Painting My Mind’s Eye – Abstract Color Fun!

"My Mind's Eye" - Abstract Color Fun by Peony and Parakeet. See Paivi's class "Planet Color"

I call this art journal spread “My Minds Eye.” It has one central element that resembles both an eye and a compass. Isn’t that how things are for visual people: seeing interesting things evokes all kinds of thoughts and lead to all sorts of paths? Like this morning when I had to stop on a walk to admire fragile ice on water puddles. When I was standing there, I wished that nobody sees my weirdness. I was staring at the ground, holding a phone to get photos, with two beagles that were very impatient, eager to move forward.

Ice is melting in Finland

Maybe the beginning of the spring made me paint with hot tones, and the ice most probably inspired me to include a similar translucent element in the painting.

A detail of "My Mind's Eye" by Peony and Parakeet. See Paivi's class Planet Color for painting fun abstracts!

7-step Method of Planet Color Used for Abstract Color Fun

I created the spread by following the 7-step method that I developed for the class Planet Color. I have repeated this process many times because it’s a fun and worry-free way to paint unique abstracts. For example, see the blog posts What’s in a Good Composition?, Using Color Schemes for Home Decor, and How to Transform Ideas into Paintings. I know I am not the only one who worries about the composition while painting and the 7-step method makes everything fall into place effortlessly.

Art journal spread by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. This is called "My Mind's Eye" and it's made with a method that she has developed for the class Planet Color.

Masking tape was used to frame the piece. I haven’t done that a lot in my journals, but I like the result.

Paivi's studio. By Peony and Parakeet.

My husband made me a new easel from an upright support of a shelving unit. It’s so handy and adjustable that I have started to use it a lot. I can use it even for art journal pages, not only for canvas art.

Planet Color – Sign up Now!

Planet Color, an online workshop for abstract color fun. By Peony and Parakeet.

I ran Planet Color for the first time last fall, but it’s coming back now! Whether you want to paint art journal pages, thick paper or canvases, this is a fun online workshop. It’s suitable for beginner painters and all who struggle with color compositions. >> Sign up here!

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!

Freedom and Fear of Drawing – with Students of Peony and Parakeet

Asian Bunny, an illustration by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I dedicate this blog post for drawing, but I want to talk about cross stitching first. It’s one of my long-time hobbies, and I find it relaxing. I don’t have to make any decisions, use any imagination, just follow the chart, and the result will be just like I wanted it to be. Cross stitching is like a simple house plant. If you give a little bit of time for it fairly regularly, it will grow even if it doesn’t feel like so at first.

Paivi likes cross stitching

I can choose complicated charts or simple ones, and easily adjust the attention required for stitching. But there’s one problem that always remains: pixelation. Each image is made from single square-shaped stitches. No matter how complicated the design is or thick the fabric is, the pixelation is there.

Christmas at Gingerbread Lane, a cross stitching project in progess

Working with single stitches is not only a visual problem. It’s also a problem if we want to create more freely. Then we need a medium that allows faster and more flexible thinking. Like drawing. There are many kinds of drawing styles. When I want to experience creative freedom, I don’t do sketching using a pre-made model. (The photo shows a recent Renaissance-style painting in progress. I have designed it first in Photoshop.)

A sketch for a Renessaince style painting, by Peony and Parakeet

A Fear for Freedom – A Fear of Drawing

When I want to feel free, I don’t want models. Then it’s just a blank paper and a pen and a wish for a glimpse of imagination.

But freedom and fear are strangely connected. About three years ago, when I planned to leave my day job and start an art business, I warned myself. I told how I would no longer be anyone noticeable. I would have no office, no place to go every day, no colleagues to discuss with, no job title, no respect from others, no self-esteem. I would live in the darkest edge of the society and completely against the way of life I was taught. With these stories, I tried to prevent myself making the life change, and at the same time, I knew I had to try it. I had to turn the page and start a completely blank one.

Drawing on a blank page, by Peony and Parakeet.

