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

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

If first you don’t succeed…

Having spent some time with my Double Exposure-project and learned a bit of printmaking, I am now back in the atelier, working to finish my portrait of the two brides from the 1930’s.  Although I initially enjoyed working on people and costumes again, one detail kept giving me nightmares: the second bride had a really unpleasant face.  Compared to a pretty successful portrait of the left hand figure, this one seemed both incomplete and overworked at the same time, making the whole painting feel unbalanced.  Now, I am not one to give up lightly, but having tried improving this face several times without significant success there was only one thing for it: paint it over and start again.

So, following a bit of doubt and self-pity, this is exactly what I proceeded to do… and boy I wish I had done it sooner!  Some weeks have passed since I got rid of the old face – when covering up large details with oil paint you must be careful about allowing adequate drying time, and I am now making great progress with this piece.  The new face is just how I wanted it: calm and soft featured, the perfect counterpart to my first figure whose confident form has hardly changed since I began the painting.

Two Brides, work in progress by Tiina Lilja - repainting a face with oil paints

It is never easy to start again, having admitted defeat, even when you are confident about being able to turn things around.  I was terrified the old face was the best I could achieve and that kept me from making any radical changes for a long time.  Ultimately, if everyone was this terrified of failure, there would be not be a Guernica, or Sistine Chapel… no Jimson Weed.  True failure is not about ability or achievement at all – it is what you choose to carry with you when moving on from an adversary event.  In a society where an instant reward is expected to follow the slightest of efforts, it is natural to consider the absolutes of failure or victory as the only acceptable outcomes regarding work, education or personal development.  In reality, there is a huge and productive grey area between the two.

If I would only stick to painting what I know well my work would be pretty dull.  I paint high end goods for a luxury market so the pieces I put forward must be of a good standard, consistently.  This does not mean, however, avoiding challenging myself or aiming to create pieces that are merely good enough rather than good.  The world of fine art can be fickle; trends fly by and what constitutes as good varies from person to person.  The only way I can be confident about my work is to paint to a standard where I am happy with everything, first and foremost.

There is still a bit to go before Two Brides is finished, but I am on the right track again.  Being at peace with the faces, I feel optimistic about cracking on with other important details.  Today I am particularly excited about the pearl embellished head-dress of the first bride and the second ones capped veil – small details that are suddenly very visible without the distraction of that awful face.

‘till next blog,

Tiina x

 Niña Verde – portrait of Santa Muerte

The story of my latest painting started out with a book: Santa Muerte – the History, Rituals and Magic of Our Lady of the Holy Death by Tracey Rollin.  As mentioned on my previous post, I collect lithographs of Catholic saints and I was curious about this “Skinny Lady”: a relative newcomer among the heavenly host.  Not actually venerated nor even approved by the Catholic authorities, Santa Muerte is a female folk saint from Mexico.  She is the personification of death and the protector of those living in the fringes of society.  The followers of her cult believe by embracing death they will better appreciate life.

Santa Muerte is depicted as a skeleton not afraid to flaunt her femininity.  She can wear plain black robes in full grim-reaper style, but more often than not, she is presented in elaborate dresses, long wigs and ornate headpieces.  The different parts of Santa Muerte’s persona are divided by colour and her outfits tend to reflect a particular aspect the owner of her figurine wishes to gain favour from, i.e. red for sex and passion, gold for wealth and so on.  For aesthetic reasons alone, I chose to paint the emerald glad Niña Verde.  According to Tracey Rollin (Santa Muerte, 2017), Niña Verde is the green aspect of Santa Muerte and her most popular function is to deflect and otherwise solve legal problems.  Less concerned about escaping justice than making art, I wanted to play with the dress-up element of this particular folk-saint and chose to depict her in the nicest garment I personally own: my wedding dress.

It has been quite some time since I started and finished a figurative piece without a reference point of a physical object and painting “Niña Verde” from my imagination alone was like using muscles I did not remember I had.  Quite frankly, like the day after taking on running, I cannot quite tell whether I will have the perseverance to keep at it.  For better or for worse, working without a real model for this piece turned out to be helpful.  To return to the sports metaphors, if I may, painting from imagination is like riding a bike; you never really forget how it is done.

Surprisingly, it was the background in this portrait that gave me most trouble.  First altered from dark slate-ish grey to salmon pink, I finally settled with a teal-to-navy gradient that I was happy with.  It is not unusual for me to adjust these types of details when putting a painting together, but changing a background tree times in one small piece has to be a new record.

 Niña Verde – portrait of Santa Muerte by Tiina Lilja

I personally see parallels between this piece and my past Barbie-works.  A female saint of death is just as good of an excuse to paint an over-the-top feminine portrait as a Barbie-doll would be.  Besides, I have plans to give objects a break and return to more traditional portraiture.  In able to do that, I needed to practise my costume painting skills.  The reason I originally started shifting towards object painting was my interest in replicating different materials and textures; painting glass, silicone and aluminium being my favourites.  These new pictures I am currently sketching out on canvas will feature a plethora of different types of textiles and hopefully, some fur too.

But that is a subject of another blog.

Until next time,

Tiina x