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Peony and Parakeet

Monet in the Box – Creativity and Shame

This week, I show my latest finished painting and talk about Monet and the hall of fame – no! – the box of shame!

Bluesomnia, oil painting by Paivi Eerola.
Bluesomnia – Sinisomnia (Finnish), oil, 65 x 81 cm

Last week, I participated in an online event organized by the Finnish Illustration Association. One of the speakers was Eeva Kolu, who talked about maintaining balance in life, not letting work take over all of it. She referred to a book that she had written which is unfortunately available only in Finnish. It’s called “Korkeintaan vähän väsynyt” (free translation: A Little Tired At Most)

I have been listening to the book on daily walks, and even if I am not finished yet, I already like the inner dialog that it raises. It makes me stop to ponder, sometimes agree, other times disagree. It’s not only pleasant, and yet, it’s definitely worth reading. One of the things Eeva Kolu brings up is shame. She says that shame defines the size of the box where we live. The box can become so small there’s not much room for life.

Starting a new painting. Painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola.

Eeva Kolu made me think about all the things I am shame of. Surprisingly, one of them is central to my art.

My Relationship With Old Art

When I was in my twenties and thirties, all I wanted to see was contemporary abstract art. In museums, I rushed through the old paintings because representational and traditional art was for mediocre people, and I didn’t want to be one of them. I felt shame about my uneducated family and the lack of abstract thinking in the surroundings where I came from. I had a new life with higher education, and my love for mathematics was well aligned with geometric shapes and lines.

Oil painting in progress. Painting water. Painting intuitively. By Paivi Eerola.

But age has made me understand more about my background and art as well. I have begun to love old art, and still, it’s something that causes me shame as well.

“Waterlilies,” my husband said when he saw this painting.

It made my box shrink. My intention was not to do any Monet. I just painted the dreamy blue that needed to come out, not make any imitation of anything.

Painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I Kind of Hate Monet’s Waterlilies

I have seen them in National Gallery in London. They are captivating. People love them.

But instead of making what people easily love, I would like to be an artist who sees to the future. Who builds paintings that are like complex machines. I should be a Leonardo of this age, imagining something technical that engineers will skillfully implement someday.

But my art has a mind of its own. No, a mind of mine. Or would I dare to say: a mind of my shame. I am stuck to the past, so I paint the past. I reach the worlds that feel excitingly unknown first but turn out familiar once the painting is finished. I end up recreating instead of inventing. That’s my shame.

A detail of Bluesomnia, oil painting by Paivi Eerola. Read her post about Claude Monet and creativity!

In my classes and in this blog, I talk about old art now and then. But compared to the amount I think about stiff renaissance portraits, romantic baroque sceneries, frilly victorian dresses, cubistic still-lives, and all the masterpieces from the 15th to 20th century, it’s very little.

“My Readers Want Their Art to Be Current”

That’s what I say to myself often. The readers – you – don’t like old art so I try not to write about it. And still, the expected goal to be current seems ridiculous sometimes. There’s a bridge between current and old, and it’s very difficult to be current without knowing what’s not.

That bridge – or should I call it a long historical timeline – is the place where my creativity naturally lies. My shame is also my utmost love. When I paint, I don’t think about Rubens, Monet, Picasso, or Kandinsky. When you love something deeply, with the skills, it comes out naturally.

A detail of Bluesomnia, oil painting by Paivi Eerola.

“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.”

Claude Monet

Monet’s attitude seems very unintellectual. And yet, if you think about what you create and have created, can you relate? That sometimes it’s necessary to omit the feeling of intellectual understanding, bypass the shame, and simply love – so, widen the box instead of trying to get out of it?

A detail of Bluesomnia, oil painting by Paivi Eerola.

Thumbs up or down for talking about art history and old masters? Share your thoughts in the comments!

P.S. Claude Monet is “a guest teacher” in the class Floral Freedom!

Free Like a Bird – Creating Free from Expectations

This week, I write about my personality type based on Thomas Erikson’s book Surrounded by Idiots and how to paint free from expectations.

"Finch" - an oil painting by Paivi Eerola. Read more about how she paints freely!
“Finch – Peippo” – oil, 50 x 61 cm

Here’s my newest painting. When finishing it, I became surprised gladly when “Blackbird” got a little sister “Finch.” Here’s Blackbird again:

"Blackbird" - an oil painting by Paivi Eerola. Abstract art and ideas.
“Blackbird – Mustarastas” – oil, 60 x 73 cm

Book: Surrounded by Idiots – The Four Types of Human Behaviour

All my life, I have had strong opinions about how and what I should paint. And yes, these opinions have not been something like “powerful dreams” but more like pushy commands. I didn’t even realize how pushy they have been until I read Thomas Erikson’s book “Surrounded by Idiots.” It made me think about my personality from a new perspective.

