Watercolor Panoramas to Express Travel Memories

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

I try to have a wide range of topics on this blog, but now I am posting watercolor sceneries again! (See the last week’s post). I have quickly become addicted to them! It all started with buying Daniel Smith watercolors and realizing that many members of my community Bloom and Fly love watercolors. I try to grow my skills in most of the media that the members use. Then I can give advice that’s not only great in theory but also works in practice.

So yes, last week I wanted to prep up my watercolor skills a bit and paint a scene. It felt like a good warm-up for Bloom and Fly‘s next monthly themes too, especially for June when we will be using nature photography as inspiration. I also wanted to play with the representational ideas because April’s theme, surreal art, is all about building the bridge between imagination and realism.

Not So Traditional Landscape Painting

A lot of reasons were needed for landscape painting because so far, it has been one of the most boring genres of visual art to me. I haven’t ever been the kind of person who travels with a tiny watercolor kit and sits down near the sights to paint the surroundings. I do usually carry a camera – often just my phone – when traveling or walking in nature but never before have I understand the fascination of the traditional landscape painting.

But last week, I realized that because art is freedom, I can be as wild and expressive as I want. That made the landscape painting a fun game. It gives me the opportunity to re-live the travel memories, get lost in the process, and then come out with a piece that’s like a souvenir from that creative experience.

Watercolor Panoramas – Playing with Expression

This time, I was not painting just one piece like last week, but five small panoramas at one go. I carelessly chose the reference photos for the last part of the process. I will talk about the process later in this post, but let’s talk about the expressive ideas first.

A) How Would The Place Currently Look?
When painting watercolor panoramas, it was interesting to see what travel memories come to mind and how they got merged with the current life.

When we were in the Scottish countryside in 2014, it was a sunny day in June. The heat felt very similar to Finland’s summer. It was pleasant, not suffocating at all, and remembering it made me ponder how the spring would look there now – perhaps quite similar to Finland too.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet
This was the photo that I used as inspiration when finishing the painting.

Scotland

B) The Chain of Memories
Barcelona was my husband’s suggestion in 2009. I wasn’t excited until I remembered Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion. And of course, the pavilion was also the first thing that came to my mind when I painted the panorama. But I also remembered Catalonia’s National Art Museum, Gaudi’s architecture, the mountains that surrounded the valley, the sea views, a lot!

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

The long chain of memories and locations started from this (not so artistic!) snapshot showing Barcelona Pavilion.

Mies van der Rohe, Barcelona Pavilion

C) The Emotional Experience

Last summer, we visited Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy. The place has inspired me ever since. I remember entering the museum and seeing the first room filled with chandeliers. It was a hot and relatively quiet evening in Florence, but my mind was buzzing. It’s like I was trying to get exposed to as much art and beauty as I could.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Here’s the photo that I had in hand when finishing the watercolor panorama above.

Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

D) Being Far, Seeing Far
When being far away from home, it’s possible to see the life from a different perspective. It’s like rewriting some parts of the personal story. In the brilliant Palazzo Pitti, I had the same experience than when visiting Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia: I should trust my points of view more, and not hold back. When I looked out of a window of Palazzo Pitti, it didn’t matter what other people saw there. I saw what I saw, and that’s true to me.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Here’s the reference photo that I almost deleted when I came back from the trip because it wasn’t so pretty. While painting, I realized that good reference photos are not only those which show the best scenes. The ones that remind from the best moments are also worth saving and painting.

Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

E) Highlighting What Matters
While traveling in Italy last summer, we visited Vatican Museums too. Some of the things that stuck in my mind were the huge maps on the walls and the incredible number of tourists. While painting, I thought how the old maps could be seen as symbols for the curiosity to know the globe.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

The statue of the reference photo (Arnaldo Pomodoro’s Sphere within a Sphere) expresses the complexity and fragility of the world. I made it dominate the scene in the watercolor panorama and made it look a bit like a round map. To me, it’s much more important than the buildings!

Vatican Museums

Watercolor Panoramas – My Process

The idea for panoramas was accidental. I happened to find oblong pieces when going through the watercolor papers. I often like to paint a square, so I had cut away the excess of a blocked paper. I don’t usually work in this small scale. However, using a thin water brush most of the time, made it quite easy.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

For the colors, I used a mixed collection of watercolor and gouache paints.

1) Background – Traveling to the Mind

The fact that I didn’t use any reference photos until in the end, made the painting fun. The first layers were splashing and blending. I had no idea about the scene or the location that would appear on paper!

