Varnishing, Framing, and Celebrating Your Best Paintings

"Temptation", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

I have finished an oil painting called “Temptation.” I started it at the beginning of this year and after tens of painting sessions and weeks of drying time, I finally got it finished, varnished, and framed. So it’s time for celebration! So, the theme for this blog post is our best work, and especially our best paintings.

I have been planning this post for well over a year to get all the images I want to show you, and the experiences that I want to share with you, so I am happy that with the latest painting, the time has come for this article too!

Best Work – How to Know?

In art, there are very few absolute rights and wrongs, so this question can have many answers. But here’s how I know when I have produced my best work:
1) Time: I have worked on the painting for tens of hours and tens of sessions. Even if some artists work quickly, in general, most people underestimate the time that professional artists spend with their pieces. Overworking is rarer than underworking!
2) Message: I know why the painting exists. 
I can start a painting without a specific idea in mind, but when the painting progresses, I need to find a connection and a story to be able to make all the decisions needed.
3) Details: I have paid attention to every area of the painting.
Some areas can be freer or less detailed than others but they have to be aligned with the overall message of the painting, supporting the most important areas.

Painting an oil painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Best Work – Test!

I have a couple of tests that I always use for my best work. Try these!

A) Do you want to hang your painting on your wall?
Here, I mean your painting, on your wall in your home. When I use this test, I don’t imagine anyone else’s home or anyone else’s wall. If I don’t want the painting on the wall, it’s likely that no one else will either.

B) Do you see your painting as a treasure?

Place the painting on the table, walk away from the room, and then come back and glance at it. If your instant reaction is that there’s a valuable item on the table, the painting is close to the finish. Here, the difficult thing is that you need to recognize your reaction quickly and glance at the painting from a distance. The further away you can be and get the impression of a treasure, the better. When I use this test, I try to alienate myself from the painting before entering the room.

Holding "Temptation", an oil painting on canvas by Paivi Eerola, a Finnish artist.

When you have produced a painting that meets your criteria, why not varnish, frame and celebrate it?! These are all important steps to me. Let’s start with varnishing!

Before Varnishing – Take Photos!

Varnishing makes the painting harder to photograph because it will have glares more easily. If you have produced your best work, you will also want to get good photos of them!  I use a tripod when taking photos, and if the weather is good, I take the photos in natural light.

Photographing a painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Varnishing an Oil Painting – The Traditional Way

Oil paintings are tricky to varnish because they dry slowly. The drying time depends on how thick the layers are and how much drying time there has been between them. In any case, it’s months, and it can be more than a year! With “Gypsy Madonna,” I waited for nine looooong months.  Every layer had dried a week or more, and they were very thin, so based on the advice that I got, that would be enough.

Varnishing an oil painting with Rublev Dammar Finishing Varnish. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, Finland.

I bought Rublev Conservar Dammar Gloss Varnish with UV protection and applied it with a broad and soft goat bristle brush.

Varnishing an oil painting with Rublev Dammar Finishing Varnish. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, Finland.

Always when varnishing, it’s good to:
1) double-check and follow the instructions of the specific product that you use. Don’t rely on the instructions that come with the bottle but go to the manufacturer’s website to see if there’s more advice.
2) apply a small amount of varnish and keep the layer thin.
3) let the previous varnishing layer dry properly before adding a new layer. Usually, a couple of layers are needed.
4) if possible, reserve a brush for varnishing only

Varnishing an Oil Painting – A Quick Solution

Luckily, there’s an alternative for traditional oil varnishes. It’s called Gamvar Picture Varnish. I got to know about it from my artist friend Eeva Nikunen. She has also made a process video about using Gamvar.

Varnishing an oil painting with Gamvar Picture Varnish. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, Finland.

This medium only requires the surface to feel dry. So it can be applied after a few weeks after finishing the oil painting. I used Gamvar for the first time now, and because it’s thicker, it’s much easier to handle than the traditional varnish. Spreading Gamvar is more like rubbing with small strokes than painting with long strokes. A little sturdier brush works better here. I used a watercolor brush.

Varnishing an oil painting with Gamvar Picture Varnish. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, Finland.

