Can You Draw?

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet, with pens and paints

All my life I have wanted to learn how to draw. Whatever skills I have learned during the years, there has always been this one yearn: to know how to draw. Sometimes I have thought that I finally master the skill, only to realize it again: No, not yet.

But now, when most of this agony is over, I want to share my story and ask you: what does it mean when you say you can or can’t draw? People often say: “I can’t even draw a stick figure!” That probably means that they refuse to even try.

colorful autumn leaves

My most humiliating moment connected to drawing was, when I was about 8 years old and we had to draw trees at school. “Do not make a mess”, the teacher said. But oh no, I did make a mess and I had to watch my teacher to show me how to draw a tree. The tree she drew looked nothing like one. It was barely a branch, almost just a stick. At least it was not a living tree. I heard her sigh and say how she could not draw either!

three leaves , a stick figure drawing

I continued practising. As a result, I realized that those who drew stick figures did not actually look at the object. When they were given the three leaves, they drew three symbols of leaves. So I thought that if I actually examined the objects like they were not leaves at all, I could draw them more realistically.

three leaves, a realistic line drawing

But the three leaves, which I brought home in a pocket, are beautiful, natural, living things. When I look at them I feel their presence and they evoke thoughts. They are not just flat objects either. If I drew how my eyes trace the leaves, how would that look like?

Three leaves, a sketch-like drawing

This is what I learned in my teenage years: I could use several lines for drawing, starting with thin and light lines and ending with strong, dark lines. The end result would not be bad at all, even if I made mistakes in the beginning. This was when I first assumed that I can draw. At least I was able to produce realistic looking pictures.

But soon, I got doubts. Browsing art books every week at the local library of the small home town, I saw many outstanding masterpieces. The deeper I dived into the art history, the more I thought about the difference between copying and drawing from the memory.  I assumed that most of the great artists had the ability to understand proportions and structures so that they could draw anything, without having a model or a photograph.

three leaves, drawn without a model

So I abandoned the models, mirrors and other images. My goal was to draw whatever popped up into my mind. The amount of drawing that I had done, had left marks to my memory. With some practice, I was able to draw ordinary objects, like leaves. But again, it did not satisfy me. I had discovered a new factor: a line. A line is not just a line. It is a kind of signature. It can be fast and effortless or slow and dull. And mine was more the latter.

I discovered artists who really can draw. Like Finnish female artist Miina Äkkijyrkkä. I began envying those flowing lines. Meanwhile I had graduated as an industrial designer. Should I get back to school again? And if so, where? I decided to learn by myself.

At this point, I have to tell you that I have learned many crafts by myself and it has not always been very efficient. When I learned quilting, I refused to iron even if every quilting book said so. It took me ten years to actually master that skill, meaning: use that iron and acknowledge that it really makes the difference. When I decided to learn drawing, I was afraid that I would omit something important again while rushing towards the goal. So I took a very slow approach. I figured out that if I start from a basic shape and make enough repeats, I will learn to draw. So I picked my favorite shape, a circle, and began doodling.

While learning to draw a circle with an expressive line, I realized that I could pick out my circles from those made by others. So I added a new factor to the definition of drawing: a style. I wanted to have my own style, my own line. Most evenings, after the day job, I drew circles examining my thoughts and the way of looking at the world. I learned that a simple circle can be a very complicated shape. And even more: when combined with other circles, it’s almost too complicated. You can draw small circles, big circles, closed circles, open circles, ovals … add circles inside another circle, build a tower with circles … I became fascinated by the circles. It felt like knitting: a small movement after another, and within few weeks, you will have something grand to look at!

three leaves, a line drawing by Peony and Parakeet

As months and months went by, I had a growing hunch that I had found my style. I became convinced that if I am brave enough to let that circle alter its shape, I am able to draw with my own voice. Once I jumped into that, I felt tremendious joy. Looking at the shapes flowing out of my pen was amazing. Could I finally call that drawing?

Then I remembered something that I had always loved: imitation. The joy of finding my own style changed to the urge to learn imitating different styles. It would be so great to draw like many masters that I had admired since browsing the art books at the public library!

Three leaves, a line drawing by Peony and Parakeet

I wanted not only to draw like romantic, I wanted to draw in an edgy and masculine way.

