Come Draw With Me

Real talk: the lockdown is starting to get to me.

In other words, I find myself getting anxious about the silliest things and constantly second guessing the value of my work.

During these times of increased levels of existential dread, I put on Bob Ross and binge the Joy of Painting or find other suitably relaxing content on You Tube.  Others meditate or run marathons, but i prefer to watch something mindlessly satisfying on a small screen while I sketch.

geometric illustration

On the off-chance you too might be looking for absolutely non-Covid-19 related content to calm yourself down, I decided to create some strangely satisfying doodling-videos of my own.

So, follow my process of sketching out a geometric line drawing or a bohemian gypsy-rose.  Grab a pen and paper of your own and draw with me, or simply let the hypnotic line-work lull you to a better place where the pubs are open and your mother-in-law is allowed to visit.*  Either way, hope you enjoy my humble contribution to the slow television corner of the internet.

*Or maybe not, depending on the mother in law – mine is dead nice, though.

As Bob would say,

“Happy painting.” 

Tx

Pumpuli Enkeli

Can I withhold pay if my studio assistant refuses to social-distance himself?

My studio assistance refuses to social distance himself.

Greetings from the atelier floor – I’ve got something to show to you and I swear it is more than just adorable photos of my dog.  The rainbow-hued mixed media piece that cropped up on this blog last week is finally finished.  Now named “Pumpuli Enkeli”, it started out as a simple test in blending, on a slightly defective canvas panel.  It is quite rare that I have time to experiment beyond doodling on the pages of my sketchbook, so this has been a real treat.

Long story short: I wanted to see if it would be possible to use acrylic paint markers on top of an oil painting.  Usually you’d expect some rejection, but it has turned out much better than first predicted.  I used spray-on picture varnish as a blocker between the oil-painted basecoat before adding the line work using acrylic paint markers.  A few days later, further two coats of picture varnish were added to protect the finished surface and give this artwork an even sheen.

Only time will tell how it will age, but so far so good.

colourful calico painting by Tiina Lilja

I have been drawing a lot of floral patterns lately, inspired by one of my favourite books: Owen Jones’ the Grammar of Ornament as well as his the Grammar of Chinese Ornament.  Yet it wasn’t Mr. Jones who turned me into a connoisseur of printed cottons.  I grew up in a historic textile town of Forssa, in the South West of Finland, so you could say the love of pattern is in my blood.  The name Pumpuli Enkeli translates as the Cotton Angel – a nickname of the factory girls of Forssa who worked in the Finlayson textile mills.  This is the official version anyway, sanitised by the passage of time.  Some old beards who worked down at the mill as lads in the beginning of the 20th century, however, recalled a cruder alternative in a documentary I saw years ago: Cotton C*nts.

Fair enough.

Angels or not, this painting is my tribute to those largely nameless girls and women who shaped Forssa into The City of Colourful Cloth.

The history of my hometown has inspired me to a great extent and I cannot deny the influence Finnish design has had on my work.  There are many artists and designers I feel indebted to, with special thanks given to Aini Vaari, who drew patterns for Finlayson in the 1950’s and 60’s.  My painting “1958”, featuring her Coronna-design as a background motif, continues to be one of my own favourites.

At the time I was obsessed about mid-century Americana in Scandinavian graphic design, such as the Boston cigarettes pack featured in my painting.  It is modelled on a real pack of fags given to me by my builder dad, who had found it under a floor on one of his job sites.  Either left behind by accident in the late 50’s or placed there to amuse renovators of the future, the dinky cigarette case was all crinkled up, but as vibrant in colour as on the day it was printed.

"1958"

Oddly enough, the other paintings I am currently working on, too, remind me of home.  Most of these pocket sized portraits feature my immediate family back in Finland.  Although I have lived overseas for ten years and a bit, it is this pandemic that makes me feel light years away from them.  Tracing the likeness of my dad or my wee sister makes me feel that little bit closer to them when the world seems to be going down the toilet.

But enough of that negativity already.  I should be back at my 9-5 in a few weeks’ time, fingers crossed, and in the meantime I have a studio full of paintings to finish.

So happy painting!

