Consistency and How to Get Inspired by It

Art created with Faber-Castell Gelatos. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

When artists say that they need to focus and find their style, a big part of the problem is the lack of consistency. To me, “consistent” used to be a negative word meaning “boring,” “predictable,” and even “unimaginative.” But during the recent years, I have realized that there can be a lot of freedom in the consistency.

Here’s an example. Last Sunday, I wanted to do some art journal pages inspired by my recent trip to Italy. I was already heading towards my paints and brushes when something else came to my mind. It hit me that I have art supplies I haven’t used for a long time. One of them was Faber-Castell Gelatos. They weren’t very cheap, but I had only used a little of them. They were too clumsy and creating with them felt like painting with lipsticks. These were definitely a wrong choice when thinking about old master paintings and the era of Renaissance.

But now the challenge of using Gelatos started to intrigue me. The idea of bringing those crafty sticks to the past felt like turning on a time machine. For some artists, it would be a sign of inconsistency not to stick with particular art supplies only. But when my goals are to bring people with different skill levels together, reveal the treasures of art history, and regularly offer new ideas for creating art, it’s very consistent. So I didn’t unnaturally have to limit myself but was able to enthusiastically create the art journal pages and write this blog post.

Inspiration: Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Rome

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Rome, Italy

My favorite place in Rome was a private art museum Palazzo Doria Pamphilj. It was located in the busy center, but after entering there, I  was in a peaceful and beautiful world. There were a lot of inspiring paintings, but Jan Brueghel was a new artist to me, and his landscapes were unbelievably detailed. These paintings could have been huge, and they would still look detailed. But they weren’t very big; the length was under 1 meter in the painting below.

Jan Brueghel and Hendrick van Balen, Allegory of Water

Another interesting thing was that Jan Brueghel collaborated with another artist Hendrick van Balen, who was specialized in painting figures. No wonder, the quality of these paintings is amazing! The painting above belongs to the series of four allegorical paintings, expressing the elements of water, fire, earth, and air. What a great theme for today’s artists too! And speaking of consistency: painting a series can also enforce that.

Abstract Landscape with Faber-Castell-Gelatos

I usually create art journal pages when my ideas are not mature enough for bigger paintings. Documenting these ideas in an art journal keeps the creative process flowing and maintains one aspect of consistency: the regularity of creating.

Abstract Landscape created with Faber-Castell Gelato Sticks. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her 3 tips for using gelatos!

Experimenting with Gelatos was fun, and I especially enjoyed inventing ways to add details with those clumsy sticks. By building layers, I was also able to achieve a color scheme that brings old paintings in mind. The consistent inspiration from the many styles seen in the history of art sets me free. It goes so deep into what I ponder the most: how things change all the time and how timelessness can still be present.

3 Technique Tips for Art Journaling with Faber-Castell Gelatos

One way to be consistent is to develop techniques that are reusable. Often when I invent a technique for a specific media, it can also be applied to a variety of supplies. I will now show you some ideas for working with Faber-Castell Gelatos. You can adjust these for many other art supplies as well. I begin a second art journal page to demonstrate the techniques.

1) Blending and Softening

The more I have studied Renaissance art, the more I have been into creating soft color transitions and muted colors. When beginning a new painting, I like to blend and soften a lot. With Gelatos, the best way to mix the colors is to use a sponge. In the photo below, you see that I have mixed white and pale pink for the face but haven’t blended reds and oranges together yet.

Tips for using Faber-Castell gelatos by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

2) Adding Details

Thick sticks don’t work very well for details. You can use the edge of the stick and get fairly thin lines, but to me, they weren’t thin enough!

Tips for using Faber-Castell gelatos by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

However, I discovered that by using water, it’s possible to draw thinner lines with a brush. By adding water and rubbing gently, you can also remove some color and make tiny decorative spots that way.

Tips for using Faber-Castell gelatos by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

When painting with watercolors or acrylics, I like to work similarly: add a splotch of paint in one area and then quickly use it for details in other areas. It’s a fast and handy way to color details that need only a tiny portion of color each.

