Painting Fantasy Portraits

"New Year", a small acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Watch her creating this on a video!

This year, I have been thinking a lot about the balance between technical skills and the imagination. It seems that when I focus on either one, the other one suffers. Now when the year is nearly in the end, I have wanted to play with the imagination and cared less about the execution. I have always enjoyed creating intuitively: starting without intention and then figuring out what I want to express once the work has progressed.

Fantasy Figures Keep On Appearing!

Recently, I have seen fantasy figures whatever I am creating. I don’t know if it’s because I have been following fantasy artists lately or just that I haven’t been playing with portraits for a while. Here’s one of the colorful clusters from my sketchbook that I turned into a fantasy figure.

Fantasy portrait in progress. See the intuitive approach for painting fantasy figures!

I had a lot of fun with her imagining that she is a digital nomad, re-connecting with nature, running away from her phone!

"Digital Nomad", a mixed media painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her intuitive approach of creating fantasy figures!

Fantasy Portrait in Oil

I also have two oil paintings in progress, and the first one is a kind of portrait too. After the geometric background, I wanted to put a giant pansy in the center, and then couldn’t resist adding a face. I have painted it using a reference for the most important facial features. Then I completed the person with a more loose approach.

Oil painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips for painting fantasy portraits!

This is just a beginning of the painting. It will have more details and color.

Painting Fantasy Portraits – An Intuitive Approach

The best fantasy is never borrowed but takes place in your imagination. I think the way to get connected to it, is to start freely without any reference photos. The painting that is shown at the beginning of this post looked like this before I discovered that there’s a face!

Painting fantasy portraits. See Paivi Eerola's intuitive approach!

Painting this one was an exciting process, and fortunately, I recorded some parts of it. I used a couple of tricks that I learned from my skillful artist friend Eeva Nikunen: using a dead color when exploring values and adding an even color wash over the whole painting to make it more unified.

Painting Fantasy Portraits – Watch the Video!

Happy Holidays! – See You in “Bloom and Fly”!

I am not sure whether I blog next week or not. So with this painting about the new year, I want to wish you Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Thank you for being there!

And of course, I hope to see you in Bloom and Fly at the beginning of January! We’ll start by planning your creative goals, then pick easy ideas from Rococo, explore abstracts together, etc. I will help you to express yourself so that it’s adventurous and imaginative!  >> Sign up here!

How to Make Your Art More Captivating

Captivating Connection by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her five tips for making your art more captivating!

Captivating is a big word, but I like to explore it from many angles. In this blog post, I give you six tips with examples. The first two are more related to the process of creating art than to the result. I believe that if the process itself doesn’t captivate, it’s less likely that the final piece will! The last four tips are about finishing your art so that it will be compelling.

1) Captivating Supplies – Choose What Gets You Going!

Using too many art supplies can cause overwhelm and unnecessary distraction. I choose the supplies based on how many hours I want to work on the project.

  • Under an hour: Black drawing pen and colored pencils. They are quick to grab and work on any paper.
  • Few hours: Water-soluble media like watercolors or inks. They cover big areas quickly, but they also allow detailed work, especially when combined with colored pencils.
  • Tens of hours: Acrylic or oil paints. The result lasts time and can include tens of layers.

The projects shown in this blog post have taken 2-4 hours. These are all created with water-soluble media but this time, not with watercolors or inks. Namely, while organizing my supplies, I found Faber-Castell Gelatos and Derwent Artbars from my stash. I bought them many years ago when I was obsessed with having all the mixed media artist’s stuff. I purchased this and that, tried everything for few times, and then got disappointed because they didn’t improve my art. My solution back then was to reduce the number of art supplies and learn more about the basics of visual communication. It worked much better than hoping for the miracle with the new supplies!

But now when I opened the boxes, I was looking at Fabel-Castell Gelatos and Derwent Artbars with the new perspective. They could be quick and handy for sketchbooks and art journals. Because both of them are water-soluble, they could watercolors and inks once in a while.

Starting an art journal page by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See more tips on how to create intuitively!