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

I took a photo of the backgrounds and then another one when the paintings were finished. Can you recognize which belongs to which?

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

2) Doodling with Watercolor and Masking Fluid

After I had painted the background, I started doodling. Working with five watercolor panoramas at the same time was handy. I could work with one painting while others were drying. I used both pigments and masking fluid for doodling. Some backgrounds had watercolor doodles first. Others went straight to masking.

At this point, I started thinking about a reference photo that could suit the painting. For some panoramas, I found the picture quickly. But there were a couple that raised no memories at all, so I just doodled this and that!

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

After the masking fluid had dried, I was having fun again. I splashed the paint and enjoyed the wonders of watercolor.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

After the topmost layers had dried, I removed the masking fluid.  Here’s “Scotland.”

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

3) Finishing the Painting with a Reference Photo

When aiming for an expressive and loose image, the reference photo is more like an inspiration photo. I can glance at it, pick some ideas and elements from it but I don’t follow it to the detail. I let my associations and memories override the photo and build an inner vision of the place. (My class Inspirational Drawing guides you to master this process more in detail.)

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Why I Have Never Learned Watercolor Painting from the Books

Some elements of the panoramas are more abstract, some more recognizable. It’s important to cherish the abstract nature of art when making room for expression.

I must confess that during the years that I have experimented with watercolors, I have found the books and videos difficult to comprehend and adapt. Watercolor tutorials usually follow the reference photos very carefully. To me, it doesn’t make sense. I need to know “the code” – the logic and the principles behind the image, not just the image. After you’ve got the code, you can express much more!

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

As an artist, I have always been more interested in what something expresses than how it looks. I have often felt disappointed by the lack of the expression part in tutorials, so I try my best to focus on the expression when teaching others.

The Magic of Finishing Touches

To me, the most challenging step in creating is finishing. The first two steps are usually just happy happy happy, but then there is a danger that the project becomes sad sad sad. 

The watercolor panoramas were quite easy to finish, but if I have bigger struggles, I use the camera for the whole creative process. Then I take a photo of my work and look at it in several ways, enlarge it, make it smaller, etc. It’s fast and makes the finishing much easier than just staring at the actual piece. In May at Bloom and Fly, I will show how to use a camera and other digital tools to make the most out of your art, even if the actual creating would happen manually.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

What Happens at Bloom and Fly? Why Join?

This post may be the longest ever, so I need to stop now! But one more thing: The new season (April-June) of Bloom and Fly begins just in few days! Here’s how it works:

The monthly theme gives you the opportunity to experiment and add new ideas to your art. We start every month with an audio message that you can listen to while you are creating or ironing (or whatever you love to do while listening!).  Then we have a live session around the monthly theme where you get ideas on how you can adapt it to your art. The live session will also be recorded. You will also get a handout for the live session with an extra video showing one of the ideas more in detail.

Every week, on Tuesdays, you will have the opportunity to ask help and feedback on one piece of art. So when you are struggling with finishing, or don’t know how to continue or what to create next, you can post your question and your work to the next Tuesday’s feedback thread, and I will answer to you. Often other members share their tips and encourage you too.

In addition to all this, we have a lively discussion group, sharing art, tips and true stories, both light and deep topics included.

I hope to see you there!

Bloom and Fly – Registration is now open for Spring season (April – June 2018)
>> Sign up here!

Intuitive Painting with a Reference Image

Intuitive painting with a reference image – can it be possible? Let me show you how!

Madama Butterfly, an intuitive painting from the sketchbook of Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Here’s a painting from my sketchbook. It’s called “Madama Butterfly.” My reference image was this Renaissance painting called “Flora” by Tiziano Vecellio, 1515-1520. I took the photo last summer when visiting Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

Flora by Tiziano Vecellio. Uffizi gallery. Photo by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

There are very little similarities in these two pieces. The pose is fairly similar, the composition and the facial features have some similarities, but that’s it. The style, the theme, and the technique are all different.

Tiziano Vecellio's painting Flora, and a painting from Paivi Eerola's sketchbook. See how she used the reference for the painting!

The Supplies And the Setting

I like to do fairly quick paintings on my big A3-sized sketchbook. For this sketchbook, I often use Derwent Artbars, a water brush, and Faber-Castell Gelatos because they are easy to layer and I am more relaxed than when working with tube paints. I use acrylic or oil paints for canvas paintings, and working with them is more serious. This time I wanted to demonstrate a concept or a method rather than creating a 30-hour painting.