When finishing the face, I used colored pencils to draw the tiniest details. When keeping the Gelatos layers thin and smooth, it’s easy to add other media on the top.

Drawing with colored pencils on a surface covered with Faber-Castell Gelato sticks. Read more tips for working with Gelatos! By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

3) Keep on Adding Layers!

When I started making the art journal page, I only had an idea of a lady or a Madonna because that would complement the landscape. I rarely use reference photos when creating art journal pages. To me, it’s more about getting in touch with vague ideas and then process them to express something that’s deeper and more defined. When I was in the middle of making the page, I was pretty clueless about what to express. But I kept on adding layers and slowly improving the image. One way to practice consistency is to keep on working with the same piece even if it looks like crap. See how much my page changed – examine the phase photos below!

Finishing an art journal page by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read more about her tips!

In phase two, I remembered the atmosphere and the candles of Santa Maria Novella, a huge church in Florence. After finishing the page, I went to my photo archive and found an image that looks very similar to my page. It’s so surprising how many of its elements exist on the page even if I didn’t look at the photo at all!

Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy

Regularly taking photos and browsing them is one way to add more consistency to the creative process.

Consistency is In the Way You Adjust the Nuances

After I had created the page, I felt that the opposite page should continue the same atmosphere. So I quickly made an abstract landscape there. Now when I open the spread of the journal, it feels more intense.

Art journal page spread made with Faber Castel Gelatos. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips on working with Gelato sticks!

However, there are many things in these two pages that I don’t like. First and foremost, I don’t like the color scheme. It has too many bright colors and too few muted colors, and thus, it looks more modern that I would like it to look. I would like a color scheme that would be more like this:

An art journal page by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. She digitally changed the color scheme to fit better with the idea she had in mind. See her tips for maintaining the consistency when creating art!

Also, if my art journal spread would be a big painting instead, I would make the face much more detailed. It’s simplicity, and the 2-dimensional look bothers me! By self-evaluating your work, you can also increase the awareness of the nuances you like. Adjusting the nuances, in turn, results in more consistency. Because many times consistency is more in the way you work with the nuances than how you select the themes and choose the supplies.

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Begin Like a Crafter, Finish Like an Artist

Waiting for Snow, a mixed media painting by Peony and Parakeet

Here’s what I made today: a mixed media painting with a Christmas theme. When I began creating, I had no idea that this will express the season. I didn’t even start with a blank paper but cut a piece of a big pre-painted watercolor paper. It had just careless splotches of color, and I had painted it months before to wait for the right moment. I had just enjoyed knitting some old sock yarn into socks, so I thought to use up that paper with the same mindset: using what I already have and making that more inspirational.

Begin Like a Crafter

I picked a black Zig drawing pen and started doodling without any idea in my mind. I often think about knitting or crocheting when I doodle. I feel more like a crafter than an artist at the beginning of the process. Exploring the paper with a pen is like crocheting with a hook and yarn. It’s much more relaxing than trying to find a grand idea first. When you start as a crafter, you are ready to do the work. You don’t expect miracles to happen, you know you just have to keep on going, and it will get easier after a while.

Begin like a crafter, learn to start creating intuitively, by Peony and Parakeet

After filling most of the paper with crossing lines, I felt that there was a lack of connection between the drawing and the background painting. They looked like they were two separate layers, each made by a different person. But because I had used a good quality watercolor paper, I was able to add water and wipe off color here and there so that the layers began to interact.

Removing watercolor paint to make the painting more vivid. By Peony and Parakeet.

Again, I felt like a crafter adding stitches that would tie the two layers together. I also used white and black colored pencils to enhance the effect.

Begin like a crafter, learn to start creating intuitively, by Peony and Parakeet

Find Routines that Start the Change

Working with black is my thing. It always brings in more excitement, more drama, and my identity begins to change from a crafter to an artist. This time, just holding a black pencil, made me want to start painting. I picked few bottles of India ink first.