I have now used Derwent Artbars and Faber-Castell Gelatos for my big sketchbook. I use Artbars for detailed brushwork and Gelatos for big and blurry areas.It has been quick and fun. The downside is that the result is quite waxy and I don’t think it will endure time very well. Furthermore, I can’t cover the opposite page because the staining would ruin it. However, the old and neglected supplies have managed to inspire me, and I think it shows in my recent work as well. The image above shows how I started the piece that you can find at the beginning of this blog post.

2) Captivating Looseness – Start without Intention!

The second captivating thing is related to the process of creating as well. I like to start most of my pieces, whether they are small sketches, bigger art journal pages, or big paintings intuitively without accurate planning. Sometimes I have an image, a word or a style in mind. It inspires me to start, but as soon as I have sat down and made the first strokes, I try to let go of it and just enjoy creating freely from the imagination. In this short video, you see me working with Derwent Artbars and Faber-Castell Gelatos.

More videos: I have explained my adventurous creative process shortly in a mini-course called Loosed Up! It’s free for the subscribers of my weekly emails. If you haven’t a subscriber yet, subscribe here!

3) Captivating Story – Make Fantasy Portraits!

Artists often talk about communicating a story through art. Usually, referring to the story doesn’t mean so much what’s in the image, but how the image can deliver a handle to the viewer’s personal stories. One of the easiest ways to embark stories is to make a portrait that is relatable.

Even if you have started freely and intuitively, you can turn almost any blotch to a face, especially a side profile, by adding a color area that defines it. In my piece, I realized that with black, I could bring up two persons. I was intrigued by showing the connection between the two fantasy figures. To me, they express the two sides of me, when I am creating. One side is more feminine, full of emotion and ideas, and the other more masculine, trying to figure out how to put the ideas into subsequent steps. At best, these two sides work together and enter the same flow.

Making of Captivating Connection by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See her tips on creating captivating art!

In the enlargement, you can see that the dark areas also include subtle details so that they are not monotone and so that they communicate the connection. The colors also play a role here. Blue expresses the connection that the two share together.

A detail of Captivating Connection by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips on how to make your art more captivating!

The story that you see in this piece doesn’t have to be the same than what I have told. For you, the image can bring a romantic moment to mind. Or it can take you to a fantasy movie. In the same way, the art that you make can have several meanings and when creating, focusing on the general message makes it more captivating. In this case, the message is the shared connection, and I have tried to adjust the details so that they all support this message.

4) Captivating Richness – Build a System!

Usually, the longer we work with one piece, the more valuable it will become. Not only that we get more attached to it ourselves, or that it has a higher monetary value, but also that time brings the richness of the details. This is especially the case if you don’t try to get the piece finished in one sitting but let it captivate your mind between the sessions.

Starting an art journal page by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See how this page grew to a bigger picture!

Many artists are afraid of “overworking,” but to my experience, “underworking” is more common. Also, only creating tiny pieces can be one form of underworking. See how a small art journal page, a modest scene, grew to a captivating system or a map when I continued the page!

Art journal page by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips on making your art more captivating!

When working with a detailed big picture, remember to leave some breathing space between crowded areas. Connected lines between the clusters make sure that your system is like a running machine with all the necessary pieces.

Creating a detailed art journal page. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips on making captivating art!

5) Captivating Clarity – Highlight a Direction!

Sometimes clarity can be more captivating than an overwhelming amount of details. My example is an orange that I drew one morning after a fruity breakfast.

I apologize for the low quality of the first image below. There you can see a shadow of me shooting the photo with my mobile phone. But actually, it brings up a good point about the clarity: when you are in doubt what to add, take a photo. It helps you to see your work with different eyes. You can zoom out to test if your image looks both clear and interesting when it’s small. You can also analyze, how your eye wanders around the work and where do you want to lead it. If your art looks like one big mess, adding a direction also brings more clarity.

An illustration in progress by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See how she made this more captivating!

With the orange, I wanted to express the forward-thinking attitude that I usually have in the early mornings. I wanted to add more importance to the single juicy drop that leaves the orange with the bouncing energy. The idea behind the illustration was not just express a fruit that explodes but how a source of energy can keep you moving forward. It’s similar to the idea of my community Bloom and Fly – to keep you inspired to create and remove creative blocks that prevent you from that!

Illustration by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Morning energy!

6) Captivating Contrast – Use Two Different Styles!

