From Intuitive to Intentional Painting

The Phantom of the Opera, a mixed media painting by Peony and Parakeet

This is my latest mixed media painting called “The Phantom of the Opera.” Just saw the musical in The Finnish National Opera!  I don’t know about you, but when I go to see a performance like that, I know that it will appear in my art one way or another. With this blog post, I want to challenge you to think what is intuitive and what is intentional in art. And – can they be combined?

Day 1 – Watercolors

It was a sunny winter day when I started the painting. A friend from the UK was visiting me, and we were chatting while I painted the first layers. With watercolors, like many times before.

Watercolor set

I love how well watercolors support intuitive painting. You can just splash here and there and then get inspired by the result. In this phase, I tend to choose the colors quickly, based on what feels good. I would call this phase very intuitive also because I don’t usually have no idea about how the result would look.

Beginning a painting with watercolors, by Peony and Parakeet

After splashing watercolors on the paper, I tried to get something a bit more intentional out of it: distinct shapes, strokes and color areas.

Creating a mixed media painting, by Peony and Parakeet

The painting looked like it could be a still life with wine grapes and some fruits. But I did not have more time to continue with the painting, so I saved it in my album. I love to create 12 by 12 paintings as they fit on a regular scrapbooking album. I also love the square shape as it is easy to change the orientation of the picture in the middle of the process.

Day 2 – Acrylic Paints

About a week later I picked out the painting again. This time, I wanted to add some acrylic paint to it. I find the combination of transparent watercolor and non-transparent acrylic paint very attractive. When touching the acrylic paint tubes, I get ideas about color mixes that would work with the watercolor background. I would call this pretty intuitive step too.

Acrylic paint tubes

As I am a very detail-oriented person when painting, I try to be bold when painting with acrylics. Broad strokes add more interest to detailed paintings.

Creating a mixed media painting, by Peony and Parakeet

In the end, the painting still looked like a still life, but I wasn’t quite confident about the orientation of the painting.

Creating a mixed media painting, by Peony and Parakeet

Here you can see the difference between the end of day 1 (watercolors) and the end of day 2 (acrylics).

Day 3 – Colored Pencils

Because I love details, I also love to use colored pencils. With colored pencils, it’s easy to add little nuances here and there, and I also like the look of pencil strokes on the painting.

Colored Pencils

Day 3 was a day after day 2, but it was still before I had seen the musical. When I work with colored pencils, I am often very intentional. First, I had an idea to create wine glasses of the two round elements, but then I changed the orientation of the painting and saw lamps in the ceiling!

Creating an intuitive painting, by Peony and Parakeet

Which one do you like the best: the wine glasses or the lamps?

Day 4 – Acrylic Paints + Colored Pencils

Day 4 was after the musical. I got an idea from one of the scenes. The painting continued with acrylics expressing the famous chandelier crash!

Creating a mixed media painting, by Peony and Parakeet

So far I had been pretty intentional but then changed to intuitive. I played the music and tried to get into it as much as I could. I used both acrylic paints and colored pencils.

Here’s the result again:

The Phantom of the Opera, a mixed media painting by Peony and Parakeet

Intuitive Painting – Guess What!

The story doesn’t end here! While photographing the finished painting, I glanced at my feet and saw the same color scheme in my socks! I had just finished them before Day 1 and worn them ever since. So, this painting actually started when I was picked the yarn from my stash for the socks. No, wait – it began when I bought the wool that I spun to the yarn …!

Handmade socks and mixed media painting share the same color scheme, by Peony and Parakeet

Combining intuitive with intentional is a lot of fun! It’s the best cure for getting rid of stiffness in the result. The intuitive parts allow you to feel free when painting; the intentional parts bring more clarity to the painting.

Let me be your art teacher: Subscribe to my weekly emails!

What Acrylic Colors to Buy?

Tosca, a mixed media painting by Peony and Parakeet

This is a very practical blog post but let’s start it with my recent artwork, called “Tosca.” It is inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s opera. I went to see the opera last week and it was an experience that I wanted to communicate visually. The drama has always appealed to me and the contrast between the most beautiful sounds and the big emotions, often agony, was unforgettable.

Before the evening at the opera, I had just realized that I need to buy some more acrylic paints. I had run out of almost all the basic colors. I love Golden Heady Body Artist Acrylics, so I went to a local art supply store to get some. I know there are lists of what colors you should buy when buying the basics, but as my selection is a bit different, I thought I might not only share it but also give some general guidelines of what acrylic colors to buy. These can be applied to colored pencils and watercolors as well.