Using India inks in mixed media painting. By Peony and Parakeet.

My brush felt stiff, and the shapes that I painted were controlled and modest. But I knew I just had to keep going. There were times when I stopped too soon, and I have seen that happening to many people too. When you stop too soon, you are still too much of a crafter. You try to focus, and you don’t feel like doing anything risky.

Begin like a crafter, learn to start creating intuitively, by Peony and Parakeet

I changed to white acrylic paint to get more ideas and contrasts. There were some round shapes on the paper, but I had no idea what they could be.

Begin like a crafter, learn to start creating intuitively, by Peony and Parakeet

Finish Like an Artist – a) Do Something Risky

After spending some time painting, I was ready to take risks. All I needed was to choose a little black ink bottle and turn on Jean-Michel Jarre’s Stardust, a song that always gets me into the flow. Uncontrollable black brush strokes felt scary, and of course, there’s a risk of “ruining everything”. I often set an area, where I don’t go. This time I decided to be as wild as I want but leave the center of the biggest bubble alone.

Black ink for a mixed media painting.

Before doing this phase, I convince myself that my subconscious knows what I could bring up from the mess because I have been staring that for a while already. I often repeat the words “trust” and “knowledge” before I turn to the music. I try to be as quick as I can and focus on adding more speed to my brush. This short phase where I leave the crafter behind is the most enjoyable thing in creating. I feel free while pushing the limits of my creativity.

Finish like an artist, learn to let go when painting, by Peony and Parakeet

Finish Like an Artist – b) Bring in the Intention

After adding those black strokes and splotches, I knew what I was expressing: holiday decorations on this black Christmas. In the southern Finland where I live, all the snow melt away just before Christmas Eve. I had taken photos just a couple of days ago that connect well with the painting. In this last phase, I try to find the fastest and most natural route to finishing the painting and focus more on composition and clarity than trying to make the image other than what it seems to be already. Accepting that my image can go to the area that is unknown to me at the beginning of the process, allows me to be less stiff.

Waiting for Snow, a mixed media painting with Christmas photos that complete the imagenery. By Peony and Parakeet.

I find it so fascinating that art is a combination of knowledge and letting go. There are clear guidelines for communicating visually such as how to set your composition. And still, it’s also about taking all that knowledge and jumping into the unknown. Every day, I want to know more and then, relax more!

Beagles at Christmas. By Peony and Parakeet.

First Lesson of Inspirational Drawing 2.0 – Start with a Mood, Finish with an Image!

Like knitting starts from the first stitch, drawing starts from the first line. Somewhere between the lines the transformation happens and the crafter changes to an artist. The ideas grow with the imagination. Moods turn to motifs, motifs to modules, modules to streams, streams to images.

Learn to enjoy drawing! Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0! An art class by Peony and Parakeet.

The first lesson of Inspirational Drawing 2.0 will be published on January 1st. This is the class you don’t want to miss! Every lesson takes you further in enjoying drawing from inspiration and imagination! I will help you create unique art in unique ways that will make you absorb the knowledge and then let your ideas grow.

Learn to enjoy drawing! Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0! An art class by Peony and Parakeet.

Enjoy drawing from inspiration and imagination!
>> Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0

What’s in a Good Composition?

Quick question:
When you create art, how much time do you spend for composition?
I mean: trying to make it work, trying to balance it, trying to make it look more eye-catching?

For me, finishing the composition can take as much as 50% of my creating time! Some years ago, it was easily 75 % … I don’t find adjusting the details particularly relaxing. I take photos, use a mirror, and change the orientation of the piece to see if I have missed something. Sometimes I sleep overnight and make the last adjustments in the morning.

Testing a good composition. By Peony and Parakeet.

But teaching art has had some benefits here. I get to help people to make better compositions and thus, I have become faster. Namely, the two top requests that I get in my classes are: 1) How can I make this look finished? 2) What more could I add here?