Derwent Artbars, Faber-Castell Gelatos, and a waterbrush ready for making a sketchbook page.

1) From Intentional to Intuitive Painting

The first idea was to pick the pose and the composition loosely from the reference image and then add geometric shapes to fill the space.

First steps of an intuitive painting that also uses a reference image. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

After sketching the foundation of the figure, the triangles, rectangles, and circles were fun to paint without looking at the reference at all. I painted the face roughly, and then I used the reference image as a guide. But because at this early stage, I didn’t know what I want to express and what kind of person the figure could be, I didn’t bother to spend time perfecting the facial features. At this point, my painting resembles cubistic pieces from the early 20th century.

2) Changing the Style

When creating art for the sketchbook, I like my style to be a bit more illustrational than when I make bigger paintings. Even if I love cubism, I wanted my piece to be a bit more current.

Making an intuitive painting by using a reference image to some parts. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Nowadays, illustrations often use geometric shapes but rather than triangles or rectangles, the shapes are often round, and scallop edges seem to be a bit hit. So I started changing the painting by altering the shapes. This routine work gave me plenty of time to connect with my inner world and work intuitively from one association to another. I tend to be both nostalgic and romantic, so I thought how portrait painters often spend time with the clothing even if they are just a shell. Why not use it as a canvas for the memories, the ideas, and the achievements of the person?

Changing an artistic style by changing angular shapes to round shapes. Example by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

3) From Intuitive to Intentional

After rounding hundreds of triangles and rectangles, I realized that I was painting Madama Butterfly, the opera that I just saw last Saturday! I finished the face after this realization and adjusted other elements so that they fit with the theme.

Madama Butterfly, an intuitive painting from the sketchbook of Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

More Intuitive Inspiration from Opera

This is not the first time I have been intuitively inspired by opera!

>> Tosca

"Tosca" by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Tosca, 2015

>> The Phantom of the Opera

"The Phantom of the Opera" by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

The Phantom of the Opera, 2016

>> La Traviata

"I Am Listening", a hand-drawn art journal page by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

I Am Listening, 2015

>> The Marriage of Figaro

Opera, a mixed media collage by Peony and Parakeet.

Opera, 2014

And there’s also a video about
>> Kaija Saariaho’s Emilie

More About Simple Shapes

>> What to create from simple shapes – 6 ideas

Self-study classes:
>> Planet Color – release your mind by focusing on color!
>> Modern Mid-Century – put a modern twist to simple shapes!

Let me be your mentor in creating: Subscribe to my weekly emails!

Altering a Flower Painting – Inspiration from Vatican Museums

Queen of Fantasy by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. A flower painting with acrylics and glazing medium.

About three weeks ago, I quickly painted a small flower painting while sharing my thoughts about painting softly (see this blog post, which also includes a video).

A flower painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

During the past weeks, I have been wondering what to do with the painting.  I thought it could be a little more detailed and tell a bit more glorious story. So this morning, I decided to work more on it. Some artists are always afraid of “over-working” their paintings. But I belong to the group who thinks that the painting is almost never fully finished. There seem always to be more ideas I could add and more adjustments I should do.

1) Painting a Decorative Frame

This time I decided to use a selection of old decorative art as an inspiration source. I picked photos that I took from the visit to Vatican Museums in June. I often work like this: letting images spark ideas that I will add to my work. It’s not so much “copying” but picking concepts or generic ideas. My first inspiration came from these decorative panels.

Decorative floral panels from Vatican Museums

By using a Chinese marker, and a lid of a jar as a template I drew a circle on the center.

Painting a decorative flower painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

A huge porcelain piece and a beautiful ceiling inspired me to paint a frame with lots of swirls.

Beautiful details from Vatican Museums

I just added some burnt umber around the drawn line and then painted the swirls in white. I added several translucent layers to make the shapes look more three-dimensional.

Painting a decorative frame to a flower painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

2) Playing with Colors and Shapes

The next ideas came from this picture. It’s one of the many beautiful ceilings, so full of images and details that it’s almost overwhelming.

A beautiful ceiling from Vatican Museums.

The ceiling inspired me to add more color variation to the painting. I used mostly ultramarine blue, ochre, and cadmium yellow on the center, and quickly some elements with white on the bottom left corner. While waiting for each thin color layer to dry, I pondered what to do with the rest of the painting.

A process picture of a flower painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I almost heard a voice saying: “Stop right here, don’t ruin the painting!”

3) Letting Go – More is More!

