Peony and Parakeet

Processing Visual Inspiration

November Still Life by Peony and Parakeet

Last week, I visited Natural History Museum of Helsinki. My idea was to take a sketchbook with me and make few sketches – if I happened to see something inspiring. My skeptic attitude changed once I entered the place. I remember visiting the museum over 20 years ago but only the front door of the old building seemed a bit familiar, everything else looked new to me. I was mesmerized by the colors and details of stuffed animals, and only after a short while, almost overwhelmed by the amount of information and visual stimulation. It would have been impossible to put all the inspiration into sketches, so I took photos.

Natural History Museum of Helsinki

When I got back home, I knew I had to create an artwork inspired by the visit. But my mind seemed too full, not knowing where to start, what to express. I started a painting but against all my principles, I tossed it because I was totally clueless even if my mind was full of inspiration!

After a couple of days, I decided to make a sketchbook spread to help me process the subject. I loaded the photos to iPad and created several layers of watercolors while browsing the images.

Painting a sketchbook spread from photos taken from Natural History Museum of Helsinki

I wrote down some of my thoughts: how I admired lions and African animals in general when I was a child and how rich country Africa is, in terms of nature.

A sketchbook spread by Peony and Parakeet

After this spread, I asked myself: what inspiring did I see that than the animals. The answer was: glass cabinets and the concept of collections that were kind of surreal. With that in mind, I started a painting on a thick watercolor paper.

The first layers of an artwork, by Peony and Parakeet

Randomly creating new layers with ink mists, watercolors, alcohol inks and gouache paints, I focused on the color first. Greens, turquoises and ochras were the ones that made the strongest impact on me when looking inside the glass vitrines.

Phases to the end result, November Still Life, by Peony and Parakeet

With gold paint and white ink, I created more details to embark my imagination. Then I thought about Slavic melancholy, fall, piano concertos and let all of that get mixed with glass and nature. When I looked at the end result, I kind of like the idea of mixing a landscape with a still life. The idea is surprisingly similar than what I saw in the museum: still-lifes that are also landscapes! I would have not thought it this way though without processing the subject so much. By taking photos, painting without a clue, working with the sketchbook and then creating a lot of layers made me somehow understand what inspired me in the first place. When I let go and followed the pencils and brushes, it was ready to come out.

November Still Life, by Peony and Parakeet

What I learned was: sometimes the creative process takes a lot of time, a lot of phases, don’t stop too soon!

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26 thoughts on “Processing Visual Inspiration

  1. As always, your process of discovery for how to present your painting is fascinating! I love seeing the phases your work goes through as you develop this along to what you finally wind up with. I can relate to being overwhelmed by visiting a natural history museum – I always felt the same way when visiting the Natural History Museum in New York and other museums elsewhere. So much to take in. Yet I never tried to visually represent the experience in any place other than my mind and memories.

    1. Valerie, thanks! Oh, I can’t even imagine what kind of inspiration overflow would it be when visiting a bigger natural history museum like the one you have been at!

  2. Paivi, what a wonderful blog! It is so instructive to see the process you use and not just the wonderful end results. Such a generous artist! You are a treasure! Thank you. I am going to stop painting over my ”failures” and put them aside instead for a time when I have fresh eyes to see.

  3. Oh, Paivi…I’m just blown away by your imagination and ability. Thank you for sharing museum pictures and your painting…just gorgeous! Your thoughts are so interesting and your ability to express them to us is priceless. I’m so grateful you’re my teacher on this exciting “ART”
    journey.

  4. Each time I read your posts and see your work I am inspired. You are so talented and so generous with sharing your process so we can all learn to let go and create too.

  5. Paivi It is no secret that I struggle.. I have many incomplete papers sitting in my room..I will not throw them away… I try to see what is there and what it is that I am missing…Last night I had one propped on a table very carelessly so it was at a strange type of angle and there they were… the 2 cats hunting in my flower bed. So now I am trying to figure out how to get them exposed. I am afraid of ruining what is there so I am making copies and working that way…I know that makes it to planned but I am so afraid of losing it now that I have found it..I love your classes and the ladies who are there You and they have kept me from quitting..thank you for sharing your talent.

  6. This is really a valuable lesson for me. This posting feels like a key to unlocking how to translate the natural world into my art. . During the class I am taking from you now, I keep thinking how much I would love to sit down with you for a week (or a month!) and talk and paint away the long winter nights heading our way. I love how aware you are of your thought processes. Thank you for your gifts so freely given.

  7. Oh, this was just in time. I read after looking across the room to my easel and a piece of work I wanted to be wonderful but is awful. And it put me in a funk with headlines: You Are Not An Artist! Who Do You Think You’re Kidding? I’m still looking at that painting and now feel encouraged to either work on it more or let it go and move on. But I no longer am reading those headlines!
    Thanks, thanks, thanks…

    Your own piece is lovely! I have hope…

  8. Studying the first four stages of your painting, I would never have imagined the end result–which is incredible! Thanks again for your excellent class. It taught me to free up my ideas of colour!

  9. Another wonderful post Paivi! Thank you so much for sharing of yourself. I am feeling stuck or blocked right now and this helps give me the courage to just carry on and work THROUGH the ‘ugly’ and also appreciate it as part of my process. What a beautiful painting you have made!!

  10. I love that bright blue peeking through giving it fresh air and pushing the images forward. Your process steps are so valuable and because you can explain your thoughts so well, you provide enough information to instruct us about the process not just how to draw your picture. It is freeing and exciting and beautiful to see all the post not only just the end painting. But the painting is gorgeous and more meaningful once we hear all your thoughts. Thank you so much.

  11. Can you send me that piece that you threw away? Really, I can’t believe this could happen to you. I have decided not to throw anything away-even the things I’m not happy with, just so I can sometimes return to them and see what I did and if I’m improving. Love your methodology – wish I had your imagination. Thanks for sharing

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