I have been following Pirkko Mäkelä-Haapalinna ever since she burst onto the Pastel Society of America’s Facebook stage. I featured her painting, “Memories,” last March in my monthly curation of work seen that month, and so I was so pleased to hear it had won 3rd prize in the abstract/non objective category of the 17th Pastel 100, the Pastel Journal’s annual competition.
Needless to say, I was delighted when Pirkko Mäkelä-Haapalinna accepted my invitation to guest blog. At this time of self-reflection at the end of the year, I thought Pirkko’s work was a perfect match for winter solstice and pondering the year past. Before I let her speak, here are a couple of pieces to whet your appetite. They are along the same symbolic and metaphorical theme as “Memories.”
Pirkko Mäkelä-Haapalinna – a short bio
Here’s a wee background for Pirkko Mäkelä-Haapalinna. She was born in Finnish Lapland in 1960. She received her ceramist education in the Arts and Crafts School in Rovaniemi and also did some fine arts studies at the Faculty of Art and Design in the University of Lapland. Since 2000 she has been painting mainly with pastels. She’s had several solo and group exhibitions in Finland and abroad, and her paintings have received awards. She is a member of the board of the Artists’ Association of Lapland and a signature member of the Pastel Society of America (PSA).
So Pirkko, the stage is yours!!
Pirkko Mäkelä-Haapalinna – “Some lines about my working”
In my art, I search for the tangible surface between the inner world and the observable one. My intention is make more pronounced the meaning and inner essence of everyday life.
My background as an artist lies in ceramics. Maybe that is why choosing pastels felt natural and comfortable to me at the beginning of this millennium.
Changing to pastels after ceramics took a couple of years. I had sold my ceramic studio in 1995 and had health problems with my neck and wrists. I tried some watercolours but they felt so powerless to me. Then I bought some pastels and added those to my aquarelles and that was it! With ceramics one has immediate touch of the material. With soft pastels you are closest to the paper with almost the same feeling. Doing ceramics I was dealing with powdered pigments and so the substance feeling was similar to pastels. To learn how to pastel, I went to the Internet and found, for example, the Pastel Journal and Pastel Society of America (PSA). From the library I borrowed art books and tried to figure out the techniques of old masters. This took some years.
I have been painting with pastel about 15 years now. I am deeply enchanted with the intensity of the colours of soft pastels. Different papers and surfaces fascinate me, too. I love to feel their texture with my hands. I also want my touch to be seen in the result. That is why I use, for example, wooden sticks to scratch the paper even when the under painting ink is still wet.
The lights and atmospheres that touch one’s feelings are my subjects. The memories of beholding beauty, empowering experiences, and things that people have an overwhelming relationship with, inspire my works. I study the core of the identity through the key experiences in the surroundings and environment. I also get ignited when something gets a metaphorical new meaning and scale.
Thinking of my subject matters, my input angle is more narrative and experimental than analytical. I am drawn to the element of water. I lived next to the lake all my childhood and have now returned back to live here. Flowing water symbolizes time. I quiet my soul by watching ever-running water. Flowing water in my paintings is also part of my intention to move inwards. The unseen underwater realms and reflections of water are an endless treasury for inspiration.
I painted the water experience and water for a couple of years after I moved back to lakeside. But this year has been different because there came things in life that made a change. My father passed away at the beginning of summer and I was sitting beside his bed at that very moment. Because of his sickness I was unable to paint for a couple of months in the spring. But after his death I started to go more abstract. There was no other way that I could have expressed my inner thoughts and feelings. Those fragile plant-like uncertain lines came into my paintings, as I wanted to depict the fragility of life. Martha Nussbaum puts it verbally: “Human condition of the ethical life is based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility.” As an artist I am drawn to deep things of inner life. The situation of my life is reflected to my paintings.
Painting is the natural way for me to explain myself and my surroundings and also the holistic understanding of life and worldview. But just depicting my subjects is not enough for me. I want to create an atmosphere for the spectator that raises questions and feelings. The starting point of my works lies in realism, but I am heading towards simplified abstraction. I am working on an area where the figurative and abstractive presentations meet.
My working process is a combination of planned and intuitive. I am quite lazy about doing any sketches but I do have a plan in my mind. Sometimes, however, the work starts to talk to me and propose a “better” approach. There are also moments of anxiety and struggle, but “Chance favours the prepared mind.”
I usually use inks for my under paintings as they combine well with pastel. And I am very happy that nowadays there are so many papers and boards that tolerate liquids. My colour scheme is quite subtle and I use a lot of neutrals. Maybe my northern environment and the long winter have something to do with it. I endeavour to enhance and refine my working process and its outcomes to reach my best – with all my capacity.
I like to paint on Pastelmat, light grey and white. I used to work on tinted sanded papers, but I did not feel enough freedom with those. I apply ink sometimes as washed on or random flowing so that I then rub some of it away with a rag. Sometimes I also paint an under painting that is based on my plan. Then I use brushes, but I also use a wooden stick to scratch and make lines for the structure and texture. I am fond of very soft brands of pastels such as Sennelier, Terry Ludwig, and Mount Vision. The thickness of layers varies depending on the subject. Sometimes in the same painting I put very thin ones in one place and almost impasto in another.
I hope to paint daily, and I quite often succeed. If there is a longer break for some reason, it takes some time to get back to “business” again. I think it is very important to have undisturbed painting periods such as preparing for an exhibition because work itself begins to guide and give direction to the next painting. I am most happy if I can start right after my morning coffee and even with my morning gown still on. This is possible as my studio is connected to our living room. When I start painting I lose my sense of time. But if I paint too late in the evening I find it difficult to get a sleep as my mind is still with the painting. Long walks in the woods help me both physically and mentally to get some distance.
Thank you so much Pirkko for your expressive images and meaningful words.
Pirkko Mäkelä-Haapalinna’s prices range from US$500 to US$2000 (for about a 30 x 40 inch painting). You can contact her directly via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: +358 50 491 4672. You can also contact her through her webpage.
Please leave a comment. We’d love to know your response to Mäkelä-Haapalinna’s work and process!
Until next time,