Guidelines that I Follow when Choosing Acrylic Colors

1) Always buy basic white and black. They give contrasts and are great for color mixes.
2) Never underestimate the amount of yellows you need. I use yellows for everything. I love the color itself, and use it a lot for color mixes as well. I often make a mistake of adding too much another color with yellow and then I need to add some more yellow to get the right tone. So I need a lot of yellows!
3) Warm and cold tones of each primary color are usually enough. I don’t buy browns and greens unless I find a specific tone that I fall in love with.
4) Always include some personal favorites. When I open the box where I store the tubes, I want to become happy. Cerulean blue reminds me of the time when I painted icons. I think of the sky when I see it and it makes me feel creative and happy. Whatever the current color trends are, cerulean blue always feels great. When I buy colors, I think about creating as an experience and don’t just focus on what is generally recommended.

Cerulean Blue acrylic paint tube, read more about what acrylic colors to buy!

My Basic Collection of Acrylic Paint Colors

A basic collection of acrylic paints, by Peony and Parakeet

Basic Colors:
1) Titanium White – because it’s basic white
2) Mars Black – because it’s basic black
3) Quinacridone Red – because it is great for mixing pinks and purples
4) Pyrrole Red– because it’s fiery and pure warm red
5) C.P. Cadmium Yellow Primrose – because it’s ideal to get beautiful greens but it is still a strong pigment, not a mix
6) C.P. Cadmium Yellow Medium – because it’s the most beautiful warm yellow I know
7) Primary Cyan – because it’s basic and more affordable than many other blues
8) Ultramarine Blue – because I have used to using it for decades

Extra Colors:
1) Medium Magenta – because I like pinks
2) Hansa Yellow Light – because it is an affordable extra yellow
3) Cerulean Blue Chromium – because it makes me happy
4) Manganese Blue Hue – because I like turquoises

I also have some special effect tubes, for example, gold and silver and some odds and ends. The more I paint, the more I rely on basic pigments and don’t like to spend money buying color mixes in tubes or jars.

A Red Day

Sometimes one color seems to be more appealing than the others. This happened to me last week; it was “red red red” that I thought all morning.

Three red acrylic pigments: magenta, pyrrole and quinacridone

Even if I had the new tubes and all, I started with watercolors and 12-by-12 inch watercolor paper. Playing with water is so liberating!

Painting a background with watercolors

Then I changed watercolors to acrylic paints and turned the music on.

Adding acrylic paint over watercolors

Puccini’s Tosca was playing in the background but as I had not visited the real performance yet. So I put this away to wait for the more detailed insight.

Colored Pencils Make the Details

A couple of days after seeing the opera, I was ready. I continued with colored pencils. They are wonderful art supplies. They are brilliant with watercolors, but they are ok with acrylics too of you create thin and even layers.

Tosca, a mixed media painting by Peony and Parakeet

Let me be your art teacher: Subscribe to my weekly emails!

Art Journaling with Colored Pencils

Being Alive, an art journal page made with Cretacolor Aqua Monolith watercolor pencils by Peony and Parakeet

My latest art journal page started with new colored pencils and rambling thoughts of the latest news from Helsinki: the architecture competition of Guggenheim Museum has ended and now there’s a big debate whether the city of Helsinki should finance the museum or not. I did not mean to include the winner building on the page, but you know how it goes: once you think something, it will appear! See the black element in the right!

Cretacolor Aqua Monolith Watercolor Pencils

Last Monday I went to the biggest art supply store in Helsinki to buy some paper and see if they had any Cretacolor Aqua Monolith Watercolor Pencils. I had bought one pencil about a year ago just to see how it works. After many months, I noticed the growing use of that pencil. So now I was thinking to buy a couple more. It turned out that they did not sell the pencils individually anymore, so I bought the smallest set of 12.

Creatacolor Aqua Monolith Watercolor Pencils

As you can see from the picture, these pencils are nothing like ordinary colored pencils! They are not wooden at all; they only have a thin lacquer coating! For me, it took some time to get used to how they feel when holding them. But once I got over it and started treating them as any pencil, (pressing lightly and creating multiple thin layers), I noticed that they work great. These pencils are soft enough to make the coloring pleasurable but not too soft for detailed work.

Creating an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet. Using Cretacolor Aqua Monolith Pencils.

It is fascinating that you can also use shavings if you add a little bit water to them!

Cretacolor Aqua Monolith Watercolor Pencils

My art journal page was made without water – these watercolor pencils work well that way too.

Creating an art journal page with colored pencils, by Peony and Parakeet

All of my colored pencils fit in two jars as I usually use them all at the same time, no matter what their brand or type is.

Adding Journaling to the Page

I was drawn to green tones even if I was thinking of the city view. There’s something magical when the tourists arrive Helsinki in the spring. They make shy and withdrawn Finnish people more friendly and helpful. When the hard winter is over, everybody is willing to make a fresh start.

While continuing the coloring of the page, I thought about cultural institutes and their events. Whether it is a city full of tourists or a concert hall full of audience, it feels alive and uplifting. It gives me energy and inspiration to create once I get back home. I felt drawn to the word “alive” and decided to add some words to the page too. By erasing some areas after coloring, I created areas for writing.