The last tip is about contrast. However, this time I don’t bring up the contrast in color, value, or size, but in style! Now you might say: “Paivi, I have been searching for a personal visual voice for so long. Are you talking about mixing different styles to one piece?” I certainly am! Don’t be a one-trick pony but go to see all kinds of art and practice all sorts of styles! Your technical skills will grow, and you will get ground-breaking ideas. Showing the versatility can also make your art more captivating. See how I combined abstract with realism how it makes the images more captivating and thought-provoking.

Combining abstract with realism by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. This is the abstract element, see how she adds a realistic element to the same picture!

With a realistic pansy, I was able to communicate the contradiction that we all get when we envy someone: “When a jewel wants to feel free and be a pansy … And when the pansy secretly wishes to live forever and be the jewel.”

Envy by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips on making your art more captivating!
By adding the realistic eye, I was able to express the difference between two different worlds – the inner and the outer world. Paul Klee has said it so brilliantly: One eye sees, the other feels.”

My Mind's Eye by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips on how to make your art more captivating!

Set Your Goals and Start Creating!

My community Bloom and Fly is for all who want to start and keep on creating. You can get help and encouragement for any art project, and we also have monthly themes.

Bloom and Fly, an inspiring art community by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

January’s theme is “Mixed Media Sketchbook as a Tool for Setting Your Goals.” You will get ideas on how to use a sketchbook or an art journal for creative goals. Rather than feeling restricted, you will feel energized by the possibilities behind the goals. An art journal can be a playbook that keeps you moving forward!

With January’s theme, you will also get easy jumpstarts for stepping into the world of art journaling without feeling the pressure to buy more supplies. The money spent on staying inspired and connected with like-minded artists can be more useful than adding extra supplies to your stash.

Make sure that 2018 is your year of art – Join Bloom and Fly!

Build Imagination with the Students of Peony and Parakeet

During the last spring, I have seen gorgeous pieces of art made from the mini-course Painter’s Ecstasy. Like in the previous blog posts (this one and this), I want to share some of them with you.

Build Imagination with Watercolors!

The pieces of this post are made with watercolors mostly. To my experience, watercolors are the supplies to go if you just stare at the blank paper and have no ideas in mind. They are soft and not so exact than pens or acrylics. It’s also easy to see something interesting appearing and start building new details from that. Maintain an open mind and not try to figure the end result beforehand. Instead, start with a general idea in mind.

1) Start with Mixed Emotions

Because creating art should be enjoyable, we often want to express positive feelings. But to get more connected to your piece, analyze your emotion more in detail. It’s often mixed: joy can hold tears of affection, happiness can contain worry, love can include dependency of some kind. This doesn’t mean you have to dwell in negative emotions but pondering about the more complicated nature of emotions can also free up your imagination. When controversial issues are allowed, it’s a sign to your mind that anything is allowed. This, in turn, will build imagination!

Sheila McGruer, Australia - a piece created at the art journaling class Painter's Ecstasy

Sheila McGruer’s art journal spread tells a visual story about a woman who has an origin. This would not be so expressive without the tear drops!

2) Get Surreal

People say: “I do only abstracts”, “I focus drawing faces”, “I like landscapes”. Break the rules and combine various approaches. Could abstract contain faces? Could faces include landscapes? Could geometry meet human parts? Could 3-dimensional meet 2-dimensional?

Terry Whyte, Canada - a piece created at the art journaling class Painter's Ecstasy

Terry Whyte‘s piece is fascinating. It’s simple if you count the elements but mind-blowing if you examine their relations. A wonderful example of how the surreal can look like!

3) Play with Proportions, Colors and Abilities

Can houses be smaller than faces? Can trees be red and purple, then change their color and leave off the ground? Anything can be possible in your art journal!

Annemarie de Brujin, The Netherlands - a piece created at the art journaling class Painter's Ecstasy

Annemarie de Brujin plays brilliantly with proportions, colors and dynamics. The painting feels like an experience, more than just an ordinary scene.

4) Envision Your Location

Mind-travel to a place where you would like to go! It can be a real location, an imaginary one or the mix of many! Nothing has to be exact. Get inspiration from the colors and the atmosphere. Make your art journal a mind-traveller’s notebook!

Gal Brule, USA - a piece created at the art journaling class Painter's Ecstasy

Gail Brule‘s art journal spread is a wonderful interpretation of the city Barcelona. Mountains, the beach, Gaudi, the colorful street life … it’s all there!

