Expressing Mystery – Self-Portrait as a Fox

"Self-Portrait as a Fox" - an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

In my latest webinar, I showed some unconventional ways to make portraits. This week, I show how to build the sense of mystery for a portrait. Here’s my sample project, an acrylic painting that I made on a sketchbook. It’s called “Self-Portrait as a Fox.”

In Finnish, we have a saying “ketunhäntä kainalossa” – “to have a foxtail under the arm.” It means that someone tries to hide the true thoughts or goals, and you are noticing it. So it’s like a mystery that’s partly revealed without intention to do so.  When building a mystery for the portraits, you somehow have to show that foxtail – to reveal a part of the mystery. Otherwise, the viewer doesn’t realize there’s any mystery at all. Think about leaving the fox out of the portrait above and just trying to express it all with the eyes. It wouldn’t have the same effect.

Expressing Mystery 1 – Start with a Mysterious Space

The lighting has a lot to do with mystery. Think about mysterious scenes in the movies – the light plays an important role there. Instead of trying to add spots of light after adding the face, start by painting the space where all happens.

Step 1 for expressing mystery. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Expressing Mystery 2 – Discover Facial Features

Once you have painted the background full of fun details, try to see a person there. You don’t have to see the whole face, but a cheek, an eye or a nose is enough. Add more facial features so that you can better see the face. Don’t outline everything. It’s a mystery, remember! The face should look like it rises from the background.

Step 2 for expressing mystery. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I rarely get the facial features to look mysterious enough at this point. I suggest that you don’t even bother to try. Just make it clearer where the person is. For this project, I didn’t use any reference images for the face. If you do, use the reference to get some ideas, but don’t make the face too defined.

Expressing Mystery 3 – Connect the Face and the Background Together

Now add more elements to the background. Add geometric shapes to outline hair and to dig out other interesting stuff. You don’t have to know the mystery yet. Keep the process mysterious enough!

Step 3 for expressing mystery. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

To me, it usually happens that if I don’t know the mystery, I don’t have the idea of the facial expression either. I covered the mouth so that I don’t focus too much on that. Working with acrylics is easy because you can always add new layers.

Expressing Mystery 3 – Add Symbolic Elements

Boost the mystery by adding symbolic elements that create tension for the person. I chose a fox and a rose.

A fox and a rose. Photography by Paivi Eerola from Peony and parakeet.

To maintain the mysterious atmosphere, I painted the fox and rose petals so that they partly disappear into the background.

Step 3 for expressing mystery. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

If you use reference photos pick just some details that you replicate more carefully. Put the reference photos away after a while so that they don’t dictate you and reduce the mysterious feel.

Expressing Mystery 4 – Finish the Facial Features

Build connections between the elements and the face by adjusting the facial features. Think about something happening at the scene and the reaction that it embarks. Here, the woman and the fox react differently. The woman looks surprised, but the fox doesn’t. If I had continued with this setting, I would have also added the element that causes the reaction toHowever the picture.

Step 4 for expressing mystery. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

However, I was not satisfied with the idea of the woman and the fox reacting differently. So I repainted the nose and the mouth and made the face shorter so that the woman looks as conniving as the fox. Now the focus is on what they think and initiate.

Detail of an acrylic painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Expressing Mystery 5 – Repeat Some Shapes and Colors

To make the painting more unified and to highlight the mysterious feel, add similarities between the biggest elements. I made some of the triangles resemble the fox’s ears, and continued the fox so that there’s the tail too. The tail is very similar to the woman’s hair. This kind of vagueness – when the viewer doesn’t fully see what belongs to where – also adds to the mystery.

"Self-Portrait as a Fox" by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a sketchbook. See her tips for expressing mystery in portraits!

I hope you enjoyed these tips, and hopefully, I will see you at Innovative Portraits as well!

Innovative Portraits – Refresh the Way You Make Portraits!

In the new upcoming class Innovative Portraits, we will discover new paths to painting and drawing portraits. This class is about increasing artistic looseness, adding more style by using shapes and colors, and inventing ideas so that you never wonder what to put in the background. >> Sign up NOW!

