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Peony and Parakeet

Why I Paint White Flowers – How Your Artistic Voice is Influenced by Others

There’s a lot of talk about finding your artistic voice, but very little about how other people affect it. So this week, I share a story about my mother and her influence on my art.

Painting the Same Thing Again and Again

A couple of days ago, I was on a morning walk near my home in Southern Finland. The air was fresh as well as the view, dominated by the blue sky and white clouds. My beagles’ busy noses and a glimmering brook followed a sown field that had already started to green. Both birds and earphones fed entertaining listening. But all I could think of was my painting. Was it finished? Should I add more color to the flowers? What else did I need to adjust to make most of the tens of hours? I was alone with my dogs, but the inner critic kept me company: what kind of artist doesn’t even know the meaning of her images?

An oil painting in progress by artist Paivi Eerola, Finland. Read her article about how artistic voice is not only our personal choice, but can be influenced by others.
Signed, but is it finished?

Yes, I am no artist at all. I paint white flowers, the easiest anyone can imagine, and the worst that my mother knew. “No white flowers,” she repeated to my father when her wedding anniversary came close, and he was about to buy a bouquet. “White flowers mean death.” And now, long after she has passed away, all I want to paint is white flowers.

Cherimona. Watercolor painting by artist Paivi Eerola.
Icebreaker. Watercolor painting by artist Paivi Eerola.
Torchbearer. Watercolor painting by artist Paivi Eerola.

Commenters are Your Art Coaches

Rebelling had no place in my upbringing during the 1970s and 1980s. As a teenager, I tried to respond to my mother’s corrections and criticism with an ignorant smile. Not for long. She didn’t hesitate to tell that it wasn’t a proper reaction. She was both a direct and shy person. Her presence was almost invisible in public gatherings, but at home, in her empire, she was the master of rights and wrongs. So when I showed drawings to her, she either approved or disapproved. She didn’t talk to me as directly as to my father – what to do or what not – but her words and facial expressions told everything.

My mother was like a strict gymnastic coach with high expectations, but she lacked one essential skill – the ability to show how the tricks could be done. She was as honest to herself as to anyone in this matter and put her energy for finding time, supplies, and art education for me. Time to create was the easiest part. My mother was a housewife. She had left her job at a young age right after she got married. She didn’t want her daughters to have the same destiny, so she did her best to keep me out of the kitchen and constantly reminded me how children would prohibit me from doing what I love.

Artist Paivi Eerola and her mother. Read about how she has influenced her artistic voice.
Me and my mother in 1984

We lived in a small town near the Russian border, and our family wasn’t wealthy. The only income came from my father’s pension. In the evenings, my mother wrote all the expenses on a small black book. But purchasing pens and paper was mandatory. To her, it was the lowest level of civilization, more important than books. Our town had one bookshop that sold some supplies, but after we got more knowledge from local art groups and competitions, it became evident that I needed a better and broader selection. So every month, when my parents drove to a bigger town, I was often with them, selecting paper, paint boards, crayons, and acrylic paints from a real art supply store.

A Praised Piece Sticks into Your Mind

When I was some years over ten, in one spring morning, I decided to try out a new set of crayons. It was just a warm-up, a quick landscape without using any reference. “Look, mother, what do you think,” I said like so many times before. She looked at the image, tightened her lips, but unlike her, she didn’t say much. Later, when I opened a narrow kitchen closet to pick an iron, I stopped. The landscape was taped inside the wooden door. “I like to look at it,” she said after seeing my puzzled face.

Landscape with crayons by artist Paivi Eerola. From her teenage years.

I was devastated. That little landscape didn’t deserve the place. So many times I had poured my heart out on paper and soon found out that it wasn’t to her liking. And now – I didn’t even color all the paper!

Finding the Why Behind Your Artistic Voice – Connecting the Appraisals and Repetitions

Fortunately, my mother was not the only one commenting on my art. My two big sisters had different opinions, and my teachers and friends as well. One piece didn’t satisfy them all, but there were always kind words from someone. It encouraged me to keep painting and drawing, as everyone, especially my mother, expected.