5) Treat Inanimate Object as Humans

One of the easiest way to get imagination going, is to treat anything inanimate as a living object. Can a house have an identity of its own? Can group of items look like a choir of brilliant singers? How do the trees look like when they are smiling?

Claudia Kern, USA - a piece created at the art journaling class Painter's Ecstasy

Claudia Kern has created more than a landscape. The painting is like a big and inviting party!

6) Merge Everything into One Flow

Instead of adding single elements, build connections and flow to your piece. Connecting lines also connect the viewer to the painting and it all seems to make sense. This way, small elements can be used to build big pictures.

Debbie Kreischer, USA - a piece created at the art journaling class Painter's Ecstasy

Debbie Kreischer shows it so well: we are all part of the same flow!

7) Express a Conversation

If you always do faces, why not creating more than one and express a connection between them. Then take it even further: what are they talking about, where are they walking, why are they together? Show it all visually!

Patty Furey, USA - a piece created at the art journaling class Painter's Ecstasy

Patty Furey’s dreamy woman and dynamic man are the perfect couple to dive deeper into the story. They seem to live in a city. Maybe the man has brought the flowers for her. She seems to be the country girl in her heart, though! These kind of pages that evoke stories are the best ones. If you like creative writing as well, use your image as an starting point for a poem or for a short story!

8) Get Ideas from Treasured Items

Open your treasure box or shopping wish list and analyze how the single items are constructed. Does your favorite blouse have ruffles? Do you grave for jewelry that holds the beads elegantly? How are the details of your dream hand bag? Thinking like a designer can give ideas to an amazing art!

Vikki Hoppes, USA - a piece created at the art journaling class Painter's Ecstasy

Vikki Hoppes’ painting is a great example of how to build imagination by constructing elements creatively.

Painter’s Ecstasy

When planning Painter’s Ecstasy, I spent weeks examining the paintings of Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He had students but to my knowledge they didn’t get much guidance, only a green classroom:
– “I tell them nothing. I just put the plants there and leave them alone together.”

My first sketches were made with few bold strokes but they didn’t catch the essence. Sketch by sketch, I slowed down and toned down. Hunderwasser called his way of working “vegetative painting” as it develops slowly. It doesn’t start with drum rolls but with little bell sounds. The techniques that I discovered with trial and error
make starting easy but stopping almost impossible when you reach the spheres of painter’s ecstasy!

This mini-course, Painter’s Ecstasy, was published at “Imagine Monthly Spring 2016” art journaling class. It’s now available individually as a self-study class – Buy here!

You can also buy all the 6 monthly classes as a bundle. I will also release the  classes individually one by one later this summer, and show more ideas on how to apply them.

Build Imagination with watercolors - Art journaling class Painter's Ecstasy by Peony and Parakeet

Build imagination, right now!

Step into Hundertwasser’s Ecstasy!

An art journaling mini-course inspired by Hundertwasser! By Peony and Parakeet

An Austrian architect and artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser inspired me to create this art journaling mini-course. Painter’s Ecstasy has just been released as a part of Imagine Monthly.

Getting into Hundertwasser’s Head

Creating the mini-course took a lot of time. I didn’t want to just paint something in Hundertwasser’s style. I wanted to find the elements in his style that support intuitive painting. I wanted to discover the essentials that allow anyone to produce their own work, not just copies. I also wanted to point out the most important nuances that make his paintings so appealing.

Even if Hundertwassers paintings (go check my Pinterest board: “Hundertwasser Hunger”) are so clearly shaped and striking, getting into his head wasn’t easy! I made a lot of sketches and experimented with various art supplies. These art journaling pages are some of the sketches:

Hundertwasser inspired sketches by Peony and Parakeet

Structures from Buildings and Maps

Hundertwasser’s education in architecture affected the way he painted. He used structures from buildings and maps to express himself.  His paintings  tell stories about how humans relate with their environment. It made me think how my desire to paint glassware and ceramics is due to my studies in industrial design. However, I truly enjoyed the techniques discovered from Hundertwasser’s paintings! I am definitely going to continue using those! It’s mostly just watercolor, isn’t it amazing?!