The pleasure of varnishing is the same regardless of the medium. The colors become more vibrant, and the painting begins to shine. I prefer using glossy to matte varnishes because I love the extra glow!

Varnishing an Acrylic Painting

Varnishing is not just for oil paintings! You can varnish acrylic paintings as well, just remember that they have their own products. I mostly use Golden acrylic paints, so when varnishing acrylic paintings, I have also used products of the same brand.

Varnishing an acrylic painting. Step 1: Adding a layer of gel medium. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

First, I add a layer or two of gel medium (Golden Soft Gel Gloss) before I begin the varnishing. Gel medium separates the paint layers from the varnishing layer. I mix some water with the gel medium to make it more fluid so that the brush strokes don’t show so well. I use a broad and flat brush and let every layer dry before adding a new one. It’s good to wait at least a day because polymer products can feel dry even if they haven’t dried properly yet.

Varnishing an acrylic painting. Step 2: Adding a layer of glossy polymer varnish. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Then I add 1-3 layers of Golden’s glossy polymer varnish. It has to be mixed with water, and every layer has to dry 3-6 hours before adding a new one. I try not to put too much pressure on the brush so that the brush strokes won’t show.

Freshly varnished paintings by Paivi Eerola, Finland.

I think that after varnishing, the increase of the vibrancy is as visible as with oil paintings. Definitely worth the effort!

Celebrating the Finished Painting – Framing

If my opinion, the best way to celebrate the finished painting is to get it framed. If varnishing is the makeup, framing is the dress. The impact of the frame is incredible when it fits well and continues the personality of the painting. Sorry about the glare in the sample images!

Gypsy Madonna, an oil painting combining Leonardo da Vinci's and Boccaccio Boccaccino's work. Framed and varnished. By Paivi Eerola from Finland.

I use a local professional framer because I love the quality. I chose an old-fashioned and heavy frame for the Renaissance-style painting, and it made it look like an old masterpiece. Without frames, the image was much more modest.

For this acrylic painting, I chose a dark frame that makes the colors shine.

Living Treasure, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Framed, varnished, and sold.

If the frame were lighter, the dark colors of the background would have got more attention, and the result wouldn’t be as harmonic.

Today, I got “Temptation” from the framer. Because this painting is like a collection of treasures, I wanted the frame to be luxurious too.

"Temptation", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola, a Finnish artist. Varnished and framed.

Celebrating the Finished Painting – Music!

I also like to celebrate my best pieces by listening to some music when admiring them. I try to find a song that is aligned with the painting and it’s often a song that I have already listened when working on the piece. For “Temptation”, the song is Musetta’s aria from Puccini’s opera “La Boheme”. After exposing the painting to the critical eye for so long, it’s time to forget the struggles and enjoy the accomplishment. I find this combination of musical and visual pleasure one of the best joys in life.

A detail of "Temptation", an old painting by Peony and Parakeet.

I hope you too will celebrate your best work!

P.S. “Temptation” is now available in my art store, see more detailed photos there!

Resilience, Interview of Eeva Nikunen, and a New Class!

Lots have happened this week! I hope you enjoy these videos!

Resilience to Create a Big Project – Interview of Eeva Nikunen

This week, I interviewed fantasy artist Eeva Nikunen about her big project – creating a self-published book from her art. We are talking about resilience: what she has learned from creating a series from her visual dreamland and how she has been able to carry through the project all by herself. Eeva also shows the supplies that she has been using, and if you are curious about graphite pencils, this episode is truly inspiring!

>> Order Eeva’s journal here!

New Class: Collageland!

I am excited to launch a new class called Collageland! It is a new, expanded version of an old mini-course that I made for 21 Secrets in 2015. It’s packed with inspiration from textiles and instructions on how to create handmade collage art. See the video below!

>> Buy Collageland here!

New Live Next Week: Discover Your Style by Building a Visual Dreamland

Rather than trying to succeed and capture your style through a single project, start exploring your creativity as a process, designing your visual dreamland one stroke at a time! I will talk about my newest class Collageland and what I learned in 2009-2015 when moving from crafts to design and from design to art.