Even if the idea of the book – dividing personalities into four categories and naming them by colors – could be taken as nonsense, after reading it, I can’t help thinking about how “red” I am. An ambitious fact-oriented person who has pushed herself to the utmost limit with this art-making obsession.

If you are “yellow,” you probably think that I should either have fun or move on. “Greens” might recommend taking a rest and stopping working too hard. And “Blues” claim that the book is not scientifically proved and there’s no reason to quit.

But I have discovered a new solution. It’s been a joy to use my red energy only to make sure that I keep painting. When I open the tubes, my redness is gone. I am open to painting anything. Every ugly start feels like an invitation to the jungle: Let’s see what’s going on in the inner world.

Painting wildly when the personality type is red (based on the book Surrounded by Idiots)

Breaking the Glass – Growing Compassion Towards Inanimate Things

In the class Floral Freedom, you dive deep into Wassily Kandinsky’s ideas about abstract art. Among other things, he talks about breaking the glass – stopping being the observer and starting to be the one that experiences things. Now when I have been pushing myself for almost seven years, the glass has become thin. I feel joy about how easily it breaks right after squeezing the paint on the palette.

For a red person, it has been difficult to break through. I have been giving orders and tightened the control from time to time. But now, the only goal for the spring is to paint all the canvases that I purchased earlier this year. Not questioning what I paint, but just do it.

Filling canvases, painting without an ego,

“Do it!” the red in me commands matter-of-factly and then leaves me working. After breaking the glass, I arrive at a lobby that’s filled with all kinds of stuff. For example, there are tulips that my husband removed from the bench where they were not supposed to grow.

Tulips in a vase

They twisted and turned in the vase, like wild animals in a cage, trying to break free. And when they withered, they became angry and devastated beasts, desperate to continue their lives. They didn’t want to face the fact that they wouldn’t reproduce like they were born to do.

The beauty of withering tulips.

When painting, we can see similar things or just glide on the glass and bypass them. Shapes that don’t get the place in the spotlight. Lines that disappear before they reach high enough.

Painting abstract art by Paivi Eerola

But if we put our mind into noticing them, we can make these inanimate splotches of paint breath and fly, even save some ugly spots. Not because we would hasten and thus compromise the quality, but because we feel sudden compassion towards their character.

Before and after - starting wildly and painting freely. By Paivi Eerola.

Then a picture is not forced but appears naturally. However, the result is not static or exact like the observer would want. Instead, it describes the inner experience of being.

Paivi Eerola and her painting Finch. Read more about her red personality and what she thinks about Thomas Erikson's book Surrounded by Idiots.

The Experience of Being a Finch

In this painting, the being is a little bird, facing danger, trying to take care of its nest, flying and falling, still living the summer of her life.

"Finch" - an oil painting by Paivi Eerola, photographed against the sky.

Have you read Thomas Erikson’s book Surrounded by Idiots? Do you see a connection between your personality and art-making?

Pros and Cons of Becoming an Artist

This week, I share my newest painting, and thoughts about a life change after becoming an artist – even if I don’t quite know where I will be heading next myself.

Blackbird - Mustarastas, an abstract oil painting by Paivi Eerola
Blackbird – Mustarastas, oil, 60 x 73 cm.

All my life I have wanted to be an artist. But first, I went to study software engineering because it was a much more sensible thing to do at a young age. And I loved computers. How can a girl love machines so much?

There’s this girl in me who looks in the future and gets excited about technology. And then there’s another girl who looks back to history and wants to paint like Rubens or Kandinsky.

Oil painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola, Finland.

Pursuing the Dream of Becoming an Artist

After I got my degree in 1996, I repeated to myself “Paivi, you are a master of science – “diplomi-insinööri” for a couple of years. It felt so unbelievable!

But I had this other dream that I wanted to pursue, and it felt like my life would be too short for that. So many years were given to technology. However, in 2014, about seven years ago, I decided to give it a go.

Paivi Eerola in 2015, after leaving a day job to become an artist
Paivi in 2015, after leaving a day job to become an artist

Every day since then I have banged my head against the wall between the outer and inner world. I have learned to draw freely, get intuitive with watercolors, illustrate animals and magical fantasies, and paint flowers and abstracts.

Experimenting with watercolors
Experimenting with watercolors in 2019

I thought that I would be learning and teaching for the rest of my life, never coming home, but fully enjoying the journey.

Breaking Through in Becoming an Artist

However, this year, I found myself breaking through, seeing a new horizon. I had to really push myself to give finishing touches to my newest class Floral Freedom, and after reading Wassily Kandinsky’s book “Point and Line to Plane” the final small pieces fell in their places. It was like a big equation in an engineer’s mind became solved, and I found myself whispering: “Paivi, you are an artist.”