Three leaves, a line drawing by Peony and Parakeet

I wanted to simplify without taking the life out of the drawing.

Three leaves, a line drawing by Peony and Parakeet

I wanted to learn various historical styles, like art nouveau.

Ants flying with leaves, a skecth by Peony and Parakeet

And I also wanted to learn to use the imagination and play with the theme. Wouldn’t it be cute if ants could use the falling leaves as aeroplanes? Then they would certainly have their own landing strip and air traffic control!

What is drawing?

Then one day I realized that, for me, learning how to draw is not about me drawing. It is more about making you draw. I think that teaching drawing is my final definition about the ability to draw. That’s why I am currently creating a book about how to learn drawing in a way that is enjoyable and something very different from the tutorials you have seen around the internet and book stores.

Let me be your art teacher: subscribe to my weekly emails and get more stories about enjoying art. Also, leave a comment and share what you think about drawing!

Light, Water and Fire

Graceful Aria, a watercolor painting by Peony and Parakeet

This watercolor painting is one of those I made for the video Watercolor 101 for Intuitive Painting. The painting uses the techniques presented on the video, so I won’t publish phase photos this time as they are on the video. Buy the video and you’ll learn the techniques!

This blog post is about doubt – the doubt that all the beauty you can create in your art does not really exist. Who cares? Well, at least I do. To be exact, a part of me does. Besides design, I have a degree in computer science and sometimes I can be an overly organized and analytical person. So, there’s a little engineer in me who always questions what I am doing. I call her “he” here, just to separate the little engineer from the little artist (the artistic side of me) easily.

When she showed him the watercolor painting, the little engineer said:
- “Ok, but can this really exist?”
- “Well, it’s an intuitive painting expressing how I see the music”, she answered, feeling a bit offended.
- “It is called Graceful Aria”, the little artist continued.
- “I just see some kind of landscape there”, he said. “It makes me wonder if that kind of landscape could really exist.”
- “I don’t think the landscape is important here. If you want to grab something concrete, you should look for the light and water. This painting focuses on them.”
- “This is just the kind of dreamy thoughts from you, that I do not understand. I just see trees, mud and some sky. But to be honest – if you want to paint trees, mud and sky, you could do a better job there.”

The little artist gritted her teeth. But then she realized she could actually show the connection of light and water. Namely, the little engineer had filed all her photographs so that it would be really quick to find the nature’s wonders she had documented while the little engineer had controlled the leashes of the dogs.

Sunset in Finland, a photo by Peony and Parakeet

“Remember this evening?”, she asked. “See how the light hits the leaves!”

Spring Rain in Finland, a photo by Peony and Parakeet

“This spring was really rainy. You hated the rain, but look how beautiful and soft it can be!”

Nature's Diamonds, Finland, a photo by Peony and Parakeet

“And you must remember this magical morning, when the rain drops had frozen and it was like millions of diamonds were set on the trees!”

The sky after the rain, Finland, a photo by Peony and Parakeet

“When we walked home one afternoon, it was mesmerising to see the sky refelecting from the fresh asphalt. In the painting, the water creates wonders too. It makes the watercolors show their true beauty.”

Mornings in March in Finland, a photo by Peony and Parakeet

“I always want to photograph this, when in March, the snow and light interact with each other. The snow is frozen water, did you know that?”

“Of course I knew that! Ok, you proved your point. If you could always present things as systematically as you did here, we would not have any problems, you know.”

A detail of a watercolor painting by Peony and Parakeet

- “I need a nap today since it’s so tiring to explain big things, like art, to you.”
- “I thought I was able to fire you up to get the blog post done! Go ahead and take the nap, meanwhile I can sort out and sharpen your colored pencils!”

Paint with Me!

Watercolor 101 for Intuitive Painting, an inspirational video by Peony and Parakeet

Big news! I have created a video about intuitive watercolor painting. I will show you my favourite techniques but it is much more than a technique video. With the video, you learn to create intuitive paintings with watercolors and finish them with color pencils.

When I thought all those watercolor sets that have been abandonded, I got a strong urge to make the video. I have been working day and night to get this video out and spread the love about watercolors!