Live broadcast of Paivi's art blog. This time she is talking about her new class and how to discover your style.

Come meet me live next week, May 10, 2018, 5 PM BST (London), 9 AM PDT (San Francisco) >> Reserve Your Spot here!

Painting a Series – How I Managed It!

"Living Treasure", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read about her thoughts of painting a series.

I have just finished a series of five flower paintings on canvas. Yesterday, when I was walking back and forth from my studio to the rest of the house, preparing for the photography and the varnishing, I felt both relieved and terrified. I was relieved because nine months of hard work was at the end. I felt terrified because I had run out of excuses for delaying the start of a new series.

Technique Came First, Themes Second

But let’s get back to early spring when I was painting the first of the five paintings. My goal was to master old masters’ painting technique in acrylics so that I could teach it. I had no idea of how many pieces it would require. Before teaching, I needed to understand “why” not just “how.” I also had to develop a logic that makes learning possible, variations that show the possibilities of the technique, and the systematic way of working to make everything as understandable and to the point as possible.

"Strawberry Madonna", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

When I was painting Strawberry Madonna, it soon became clear to me that I was nowhere near to be teaching the technique. I needed to fix my strokes constantly. Even if the fixing doesn’t show in the finished painting, it became clear that I needed more practice. I couldn’t fuss around that way while teaching.

So I bought new canvases and kept on painting. I made experiments, art journal pages, and had several paintings in progress at the same time. I focused on painting what I wanted to include in the class as well: flowers and playing with historical styles. Crafts like crochet, decorative painting, jewelry, fabric, etc were also sources of inspiration. Most of the pieces took tens of hours from me to finish. The quickest is “Four Seasons” that I recorded for the class. With the final touches added after the recording, it took less than ten hours to paint. “Queen of Fantasy” took much longer. You can see me starting it in the free video, but I adjusted the painting many times after that.

"Queen of Fantasy", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Painting a Series – The Most Important Insight

The funny thing about all this is that I wasn’t intentionally painting a series. Working towards the goal of mastering and understanding the old masters’ technique, gave direction to my work. If I had thought about the series more intentionally, I would have probably freaked out! Now when I look back, the most important thing to me was that I expressed the power of flowers in all my paintings but thought about it differently in all the five paintings.

  • For “Living Treasure” I got ideas from gardening.
  • “Strawberry Madonna” connects flowers with fruits and their taste.
  • “Queen of Fantasy” is about flowers representing romance.
  • “Blooming Centuries” tells how flowers have always inspired painters, designers, and crafters.
  • “Four Seasons” shows sisu, a Finnish word for resilience when you work against all the odds and still find the spirit to bloom and prosper.

"Four Seasons", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

So I had a set of generic themes that were repeated in all the paintings, but different interpretations of them. That made them work as a series but so that they don’t look identical at all. Being very intentional about the series and prohibiting new ideas emerge while working can lead to a very boring result and in my case, it would probably make me quit because the lack of excitement and adventure that keeps me going.

I think this insight could also be useful for those who seek for their style. Rather than painting the same thing and get bored by it, find bigger themes and use your creativity to approach them from different angles.

New Era – New Series

During the past couple of months, I have felt fear when thinking where I want to go with my art. I have contemplated that can I share my plans or just keep them hidden because it’s likely that I will fail. For quite some time, I have felt the need to paint abstract art that plays with textures and geometry. I think many of the paintings of this series already have some of that.

I have a funny name for the style of the new series. It is “kinetic-romantic abstract realism.” “Kinetic” means that I want to include movement that is related to machines. “Romantic” means that I want to express through beauty and relationships. “Abstract Realism” refers to the idea of mimicking realistic surface materials for abstract shapes. Very odd, I know, and it terrifies me.

"Blooming Centuries", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Creativity is a Living Treasure – Watch the Video!

Before the new beginning, it’s time to celebrate the finished series. I have made a short video of the five pieces and the thoughts that came to my mind when painting them. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the video!

My Painting on Your Wall?

These paintings are also for sale!- Buy them directly from me here!

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 a 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 of understanding what the final work will be. When I was sketching, I only had a rough idea of 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 to blue. The transparent layers with soft edges result in 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!