It takes real courage to decide that your vocation in life is to be a painter. However, after a series of events in her life this is exactly what Finnish artist Carolina Grunér decided. The stars seemingly aligned and motivated her to take the plunge. Without any formal art training, Carolina has learned the art of following intuition, quietening her mind and letting her subconscious pour from her paintbrush. In this interview we learn more about her inspiring story.
Lisa: When did your journey as a painter begin?
Carolina: My journey began in January 2013, as a result of a long relationship ending and a series of health scares all at once. I had been working for the same retail company for eight years at that time, and felt that with all the life changes happening, it became a great opportunity for me to reevaluate the direction my life. So I decided to quit my job as well. I had no idea what I wanted to do instead, but I had some savings and decided to trust that it would all be alright. One day, about a month after quitting, I got a strong urge to paint a painting. Painting and drawing had always been a dear thing to me, like an escape and safe haven, but I had never dared finish any of my works. I was always too afraid I would ruin the outcome. But somehow I had found such courage and strength through losing so much that had mattered to me, that I finally felt brave enough to just go for it. So I started painting my first ever oil painting, I actually finished it and even showed it to the world, and have not looked back since.
Lisa: I read that you are a self taught painter. Do you feel that without formal training it can be difficult to assert yourself as a professional artist? Do you have advice to other painters in a similar situation who lack confidence as a result of being self taught?
Carolina: Painting has been my passion since I was a little girl, but I never dared believe it was something I could actually do. It never even felt like an option for me, as I was so insecure in myself and my skills. I had grown up thinking someone else needed to teach me how to create, and at the same time I was so insecure in myself, that I didn’t even think I was good enough to be taught.
In my eyes painting, being an artist, was for the professionals only; for the selected few. It had always felt so out of reach for me, until that day in January 2013 when I even dared try my dreaded oil colours. And as I began painting, I felt so incredibly liberated. I was happier, more comfortable, felt more powerful and aligned, than I ever had in my life. I instinctively knew how the colours worked together, how to play and dance with them, how to let the work breathe its own magic, and I knew no one could teach me that feeling. That it was in me all along. I realised I had the key to my own creativity. In a matter of minutes I went from having been so insecure, as to having that inseurity paralyse my life, to feeling there was absolutely nothing that could stop me anymore.
I believe we are all professionals in our own way. That all we need to do to become professionals is to dare begin. Dare to go for it. Dare to take those leaps of faith. Have the courage to fail, to learn and allow ourselves to make mistakes.
I nowadays cherish the fact that I am self taught. That I am daring to learn as I go along. It gives me a lot of room to listen to my own creative voice. And even though a big part of the art world still values a formal training, there is an equally strong wave of brilliant self taught artists out there who are doing it their own, unique way.
My advice to anyone who is doubting themselves because of being self taught, would be to focus on one’s own creative voice. To go within and find that brilliant gem that we all have hidden somewhere. Because that gem is the only thing that will ever be and remain unique to us. That gem cannot be taught – and we all have it. The rest we can learn. We can learn everything and anything. We learn by doing. So as long as we focus inwards and keep daring, we will grow and evolve and thrive and bloom. With or without a formal training, we are all creators.
Lisa: Pink features a lot in your work! What associations do you have with this colour?
Carolina: I actually sort of stumbled upon pink. It’s not the colour I thought I would mainly be painting when I started. On occasions I have intentionally tried to create works of different colours, but trying to steer the process consciously always ends up leading me to frustration, a lack of creative flow and/or a complete creative block. Pink is obviously the colour my heart wants to share with the world, and I am very grateful for that. I feel it’s an uplifting, soothing, nurturing and healing colour – which for me resonates completely with what I through my art hope to share with the world.
Lisa: You work intuitively and without reference material. Are there ever instances when you feel you don’t know how to start a painting? Do you have any tried and tested strategies for getting unstuck?
