Surface Patterns for Hot Summer Days

Summer spread in a Smash Book, by Peony and Parakeet

This July has been wonderful in Finland. I have enjoyed gardening and photographing and it shows in my art journal too.

Summer flowers by Peony and Parakeet

Both the wildflowers and flowers in the garden look great with a dark background. So when I made the drawing with colored pencils, I added some shadows too. Great way to express sunshine is to combine black with yellow!

But my main focus was on summer fabrics. It is so much fun to design prints for summer dresses.

Art journaling about summer fabrics by Peony and Parakeet

The collage of the left is an old one. A sketch for a surface pattern made in 2011. It was made by cutting circles from handdecorated papers. This time I replicated the design by cutting circles from stamped papers.

Summer crafting by Peony and Parakeet

The summery prints are mostly made by stamping here. Paper scraps like old scrapbooking papers can be altered easily with markers, colored pencils and stamps. I always try to add subtle color variation in the background to keep the result interesting. Thinking about shadows help here too.

As you can see, my colored pencils are always with me! Hopefully your summer has been as wonderful as mine!

From Fact Finding to Quick Start

Fact Finder, an illustration by Peony and Parakeet. Tips on how to stop browsing and start creating!

She searched ideas by watching what others had made. Then she realized that she had spent hours trying to find the inspiration. And it was already too late to start making anything by her own. Besides, she was feeling overwhelmed.

Does this sound familiar to you? You might get inspired of this or that, but feel powerless to start making your own. It can be only that you are tired after a long day. Then the best you can do is to go to sleep. But if repeatedly find yourself having difficulties to begin, it might be that you are using the wrong method when searching for inspiration.

My advice is:
Use your imagination when browsing other people’s work.

When you use your imagination, you will get your own, not other people’s ideas. This requires that you do not take anything you see as a fact. Instead, you should focus on the feelings and associations which they raise.

Coming from the Library, a drawing by Paivi from Peony and Parakeet as a teenager

Here’s a crayon drawing which I made as a teenager. It is about a girl coming from the library. The weather is predicting the end of summer.

But actually, you do not need to know anything like that. The fact that the girl is standing in the middle of the picture should be irrelevant to you too. The purple dress is interesting only if you react to the color. Maybe you are touched by the combination of blue purple and bright yellow? Or maybe you get cold vibes when watching the image? Like when you were sitting on the floor of your new unfurnished home thinking of how to renovate it. Which reminds you of new beginnings and how much hope they hold. Little bit like puppies and young children …

Now you ask: would that mean that I should draw a puppy dog? Or just grab the idea of softness? You could if you feel inspired enough but I would advice you to have a bit larger mix of things. So let’s pick another image.

Four girls, a watercolor painting by Paivi from Peony and Parakeet in 1988

Here’s another work from decades ago. I used watercolors to replicate a black and white photograph of my grandmother and her three friends. Here you might think how stiff and serious people used to be in photographs. Those forced gestures are a complete opposite for the puppies. How funny the similar photo of four puppies would be!

Now you might get inspired of expressing the two opposites: stiff and free form, hard and soft. Hard can still be soft inside, like the hearts of the four young girls.

When I began working from this standpoint, I knew only this: I would begin with colouring four soft areas and at some point add both organic and angular lines to express the opposites. Then I turned the music on and went with the flow.

The Sun Always Rises in the Morning, an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet

In the end I wrote were my thoughts had led me to: “The sun always rises in the morning”. I had illustrated the change of day and night and expressed how every morning is a new beginning. Now, there’s hardly any resemblance with the images I started with. Still they gave me jumpstart to creating.

If you get stuck with having no ideas and being overwhelmed of other people’s work, you think too much about facts and give too little value to your inner thoughts. You will browse endlessly because facts never stop if your own thoughts will never get noticed.  Instead, look at few images or read few sentences and think: What is here that comes to my mind? What basic combination could I create from these just to get started?

If you look for the perfect inspiration starter, you may never find it. In fact, there’s no such thing. But if you value your own thoughts, creating art will generate happiness regardless of the original source of inspiration. Your art journal or any end result will become more and more perfect, because you are perfect for yourself.

Make Samplers to Save Bits and Pieces

Samplers by Peony and Parakeet, using stamping and embroidery

My sampler madness began when I found an unfinished embroidery project. I had started it two years ago on an online course called Happy-Go-Lucky Stitchalong. It was led by Amy Powers and the goal was to embroider a sampler showing all the things that make you happy.