I often connect with the same fear when I start drawing. That I am no one, that I have no power, that it is overwhelming and I don’t know what to do. But then, it’s the same gate that leads to the most wonderful feeling: the feeling of freedom.

Before I left my day job, I started to follow other self-employed women online. I listened to podcasts where they told their stories, and they all had one thing in common. They had put what they already know into use and then learned more. It made me list all the skills that I had and be more content about the decision I had made.

Paivi just before her life change

Drawing Factory Teaches You to Draw from Stick Figures

Still, on this day, I find it both assuring and inspiring to acknowledge what is already there before starting something new. So last year, I wanted to create a mini-course about line drawing, using the same philosophy. That was how Drawing Factory was born. It teaches you to start from stick figures and then move on to flowing lines and more imaginative illustrations.

Drawing Factory, a line drawing mini-course that helps you to lose your fear of drawing. By Peony and Parakeet.

Student Artwork

I offered Drawing Factory as a part of Imagine Monthly Fall 2016, the series of monthly mini-courses. See some of the gorgeous pieces that my students have made from the course! Another central theme in the course is Japan, the land of pretty details and high productivity and that has inspired Denise Dineen, Linda Robson, Christie Juhasz, Stepanie Carney, Marie Jerred, and Kathy Gallant, too.

Denise Dineen, USA. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Linda Robson, Canada. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Christie Juhasz, USA. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Stephanie Carney, USA. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Marie Jerred, Canada. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Kathy Gallant, Canada. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Overcome Your Fears for Line Drawing – Buy Drawing Factory!

Drawing Factory is now available as a single self-study class. >> Click here to buy!
You can also buy the whole bundle of five art journaling classes, published last year as Imagine Monthly Fall 2016.

Thank you for supporting my journey now and during the last three years!

Expressing Inspiration Through Art

Storyteller's Power, a mixed media drawing by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read more about expressing inspiration through art!

I made this mixed media drawing “Storyteller’s Power” for the class Inspirational Drawing 2.0. I have created it from a collection of inspiration images. One of them is Luca Mombello’s Renaissance painting “The Immaculate and God the Father” which I saw at the recent renaissance art exhibition of The National Museum of Finland. Seeing the artwork, and how it reminded me of modern fantasy novels, caused a huge spark of inspiration. But when I heard that the frame was handmade by the painter, it felt mind-blowing. What an artist!

A set of inspiration images for creating art. One of the image is Luca Mombello¨s painting The Immaculate and God the Father"

Inspiration is Often Visual

It doesn’t have to be an art exhibition to make me inspired. I see ideas everywhere. Because of that, I am a useless listener without doodling or knitting. If I listen to a long lecture without nothing to do with my hands, I find visual ideas and inspiration everywhere. I look at the pipes attached to the ceiling or count the colors of the clothes. Soon, I have discovered a new idea that has nothing to do with what I came to listen! I believe that especially for visual people, inspiration is often visual too. We get excited by what we see and can’t help being drawn to colors and details.

Only You Can Express Your Inspiration!

Over three years ago I started to find a solution for expressing inspiration by drawing and painting. The world was full of images that embarked my excitement, but it seemed impossible to express it genuinely through art. I was either too intentional which brought stiffness, or too intuitive, which took me just further away from my original inspiration.

I already had some experience of using mood boards when studying design so I was certain that there was a solution to the problem. But rather than creating a new design, I wanted to use the images for enriching artistic expression. The idea was not to copy but boost imagination in a meaningful and intentional way. After all, inspiration is a personal feeling, and it should be interpreted in a personal way. Even if it’s evoked by something or someone, there’s always something unique in the way each one of us experiences it. Only you can express your inspiration!

A detail of Storyteller's Power, a mixed media drawing by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read more about expressing inspiration through art!

Expressing Inspiration Through Art

An inspirational image can quickly touch hearts but drawing and painting is a slower process. We can use images for picking visual ideas but we also need to process the inspiration so that we know why we got inspired in the first place. I believe that the images are like icons that bring up personal memories, points of view and aspirations. If we don’t connect with those, we don’t fully put the inspiration into use for art making.