Tx

Work in Progress

I don’t know about you, but I am really struggling to get anything finished these days.

So, in the spirit of keeping calm and carrying on, I thought I’d give you a few work-in progress-snaps.  Y’know, in case you too are browsing the underbelly of internet rather than getting back to work.  I would know… after all, I am writing this to actively avoid getting any painting done.

Lots of little paintings needing to be finished in my studio

As you can see, my little family of portraits is steadily growing and I do promise to get on with it all.

Tomorrow, maybe.

In general, I do find working on multiple paintings pretty useful.  Mainly, as it stops me from getting bored of my own work.  Also, when using oil paints, this will give you something dry enough to paint on each day.  That is the theory anyway.  Right now I have a studio full of little paintings, like a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.

The latest additions are my wee sister (left) and me (right), captured around 1996-1997 or so, and my husband’s dad (centre).  I never got to meet John, which makes rendering a likeness quite difficult, but we are getting there.  Painting a portrait from a photograph alone can be a bit tricky, but luckily I have my hubby to guide me through it.  As silly as it sounds, sometimes you can paint the most perfect copy of a photograph, yet as a portrait it looks nothing like the person photographed.  This wasn’t a problem when I was painting my dad, for example, as I know his features better than my own.  I loved being able to spot any rogue brush strokes immediately, but here I am not quite so sure of myself.

We’ll just going to have to wait and see how this portrait develops.

The other thing I’ve been working on is the vibrant rainbow swirl pictured above.  It started out as a colour test for another project, really, but could mature into a piece of its own.  I am currently waiting for the paint to dry on this one so I could start adding new elements on top of the oil painted base-layer.

So stay tuned – how long can it take to find inspiration locked in a small cottage in the middle of a pandemic?  Right!?

Oh, and allow me to toot my own horn a bit.  If you fancy more of these work in progress type of posts, head over to my Instagram;  you’ll get your fix there.

Cheerio.

Tx

Nothing but a Hound Dog – digital illustration

Greeting from lockdown guys – things have not quite reached the banana bread-stage of cabin craziness, but we’re almost there.  In avoidance of baked goods, I thought it would be nice to brush up my Photoshop skills and add new digital work on my illustration portfolio.

Now, I’ve used Photoshop in the past to work out packaging concepts and edit other work, including finishing off hand-drawn illustrations, but always steered away from making creative work completely digitally.  There’s nothing too dramatic behind my Adobe antipathy: I find making digital images less interesting than drawing by hand, partly because of my limited skillset in rendering illustrations to the standard I expect from my other creative work.

big dog illustration by Tiina Lilja

I once had a teacher who told me the biggest back-handed compliment you could throw on a calligrapher was to say their work looks just like it has been printed.  Fifteen-odd years later, her way of thinking still affects the way I assess my own design work.  Whether hand-drawn or not, the greatest value I can add to a piece of work is my handwriting: my personal style or approach, a wee touch of humanity, if you will.  When it comes to digital media, illustration in particular, I appreciate work that does not reveal its origins too easily.

Do not be fooled into thinking this means I despise digital means of creating imagery, on the contrary – I find it sort of magical.  Like good painting or a drawing, a good digital illustration carries a mark of its maker.  And do I think conveying a sense of individuality through the artists’ handwriting is more difficult to achieve digitally than simply by pressing a pencil against a half-decent sheet of Fabriano.

cavalier king Charles spaniel illustration by Tiina Lilja This one was inspired by Staffordshire dog statues.

This is really what I have been practising recently – adding to my digital illustrations that little je ne sais quoi.  I chose to go about it roughly the same way that I began developing my style of painting, about a thousand years ago now: by copying other artists’ work, studying their methods of image making and listening to helpful advice from my seniors.  Thankfully, did not need to start tracing over Guernica from the pages of an art directory, technology has moved on a fair bit since the late nineties, and I simply watched helpful tutorials from YouTube, most notably from Retro Supply & Co.

A shout-out to these guys, they are great.