So when I created a new class, Planet Color, I wanted to build a step-by-step creative process so that when you add elements, you don’t have to worry about the composition so much. I wanted to find ways that support you so that you can release your mind and fully enjoy working with colors.

What’s in a Good Composition?

Here’s my conclusion. A good composition has elements that a great party has:
1) concierges who invite the viewer to the painting
2) a star singer who takes the viewer’s attention
3) clear routes and breathing space which make wondering around easy
4) good food and good company which makes the viewer stay in the party

Art journal page by Peony and Parakeet. Elements of a good composition.

I have built all these elements in one 7-step process. It doesn’t mean that this process produces identical paintings. It means that when you enter the finishing phase, you have already done most of the work you should do anyway. But without all the agony and with all the creative enjoyment! That’s why my workshop Planet Color is as much about composing elements as about releasing your mind with colors.

And again, if you have problems in making the final adjustments, I am there to help for all the 14 days.

>> Reserve your spot now!

See you there!

How to Know when Your Artwork is Finished?

Healing Power, a finished artwork by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

This is my latest painting called “Healing Power”. Painting this piece was so much fun so I decided to work with acrylics on a canvas. I’ll show you the main phases of creating this painting while giving my view on how to know when the artwork is finished.

Finished Artwork? – How to Analyze?

I have heard many bits of advice on how to decide when your artwork is finished. The worst is: “When you feel like it is”. Often you are just tired, fed up and that’s not a good point to finish. Take a break instead, sleep overnight and then continue!

Then there are more technical approaches like this one including infographics or based on historical studies and interviewing artists like this one. But as my students usually want to bring more content and self-expression to their art I have composed a simple and short check list focusing on those only. And instead of diagrams, I show how I deal with the issue in practice.

1. Do You Have an Opinion?

Every time I begin creating, I have pretty conventional ideas. Like here, I thought that I would make a flower painting and express “tranquility”. But to truly express tranquility, I show also include anxiety. I should have an opinion, a personal view on the difference between tranquility and anxiety.

Now you say: “But this is just flowers and nothing deeper”. I don’t think so. If you want to express yourself, you should express an opinion of some kind. This doesn’t mean you have to begin with an opinion. It’s more like vice versa: stay open to what is going to appear! But if you don’t have any more thoughts than “flowers”, “tranquility”, “pink”, you are not finished yet.

Painting on canvas with acrylics

So while thinking about opinions, I got anxious and added some of it: brownish red!

adding contrast with dark paint, acrylic painting

Another way of asking this: “Does the painting have both light and darkness?”

2. Do You Have a Focus?

When I continued the painting, it felt good to add rectangular shapes on it. Then some more colors, then some directional brush strokes. But directional or not, I really didn’t have a clue where I was going. Maybe this could be a flower bunch and the white part on the bottom could be a pot. If so, I should make them more clear.

acrylic painting in prgress, no clear focal point

Another way of asking this: “Is it easy to know where to look at first?”

3. Have You Told a Story?

I continued the painting by turning the it upside down as it seemed to be even easier to build a pot with flowers that way. When I was at step 1 (see the image below), the painting was a bit too busy so I added dark thin layers to make it easier to look at (step 2). But then, what does this painting mean? Does it really connect with my thoughts? No, not really!

Steps for finishing an artwork, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

After a break, I turned the painting upside down (3). I saw a woman there, wearing a hat and taking care of the flowers. Maybe that could be a start for a story? I continued painting, trying to make the woman clearer.

Then it hit me: she was some kind of an angel, holding some kind of a magic ball. And finally: this is about healing, a subject I have been thinking a lot lately. My older dog Cosmo has had stomache problems and I have worried about him. I have also thought about many of my students, either in the middle of the sickness or having someone close to worry about. If only I could have the magic power to make everything what’s wrong, back right!

Another way of asking this: Does every element on your artwork contribute or lead to what’s most important?

Healing Power, a finished artwork by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

This finished artwork is for you who would like to have that magic ball of healing power.

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