At the first version of Inspirational Drawing, I showed a method for using an inspirational image as the source of ideas for a new drawing. At Inspirational Drawing 2.0, I introduce an improved process. It helps you to use one or more images as an inspiration source, connect with the thoughts and feelings that they evoke and create unique art from there. First, I show samples and walk you through a simplified process. Then I help you to create a bigger project that uses many kinds of inspiration along creating.

Paivi and Storyteller's Power, her mixed media drawing. Read more about expressing inspiration through art!

Claudia Watkins, one of the students says: “Paivi is a very profound lady. Her insights are amazing. Although having a technical background, Paivi sees beauty, philosophy, and art in everything. Paivi has helped me a lot in my art journey.”

Express Your Inspiration: Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!

Mixed Media Seascapes – 5 Tips for Expressive Art

Notice the new, useful categories for the blog posts, see the sidebar “Posts by Theme” or if you are in mobile, see the end of the page!

Sometimes I regret creating my art on the journals. When I created these mixed media seascapes for the mini-course Stormy Scenery, I wanted to keep the journals open and visible for days just to get back with the process and look at all the colors. And when I saw what my students had created, I secretly wished the same – that not so many weren’t in journals but frames. I want to share some art made from the mini-course and share some tips for expressive seascapes.

1) Play with Colors!

When creating the waves, show how the water reflects the colors from its surroundings. When there’s a storm, there will be a lot that’s moving, and it will affect the colors too. You can show your current state of mind as the sea and bring out the variety of thoughts and feelings. See how Claudia Watkins has made a row of waves with various colors.

Claudia Watkins, UK. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Claudia Watkins, UK

2) Create a Connection Between The Sky and The Sea!

If the sea represents you and the sky represents the outside world, how do they interact? Susan Rajkumar has expressed the connection in a brilliant way. It looks like the sea is willing to hug the sun and the overall feeling in the piece is warm and happy.

Susan Rajkumar, India. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Susan Rajkumar, India

Sheila McGruer’s sun has left the sea, and it has caused an explosion of energy.

Sheila McGruer, Australia. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Sheila McGruer, Australia

Sheila’s piece also has the softness which takes us to the next tip …

3) Express the Softness of Water

Cheryl Rayner shows the softness with both long strokes and splashes of water. With softness, you can practice gentleness towards yourself and others.

Cheryl Rayner, USA. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Cheryl Rayner, USA

4) Show The Movement of The Waves

Enjoy the transformation that happens when you focus on creating art! Strokes and lines express the movement. Lorraine Cline’s green sea is captivating because it’s wonderfully dynamic!

Lorraine Cline, USA. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Lorraine Cline, USA

Terttu Laitinen has the great eye of the storm.

Terttu Laitinen, Finland. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Terttu Laitinen, Finland

5) Make The Scene Look 3-Dimensional!

In any scene and any mind, some things are closer, and some things are further away. Add more 3-dimensional look to make some elements more blurry and some sharper than others. Satu Kontuvuori has a striking focal point where sharp white waves are on the top of the blurry black eye of the storm.

Satu Kontuvuori, Finland. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Satu Kontuvuori, Finland

Mackie d’Arge also has a clear focal point and lots of less defined splashes around it.

Mackie d'Arge, USA. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Mackie d’Arge, USA

Internal Seascapes – Connect with Your Internal Energy!

The mixed media seascapes shown in this blog posts are made from the mini-course Stormy Scenery which was part of my Imagine Monthly Spring series last year. You can now purchase it individually too. When creating Stormy Scenery, I was inspired by the long chain of seascape painters, especially by J.M.W. Turner and Ivan Aivazovski. I also have a Pinterest board called Internal Seascapes where I have collected inspirational sea paintings.

But in Stormy Scenery, more than just to paint the sea, I coach you through the process of opening up and bringing out your expression. With the mini-course, you are not so much mimicking the sea outside but expressing the power inside. I believe that every artist has a unique power as well as every day has a unique energy.

Create Mixed Media Seascapes!