After my mother’s death, one stormy weekend, I traveled to the childhood home to pick things that I wanted to keep before we would sell it. The house was cold, but I knew it was the last time when I would see it like it used to be. Everything was clean and tidy. Performing tasks effectively with high quality had always fascinated my mother. “If I could choose what my profession was, it would be a researcher of work – if such a profession existed.”

When I got up the stairs to an attic, the sight would surprise anyone but me. The attic had always been nearly empty. In one corner, under a sloped sealing, my father had built a small closet for safe storage. I opened its little door, and there they were, neatly in a big cardboard box – my paintings and drawings. Not all, but a collection that my mother had curated over the years, the little crayon drawing included.

So a few days ago, when I was walking by the field and looking up in the sky, my mother came to me in the form of the freshly colored landscape. I now knew that my urge to paint white flowers hadn’t been an act against my mother, but a yearn for her acceptance that blank white blobs had once given to me. Now my question is: can I let go of them, or do I want to keep her in my art forever.

Paivi Eerola and her painting in progress. Read her thoughs about artistic voice and how other people affect it.

Who has influenced your art? Can you recognize how?

P.S. I also teach drawing and painting flowers in the class Floral Fantasies.

Delicious Colors – Salvage Them!

Delicious reds - a gouache painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet

I have never been overly enthusiastic about bright reds, but now seems to be the time. I feel that in this black world, we need to salvage the delicious colors and amplify them with sugary decorations!

Finding Comfort from Delicious Colors

In the evenings, while waiting for the news around the world to be gathered, I paint in my little studio room. The more I think about the sad statistics, the more I want to create the opposite – a careless world with deliciously tasty and juicy colors.

Painting delicious colors and sugary shapes. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

My studio is now like a sweet bakery, and as the main cook, I have lots of motivation to create!

Delicacies from DecoDashery!

Art journal page spread by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Fruity colors.

What first was just one little painting, has now grown to resemble a series that expresses an imaginary world. I call this world as DecoDashery, inspired by the old haberdashery from the movie Emma. DecoDashery will also be the next class that I am building, hoping to release it within a couple of months!

You Can Always Start Small!

Delicious colors, hand-painted collage pieces, and paintings by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

As usual, I haven’t made paintings only, but also collage pieces to my boxes of joy.

Hand-painted pink rose by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Delicious Meringues, Lace, and Porcelain

Now when my husband is working from home too, we eat together more than ever. Fortunately, he can cook! I have never been into that so much. But my specialties are side dishes and desserts, and it’s been fun to make one good meal in a day and combine our skills.

Delicious merengues with strawberries.

I had never made strawberry meringues, but a recipe from a knitting magazine caught my eye. Strawberries, an old plate, and a hand-crocheted lace doily were all as essential as the meringues themselves.

My current oil painting has progressed well too. Even if there’s a lot of work left, I get a lot of pleasure from working on it. Salvaging all the deliciousness of the random shapes feels so good.

Oil painting in progress by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Doesn’t the painting look strangely similar to the meringues, lace, and porcelain? The world of Decodashery is expanding!

Meaningless Has Given Me a New Meaning

It’s kind of funny that when I decided to remove deeper meaning from my work for a while, I feel that my art the overall creative process has become more meaningful than ever.

Artist Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet and her oil painting in progress.

It’s like I have released the beast that I have always quietly carried with me, and once I have seen it eye to eye, it has become my angel in the crisis.

The Only Thing You Desire to Paint – Whether You Are Aware of It Or Not

"Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.
“Heaven and Earth” – one of my latest oil paintings

I finally painted something that I have tried for years – my view of life and my personal mystery.

Art, Religion, and View of Life

Art and religion have been connected for centuries. Some see it primarily as a business connection – churches have ordered paintings and artists have made their living.