Have some Hundertwasser in your art journal! An art class by Peony and Parakeet

3 Months, 3 Artists

Each of the mini-course has now presented an artist. I must admit that I have been a bit selfish here, picking out artists that truly inspire myself. Luckily I have been blogging for a long time. It hasn’t probably been any surprise that January’s artist was Alphonse Mucha and February’s William Morris.  But my love for Hundertwasser’s paintings might have been a bit hidden. Now when I have found out how he created his paintings, it won’t be a secret anymore!

Imagine Monthly Spring 2016, an art class by Peony and Parakeet

Have Some Hundertwasser in Your Art Journal!

You can still hop onto Imagine Monthly and get all the 3 mini-courses right after the purchase. There are three more mini-courses to come and the community is just wonderful to be in! It is so delightful to see everybody’s unique versions of the techniques shown in the class. Purchase here!

Explore by Drawing!

This blog post is illustrated by students of the 4-week online workshop Inspirational Drawing. All the illustrations shown here are created at the class by these wonderful artists: Dianne Guerin, Ellen Schulz, Terri Elverum, Joan Gaetz, Alison Schockner, Cheryl Rayner, Carol Dickson, Debbie Kreischer, Virginia Clinton, Rosemary Bosse, Mary Joyce Weening, Donna Peake, Joyce Brown, Nancy Kvorka, Judy Shea and Janet Joehlin.

I have often thought about the contradiction between maintaining who I am and being open to what I can become. My friend said that when you know somebody for a long time, you can look through life circumstances and see the person that’s behind all those. And still, while situations change, we change too.

Dianne Guerin, Toronto, Canada, student artwork created at the class Inspirational Drawing

By creative drawing, we can find out where we are swimming and how deep we can go.

Terri Elverum and Joan Gaetz, student artwork created at the class Inspirational Drawing

We can take personality tests but sometimes the best way to find out what kind of fish we are, is to take a pen and start drawing.

Ellen Schulz, student artwork created at the class Inspirational Drawing

By drawing, we can explore how we see ourselves in our surroundings.

Alison Schockner and Cheryl Rayner, student artwork created at the class Inspirational Drawing

We can pick ideas from new places and cultures.

Carol Dickson and Debbie Kreischer, student artwork created at the class Inspirational Drawing

And we can explore what’s going on inside our minds.

Virginia Clinton and Rosemary Bosse, student artwork created at the class Inspirational Drawing

When we illustrate what we seem to be and how we see the world, new combinations start to grow and inspire us.

Mary Joyce Weening, Donna Peake and Joyce Brown, student artwork created at the class Inspirational Drawing

Our art journals become our inspiration books.

Nancy Kvorka, student artwork created at the class Inspirational Drawing

If we just use thinking, we can endlessly question our creativity and ability to find new solutions. But when we get into the habit of creative drawing, it will be evident that we are creative people regardless of circumstances.

Judy Shea and Janet Joehlin, student artwork created at the class Inspirational Drawing

When we draw out our new thoughts and ideas, we become more aware of who we are and what our style is.

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Let Unconventional Inspire You

"Leftright Wrongright", a watercolor collage using rubber stamps by Peony and Parakeet

You know I love beautiful and decorative things. But the more I create, the more I feel that creating art should be expression first, aesthetics second. This watercolor collage is called “Leftright Wrongright” and it is about how sometimes the old wrong and unconventional can be the new right.

Rubber Stamp Art

If you think of experimental and avant-garde, would you ever consider using rubber stamps? In that context, they are the most boring thing. They are the absolutely wrong choice when you want to create unique and advanced art. But as my mission was to express how wrong can be right, I just could not resist taking the risk and using them! I painted the background with watercolors and then started stamping.

Rubber stamping over watercolored surface. Stamp art by Peony and Parakeet

I only stamped once with each of the stamps. That way they were seen as individuals, not as a bunch of clones. I have used this principal before too, see Can Rubber Stamping be Art and Make Samplers to Save Bits and Pieces.


Watercolors are my trusted friend. They make the best backgrounds but also, they make rubber stamps look much more interesting. After the whole background was covered with stamped images, all different from each other, I added water and brushed the water-based ink to blend with watercolors.

Diluting the color of rubber stamps by Peony and Parakeet

With the big brush, I doodled this and that thinking fierce fully about destruction and bravery.