Use colored pencils, watercolors, and acrylic paints to create expressive mixed media art!
>> Click here to buy Stormy Scenery!

Stormy Scenery, an art journaling mini-course by Peony and Parakeet

P.S. If you want more personal guidance and community support to get deeper in self-expression, you can still sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!

Mixed Media Drawing Tutorial – Create Step by Step!

Intuitive mixed media drawing inspired by old still life paintings. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

With this blog post, I want to encourage you to
… draw from imagination
… fall in love with the combination of water-soluble media and colored pencils
… find inspiration from art that has been created hundreds of years ago

Inspiration from Old Still Lives

A few weeks ago, I visited a small art museum called Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki. I have visited it many times because it’s a cozy old building and small art exhibitions are refreshing more than overwhelming. One more reason is that in Finland you can buy a museum card for about 65 EUR and it gives you free access to most of the Finnish museums for a year. It became available in 2015, and since then I have visited museums more than ever before in a year.

The exhibition at Sinebrychoff Art Museum was about old still lives, painted in the 16th to 18th centuries. I have admired those old, elegant paintings with beautiful flowers and fruits of all sorts for a long time. I have a Pinterest board dedicated to the most luxurious still lives, and I often bring up little things that I have learned from watching them in my classes. So no wonder, I was very inspired after seeing the exhibition, and I had to create a small drawing just to let my imagination play with the memories of beautiful paintings.

Mixed Media Drawing with Imaginative Fruits and Flowers

I picked one of my art journals, a Daler- Rowney’s Graduate Sketchbook, and a black thin-tipped drawing pen that has permanent ink. I prefer sketching with a permanent pen rather than with a pencil. Not being able to erase anything makes me more creative. Using permanent ink allows me to play with wet media as well.

First, I started doodling from the edges towards the center. Then I added some watercolors on the top of the doodling leaving the center blank.

Making of an intuitive mixed media drawing inspired by old still life paintings. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Once the watercolor was dry, I added more doodling in the center and finished the page with colored pencils. The dark background makes the colorful flowers and fruit stand out.

This process was so simple that I wanted to make a small tutorial for another page inspired by old still lives. So here it comes!

Mixed Media Drawing – A Tutorial

1) Set the composition with simple shapes. Draw a big shape and then a smaller one. The shapes can intersect.

A tutorial for an intuitive mixed media drawing inspired by old still life paintings. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

2) Add the horizon by doodling. I wanted to make the drawing dynamic by giving the horizon a diagonal direction.

3) Paint the background leaving most of the shapes blank. I used watercolors, but you can use any water-soluble media like inks or watercolor pens. Just make sure that your lines will show through because it’s part of the visual appeal. Use more than just one color so that your painting inspires you in the next step. Let dry.

A tutorial for an intuitive mixed media drawing inspired by old still life paintings. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

4) Doodle your heart out! Without raising your pen from the paper, doodle over the painted background and on the center too.

5) Color the drawing with bright colors and dark shadows. I used colored pencils, but you can use almost any media for coloring. For example, felt-tipped pens work great. You can also continue to use water-soluble media for coloring. Add dark colors between the flowers and the leaves. Leave some of the painting made in Step 3 visible so that your drawing breathes.

A tutorial for an intuitive mixed media drawing inspired by old still life paintings. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

6) Add the final touches to balance the drawing. I added some lines to make the elements in the background more explanatory and a tiny flower that looks like it’s reaching them. I also made the top right corner look similar to bottom right corner to highlight the diagonal composition in the background.

Intuitive mixed media drawing inspired by old still life paintings. See step by step instructions for making this! By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Mixed Media Drawing – Say You Want to Explore More!

Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!
1) Enjoy Drawing from Imagination!
At Inspirational Drawing 2.0, you will quickly get in touch with you living line and lively imagination. You will also get personal help to finish your pieces so that they are meaningful and appealing to other people too.
>> Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!

Buy a mixed media self-study class Flowing Greenery!
2) Practice Merging Painting with Drawing!