Innovative Portraits, drawing faces and portraits in mixed media. An online art class by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Innovative Portraits includes a 3-month membership in my art community Bloom and Fly so you will also get monthly live sessions and weekly feedback Tuesdays. >> Sign up NOW!

3 Weird but Working Tricks for Portraits

Here’s the replay of yesterday’s free webinar “3 Weird but Working Tricks for Portraits”. There was a slight delay with some pictures, but I have edited the recording so that it won’t show there. I hope you will enjoy these ideas and mindsets!

Drawing Faces – Refresh the Way You Make Portraits!

In my new upcoming class Innovative Portraits, we will discover new paths to painting and drawing portraits. We will gather ideas, make sketches to process them and find solutions to the problems that have caused frustrations. This class also includes a 3-month membership in my art community Bloom and Fly so you will also get monthly live sessions and weekly feedback Tuesdays.

Innovative Portraits, drawing faces and portraits in mixed media. An online art class by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Innovative Portraits – Reserve Your Spot Now!

The early-bird price is available when you sign up before Sept 16, midnight PDT.
>> Sign up NOW!

Technique, Style or Identity? Which comes first to you?

I re-wrote an old blog post because this is the subject that’s close to my heart!

Technique

During the past ten years, I have wanted to learn and experiment with art techniques. It has been fun to combine all kinds of supplies and see what comes out. It has often felt that after I have learned the technique, I can then do whatever I want with it. But many times, adding a new technique to my repertoire has just grown more doubts about my style.

Playing with collage art techniques. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Style 

Style means something that you are comfortable with doing, and that makes your work recognizable. When I have been unsuccessful in finding my visual style, I have had too much focus on the result and too little on the play. Techniques may change, but discovering the how you can process inspiration and what inspires you, and then connecting all that with shapes and colors and compositions, produces style.

Three Churches of St. Petersburg. A mixed media watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Made for the class Watercolor Journey.

Identity

Even when working full-time as an artist, I sometimes still have problems in calling myself an artist. I wonder, why there’s so much talk about finding your style and so little about finding your identity as an artist? It includes me too. I often talk and think about style issues when I should think about identity issues. It’s easier to analyze the line, the theme, the mark making, than talk about things that go deeper.

Things like:

1) Why do you make art?
2) How do you define the quality of your art?
3) What’s your role in the art community?
4) What’s different with you from the artists that you admire?
5) When and how do you know that you have succeeded as an artist?

Most of these questions are valid whether you are a beginner or more advanced. The answers change when your journey progresses.

Paivi Eerola and her oil painting Heaven and Earth.

When your order is 1) identity, 2) style, 3) technique
your art becomes more expressive because you allow more play,
you take on new challenges because your art has a purpose,
and you connect more with people because you have a natural urge to share.

The Exploring Artist – Few Spots Left!

The Exploring Artist - a coaching program for finding your artistic identity. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

In The Exploring Artist, you will grow your artistic identity in a small and tight-knit group. I will personally help you to put your passion into words and visual insights. We will work together to discover what you want to change in your art, where you want to move forward and how to do it. The registration closes on Sunday, Sept 9 (midnight PDT).

>> Sign up now!

Free Webinar – 3 Weird But Working Tricks for Portraits

3 Weird but Working Tricks for Portraits, sign up for a free webinar! Weird portraits that you will want to try! By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

My free webinar is especially for you who

… is bored by always starting a portrait in the same way
… wants to deliver an emotion but end up struggling with stiffness
… aims for bright colors and quirky facial features without being too naive

In the webinar, I will show you three different ways to make a portrait. These are weird portraits and weird tricks but they work, and I am pretty sure you will want to play with them long after our gathering! And if you are interested in my upcoming class Innovative Portraits, this is a chance to explore the subject before the class begins.

3 Weird But Working Tricks for Portraits – Join Us!

The live webinar will be on Sept 13, 2018,  6 PM London / 1 PM New York. The duration will be approximately 40 minutes, and the recording will be available afterward.

The webinar is over but you can watch the recording here!