Murals of Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy

But I like to think that the connection is not only about money but that’s spiritual too. At best, art expresses what we think about life and death. This doesn’t mean that an image has to be gloomy, or that it has to illustrate any particular religion. Vice versa, I believe that every person has their view of life. Let’s call it a personal mystery!

Searching for Personal Mystery

Your personal mystery sets the direction of your deepest thoughts, but it’s difficult to put into words. Now and then, you can catch it emotionally. But intellectually, it can feel impossible to reach.

Church of the Savior on Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia
Church of the Savior on Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

Even if your personal mystery is unique for you, it’s so authentic that it resonates with many other people too. When I go to historical places like the Church of the Savior on Blood, they have a flavor of my mystery. But still, it’s not quite in line with my deepest thoughts and feelings.

The Only Thing You Desire to Paint

Your personal mystery dictates your artistic goals. Whatever you say you want to accomplish, the deepest desire is to express your personal mystery. You can say you paint because you want to escape everyday life, but in truth, the escape is about reaching your mystery. No matter how successful you want to be, you also want to be authentic – and that requires discovering your mystery! Your visual style may seem like the primary goal but believe me, it’s secondary – just a tiny hammer in a big toolbox that you need to reveal your mystery.

Oil painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

No matter how orderly you begin the painting, the final goal of the process is to let go and become one with your mystery.

Painting Your Mystery

In the middle of the painting process, your mystery like a secret whisper, so sacred that it feels forbidden even to try revealing it. This secrecy sends mixed messages to your creativity and the process gets confusing and disappointing.

Oil painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

When painting the woman and all the colorful details, I started to hate the mess and get disconnected with it. The image felt too complicated and decorative, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I was traveling through strange places and wondering how to reach an unknown destination.

At this point, it’s tempting to give up. I put my painting away for months. My plan was to wipe the paint away with turpentine so that I can re-use the canvas for another painting. But about a month ago when I picked the unfinished piece again, I knew instantly how to finish it.

Making of "Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

Five Tips for Revealing Your Personal Mystery

I don’t think there’s a straightforward formula for revealing the mystery, but here are some things that are helpful:

  • Grow visual skills so that you can freely choose what you paint whether it’s representational or not. Learn to use references creatively, and study the principles of abstract art (my favorite book about abstract art).
  • Grow confidence so that you can let uncomfortable, erroneous, silly, and “wrong” things happen while creating. You won’t find the mystery if you stay in your normal zone (breaking the rules)
  • Grow imagination so that you can jump from one association to another and come up with a unique solution. Creating from prompts help with that (I recommend Inktober).
  • Curate what you love and value. List things that inspire you and keep filling and editing the list (remember to include innocent little secrets)
  • Become more aware of details and nuances in all art-related things. The more general you think (“I am an abstract artist”, “I draw faces only”, “these are pretty flowers”), the more difficult it is to connect with your uniqueness and find inspiration.

I used to think that when painting people, humans should look as realistic as possible. But I am more of an engineer and an innovator than a portrait painter. By trying to make the woman look like a real person, I had blocked my personal view of life appearing on the canvas.

"Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

When I realized that the woman is just an anonym observer, the painting was very straight-forward to finish.

A detail of "Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

My Personal Mystery

In my mind, science, beauty, and spirituality are all connected.

A detail of "Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

The biggest miracle for me is how the universe works, and how I can take parts of that to create a new world.

A detail of "Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

Historical buildings and paintings connect me to the origin of our culture and universe emotionally. To me, the painting looks historical enough to fit in.

Paivi Eerola at Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy.
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy

In the future, I hope to create more pieces that express my personal mystery.

"Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

For Finnish readers: Come to see this piece and more of my art! I show about 10 artworks in a group exhibition this month in Helsinki. Lisätietoja täällä!

Between Fine Art and Illustration – Combining Both Into One Artwork

Flower Fairy's Year by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See how this project was made and read her thoughts about choosing between fine art and illustration.

