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No Creative Blocks – Painting Grief and Loss

Even if I want these blog posts to be a celebration of art-making, I also want to paint and write from the heart. This week’s post is about sadness and its’ effects on creativity.

"If Grief Smoked" - an acrylic painting on canvas by Finnish artist Paivi Eerola

Here’s my latest acrylic painting called “If Grief Smoked.” Like many of the recent paintings, this also has a connection to a poem. The title is from Eeva-Liisa Manner’s poem “Jos suru savuaisi.” But this time, I didn’t follow the poem but used the title as a prompt only.

Missing Cosmo

I have been very melancholic this fall, and to be honest, building a new class Floral Freedom, has been my savior. It’s been a captivating escape from a life that feels emptier than before. My loyal companion Cosmo died in September, and it’s like a part of me has lost a purpose.

Cosmo - loosing a long-time family member

Cosmo was our family member for over 15 years, and there’s a lot I miss about him. Small things, often quite insignificant ones, like how he used to pick a sock when he wanted attention. My heart breaks when I remember how softly he did that, not leaving a single mark. In the end, he was a good dog and didn’t want to behave badly.

So yes, my grief has been smoking and burning. A wind of time has taken some away but also spread it further. When it started to feel that the grief would scorch my brushes, destroy the paints, and make the studio a smoky place, I knew it was time to paint. Not that it would take the grief away, but force me to deal with it.

Persuasion Can Replace Inspiration

Art is not always about inspiration. You know Picasso’s saying that the inspiration has to find you working. I find self-persuasion especially useful. “After this, you can paint whatever you want,” I said to myself.

Starting an abstract landscape painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet

If we don’t paint these paintings that need to come out, it can cause a creative block. I have had some major ones in the past, and I didn’t want that to happen now.

A view to the studio of Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

“Follow the color,” I said to myself like many times before. It’s a quote of my own that boosts my confidence when I am working.

Painting grief and loss, Paivi Eerola in the middle of the process

Stepping Into The Painting

This scenery had been in my mind for weeks. It was like an overdue baby, pushing through the brush.

Paivi Eerola paints abstract inner landscapes.

I just had to open my heart and welcome it.

Wassily Kandinsky talks about a glass between the artist and the painting, and how to remove it. It’s one of the hardest things when in grief, but also the most impactful one.

Painting details with a thin brush, opening the heart for details and expression

When we paint without the glass, the image becomes more personal. It doesn’t matter what other people think about it because you are living and breathing it. But oddly so, removing the glass also makes the image more general. My loss gets connected to everybody else’s losses. We are all behind the same glass, under the same blanket.

"If Grief Smoked" - an acrylic painting on canvas by Finnish artist Paivi Eerola, a detail

If grief smoked, we would all be covered in it. Even if it’s the saddest thing, it’s also beautiful to let go of someone or something you love. You can no longer help them, and it’s time to give them away.

"If Grief Smoked" - an acrylic painting on canvas by Finnish artist Paivi Eerola, a detail

Mental Queue – Images That Need to Get Painted

Art helps us with things that can’t be solved intellectually. I also think that artists have a mental queue. If we try to jump over the hard images, we don’t have the energy for the more cheerful ones that come next.

A Finnish artist Paivi Eerola and her painting.

I hope this inspires you to pick the brush and paint the image that has been waiting for its turn.

31 thoughts on “No Creative Blocks – Painting Grief and Loss

  1. I lost boogers, my cat, day before yesterday. He was with me 14 years and the grief is at times punishing and always heavy. It’s hard but soft. My loss is profound. Boogers was my first ever pet, my first unconditional love I think.

  2. thank you Pavi for this post. We lost our cat Milo on September 1. He just went away to die. He was 20 years old and our fur child after all our children left home. I come across sketches of him that I have done in all my notebooks. He was so intelligent and interactive with us both. My husband especially misses him sleeping on Gary’s lap (congestive heart failure fatigue). Milo destroyed our couch, never stopped jumping on our kitchen counter or waiting at the bathroom door for me in the morning. So I feel your loss and sadness. We are all learning a lesson on letting go and thank goodness we have our artist selves to soothe and heal.

    1. Thank you, Ann. I always say that people often admire puppies and kittens but in truth, the old pets are the most precious for their owners.

  3. I think your classes may touch more lives than you might realize. In 2012 both my adult sons were killed in a head-on collision by a young man driving on drugs. That same year, my mother passed away, and in settling her estate, I was finally able to solve the mystery of my older sister who had disappeared with a Jesus cult in 1970. Art, particularly art journals, were both a tactile and fantasy avenue for working through the devastation and grief. Though I don’t often post my projects, I’ve taken several of your classes that have been a part of that journey. In one class, the music that accompanied your videos, was so moving to me, that I purchased the album from Jewel. Recording keepsakes in art, (over several years working through the clutter of three estates boxed into nooks and crannies in our basement and garage) gradually enabled me to let go of “all the stuff” and replace it with many treasured memories.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Virginia! It really touched me – you have gone through a lot, and if there has been any relief out of my classes … it makes my job feel meaningful. I also love how you described making keepsakes through art and getting rid of clutter. So, you enriched your inner world while clearing up the outer.

  4. I really like this one, Paiivi. My “grief” painting hangs in by the wood stove where I can view it often.
    Love, and I “get” it.

  5. This post really touched my heart Paivi. Your painting is beautiful and I see wings throughout, some are leaving and some are settling. The losses in our lives never really leave us and being able to paint your smokey grief is a beautiful thing.

