspiring, always beautiful art, thank you for being so generous with your method of working Paivi. I always learn something when I stop by.

  7. I love your use of colour and the freedom in your work is so inspiring. I am an artist too and I agree with your thinking; you have made me rethink my own way of dealing with being stale and unimaginative. Thank you for sharing your beautiful creations.

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