Carolina: For me, starting a painting actually is the easiest part. The eventual blocks usually happen when I like what I see too much. That’s when the fears of ruining the work kick in, and the mind starts wanting to take over. This is when I find it very helpful to have one or two empty canvases lying around. Pieces where I can get that fear of ruining something out, where I can just let go. Going back to that first layer energy, where there are no expectations, just free flow, always helps. And then I do my best to try and keep that energy when moving forward on the painting I was working on.
My mind is my biggest hurdle. As long as I create without thought and expectation, and instead rely on feeling and intuition, I am able to stay in my creative flow. So doing work to quiet my mind is a big part of my routine. Music also helps a lot. It is such a great way to get the energies and inspiration moving – and feel instead of think.
Lisa: The life of a painter is often a solitary one. Would you say that social media is an essential tool for feeling connected to your audience?
Carolina: I would definitely say that. I have a very introvert personality and I love my own solitude, which can lead to me not really getting out there and meeting people so much. But as any human being I also want to feel connected, and that for me, comes through sharing with others. Social media is such a wonderful way to find and connect with like minded and -spirited people. I simply adore the virtual community I have the honour of being part of, and all the incredible support of so many people from all around the world. When used wisely, I feel social media is a great gateway to connection, and opens up the doors to worlds that once were a mystery. Pieces of art that once would have been anonymous to most of us can now tell the story about the creator, at the same time as the creator gets the chance to tell the story about the art.
Lisa: How important are the quality of your paints and brushes to you? Do you have any favourite brands of art material?
Carolina: Good quality products are very important to me. As this is my profession, and with painting being such a hands on experience, I personally feel a better flow when what I work with works well. And I want to know I am giving the best I can to those who invest in what I have created.
I’ve used Gamblin’s Oil Colours for a couple of years now and absolutely love them. I recently started trying out acrylics as well, and have been very happy with Golden and Liquitex colours. I really like the Princeton Refine Artist brushes and my new found love is this huge brush from Liquitex that I was introduced to by a fellow artist on Instagram.
Lisa: You are originally from Finland, but until recently lived and worked in New Zealand; what impact do you think living there had on your artwork?
Carolina: All the light and vibrant colours of New Zealand definitely had an impact on my colour palette. We lived up on a hill with amazing ocean and mountain views, and I feel like having all that depth of so much ever changing beauty at my studio door, brought out the same in my work. My paintings went from being soft and pale to vibrant and deep. Now we are back in Finland and living in the woods, so it will be interesting to see what a complete change of scenery once again will bring out in my work.
Lisa: Yes, having recently moved back to Finland, you must be thinking all over again about what you need from your studio and your day to day life in order to maximise your creative potential. What conditions, both practical and mental, significantly help your painting practice?
Carolina: My new studio is definitely the opposite from the one I had in New Zealand. I went from a small studio with an ocean view, floor to ceiling windows and more light in a day than in the whole of Finnish winter, to a complete studio building, surrounded by trees, with small windows and not so much natural light. But stepping in to the space, it’s like stepping in to my own bubble. Coming in here, I feel I am leaving the rest of the world behind, and I love that. Even though it is still a work in progress, cleaning it out, painting cupboards and turning it from a storage and woodwork shop into an art studio, I already feel it provides me with the peace I need to create. For me it feels very important that my creative space is calm and beautiful, that it has a good energy and flow. I want my creative space to be a place where I can come and spend the whole day without feeling I am at work. To read, just lie on the couch, meditate, drink tea, listen to music, sing, and paint my heart and soul out. My home away from home.
Lisa: The next time you are in your studio, what will you do?
Carolina: I will most likely tidy up and arrange some things – as I Iove tidying and arranging – sit down on my couch, take in the space, the vibes of the paintings, quiet my mind and listen to what I can do next; if there’s a certain colour that comes to my mind to go on a certain painting, or a certain brush that wants to flow on a canvas. That is how the creative whispers work for me; like small nudges to go do.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
You can visit my website + online shop at www.carolinagruner.com and/or follow my creative life on Instagram (@carolinagruner). For those living in Finland, my studio in Sipoo is always open to come visit.
Header Image: The artist Carolina Grunér stands in front of work in progress ”All you need to do is begin”, oil on canvas, 180 x 240 cm. 2019