This week, I continue showing pieces that will be presented in the upcoming group exhibition “Flower Gardener’s Diary” (Kukkatarhurin päiväkirja, 9.- 22.9.2019, Hietsun Paviljonki, Helsinki). This one is called “Flower Fairy’s Year.” I will be presenting both paintings and drawings, so I wanted to create a piece that would build a bridge between fine art and illustration. I hope you find this project inspirational!

Inspiration Piece: Wheel of Fortune

When building the class Magical Inkdom earlier this year, I made a fun drawing called Wheel of Fortune. It has a center that’s separate from the rest of the piece, and it can be rotated so that the heads of the figures change. The bigger drawing is attached on thick cardboard so that it feels like it’s a game board, not just a flimsy piece of paper.

Wheel of Fortune. Illustration by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I wanted to use the idea of a separate centerpiece and sturdy base for this project too.

Fine Art Centerpiece: A Miniature Oil Painting

The project started by finishing a miniature oil painting that I suitably had in progress. It’s only 4 by 4 inches.

A miniature oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

The painting was made very traditionally. I sketched the face with charcoal, and then made an underpainting with umber and white. I used Bernardino Luini’s portrait of Saint Catherine as a loose reference for the facial features.

Making of a miniature oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

The color layers were thin so that the previous layers stayed visible too. It took a bit of courage to give a green wash to the face, but I really like the result. Decorations were easy and fun. They are quick lines and shapes that make the saint look like a floral fairy.

Miniature oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

With oil, the most difficult thing is to wait for every layer to dry separately. Other than that, I find oil easier to handle than acrylic paint.

Illustration: Decorative Flower Frame

For the frame, I cut a piece of Bristol paper. It’s about 10 by 10 inches.

Drawing a decorative illustration. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I wanted to include flowers from January to December so that the frame is like a clock that has months instead of hours. The drawing was made with Copic Multiliners (I mostly use 0.05 tip), and I colored it with watercolors.

Coloring a decorative frame with watercolors. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Plywood Base

My original idea was to cut two layers of cardboard so that the topmost layer would have a 4-by-4-inch hole. But when I told my husband that “Ideally, the base would be wooden”, he went to his workshop and came back with a hand-carved plywood base!

Between fine art and illustration. Composing an artwork of painted and hand-drawn pieces.

Putting All The Pieces Together

I painted the plywood black near the surroundings of the miniature painting. It makes sure that the plywood won’t show if the piece is observed from different angles. I varnished the oil painting with Gamvar and let it dry overnight. I put a plastic plate over the frame to reduce the curviness of the paper after painting it with watercolors.

Between fine art and illustration. Composing an artwork of painted and hand-drawn pieces.

Then I glued the painting to the base with gel medium and attached the frame with double-sided tape. Finally, I marked a line of 0.5 cm from the edge of the base and made sure that the motifs extend there. This piece will be professionally framed, so I didn’t want to leave too much empty space around the edges.

Flower Fairy's Year by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. This piece combines fine art and hand-drawn illustration.

Between Fine Art and Illustration

In the art world, there’s a lot of talk about choosing between fine art and illustration. Many define fine art so that it comes up solely from the artist’s own creative expression when illustration illustrates a story or can easily be used with the text. One way to separate them is the number of copies. Fine art pieces are often unique or manufactured in very limited quantities only when illustrations are more of everyday art, consumed by the masses. Some say that it requires talent to create a piece of fine art, and just art education to create a piece of illustration.

In my artistic path, I have found the definitions both helpful and destructive. It has been essential for me to expand to illustration – to learn how to visualize text and written ideas. It has made me more connected with the surrounding world, and it has also brought me more work. However, I feel that art is free, and without exploring that freedom, it’s also difficult to create insightful illustrations. So I have tried to keep up with both worlds.

However, I hate when people say that you have to choose between fine art and illustration. For me, bringing the two approaches as close as possible has been a working solution. I think this project shows really well how one is not the enemy for the other.

Flower Fairy's Year by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. This piece combines fine art and hand-drawn illustration.

I can’t wait to show you more pieces that I have finished for the exhibition! I will also have many framed and will blog about how I selected the frames in the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned!

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