I think that watercolors are the foundation. They are The Supplies that can really express what you are feeling inside. The video is available for purchase, the price is only 12 EUR. Read more!

Create Pastel Softness!

Soulmates, an illustration by Peony and Parakeet. Read more about using pastel colors and see how this artwork was made!

This time it’s all cute! I had the feeling that this blog is getting too serious. Don’t get me wrong! I want serious, I love serious and hope that you do too! Still, behind all good art, there’s a big portion of imagination. And the best way to embark that imagination is to play a little!

Cute collector teddy bears manufactured by Steiff and Teddy Hermann

So I asked my teddy bears if they were willing to help me with this post. And they responded: “Yes, sure!” When I interviewed them, they reminded me that there are two big factors in cuteness: softness and pastel colors. “My friend is a black teddy and he does not get so many hugs as I do”, said Apple Blossom. Pink Princess continued: “It’s not just the color, but it’s the fluffy softness that’s important too!” And then they both agreed that the huge nose and strong eye contact make a teddy even more successful.

Then I showed them the old scrap pictures that I had found from an antique flea market some years ago.

Cute vintage scrap pictures. Read more about using pastel colors in art!

“Oh yes!”, they giggled. “If you want to create something cute, these sure are good examples! Round shapes makes them look reaaaaally soft!”

I picked up my india ink bottles (used also in the video blog post last week) and tried to think about what kind of soft and cute to create with them.

Dr Ph Martin's Bombay india inks. Read more about creating pastel colors with them!

Then I remembered the round shapes. That could be the start.

Read more about using pastel colors and see how this artwork was finished!

So I painted some round shapes with pastel colors on a thin watercolor paper. While painting, I marked that to get beautiful pastels you need to use a lot of white. Sometimes adding a lot of white can create hues that lack softness if the base color is cold. You can fix that by adding some yellow or a tiny portion of black. Speaking of soft and white, meet another teddy of mine called Niamh …

A white teddy bear, Niamh, manufactured by Charlie Bears

I am not a big fan of white but who could not love the color after seeing her!

Back to the painting: Small shapes were added near the large ones to create cute creatures. I made some large shapes form the part of the background. More shapes were painted to made creatures more interesting.

Read more about using pastel colors and see how this artwork was made!

I made the shapes look dimensional and detailed with colored pencils.

Read more about using pastel colors and see how this artwork was made!

I finished the painting by adding more details and sharpening them with a white gel pen and a thin tip black marker. As a final touch, I added white acrylic paint on the face of the biggest creature. It lightens up the work and makes great contrast with the black. Namely, if you look at the scrap pictures and the teddy bears, the black color makes pastels looks so soft and bright. Small black dots here and there on a pastel colored circles can be enough to create a page that’s all soft and cute.

Soulmates, an illustration by Peony and Parakeet. Read more about using pastel colors and see how this artwork was made!

So, why not have a go: create a pastel colored art journal page to soften the hard world! And remember to upload your cute softness to Peony and Parakeet’s Flickr group!

Create Abstract Botanical Art!

The Odd Nature, a collage by Peony and Parakeet. Read about how to create abstract botanical art!

Last Friday I saw interesting paintings. When I see something that appeals to me, I try to analyze that in pieces. It is fascinating to find out little things that make a painting so memorable. I created this collage called “The Odd Nature” by using those factors. The whole subject – abstract botanical art – is mind-blowing.

Inspired by Hilma af Klint

Starting from the begining: I was at Hilma af Klint‘s exhibition at Kunsthalle Helsinki. I had seen few of her work before, but never this many at the same time. Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) painted botanical art and landscapes but then moved to create abstract art. She was a female artist and one of the pioneer’s of abstract art. When that is combined with her interest in spritual ideas, no wonder she did not make her work public. In fact, she ordered that her work should be shown not earlier than 20 years after her death! Look at some of Hilma af Klint’s paintings at Swedish Moderna Museet’s website.

Botanical shapes and Paivi from Peony and Parakeet at the exhibition of Hilma av Klimt

Here’s what inspired me with Hilma af Klint’s art:
1) Odd compositions that were skillfully balanced.
2) Graphic, often decorative shapes which reminded me of plants and biology.
3) The combination of bright and muted colors with great contrasts.