Painting with Watercolors by Peony and Parakeet.

With a smaller brush, I added details and enhanced them with colored pencils.

Adding colored pencils over watercolours by Peony and Parakeet

Imitating Rubber Stamps

To make the stamped images even more individual, I added hand drawing to make few of them bigger and more handmade. Thin drawing pen is great for imitating rubber stamps that have delicate details.

Doodling around rubber stamps by Peony and Parakeet


When I worked with this artwork, it became clear to me that the final touches are crucial here. I should not only do what I usually do but add something that is against the rules, disrespectful even. First, I doodled with a white gel pen and let the doodling look a bit dreadful. Then, I grabbed a piece of paper, painted red and yellow with heavy acrylic paint. The unsophisticated color and the clumsiness of the shapes when I cut it made it look so wrong.

"Leftright Wrongright", creating a watercolor collage using rubber stamps by Peony and Parakeet

But I finished this artwork with a new attitude. As I wanted to express that sometimes we need to do things that make us feel uncomfortable, I needed to break my ordinary rules. I added few rough elements without over-decorating them. They are the wrong that make the right spin. They make me question: do right and wrong exist at all when creating art? If we think that unconventional is wrong, are we denying the true power of art and where it can take us?

"Leftright Wrongright", a watercolor collage using rubber stamps by Peony and Parakeet

Hopefully, this inspires you to add something wrong to your art, and make it right!

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Paint Your Mental Images!

Surrealistic stillife with watercolors and colored pencils by Peony and Parakeet. Read more about using mental images to create intuitive art!

This artwork is inspired by the subject that keeps on fascinating me: beautiful objects like Russian handpainted plates! My admiration for them began many years ago, and only got stronger when I saw them in 2013 at St. Petersburg, Russia.


Here’s a scrapbook page which I made back then. My husband took the snapshot in The Russian Museum. Even if I look a bit worn out from the amount of walking we did during our travel, I love how my clothing and the plate match up!

We also bought one plate as a souvenir. I placed it on the table near me while finishing the painting. Just to keep me inspired to fine-tune all the details. But let’s not go that far yet! Before that, a lot happened, in my mind at least!

Russian handpainted decorative plate, a souvenir from st. Petersburg, Russia

From Photos to Mental Images

Before starting the painting, I spent quite a lot of time thinking what to paint and how. I feel that it is easiest to think while walking, so I took the dogs out to the snowy nature. Then I took some photos, which is also a great way to observe and examine things.

Snapshots from Finland, snow, beagles, houseplants

After my beagles had fallen asleep, I browsed the photos. “There’s a difference of how I those subjects in my mind,” I thought. If I think of a Russian plate, I might see one detail of it, then other images come to the mind, then the fraction of a Russian plate again. The thoughts move so quickly that the images seem to get mixed up and change.

I could not help looking up what psychology says about it. Yes, there’s a concept called mental image and several theories about how mental images are formed in the mind.

What I find fascinating is, that when creating art, we tend to pick one photographic image instead of a mental image. Then we get disappointed when the artwork does not represent the realistic, photographic image. Replicating the photographic image to the mental image is extremely hard. Let’s try! Look at any of the photos above, then close your eyes and imagine every little detail of the image – impossible! Similarly, if you read a story for the first time, then try to repeat it exactly from word to word, you will certainly fail! But could we paint what we remember and see in our minds, like Edward Munch said: “I painted only memories, adding nothing, no details that I did not see.”

Using Mental Images in Art

I thought it would be both philosophically and practically interesting to use the mental image as a starting point for a painting. So, I decided to paint my mental image of my souvenir, the decorated plate. I forcefully thought about the plate for few minutes. But at the same time (as focusing on one thought is so dull), I was also cleaning. When I grabbed the morning newspaper to put it away, I saw an article of Paul Gauguin‘s artwork being sold at a high price. Just when I had gathered my thoughts around the Russian plates, there it was, a picture of Gauguin’s art! Whoosh … my mental image changed to a mixture of a decorative plate and Gauguin’s art, not just that specific one but many others too that I have seen!

While walking towards the room where I create art,  I saw a banana on the kitchen counter, then thought about the wine we are going to taste to celebrate my coming birthday. My mind wondered towards glass objects – how I love them and how I should really paint only them … Before I began painting, my mental image had grown to a huge collage!