An embroidered sampler by Peony and Parakeet, a phase photo

It was only a two-week course and I got some more squares done than what is shown here but there was still plenty to go. I had dyed the fabric with monoprinting method and quite liked it. I was not happy with all the embroidery that I had made but I felt compelled to finish this project. The embroidery floss I had to finish this looked so tempting!

Embroidery floss

So I began to work little every day for a couple of weeks. Some of the squares were remade and some were complemented with extra stitches.

Stitching an embroidered sampler, by Peony and Parakeet

In the end I added some more details to the background fabric using the same method than in the beginning. By using a glass plate and textile dye I was able to prints some more color and doodling to make the result even more interesting.

Monoprinting fabric, by Peony and Parakeet

I painted the frame with bright coral red to create an athmosphere of hot summer days (which I love and which are all too rare in Finland).

An embroidered sampler, sampler ideas by Peony and Parakeet

I am pretty happy with the finished piece. Can you spot a peony and a parakeet there? If you want to stitch a sampler, Amy Power’s class is rerun in August.

While stitching the sampler, I was thinking about samplers in general. They can be really handy of saving things. Even virtually! Isn’t Pinterest like a big sampler too?

An embroidered sampler, sampler ideas by Peony and Parakeet

I chose not to spend an extra hour at Pinterest but make a stamped sampler showcasing some of my favorite stamps.

Phase photo of a stamped sampler, by Peony and Parakeet

Folk style suits well to samplers so I decided to make a sampler that reminds me of folk costumes. I doodled around the stamped images to get extra details. Then I colored them with colored pencils and markers.

Phase photo of a stamped sampler, by Peony and Parakeet

Thinking of folk costumes, I got the idea of adding buttons in the middle of each square. They all had to be different, of course. That way they would repeat the idea of a sampler too.

Adding buttons to a stamped sampler, sampler ideas by Peony and Parakeet

Before sewing the buttons I had painted the frame with faux antique paint. Many folk costumes use a lot of lace and ribbons so I picked all the stamps which were like them. Luckily I had so many that I was able to use each once and get the decoration around the frame.

Rubber stamped sampler inspired by folk costumes, sampler ideas by Peony and Parakeet

While making this sampler I got the idea of a sampler made from handdecorated papers. Wouldn’t it be cool to have an art journal page showcasing the scraps of papers? Or just coloring and drawing 9 squares while on vacation, one per day and then gather them into a sampler. Or giving each family member a square … The possibilities are endless!

Rubber stamped sampler inspired by folk costumes, sampler ideas by Peony and Parakeet

Create a sampler and share it at Peony and Parakeet’s Flickr group!

Stretch Your Style

Condolences, a painting by Peony and Parakeet. Instructions about stretching your style and taking your art to a new level.

In art, I am fond of thin strokes and decorative details. I have often thought that blurry painting is like a bad photo – in need of sharpening. But slowly I have begun to get interested in blurry paintings. Those wide strokes have begun to feel tempting. The concept, where colors can take the leading role, has been sneaking into my thoughts. So, when I wanted to express something very familiar to my home country, I thought that the impressionistic style would go well with the theme.

The theme was melancholy and for me it is all about white flowers. In general I do understand the beauty of white, but personally I see it as a symbol of loss and emptiness. The painting called “Condolences”. Here I wanted to give both white and black the position where they can be heart-breakingly beautiful. I wanted to treat them as real colors, not only as the elements to create contrast or compositional space.

Taking the new route

Before I began to paint, I spent weeks of pondering the idea in my mind. After I got hold of the feeling I wanted to express, I felt unsure of how to master the technique. Then I realized: if you want to stretch your style, you need to take a new route at some point of the creative process. 

My new thing would be the way I used the acrylic paints. But I could do start with a familiar things: watercolor the background and set the basic color scene.

Starting a painting with watercolors, by Peony and Parakeet

After creating this background, I felt very comfortable: same old, same old! Then, with the help of Coldplay’s best hits, I got into the mood where I got rid of the uncertainty. When I have a clear theme in mind, I prefer to listen to the music that is pompous and not too deep. Then the music helps to improve my self-esteem without taking the focus away from the theme.

After few moments of walking around the room – that is a great way to boost your creativity too – I took the step. I mixed the paint, picked the broadest brush and dipped it to the paint. Then I began to brush boldly and very fast.