Learn to merge drawn areas with painted areas and play with shadows! Flowing Greenery is a self-study class with two projects, a small still life, and a bigger landscape.
>> Buy Flowing Greenery!

Buy an e-book Coloring Freely!
3) Get Creative with Colored Pencils!

Coloring doesn’t have to be stiff or boring. Learn to color freely whether it’s coloring a drawing or creating intuitive art directly on a blank page!
>> Buy Coloring Freely!

What Any Artist Can Learn from Old Masters

Draming Salome, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. A copy of a detail from Loretto da Brescia's old painting "Portrait of a Lady as Salome".

If you have followed me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve already seen that I have had a special project in November. I have been painting a replica of an old painting and learning techniques that artists used already hundreds of years ago. These are called old master painting techniques. Famous old masters like Leonardo da Vinci and Johannes Vermeer used them when creating their masterpieces. My painting is a copy of detail from Moretto da Brescia‘s painting “Portrait of a Lady as Salome.” I call mine “Dreaming Salome” because I gave her a more dreamy look and different meaning. The portrait was painted in the course organized by The National Museum of Finland. The teacher of the course was Emmi Mustonen.

5 Tips You Can Learn from Old Masters

After painting my first oil painting, and the first one that uses these techniques, I feel that there is still a lot to learn. So I will be painting another one with these techniques during the spring. However, I have already found out a lot of things that can be used with any supplies, and I wanted to write a blog post about what you can take from my experience. These tips can be applied to any themes, even to abstract art. At the end of this post, there’s also a short video (watch it on YouTube) that shows more images from the process.

1) Don’t Get Discouraged in The Beginning!

A sketch and the finished painting using old masters techniques. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

My process of making the painting started with a charcoal sketch. While sketching, I felt I was just making a big mess. I pressed too hard, and the drawing wasn’t detailed enough. The image shows the sketch once it was cleaned with an eraser – just before the first layer of paint. If you compare it with the finished painting, there’s a huge difference between the two. The expression of the lady looked sad in the drawing, but she has a half-smile in the finished version. I understood that the facial features and characteristics are so subtle that it takes a long time to get them right.

When sketching, I hadn’t the persistence to finish her hair and shawl but still, I was able to make them quite detailed during the painting process. If I had made the original sketch without attending the course, I would have called it a failure and lost my hope of achieving something that would look like an old painting.

I often talk about raw ideas (see this blog post) and that applies to realistic art too. The first lines are just the beginning for understanding what the final work will be. When I was sketching, I only had a rough idea about how my lady should differ from the original version. But once I continued the painting process, my vision got clearer. So, stay curious about the insights that you will get during creating, and don’t get discouraged in the beginning!

2) Before Diving Deeper, Limit Your Supplies!

A detail of an underpainting when painting with old masters techniques. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

In my painting, the first layers were made with just two colors: burnt umber and zinc white. These first layers form a so-called underpainting that shows where the shadows and lighted areas are. It enforces the painter to look for contrasts, and on the other hand, it enables working with details without making color choices. The philosophy of underpainting can be applied to any media and style when it’s seen as a phase where you limit your supplies and add more content to the piece. When you go through every area in your work and make sure that it connects well with the next one, you will control the big picture through details. I find this much more enjoyable than trying to see everything at one glance all the time.

3) Slow Down to Maintain a Gentle Focus!

I was surprised by the positive feelings I went through while painting with old masters techniques. I thought that there would be a lot of demanding voices in my head, but the process surprised me. Even if I was stretched out from my comfort zone, I realized that there could be “a gentle focus,” where you put all your energy into work so that it improves your self-image too. I believe that this kind of new self-acceptance was based on two things.

First, I knew that it would take a long time to finish the painting. Six sessions in the classroom weren’t enough. I also had to do homework. Each of the layers had to dry before adding a new one, and drying took several daysThis slow pace felt old fashioned but good too. It made me think how much gentler we would be in general if weren’t so busy all the time. I also noticed how I became less worried about mistakes. When the progress is slow, mistakes start small, and it’s easier to correct them.

Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet learning from the old masters.

The second thing that helped me was that we were using a finger to remove the brush strokes. When I gently caressed the canvas with paint, it affected my whole thinking. It felt like the beauty created and seen by Moretto da Brescia caressed my brain.

4) Don’t Try to Make Your Middle Look Like the End

Before attending the course, I made one decision: I would do my best to follow the teacher’s advice. Because I was not familiar with the techniques, I didn’t know beforehand how the painting should look after each layer. When I teach art, I often see people worry over details that will look gorgeous once they just move on to the next steps. It’s human to compare your middle to the desired end. But if you can set your criteria according to each phase, it will lead to the better quality.

Phase photos of an oil painting using old master painting techniques. By Päivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

So, when laying the colors one by one, I tried to quench my worries about how yellow the dress looked or how red the fur was. When using old masters techniques, colors are not mixed on a palette. The pigments from the tubes are laid in thin layers as they are. So if you want green, you will start with yellow, let it dry for few days and then move on with blue. The transparent layers with soft edges result in a mixed color and a realistic look.

When painting these thin layers of color, I couldn’t help thinking that the skin was too uneven. But my teacher advised me to continue creating color differences to get the painting ready for “a white wash.” A thin layer of zinc white made the skin more even, and all the previous layers made sense. Try this approach of seeing layers and elements as building blocks to new ones!

5) Sharpen The Soft, Not Vice Versa!

I was often reminded to make every area and detail softer. Even most of the tiny spots were softened with a finger to make them more translucent and blurry without sharp edges. As a result of that, the painting looked blurry and untidy. But when finishing, sparingly added sharp lines and dots did the trick. It felt magical how suddenly the whole painting looked accurate. I learned that it’s very easy to sharpen the softness. Adding few strokes finished the fur. Adding a tiny sharp dot finished the eye. The nose didn’t need sharpening at all because I wanted to bring the eye to the mouth where I added a small white spot.

A detail of a painting made using old masters painting techniques. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

When you add softness, you will also make your work look more dimensional. Leonardo da Vinci has said:
“The beginnings and ends of shadow lie between the light and darkness and may be infinitely diminished and infinitely increased. Shadow is the means by which bodies display their form. The forms of bodies could not be understood in detail but for shadow.”

After painting my “Dreaming Salome,” I have become fascinated by watching the edges of items and how soft they are. I know that today’s world is sharp. We aim for sharp photos, clean graphic look and turn on the fluorescent lighting. The things we use are industrially made and as perfect as they have been designed on a computer. But try visiting Leonardo’s softer world! Light a candle and observe the lights and shadows. Let everything soft inspire you when you are creating art and reflect that softness towards yourself too!

Bonus: Make it Meaningful – Watch the Video!

My “Dreaming Salome” is now framed and she has a special place in our library room. I was so happy to be able to finish her before Christmas.

Dreaming Salome, an oil painting using old master painting techniques, finished and framed. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

This painting is my first exercise when learning from old masters, but it also has other symbolic meaning. I have made a short video showing the images from the class and how she was painted layer by layer. In the same time, I also explain what Dreaming Salome symbolizes to me.

Learn a New Approach – Sign up for inspirational Drawing 2.0!

If you have followed my blog before, you know that painting a replica of an old painting is not what I usually do. But if we limit ourselves to learning only one style, one approach, one tool, it prevent’s our artistic growth and the full use of our imagination.

Learn drawing from your inspiration and imagination!
>>Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!
The class has begun in January 1st but you will receive the first set of materials right after signing up.

Pointillism – A Quick Way, Step by Step!

ATCs that are like pointillistic paintings but made using colored pencils and felt-tipped pens. See the step-by-step instructions! By Peony and Parakeet.

I am honored to be one of the guest artists in Documented Life Project this month. I was given a theme (pointillism) and a project type (artist trading card, ATC). As long as I followed those, I could do anything with any supplies. These kind of challenges are fun because you get such enough restrictions to get started but can still create freely. However, I have one fixation with artistic trading cards. I like them to be portraits, either humans or animals.(See ATCs in this post, for example!) So I chose a very traditional subject, women from the past.