While browsing the photos taken from Vatican Museums, I remembered the astonishment that came from the number of visitors there were. It was Friday afternoon, but the area was packed. Each huge corridor was filled by us, tourists walking and staring at the beautiful ceilings. The Sistine Chapel was even more crowded. Frescos, mosaics, statues, paintings and decorative textiles covered the surfaces. Everything was full in every possible way. And now in Finland, I was sitting in my half-empty studio with my half-empty painting.

So I said to myself: “Go for it!” And took some extra boost for my confidence by examining a photo of a wonderful wall textile. If men can be this decorative, why not just continue the painting!

A beautiful wall textile from Vatican Museums

I worked more with the center of the painting, making it grow towards the edges.

A flower painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

A detail of a mosaic floor gave me an idea to combine geometric shapes with curvier lines.

Mosaic floor from Vatican Museums.

Here’s a close-up showing tiny additions on the left:

A close-up photo of a flower painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

4) Bringing up the Expression – Highlighting the Visual Message

Before the final touches, I still had some stiffness in expression. To me, it’s often difficult to fully trust my intuition unless I know what I am expressing. I was almost finished when I realized that my painting is about being a queen of the fantasy, ruling every little detail, making ships change their direction on the sea, and wearing a crown that shines further than anyone could imagine.

Altering a flower painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and parakeet.

Some Close-Up Photos of the Flower Painting

Ships sailing:

A detail of "Queen of Fantasy" by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. A flower painting with acrylics and glazing medium.

The center. This is a very small painting, only 12 by 12 inches total:

A detail of "Queen of Fantasy" by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. A flower painting with acrylics and glazing medium.

Floral Fantasies

Lately, I have been more and more aware of the fact that I want to paint fantasies. To me, the first version of the painting was too bland. I dress modestly, I hate wearing too much jewelry, my home is not full of stuff, and still, I want my art to be full, to go beyond what’s expected and accepted.

Flower painting, two versions. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I am currently preparing a new online workshop about painting flowers … If all goes well, it will take begin in October.

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Rebuilding Art – Using Reference Images for Self-Expression

Using a reference image as a model for the painting. By Peony and Parakeet.

This blog post is about composing new art by using reference images. At the moment, I have a couple of paintings in progress that are based on reference images, and I also show other examples as well.

Why Don’t Artists Always Tell About Using Reference Images?

While painting my first oil painting at The National Museum of Finland, the visitors of the museum were able to visit the studio and watch us paint. Many people asked why we paint copies of the old paintings. The teacher Emmi Mustonen replied that it’s a good way to learn the old painting techniques and develop the understanding of formal elements. But I got the feeling that some of the people didn’t get it. Their facial expressions were imprinted on my mind, and it made me ponder why using reference images raises conflicting feelings.

Even if most artists who create realistic art or include realistic elements in their art, use reference images, many are not very open about it. I think that one reason is that many artists believe that people know that already and another reason that the process is not interesting. My experience is that there are surprisingly many people who assume that artists don’t take photos or use other than live models. And to me, the process of composing a new image from old ones is fascinating. I always stop to see an article where an artist shows how the reference images were used. I am especially interested if it’s about choosing the photos and combining several reference images into one piece.

Strawberry Madonna – Combining Several Reference Images to Tell a Story

A reference image of Strawberry Madonna and painting in progress. By Peony and Parakeet.

I am currently painting an acrylic painting on canvas that I call “Strawberry Madonna.” It’s my first using old masters’ painting techniques with acrylics instead of oil paints. The idea for the painting started differently than usually. I invented the title first and then started to think how Strawberry Madonna would look. I wanted to find a young woman who would have lips like she had just eaten a strawberry. By googling Renaissance paintings, I found Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio‘s painting. After that, I moved to building a story around the original idea.

Strawberry Madonnas are young girls who enjoy life without worries, have long summer holidays, eat strawberries, learn to crochet and read books like Emily of the New Moon or Anne of Green Gables. I have been one of them, and I feel quite nostalgic about it. I wanted the painting to include surrealistic elements. It has a big strawberry that is placed so that it could be a sleeve of the madonna’s dress. I am also going to change the flowers in the hair wreath to strawberry flowers and play with green and red paint. It will happen when I move on from underpainting to adding colors. In the background, there’s a photo that I took last summer. I am going to make it a little less detailed.

I used Photoshop to compose the reference image and made the sketch on canvas with charcoal. I drew a grid to make the sketching quicker.