Adding acrylic paint over watercolor background, by Peony and Parakeet

If you want to accomplish something new: think before you do it, not while you do it. Let your reason go through what you should create. But while you are creating, work very fast so that you reach the pace of your creativity. If you have some kind of image in your mind about the end result, it is important to focus on the feeling you want to express. The feeling should overcome the image while you are working.


There’s something quiet and covered in the way the people grief, so I added a lot of black and other dark tones. In this phase I was worried about the lack of depth in black areas. After working with acrylics,  I began to add details with colored pencils. The white lines were made with a white gel pen.

Finishing the painting with colored pencils, by Peony and Parakeet

I made the final touches with colored pencils and created small tensions between colors by picking complementary colors or colors very near their complimentary.

Photographing a painting, Condolences, by Peony and Parakeet

It felt somehow controversial to create this melancholic piece when the finnish summer is at its best. But this was a good experiment. It raised an important question: Have I limited myself too much? Without too much questioning, could I try to create whatever comes to my mind?

A detail of the painting Condolences, by Peony and Parakeet

Stretch Your Style!

Give yourself a permission to experiment! Here are my tips:

1) Pick the direction to go! When stretching your style, remember to pick something you kind of like, but still have reservations for it.
2) What are the factors the new style consists of? Using dry brush and only few strokes was essential at my experiment. Think about techniques, colors, composition and pick the things that are essentially different than your ordinary methods.
3) Which the step in your process is the one where you take the new route? When will you start incorporating those new things? In my process it was after making the background. Preferrably start with the familiar way to get into the flow of creating.
4) Get emotional so that your emotion leads the way while creating. Think about the stories behind the emotion. Get into the state where expressing the emotion is more important than mastering the new method. Turn the music on if you need some courage to express your emotion.
5)  Work fast without too much thinking. If you feel you need to think, interrupt your work, stand up and move around. Never forget the feeling you want to express.
6) Sleep over and finish your work on the next day. Embrace the good and fix the bad. Do not make major changes anymore as there will be a new day, a new blank paper, a new play, a new chance!

What is the new direction you would like to experiment in arts and crafts? Leave a comment!

Embroidering with Colored Pencils

Mimicking embroidery with colored pencils by Peony and Parakeet

With summer, I have had more time for hand embroidery. And after holding a needle in my hand, I got the idea to embroider with the colored pencils too.

Sketch drawing by Peony and Parakeet

I began with white 8 by 8 inches sized cardstock. If you look closely, you can see some structure on the surface. I used a white weave textured cardstock turned upside down so that the surface is smooth enough for colored pencils. Before picking up the colored pencils, I made a rough sketch of the shapes first.

Coloring with colored pencils, by Peony and Parakeet

When using colored pencils, it is good to remember few things:
1) Keep the direction of the strokes the same. Especially if you want to mimick embroidery as I have done here.
2) Control the color intensity with the amount of strokes. When coloring, press lightly and create thin layers of color.
3) Mix colors by adding thin layers of various colors. Mixed colors always look better!
4) Keep your pencils fairly sharp. If you have an electronic pencil sharpener, use it to make your pencils last longer.

Coloring with colored pencils, by Peony and Parakeet

I have tried several brands of colored pencils but here are the ones that I like most at the moment:
1) Garan d’Ache Pablo (soft waxy finish)
2) Derwent Colorsoft (work great on watercolored surface)
3) Derwent Inktense (water soluble)

I have also heard that Prismacolor colored pencils are great.

Storage your colored pencils in a jar

I storage my colored pencils in a jar. Whatever brand they are, they all go into the same jar. This way they take very little space and I can keep them visible all the time.  When I see them, I will use them!

Mimicking embroidery with colored pencils, coloring a background with markers

Now back to the artwork: After coloring the sketched shapes, the background was colored with black and dark grey markers. To emphasize the fabric look and to make the background interesting too, I created lined areas for the shades. I aimed for an impression of the light shining on the fabric cloth. Using markers created a contrast between the soft colored shapes. (Copic markers used: 100 black and C7 Cool Gray)

Mimicking embroidery with colored pencils, by Peony and Parakeet

After creating the background, I began to darken the areas in shapes that had black background. The darkening shows well in this second artwork which I made after the first one.

Enemy in the garden by Peony and Parakeet, mimicking embroidery with colored pencils

After finishing this, I realized that my recent activity of picking up lily leaf beetles from my garden had lurked into my art. Oh my! There they are, those orangy yellow swirls!


The first lilies have just opened… Hopefully my subconcious will replace the images of the leaf beetles with the lily flowers!