When it comes to learning, imitation really is a form of flattery.  It is pretty much the same as cooking industrial quantities of Nigella’s scrumptious banana bread until you develop a recipe of your own.  The process takes time and you are sure to find yourself in that awkward half-stage where your work is strongly influenced by a style or a trend yet undeniably yours.  Some of my early paintings are heavily influenced by the work of the Nordic symbolists such as Akseli Gallen-Kallela and the Pre-Raphaelite movement – does that make those canvasses any less my own in your view?

german shephard / Alsatian illustration by Tiina Lilja

Returning to these illustrations I have been making:  As you can see, they are all dogs, mostly my own good-boy, Rusty.  Some are based on drawings from my sketchbook, others put together completely on screen and each finished to look like vintage prints.  It is a style I have been admiring from afar, thus it felt like an approachable starting point.

For the tech curious, I use Photoshop to make my illustrations, using a stylus on a touch screen rather than a graphics tablet.  As a painter, that pen-on-paper illusion genuinely helps me to bridge the gap between what I can achieve on paper and on screen.

I do hope you have enjoyed this interlude to view my illustrations.  If nothing else, it feels great to be confident enough on my digital work that I can publicise it to you here.  My side-hustling days as a freelance designer have been put to rest for a bit since I began working as a studio painter, but maybe this is something I should write about more.  The rift between arts and design is frankly ridiculous and I am tired of feeling like my design work is some sort of a dirty secret when exhibiting fine art and vice versa.  There are ultra-talented people working on both sides of the fence and we would be better off talking to each other more.

Tiina x

Life on lockdown

Greetings from lockdown!  For better or for worse, I suddenly have tons of time on my hands whereas the past six months or so have practically flown by.

Unlike many creative industry professionals, especially those reliant on freelance work to survive, I am able to sit back and wait for better times in relative comfort.  If you happen to be as lucky as I am, please go and check out the Artist Support Pledge on Instagram.  The scheme is simple: artists offer their works to be sold for 200 pounds or less and commit to purchasing work from another artist once they’ve reached 1000 pounds in sales, hopefully keeping themselves and their fellow makers afloat through these uncertain times.  From a buyer’s perspective, the pledge is more than an act of charity: these artworks range from unique pieces to artist’s proofs, limited edition prints and sketches that might not otherwise be on the market.  Opportunities to browse such a large collection of artworks is rare and this might just be your change to become an art collector from the comfort of your own home.

So go on, treat yourself to a browse on #artistsupportpledge

But back to the blog:  I have been practising portrait painting.  No sitter would voluntarily enter my home studio/man-cave so I picked out my favourite family photos and started sketching.  These are all small oil paintings on canvas panels and I am hoping to finish quite a few before I’ll be back to my 9 to 5.  The one I would like to share with you is my dad Juha, circa 1986 and the first of these dinky portraits I have finished since I was furloughed.

Juha - work in progress

The reason I chose to go with canvas panels rather than stretched canvas was simple: they are affordable, easy to store, ship and frame and altogether more straightforward to work with when you are chronically short of space.  Now, I wouldn’t use these for anything bigger than an A4 as they have a tendency to warp, but the ones I am currently using are no bigger than 8×10 inches.  They arrived pre-primed, but I chose to add an additional layer of gesso anyway.  More the merrier, I say and I like to cover all pencil marks under a thin layer of primer to stop the graphite from mixing with the paint I use.  This will also help with the coverage, if like me, you prefer a strong pencil sketch to guide your brush.

Juha - work in progress

"1986" (Juha), by Tiina Lilja (2020), oil on board
“1986” (Juha), by Tiina Lilja (2020), oil on board

All and all, I was really happy how this monochrome little portrait turned out.  Obviously, my dad was chuffed to bits too.  That’s really all I want to achieve with these pieces, besides from keeping myself busy for the next few weeks to come.  If you got any juicy lockdown tips, work from home stories etc. let me know in the comments.  I’m not saying that I am slowly being driven round the bend by the sound of my husband breathing and whatnot, but y’know.

Otherwise, keep calm and paint on.

Tiina x

Two Brides

I have written a bit about the Two Brides before, first focussing on the element of painting a figurative portrait with the aid of photography and latterly to discuss the concept of failure as a creative practitioner.  This time, however, the piece is no longer a work in progress: I have indeed finished my first portrait of persons in nearly seven years.