Zoom in on Nature!

After the exhibition, I began to think how far we often look the world around us. For me it felt like Hilma af Klint had devided living objects like plants in small components and then constructed new pieces out of them. So I began to zoom in the photos I had took from my garden this year.

Apple blossoms in black and white. Read about how to create abstract botanical art!

When thinking about the structure of an apple blossom, I remembered something which is small too: the little box where I save the tiniest scraps of my hand decorated papers.

A small box of hand decorated paper scraps. Read about how to create abstract botanical art!

Creating abstract botanicals from the paper scraps would be the thing to do!

Color Inspiration

Light in the garden. Read about how to create abstract botanical art!

The idea for the color scheme and the athmosphere came from this this photo, taken just while ago. I painted the backgound blue purple by adding several layers with watercolors.

Collage Shapes

After the background was finished, I began to create the abstract shapes.

Read about how to create abstract botanical art!

You can easily create interesting collage pieces by combining small scraps together. Your shape does not need to be perfect before glueing it on the collage. You can think the shape as a beginning of the final shape as you can add more details with paint and pen around the shape later.

Read about how to create abstract botanical art!

Composition

When glueing the shapes before they are actually finished, you need to take bold moves in the composition. I advise not to think of the composition more than this: make sure that the shapes are not evenly spread on the background. After the preliminary shapes are glued, you can then continue working with them by expanding them with painting and drawing. At the same time combine some of the shapes together and create new, smaller shapes to balance the work.

In my work, the center of the work is left almost empty. There I created a tiny detail which adds dimension to the work: a blue horizontal line near the two small circles.

A detail of the collage by Peony and Parakeet. Read about how to create abstract botanical art!

So why not pick up your scraps and honor Hilma by creating surrealistic botanical art!

The Odd Nature, a collage by Peony and Parakeet. Read about how to create abstract botanical art!

Read also

Fun Designs from Decorative Papers – An easy technique to create collage elements.
How to Draw a Rose – A simple rose seen in the collage above. You might want to use it as a decorative element too.

Video Blog: Mix-and-Match Inspiration

Watercolor painting, finished with colored pencils and markers, by Peony and Parakeet. See the video of making this artwork starting from the search for inspiration!

It’s time for a video blog post again! I will be creating this watercolor painting on the video. At the same time you will see how I grab pieces of inspiration here and there and add them to my work.

In the beginning of the video I am sitting on the floor of my new art studio. We are renovating a spare room for making art, photographing and shooting videos. I will show you more photos once the room is finished.

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet and her beagle Stella in the new art studio.

Here’s that turquoise studio wall again and me and my younger beagle, Stella. She is a very pampered pet, the sunshine of my life, also called as Princess Stephanie!

I am wearing one of my latest handknits, a sweater knit from Finnish naturally dyed wool, bought from a small Finnish company Riihivilla. If you are interested in knitting, here’s another picture of the sweater and more information about it.

Hopefully you will enjoy the video! Have a wonderful weekend full of inspiration!

5 Ways Music Can Improve Your Art

Opera, a mixed media collage by Peony and Parakeet. Read about how you can improve your art with the help of music!

This mixed media collage is called “Opera”. For me, visual images have always been more important than sounds, but I still think that there’s a lot in common and a lot to learn from music.

Tip 1: Let music challenge you!

How jazz would look like as a collage? Paint the voice of your favorite artist! Create a  rhythm to your artwork!

A week ago was my first time in opera. I had bought the tickets as a birthday present for my husband who is a very cultured person. I was a bit worried of how I would endure the experience as I had disliked opera for all my life. At least the play was one of the easiest pieces, The Marriage of Figaro. While listening the beautiful sopranos, I saw strong colors and lines in my mind. I began to think how powerful and intellectual music can be. I felt I was challenged! Could I ever express visually what I was experiencing?

However, when I began to create the collage, I did not think of opera. I knew that it would come out someday or another. Like many times, I just had a compelling idea of the technique I was going to use. I was going to create strong shapes with a molding paste.

Making of Opera, a mixed media collage by Peony and Parakeet. Read about how you can improve your art with the help of music!