Painting abstract art, by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

And similarly, as after graduating in 1996, the achievement felt unbelievable. But this time, its tone was different. It was not a validation received from others but from myself and thus, felt more holistic and life-changing. Yes, I may have been an artist for others for some time already, but finally, I have become an artist in the eyes of myself. It has made me want to put recent paintings side by side and continue the series boldly and unapologetically.

There’s also unexpected sadness in this happiness. The imaginary world that I have been building for the last years has fully opened, but with that, something has closed too. The old routines are gone. I no longer question what I should create in terms of subject or style. All I have to do is to fill a palette and start painting.

I am still unaware of what’s coming next. How to sustain myself. How to live after solving a puzzle that has been in my head for 53 years.

Blackbird in a New Territory

Blackbird - Mustarastas, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola
Blackbird – Mustarastas, oil, 60 x 73 cm.

Every morning when I open the door, I see blackbirds in our front garden. They seem modest and hard-working. They rarely rest, and when they sing, it seems to be for a purpose. These colorless birds don’t ever surprise or make my head spin.

But yesterday, I noticed that a blackbird had left the garden and entered my inner world. And it was so delightful, like a sign of hope in all the unawareness and misery that I have had recently. Isn’t it amazing that someone so insignificant as a blackbird can reach a soul, even secretly? That someone so plain and muddy can shine so brightly when it lands in another territory!

Paivi Eerola surrounded by her art. Read her story about becoming an artist!

I hope you’ll stick with me, take my classes,
and hop in where ever you are in your artist’s journey.
I promise to stay around and help you as a teacher and a coach

at least for the rest of this year.

3 Tips for Bringing More Life into Your Art

This week, we look for what’s natural and lively in a bit different way than usual. I share three tips for bringing more life into your art.

"Unchanging" - an oil painting by artist Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
“Unchanging – Muuttumaton”, oil, 65 x 80 cm

I just finished this green painting. It’s called “Muuttumaton” in Finnish, but this time, the translation “Unchanging” fits it better because the English word has a more active tone.

This painting was in progress in the video that I shared a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s the video again so that you can see me working with this in practice and compare the middle and the end!

So, that was the video, but in this post, I want to give you ideas on how you could bring more life into art.

These ideas are not technical because I think that my classes are better for learning the techniques, but more about changing the way you get inspired and observe what first appears on paper or canvas.

Tip #1 – Let Weeds be Weeds

In my painting, the main character and the focal point is a blooming weed. It appeared on the canvas right away and reminded me of Fernando Pessoa‘s poem that talks about a crop bending with the wind and then straightening once the wind stops. This kind of natural resilience that weeds also have is inspiring. In art, we usually make weeds look more like a flower. But could we loosen up and bring more life by letting the weeds be weeds?

A detail in the first layers and after finishing. Read more tips about bringing more life into your art.

So, I just made the big plant look a bit more defined and let it be the star of the show.

Tip #2 – Try to Ignore Color

Even if I took pictures of the painting in our garden, I have been more inspired by the untamed side of nature lately.

Photographing a painting in the garden. Oil painting "Unchanging" by Paivi Eerola.

With my beagle Stella, I have been exploring banks and woods that look ugly but are full of layers. For Stella, layers of smells, and for me, layers of shapes and textures. I have tried not to seek the most beautiful spring flower, but develop my eye to notice other than colorful things.

Walking the dog in nature.

What looks ugly first can be beautifully free.

A detail of a painting by Paivi Eerola. Abstract shapes, muted colors, and a lively feel.

Subtle changes in color can make the painting look more lively than if you throw in a bunch of strong colors.

Tip #3 – Embrace Destruction

When bringing life into art, it’s not that we have to start with life. We can look at broken and deserted things like fallen or chopped branches. They can then have another life in our art. Imagine branches falling further down and breaking the cover between the outer and inner world. What kind of life could you give them there?

Fallen branches can inspire for bringing more life into art. Read about how to handle inspiration to make your art more natural and lively!

Admire how the grass grows, but also, how it withers!

Growing and withering grass.

When we create, we can start with destruction and then use colors to make all the ugliness bloom. This way, we build a bridge between the garden and the wilderness – between the traditional beauty and nature’s aesthetics.

A detail of an oil painting by Paivi Eerola and tips for bringing more life into your art.

I don’t use references for my half-abstract paintings like this one. But I believe that things that we see and appreciate find their way to our art in one way or another.

So when you want to bring life to your art,
look for life as it is in the wilderness, not only as it is in your garden.

"Unchanging" - an oil painting and the artist Paivi Eerola.

When looking at this painting, I want to be like that weed, stand tall where I happened to fall. I want to believe there’s something unchanging in this ever-changing life that keeps us creating. I hope we can be Pessoa’s crop that straightens right away when it gets the chance!

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