Two Brides, painting by Tiina Lilja, oil on canvas (2019)

If you are a regular reader of my wee blog or you found yourself here via Instagram, I imagine you to be pretty familiar with Two Brides already.  I sketched out the foundations for this artwork in January 2019 and having moved house and struggled with achieving what I considered a good enough likeness, I worked on it in little bits until I was happy with the costumes, background and, of course, the identifying features of the faces and hands of my two subjects.  This one is a fairly classical composition, drawing heavily on the look of the 1930’s studio photography this piece was directly drawn from.  Inspired loosely by the drawing Three Brides by Jan Toorop, a Dutch-Javanese symbolist, and the zeitgeist of the period between the two world wars, Two Brides was an interesting piece to execute from start to finish.

de-drie-bruiden-jan-toorop-53113-copyright-kroller-muller-museum.jpg
Three Brides by Jan Toorop via Kröller-Müller Museum

I feel any deeper analysis of my own work would be pure hubris, so this is where I will leave you, with my favourite work-in-progress shots of this painting and a promise to get back to you soon with news of new work!

P.S. Oh yes, and here’s a wee bonus: Seems like the Snapchat genderswap-filter does work on paintings too!  I hope you find these as funny as I do…

Voilà. 

T xxx

Lilium Candidum

It has been a while since I added to my Toussaints series, so I am pleased to introduce Lilium Candidum, the latest of these mixed media pieces based on/ up-cycled using early 20th century religious prints I have collected from the South of France.

The print of the Madonna and Child I started with was originally manufactured in Florence, as indicated by a small label still attached to the back of the piece.  Not that it came as a huge surprise – this picture with its heavy lacquer, the grandiose gilded frame and how it was mounted on wood, is a text-book example of mass produced Italian souvenirs.  My guess is that it is also not nearly as old as you might first think it is, dating anywhere between early 1960’s to 1980’s.  So not exactly a masterpiece of the Italian arts, but a perfect candidate for repainting.

Before beginning, though, I had to address some issues within the structure of this piece.  The lightweight wooden frame had a coating of plaster that was cracked in places and missing bits of paint.  Now, I would not take this approach with an antique frame, but the most cost effective way for me to stabilise it was to glue in any large chunks of plaster as well as loose paint and fill the voids with bog-standard wood filler.  Having waited for my repairs to dry I gave these spots a light sanding and touched up missing paint with my oil paints.  I had no desire to replace the missing gilding, but as the frame had been purposely distressed by the manufacturer, my repairs done with non-metallic paints were practically invisible anyway.

Lilium Candidum by Tiina Lilja - work in progress

The theme of this piece came straight out of my latest sketchbook:  I have been obsessing over bygone medical illustration for some time and wanted to combine anatomical motifs with vintage style floral patterns – this picture with its dark background felt like the perfect backdrop to explore these ideas using white paint markers.  By dividing the image into three separate fields using two circles drawn on top one another,  I managed to create a sense of structure within a fairly straightforward composition as well as in painting a distinct decorative backdrop for my two main subjects, Madonna and Child and a line drawing of a human heart.

Lilium Candidum by Tiina Lilja - work in progress

With all of these elements completed in white, I used spray varnish to isolate my drawn layer and used thin washes of oil paint to add colour on top of it.  It took me a bit of going back and forth before I was completely happy with the results, but I was able to achieve a good contrast of white and coloured drawn elements by alternating between white paint markers, varnish and oil paint.  Once the drawing was completed, now a mixture of tinted line work and thicker outlines in pure white, I chose to cover all voids in my background with a simple mint green-to-teal gradient.  This made the painting appear more complete and allowed the tinted lines of the lilies merge in with the gilding of the wooden frame.

Lilium Candidum painting by Tiina Lilja 2019

All and all, a happy little repaint job.  What a shame it took me so long to get it finished after months of gathering dust in the studio!

Named after a white lily, also known as the Lily of the Virgin Mary, Lilium Candidum will be the last one of the Toussaints… for now.  Although, I am off to France for a well-earned summer holiday in a week or two and who knows what I find rummaging through the brocantes and depots-vente by the foot of the Montagne Noire!

 À la prochaine!

Tiina x