But before opening the paste jar, I grabbed a sheet of heavy-weight watercolor paper and the box of india inks. Painting the background was fast with a thick brush.

Tip 2: Think your artwork as a space for music!

I read an interesting interview from the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. They had interviewed a famous Finnish painter Marika Mäkelä. She quoted another Finnish artist, Leena Luostarinen. She had said that you should imagine a lighting inside the painting. Even the colors of the painting should be considered through the lighting. I think it is ingeniously said. It made me think about the space I would create inside my artwork and how the lights, shadows and color contrasts should flow there. My addition to this thinking is: if the music was played in that space, think about how it would sound. Pick the shapes and lines to express that!

With these deep thoughts I cut both heavy and light cardboard into pieces. They were attached to the background with a masking tape.

Making of Opera, a mixed media collage by Peony and Parakeet. Read about how you can improve your art with the help of music!

See how irregular the handcut shapes are! I love the uniqueness that only handcuts can give! I can’t understand the popularity of machine-cut stencils.

Making of Opera, a mixed media collage by Peony and Parakeet. Read about how you can improve your art with the help of music!

After placing the masks on the background, I added the molding paste, a lot of it! Some swirls were doodled on the paste, so that the surface would look lively.

Making of Opera, a mixed media collage by Peony and Parakeet. Read about how you can improve your art with the help of music!

I removed the masks carefully before the paste was dry. Drying time was really long, almost a day, even if I used a heat gun to fasten the process.  I usually like to take breaks from creating, so this extra waiting time did not frustrate me at all. While I was waiting, I was thinking about how I was going to paint the artwork. How would the light flow around these dramatic shapes?

Tip 3: Pick the colors from the music

Making of Opera, a mixed media collage by Peony and Parakeet. Read about how you can improve your art with the help of music!

I like to think music as colors. The lower the notes, the darker the colors are. A melancholic song is also darker than the cheerful one. Red and orange are for deep, rich voices. You do not need to overanalyze it: just get into the feeling of the music and pick the colors that come to your mind! The Marriage of Figaro has both bright and dark sounds. I also wanted to express the dramatic nature of the music with colors.

Tip 4: Move to the rhythm of the music while creating

Making of Opera, a mixed media collage by Peony and Parakeet. Read about how you can improve your art with the help of music!

When the painting gets near the end, I often stand up. I need to see my work properly to find the essence of it.  This is the stage where I usually put the music on if I have not done it before. I wave my hands and take steps to the rhytm of the music. I try to get as close as possible to the feeling that I want to express. I also try to be as focused as possible.

White gel pen and black markers were in use as I dived into the melodies of the opera.

Tip 5: Focus your energy with the help of music

It is important not to change the music too much when you want to focus. If you listen to the variety of songs just when you make the final touches, it might not do good for your work. I often play the same song repeatedly when I am finishing the work.

A detail of Opera, a mixed media collage by Peony and Parakeet. Read about how you can improve your art with the help of music!

On the other hand, when I am in the earlier stages of the work, I am not that careful. I listen to this and that as long as it gives me energy to continue. I like to listen to the music that gives me confidence and which doesn’t feel too themed. Here are my recent favorites for boosting the creative process: A Sky Full of Stars (Coldplay), Viva La Vida (Coldplay), This Years Love (David Grey), Change (Tracy Chapman), September (Earth, Wind & Fire), Flower (Kylie Minogue), Thorn in My Side (Eurythmics), I Say a Little Prayer (Aretha Franklin).

Opera, a mixed media collage by Peony and Parakeet. Read about how you can improve your art with the help of music!

I love how dimensional my artwork became. I am also happy how finished it looks. Hand decorated papers were helpful while finishing the work. With them it is easy to add details that are interesting and different. Just do not use the same paper too much!

Sometimes I aim for flying lines and relaxed touch, but this time – it was all about opera! My computer was playing The Marriage of Figaro in high volume and I was pushing my boundaries to express the quality of the music. Then finally, after placing the two red pieces, I felt that I have solved it, the riddle of opera music!

Opera, a mixed media collage by Peony and Parakeet. Read about how you can improve your art with the help of music!

What music do you listen to while creating? Try changing the music if you want to fine-tune your art or expand to new areas!