Erasing places for writing when art journaling with colored pencils, by Peony and Parakeet

For me, being alive is a visual thing. When I am using my senses, I see images. When I draw the images, I feel alive.

Being Alive, an art journal page made with Cretacolor Aqua Monolith watercolor pencils by Peony and Parakeet

Create an art journal page with colored pencils and words by answering:
What does make you feel alive?

More art journaling with colored pencils! >> Buy Coloring Freely!

Video: Small Change, Big Results

Sometimes it seems that big life-changing thoughts do not happen. But when looking back, there can be little things that we have almost forgotten. That moment, when you did something differently, opened the door that you normally would not open – that can be the trigger for new kind of inspiration. Here’s my story about a small unselfish act that has given me a lot of artistic inspiration and an increase of my creativity:

Update in April 14th: You can read this story in a written form at Medium.com!

Coming up! “Inspirational Drawing”, an online workshop in June 2015, where I will teach you how to enjoy drawing and coloring art journal pages with colored pencils. This e-course will show you how to process your inspiration, grow your skills, and increase your imagination – all by drawing! Stay tuned!

Update in April 11th: Registration is for “Inspirational Drawing is now open!

From Movie Posters to Art Journal Pages

The Discerning Diva - an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet. See how to get ideas from movie posters!

“The Discerning Diva – She could be hired as the art director of this journal.”
This page is my version of the poster for the movie “The Big Lebowski”. I have borrowed the concept of weird glasses and the composition from the poster, but it is still a separate artwork, not an exact copy.

The Discovery of Movie Posters

After learning that I like to use of alphabet stamps in the art journal pages, I had been thinking about the next step in journaling. Last week I watched the poster artist James Victore‘s course  Bold & Fearless Poster Design on Creative Live. His style has very little to do with mine, but I became fascinated by the visual concept of posters.

Last weekend I found a book about 1990’s movie posters at the local library. I became fascinated by the compositions used in the posters. Then it hit me: maybe I could replace the main elements with my own and apply the visual concept of the poster to my personal stories!

How to pick ideas from movie posters?

I will show you how to make your own “Discerning Diva” (very easy) but before that, I want to show you another poster-inspired page.

An art journal page spread by Peony and Parakeet. See how to get ideas from movie posters!

The page on the left is inspired by the poster for the movie “The Matrix”. I picked few main elements and the general atmosphere from the poster. The page on the right is made a long time ago, but I like how the two pages tell the story about being inside someone’s brain.

Four tips for picking ideas from the movie posters:
1) Composition: Examine the placement of the title, the grouping of the main elements and the most noticeable color contrasts.
2) Subject: Think about how your life could be applied to the movie.
3) Process: Examine the poster carefully but when you start creating, focus on your page and make it your own.
4) Imagine: Remember that you can replace the elements of the poster with whatever you like. For example, a person can be replaced with a vase of flowers.

Create Your Discerning Diva!

1) Paint the background of the page.
I used acrylic paints to make the background strong and heavy-looking. Leave an unpainted area for the face. Add water to the paint and gently brush around the face. Wet strokes create the impression of a thin scarf and add dimension.

The Discerning Diva - instructions for an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet

2) Color the face.
I used colored pencils to maintain the big contrast between the background and the face. Add some color for the skin. Draw a mouth and a nose.

The Discerning Diva - instructions for an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet

3) Add glasses.
Go to your box of hand drawn papers. Cut two lenses. Attach with glue or gel medium. Add frames with pens. Make the glasses as decorative as you like!

The Discerning Diva - instructions for an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet

4) Add text.
Pick a color that has a high contrast with the background and journal on the bottom of the page. I have used a correction pen for the title and a white gel pen (Uni-Ball Signo) for the text below the title.

The Discerning Diva - an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet. See instructions on how to make your own diva!

5) Add finishing strokes.
With colored pencils, add some strokes below the face to represent a scarf.
Add few strokes to outline the scarf near the forehead.

More Ideas for Compositions

Surround Yourself with Inspiration - an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet. Inspired by movie posters.

Believe or not, this page is inspired by Austin Powers movie poster and hand embroidery! I think that hand embroidery has a lot in common with hand drawing.

Learn to draw from imagination and inspiration!
>> Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0

Light, Water and Fire

Graceful Aria, a watercolor painting by Peony and Parakeet

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

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

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

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

Sunset in Finland, a photo by Peony and Parakeet

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

Spring Rain in Finland, a photo by Peony and Parakeet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A detail of a watercolor painting by Peony and Parakeet

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

5 Ways Music Can Improve Your Art

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

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

Tip 1: Let music challenge you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip 3: Pick the colors from the music

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip 5: Focus your energy with the help of music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me be your art teacher: Subscribe to my weekly emails!