  6. This post is so timely Paivi. Firstly I am so sorry for the loss of your beautiful pet. I know the lingering yearning and wanting to turn back the days when the loved one was with me. The depression does lift but the sadness never really goes. There comes, more frequently, moments when your heart fills with loving memories and you smile again.

    I have been working, this morning, on my collage wondering what on Earth I was creating. Suddenly I realised I was painting my life at Eden, my beautiful garden, drumming the sundown, the hawk hung hills, the house with a face, window, door ,window, watching the coming of the full moon time, the Southern Cross by night, by day the cross of the distant hawk , the temenos and rock walls I built brick by brick, rock by rock. I felt joyful painting the yellow river of light through the garden spirals. Suddenly I began to cry. The loss of my beloved, the happy home, the most beautiful place I ever lived gone from me. The paradox of the greatest joy and the deepest sadness still within me.

    Thank you dear Paivi. You are such a treasure. Arohanui ehoa.

    1. Thank you, Jan! The paradox – so brilliantly expressed. When I was creating this painting, I felt so alive that I was almost trembling, and at the same time, my heart was heavy. They say that biggest revealations happen when things collide.

  7. This came at just the right time for me. We had to put our cat of 16 years down on Monday. We didn’t want to do it but she had an incurable illness and was suffering. I also just lost my husband about a year and a half ago, and just sold our house. So many losses, changes and sadness. It’s hard to have the energy to paint but somehow I feel a nudge to be creative. You are right, maybe something wants to come out, so I’m going to try.

    1. I am sorry for your losses, Cheryl, lots of changes and lots to deal with. However, the art that is born from chaos is often more expressive than the art that’s neat and controlled. I hope you give your creativity a chance!

  8. The pathos in the two comments already given are testament to our deep suffering due to loss of loved ones, be they human or animal. I have certainly had my share and now actually suffer more deeply than I did when I was in my twenties. In those years I lost my childhood dog, Lady and both my parents. In those days I seemed to have had an inability to connect–I may have wanted to sever ties to my childhood and teenage years, distance myself in a sense, emotionally. Even if it was necessary, now I truly regret those decisions. My Dad died as a result of an accident, my Mom shortly afterwards (although she had been very ill, I think she died from grief). My dear dog had been given to other people to look after while my parents had gone on a trip to Europe. I only saw her one time after that and she was not in good health. Although there was no way I could have kept her with me, I feel terrible about her demise and subsequent death. Even though I firmly believe in the afterlife and immortality, it is profoundly challenging to deal with my own failings from the past … I also have had to deal with of the deaths of my husband and son. All this is ongoing…grief may lose its grip on you to some extent, but it doesn’t leave completely. Art has definitely been a respite and, while not a place of complete recovery, it is a wonderful way to express feelings that are often too painful to write or talk about!

    1. I am sorry for your losses, and can relate to your early events as my parents died too when I was in my twenties, and I didn’t quite know how to handle it all emotionally. They say that writing helps, but for me, writing has felt more difficult than holding a brush. A part of the grief can never be put into words, I think.

  9. Hello Päivi… This was a post that really resonated with me too. I feel like I have not been able to paint all year because of coronavirus. I so admire how you can let your feelings guide you through your paintings. Best wishes, Heather

  10. High Paivi your painting I know is about the loss of your beautiful pet but this image reminds me of the dreadful bush fires we had in Australia last summer and the loss of habitat, our dear animals, properties
    and human lives.
    I do hope it doesn’t repeat this year.
    Thankyou for your interesting post.

    1. Thanks, Kathleen, no wonder my painting bring those memories to your mind. I hope your beautiful country and its nature will recover.

  11. Dear Paivi,
    So many words in the dictionary, and yet, never the right words to convey depth of loss or depth of empathy. You are a teacher to your creative audience in more ways than one. May all the happy and funny memories of Cosmos sustain you during the smoke filled times. Stay safe. We need you! Lena Romanoff

  12. Päivi, your grief and the way you’ve been managing it are a lesson for us all. I understand your feeling of heartbreak and loss as well as (to the extent you’ve shared it) your spiritual views. Let me give you my own views as they apply here, just in case they help a little. All that has lived, has a soul (however we define that). When we are so close as you and Cosmo were, we share a (pro)portion of our souls, as you and Cosmo have. The sum of two parts is greater than the whole. Because you remain here in what we experience as a tangible world, you have sent away a part of your soul to Cosmo as a companion. Let me stress that you’ve not lost that part of you, nor have either you or Cosmo lost that shared-soul part of him. You have a connection that cannot be broken. While I’m sure you feel his loss in the tangible world as much as anyone can, in any bereavement, he is a dog still and a big part of his dog-soul still needs (and receives) your companionship. Other parts of him are probably getting on with doggie mischiefs just as you are getting on with enlightening and teaching us (on top of all your other relationships and commitments). He can’t forget or abandon you any more than you can forget or abandon him. A chunk of each of you will be shared forever. Or so I think. And I’ve had plenty of years for such thinking to be disproved, without a result! Accept our hugs, of course, and the sympathy of everyone who knows the Cosmo story, but he’s no further from you than a whisper or a sideways step, I’m sure. I’d stake my life on that statement.

    1. Thank you for your beautiful words, Cathy! My background is in natural science, and it’s difficult to think that he is alive somewhere. But he left me a mark that will stay as long as I am alive.

  13. My brother died yesterday, he had Parkinson’s….It was 4 days till his 76th birthday. It was terribly sad, yet it was time to go. His body was completely wasted. At that moment, I cry and I thank god.

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