Share your color pencil embroidery by uploading it to the Peony and Parakeet’s Flickr group!

The Art of Finishing

Dawn of Change, collage painting by Peony and Parakeet

My latest collage is called Dawn of Change. It is inspired by the history of art.

There was a time when I preferred modern art. If I went to an exhibition showing older than 20th century’s art, I used to yawn and think how pretentious it was. But the more I have examined art, the more I see in the old art. I see colors and concepts that can be reproduced in many different angles. Also, seeing good art makes me think of finishing – how much it affects the experience of the viewer.

Getting inspired about old world art, keeping it visible while creating

When I began to create Dawn of Change, I kept the painting of Giotto di Bondone visible on the table. I did not copy the image, I just kept it as a reminder of what to aim for.

The first layers were painted with watercolors. Then I added some Copic Opaque White to create lighter areas. The white layers were rubbed so that they shined vaguely on the watercolored surface. I also sprayed some Dylusions mists to make the background even more foggier.

Creating a background for a collage, by Peony and Parakeet

After a little bit of doodling with colored pencils, black marker and white gel pen, the background started to show the guidelines for collage pieces.

Adding decorated papers to a collage, by Peony and Parakeet

Then I picked up the box of hand decorated papers and began to attach the paper pieces. In this phase, I always get surprised how well the papers fit to the artwork even if they are all different. Creating your own papers will bring you that happiness! Try to avoid using same papers many times in the same artwork. That way the the result looks more interesting.

A phase of making a collage, before finishing, by Peony and Parakeet

After a little bit of doodling I was getting tired and decided to end my session. Even if the composition was accomplished and nothing major decisions left to make, I felt that the work was incomplete. I needed to ponder how I was going to finish it. Over the years I have noticed that finishing really makes a difference. In arts and crafts, the finishing rarely alters either the message or the use of the work, but still has a high impact on how appealing we will find it. Sometimes that extra addition of quality will change entirely what we think about it.

Finishing a collage, by Peony and Parakeet

So, if you want to improve your results, get into the habit of taking breaks. I like to have a goodnight sleep, walk the dogs or work in the garden. Especially physical activities makes the subconscious work best. Then, when I grab the thin brush I know exactly what I want to achieve and how to do it.

Finishing a collage, by Peony and Parakeet

In this piece I wanted to increase the impression of the colors fading together. The acrylic paints were the best to accomplish that. I added small strokes of various shades of greys to create a more muted look. Then I also added some pale yellow and off-white to create the fading in lighter areas.


The difference between before and after is not big. When placing the two pictures side by side, you have to search for the differences. But I claim that the overall experience of the quality is better after finishing.

A detail of a collage, created by Peony and Parakeet

So I challenge you to finish your work – even if it already feels finished!

From Photos to Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau Martagon by Peony and Parakeet
One of my favorite styles, art nouveau, thrives from natural forms. So, when I am walking in the garden, I see art nouveau everywhere.

A photo of martagon by Peony and ParakeetAfter one of those walks, I browsed the photos which I had snapped while admiring the flowers. This photo of martagon’s flower buds caught my eye. It almost shouted art nouveau to me. It reminded me of the Mackintosh lamp shades seen in Scotland a month ago.

I printed the photo on Canon matte photo paper and started to accomplish my vision. Simply using markers and gel pens I moved the martagon from my garden to the era of renewal and decorative beauty.

In the original photo, the direction of the elements was downwards. I wanted to change the composition so that it would be upwards, referring to the spritual renewal, a centric theme in art nouveau. That was achieved by adding several upward shapes like the flower seen in the right corner.

Making of Art Nouveau Martagon by Peony and Parakeet

The colors of the plant were also a source of inspiration. I wanted to keep the narrow range of colors seen in the stem, but also challenge the muted tones with splashes of bright green and pink.

Art Nouveau Martagon, a detail, by Peony and Parakeet

This was such a fun process that I will definitely repeat this again. One idea would be to create art nouveau portraits by adding art nouveau elements to the portrait photos. Actually, like in the best days of art nouveau, anything can be “beautified”!

This was not the first time I used the technique of drawing on the photo. Here are some of the posts showing similar kind of work:
Subconscious Goals
Creating Wood
Doodling over Photo

Find Where You Belong to

Folk themed art journal spread made to a Smash book, by Peony and Parakeet

It took just few seconds looking at the pictures of folk dresses to become almost overwhelmingly inspired. I hurried to my fashion themed Smash book and created this art journal spread.

