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

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

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