The complex thing in mental images is, that if you think very visually, holding the static view is difficult. Instead of trying to focus on one thing only, let it go and replace it with a more general subject. I chose my love for decorative art, beautiful concrete things and how they are at their best when they represent the beautiful shapes and shades from nature.

Instead of trying to build one controlled mental image first, accept the short-term, fractional nature of them. My artwork could be a collection of mental images appearing while I work. To emphasize that, I decided to start the painting with masking fluid. That way I could not even start building one complete image.

Starting the painting with masking fluid.

Masking fluid

… or liquid masking film as my bottle says creates a rubber-like surface which you can remove afterward. You can add as many layers of paint as you like, then remove the masking fluid and you still have white areas to fill – or you can pick a colored area which you want to preserve and cover it with the fluid. It is a great way to obtain a layered look without too much thinking. Just remember to let the fluid dry properly before moving forward.

Using masking fluid for a watercolor painting, by Peony and Parakeet

You can remove the dried fluid easily just by pulling it off with your fingers. With the help of the fluid, I was able to create very detailed areas before focusing on bigger objects so that they still look very sharp.

Painting previously masked areas for a watercolor painting, by Peony and Parakeet

The painting was finished with colored pencils. The process was very similar to the one I teach in the video “Watercolor 101 for Intuitive Painting“, I just added the masking fluid before starting to paint with watercolors.

Here are some details of the finished piece:

Details of a watercolor painting by Peony and Parakeet. Read more about using mental images as a starting point for creating intuitive art!

And here’s the painting again:

Surrealistic stillife by Peony and Parakeet

Before finishing, I realized that the banana from the kitchen counter had made it’s way to the painting. It seemed awkward at first but then, why not accept it to be the part of this surrealistic still life, surprisingly exact copy of the collection of my mental images!

What do you think? Could increasing intuition and including mental images improve your art?

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Art Journaling with Still Lives

Stay Still, the art journal page spread by Peony and Parakeet

For the last couple of years, I have feel drawn to still lives. I even have the Pinterest board of the ones that I especially like. I used to think that old still lives are very conventional but they really are not! There can be anything happening in the painting, like a squirrel running on the table, and there can be a wide variety of objects too. And even the flowers look magical! Art journaling has a lot to learn from the old masters.

So, I thought it could be a fun concept to create still lives by applying the tips from the previous blog post.  I could combine odd paper pieces and doodles with text and create surreal art journal pages.

A detail of an art journal page spread, by Peony and Parakeet

I kind of like how this first still life combines conventional elements like flowers with the more surreal ones, like the eye. The same contradiction is also seen in the colour scheme: bright purples look mystical when combined with olive greens and warm browns.

Group the elements!

The principal of composition in still lives is simple. Just group the elements closely together!

Unfinished art journal pageMy art journals often have unfinished pages with elements here and there. This page had some doodles and a small illustration that I had drewn for a surface pattern. I often glue odd pieces to my art journals to save them. A page like this can be a great starting point for a still life!

I started working this page by adding the text so that it creates the vase for the flowers. I emphasized that with colored pencils. Then I colored the soft background with colored pencils. The softness is a great contrast to the graphic element on the bottom.

2 art journal pages by Peony and Parakeet

The third still life is formed around a doodle found on another page. It included just the bird and the flowers. I added the pot, stamped the text, colored the doodles with colored pencils and finally created the background with markers.

Why are these pages so fast and simple?
1) The starting point does not have to be grand, just some doodles, or paint, or odd pieces of paper.
2) Stamping few words tie the oddly placed elements easily together.
3) Coloring does not have to take a lot of time when it adds something new to the page.

More still lives
Watercolor 101 for Intuitive Painting – my video introduces an easy method which is especially suitable for surreal still lives and landscapes
A Formula for Composition – another way for creating a still life
Stretch Your Style – instructions to step out of the comfort zone, showcasing one of my favorite still lives

Create Pastel Softness!

Soulmates, an illustration by Peony and Parakeet. Read more about using pastel colors and see how this artwork was made!

This time it’s all cute! I had the feeling that this blog is getting too serious. Don’t get me wrong! I want serious, I love serious and hope that you do too! Still, behind all good art, there’s a big portion of imagination. And the best way to embark that imagination is to play a little!