Fabulous, a Smash book page by Peony and ParakeetAnd then I had to make even one more page. Folklore and folk art always makes me feel like this: fabulous! They give me both the sense of belonging and the sense of freedom. I feel that I am one part of the long chain of all the women, of Finnish women, of my mother and grandmothers. At the same time I am not defined by them, just empowered by them. With folk style I can express my roots and origin without constraints.

They say that one of the basic needs is to belong to someone, to somewhere. I think that creating art can greatly enforce that feeling.

What kind of art makes you feel like that you are included? Maybe enjoying creating is not so much about finding one’s own style but finding ways to feel belonged.

A detail of an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet

If you want to develop, it will be insufficient to create art that touches only you. You will want to want get connected to other people as well. I claim that the deeper you go in your own self-expression, the more you will also touch others. Our mothers and grandmothers may have very little in common but we can share the goal to create something new and original from our heritage.

A detail of an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet

We do not have to think shapes or lines. It is often enough to dive into the colors. For me, colors represent the feeling. Shapes and lines are just to support them.

Art journal made from a Smash book by Peony and Parakeet

Find the colors from your origin and mix them with the colors of your present life. You are free to create any combinations! The best colors give you the sense of belonging. They will also inspire you to create art that is filled with meaning.

What is your interpretation of folk art?
Upload your artwork to Peony and Parakeet’s Flickr group!

I Dream to Create …

Trick photo: entering the room decorated by Peony and Parakeet

I have big dreams: to create something that makes a huge impact – I mean HUGE!

1) Creating interiors. I dream about people entering the room and feeling that they almost faint. Colors, patterns everywhere! The best thing would be to see their reaction: “OMG! You must be kidding!”

Trick photo: Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona pavilion decorated by Peony and Parakeet

2) Creating exteriors. I dream about painting street art for buildings and great arcitectural places. I would change all those white boxes to something overwhelmingly colorful. It did not matter if it would be a temporary mask. At least the building could say: “There was a time when I was alive!”

Trick photo: huge painting by Peony and Parakeet

3) Creating huge paintings. I dream about people sitting on the bench nearby staring at them. A big company could have them in their lobby area. What a wealth of colors!

Trick photo: quilted fabric by Peony and Parakeet

4) Creating big quilts. I dream about designing every single fabric piece which is sewn in them. All original, all full of patterns!

Trick photo: concert background show designed by Peony and Parakeet

5) The ultimate dream: Creating a stage background for a concert – a picture show which visualizes the music! I dream about the steps to design the backgrounds: how I would listen the music again and again, create sketches for evaluation and work with a big team to make it all happen.

Obviously, all the photos here are trick photos created in Photoshop by combining my own photos. These dreams might never come true but dreaming is kind of playing. And playing is a key factor in creativity, so let’s keep on dreaming – BIG!

Draw Your Own Fonts

Karl Lagerfeld quote by Peony and Parakeet
I am very much down to earth, just not this earth“, says this little art journal page which I made for my fashion themed art journal. The quote is from a famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. I kind of relate to his quotes and predict that my art journal will be full of them! Namely, I have found creating lettering so much fun! These two great books have inspired me for that.

Books about Hand Drawn Fonts
The books are:
1) Draw Your Own Fonts (also with a name Draw Your own Alphabets) by Tony Seddon
2) Creative Lettering by Jenny Doh

Both of these books try to bridge the gab between graphic designers and art journalers. If you want simple exercises and skeleton like starting points, I would recommend Tony Seddon’s book.

A page spread from Draw Your Own Fonts
Draw Your Own Alphabets introduces each font as a simple concept which you can alter easily. It is also a workbook where you can practice drawing the fonts. I find this book easy and practical and every skeleton inspires me to create my own version of it. Clearly, if you are a graphic designer wanting to learn how to create elegant fonts, this book is not the best for you. But if you are an art journaler or card maker who wants to have fun with lettering, this book is just what you need to get started.

A detail of an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet
All the fonts shown in the art journal page are based on Draw Your Own Alphabets.

Another book that I have and like is Creative Lettering. It introduces 16 artists who show their way to use alphabets. The artists have very different styles from each other, which is great and which really inspires to use alphabets in different ways.

A page spread of Creative Lettering
Creative Lettering is more beautiful than the previous one and it is still pretty easy to pick ideas from it. I am quite picky when purchasing books but these two I can warmly recommend!

A detail of an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet

(If you wondered how did I made the background of the page, it is explained in the blog post a while ago.)