Pointillism Can Be Tedious!

Like most of us, I have always admired Georges Seurat‘s paintings. In the 1980s, a Finnish illustrator made images that were composed of small points. It might have been an artist called Osmo Omenamäki. As a teenager, inspired by him and Seurat, I decided to be a pointillist artist too. I picked my felt-tipped pens and started to draw dots. Oh my! I was barely able to finish a postcard size drawing. I couldn’t believe how many small dots are needed to fill even a small blank area! I was almost traumatized by that experience!

So now, over 30 years later, I didn’t even think about creating the project with felt-tipped pens only. ATCs are small, but not that small! However, with felt-tipped pens, it is easy to make intentional tiny dots in a variety of colors. But I also needed something else to make the coloring faster. Colored pencils leave the spots visible, and they are easy to control. So I chose them to fill the blanks between the dots.

Practicing – Spots with Many Colors

Before the actual project, I practiced my ideas. I made the dots using a variety of colors and then added more colors with colored pencils.

Pointillism in an artist trading card. See the step by step instructions. By Peony and Parakeet.

Because the colors in dots weren’t as important as coloring with colored pencils, I got an idea of using brown shades only. It would be like an underpainting, a technique that old masters often used in portraits. They painted shadows with umber and then applied the rest of the colors so that the shadows showed through. So I will show you how you can do a similar kind of “under-dotting” and then apply the actual colors with colored pencils!

1) Under-Dotting with Felt-Tipped Pens

You will need four shades of felt-tipped pens for this step. I use Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pens in colors “Light Flesh”, “Green Gold”, “Raw Umber” and “Caput Mortuum”.  I didn’t use any model like a photo but just created intuitively, making the features more accurate color by color.

Pointillism, step by step. Step 1 by Peony and Parakeet.

With the palest of color, sketch an oval using small dots. The liberating thing here is that when you start with a pale color and make little dots, you can make many “mistakes” and correct them as you go. One spot in a wrong place can be easily changed! Fill the oval with dots so that you leave blank space where you plan mouth, eyes, and nose to be. When they seem to be in place, add some dots for details. Don’t worry if your woman looks pretty ugly. This is just the first layer!

Change to darker shades and add shadows to the face. Then sketch the hair and clothes using little dots only.

Pointillism, step by step. Step 1, under-dotting. By Peony and Parakeet.

Every shade adds a little bit more to the image.

2) Basic Coloring with Black and Colored Pencils

Now add black spots to the darkest of details. Old portraits often had a dark background, so I added black spots there too.

Pointillism, step by step. Step 2 by Peony and Parakeet.

Using colored pencils, color the card so that white shows only where you want to have it in the end. I used Caran d’Ache Pablo pencils in blue, red and yellow. Remember that you can mix colors by layering. You can get many beautiful tones from the primary colors.

3) More Liveliness with Colored Pencils

Finally, add shadows so that the details look 3-dimensional. If you only have primary colors like I had, you can get a dark background by adding blue, red and yellow layers there. If your portrait looks too dark, use an eraser to lighten and soften the colors.

Pointillism, step by step. Step 3 by Peony and Parakeet.

In the end, check the facial features of your woman. Add small lines where you want to turn the attention. Don’t draw the lines near the nose but on the lips and the eyes.

Pointillism, step by step. Step 3 and facial features. By Peony and Parakeet.

Celebrating Blurriness

Here are my finished cards again. I think they look delightfully blurry!

Pointillism-themed artist trading cards. See the step-by-step instructions. By Peony and Parakeet.

The more I want to reduce stiffness in my art, the more I feel the need to embrace blurriness. With blurriness, I also feel more self-acceptance, more ease with errors, more open to possibilities.

Reducing stiffness is one of the main themes in my newest class too. The class is called Inspirational Drawing 2.0 and it’s about drawing from imagination and inspiration. Watch the introductory video below!

Inspirational Drawing 2.0: Liberate your line and sign up now!