Pastel Colors in Teddy Bears

Cute collector teddy bears manufactured by Steiff and Teddy Hermann

So I asked my teddy bears if they were willing to help me with this post. And they responded: “Yes, sure!” When I interviewed them, they reminded me that there are two big factors in cuteness: softness and pastel colors. “My friend is a black teddy and he does not get so many hugs as I do”, said Apple Blossom. Pink Princess continued: “It’s not just the color, but it’s the fluffy softness that’s important too!” And then they both agreed that the huge nose and strong eye contact make a teddy even more successful.

Paste Colors in Old Scap Pictures

Then I showed them the old scrap pictures that I had found from an antique flea market some years ago.

Cute vintage scrap pictures. Read more about using pastel colors in art!

“Oh yes!”, they giggled. “If you want to create something cute, these sure are good examples! Round shapes makes them look reaaaaally soft!”

India Ink and Circles

I picked up my india ink bottles (used also in the video blog post last week) and tried to think about what kind of soft and cute to create with them.

Dr Ph Martin's Bombay india inks. Read more about creating pastel colors with them!

Then I remembered the round shapes. That could be the start.

Read more about using pastel colors and see how this artwork was finished!

So I painted some round shapes with pastel colors on a thin watercolor paper. While painting, I noticed that to get beautiful pastels you need to use a lot of white. Sometimes adding a lot of white can create hues that lack softness if the base color is cold. You can fix that by adding some yellow or a tiny portion of black. Speaking of soft and white, meet another teddy of mine called Niamh …

A white teddy bear, Niamh, manufactured by Charlie Bears

I am not a big fan of white but who could not love the color after seeing her!

Clustered Shapes

Back to the painting: Small shapes were added near the large ones to create cute creatures. I made some large shapes form the part of the background. More shapes were painted to made creatures more interesting.

Read more about using pastel colors and see how this artwork was made!

I made the shapes look dimensional and detailed with colored pencils.

Read more about using pastel colors and see how this artwork was made!


I finished the painting by adding more details and sharpening them with a white gel pen and a thin tip black marker. As a final touch, I added white acrylic paint on the face of the biggest creature. It lightens up the work and makes great contrast with the black. Namely, if you look at the scrap pictures and the teddy bears, the black color makes pastels looks so soft and bright. Small black dots here and there on a pastel colored circles can be enough to create a page that’s all soft and cute.

Soulmates, an illustration by Peony and Parakeet. Read more about using pastel colors and see how this artwork was made!

So, why not have a go: create a pastel colored art journal page to soften the hard world!

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Expressing an Aha Moment through Art

Should Be Higher, a detail of a collage by Peony and Parakeet

Being a visual person I often have problems expressing my thoughts through words. Especially if I need to explain those aha moments when I suddenly understand something that used to be only complex and strange.

A snapshot from the concert of Depeche ModeThe story of today’s collage began a couple weeks ago when me and my husband went to the concert of Depeche Mode. I had bought the tickets as a birthday present for him. Depeche Mode is one of his favorite bands but I hated the music. It was too introvert, strange and edgy for me.

But after staring the band for song after song, I began to open myself up to the music. It sounded pretty all right after a while. Then great. I got it!

I tried to analyze what happened. Perhaps my brains had been expanded! I felt like I had understood the formula how the music was stuctured but could not put it into words.

I saw colors. A sunny day. The window.

Should Be Higher, a phase photo of a collage by Peony and Parakeet

Something began to happen at the window sill. I put some ceramic pots there, then a porcelain figure, a horse.

Should Be Higher, a phase photo of a collage by Peony and Parakeet

Then the music began to play in my head: “You should be higher …” The party at the window sill began. A surreal world of rigid objects and mechanical rhytms came to alive. The temperature rised and the colors deepened.

Should Be Higher, a collage by Peony and Parakeet

One of the best things in art is that it combines the intellectual to the intuitive. This collage is very meaningful for me. It is not only the memory of the concert but also a proof that the world is as full of inspiration as long as I am willing to watch and listen to it.

Should Be Higher, a detail of a collage by Peony and Parakeet

Should Be Higher, a detail of a collage by Peony and Parakeet