Girl with a Ferret – Changing the Meaning with a Simple Trick

A reference image and a painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I have also started a new oil painting under the guidance of Emmi Mustonen. I got to pick the reference image freely. I wanted to pick an old Renessaince painting, but I couldn’t find any that would have a couple of my favorite features when painting with old masters’ techniques. I love to paint fur and fabric, and I wanted to find a face that would include openness. I fell in love with Boccaccio Boccaccino‘s portrait of a gypsy girl, but it didn’t have any fur. So I remembered Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” and created a new image by combining the two in Photoshop. I have several stories about this one.

The first one is about today’s society and how the pets have become more human in our eyes. I want to show the similarities in the wild gypsy girl and the tame ferret. Another story is about young girls and their love for taking care of animals. They might not know the wildlife, but they help to rescue animals and are ready to work hard when taking care of them. They are against fur clothing and not afraid to show it. The third story goes back to the 16th century. I imagine that the gypsy girl was hired to dress up and hold the ermine because the lady didn’t have the patience to pose for the artist. In the end, she never showed. The artist became frustrated and painted the girl instead. I can imagine the magical moment when the girl realized that she would be in the final painting instead of a lady.

I would like to talk with Boccaccio Boccaccino about my version. I also wonder, how he was able to paint the portrait of the gypsy girl when the artists mostly painted for churches and aristocrats back then.

At Monet’s Garden – Including All the Good Stuff to the Same Image

Last spring, I published a mini-course called Strokes of Energy as a part of the Imagine Monthly Spring series. I asked my students to name their favorite artists, and Claude Monet was among most popular ones. But when I thought about Claude Monet, I didn’t want just to serve those who love the garden or those who adore his way to paint the sky or those who want to express the windy scenes. I wanted to have all the good stuff in one image and then some more.

A digital collage combining 3 paintings from Claude Monet. By Peony and Parakeet.

So I created a reference image in Photoshop combining three of Claude Monet’s paintings: “Woman with a Parasol” and a couple of paintings from the water lily series. Then I invented a technique where you can paint some of the elements as collage pieces so that you can adjust the overall composition before making the final decisions. This way it is possible to add more details one by one and improve the image during the actual creative process.

A Monet-inspired art journal page by Peony and Parakeet. See her mini-course Strokes of Energy.

So this painting is about a woman who is experiencing strong wind. She doesn’t mind wind catching her parasol. She enjoys the fresh air and the beautiful scene around her.

Ulla’s Take

One of the students, Ulla M. Holm, made a Photoshop sketch from another set of Monet’s paintings and then painted the image with short impressionistic strokes. I love how the result also reminds me of her home country, Sweden!

A Monet-inspired art journal spread by Ulla M. Holm, a student of Peony and Parakeet.

Using Reference Images More Intuitively – From a Story to an Experience

I admit having mixed feelings about following the reference images carefully. With my art, I want to express freedom, and I don’t think that following reference images too closely helps with that. On the other hand, I don’t want to restrict myself doing abstracts only or creating similar paintings one after another. Many artists create the same again and again and become better and better with that. To me, art is about exploring and the hook there is to widen my perspective continuously.

So even if you would prefer abstract art, it doesn’t mean you can’t have reference images. Instead of connecting with the actual story, you can connect with an emotional experience.

Emile Vernon's painting and Paivi Eerola's abstract interpretation. By Peony and Parakeet.

I picked colors and ideas from Emile Vernon’s painting and imagined what it would be like wearing that soft dress. The dress felt like a dream, so I wrote: “Muisto unelmasta” –  “a memory of a dream” in the image.

Using reference images: a photo and an abstract interpretation. By Peony and Parakeet. To learn how to do this, sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!

Here’s another example from my class Inspirational Drawing 2.0: a photo from The National Library of Finland and my interpretation, “The Power of Knowledge.”

Do yo want to experiment with this approach using your personal reference images? >> Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!

For the Fans of Monet – Strokes of Energy

My Monet-inspired mini-course Strokes of Energy is now available as an individual self-study course. >> Buy Strokes of Energy!

Strokes of Energy, a Monet-inspred mini-course by Peony and Parakeet.

Geraldine’s Take

I want to end this blog post with a skilled artist Geraldine Norris from Australia who created her version of Monet in my class. She had just seen an art exhibition showing Monet’s work, and I think it shows how deeply she connected with the experience.

A Monet-inspired painting by Geraldine Norris, Australia, a student of Peony and Parakeet.

But wait, there is more beautiful Monet-inspired art from my students, see the presentation page of Strokes of Energy!

Until next time!