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!

Watercolor Wisdom – 6 Techniques that You Need to Try Before Giving Up!

Painting with watercolor. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips for watercolors in the blog post called Watercolor Wisdom!

This week I am writing to you who have always liked the idea of using more watercolors but whose experiments don’t often last long. Try these techniques to keep going and not giving up!

1) Doodle with a Brush

Dip a thin brush into the paint and start doodling! Add more paint to some areas so that the thickness of the line varies and evokes new shapes.

Netfishing, a mixed media watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I have also used acrylic paints for finishing this piece called “Netfishing.”

2) Doodle with Masking Fluid

I don’t often recommend purchasing more art supplies to boost the motivation, but with watercolors, I highly recommend buying masking fluid. For example, Daniel Smith has a masking fluid that comes with handy applicators. You can just pick the bottle and start doodling. And while you are doing that why not fill the whole paper with them! Then add several layers of paint and remove the fluid gradually.

Three Churches of St. Petersburg, Russia. Mixed media watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I have also used golden acrylic paint and colored pencils in this piece, called “Three Churches of St. Petersburg”.

3) Add Geometric Shapes to a Scenery

If all the elements are realistic, defined and “make sense,” you are underestimating the potential of watercolors. An easy way to push beyond the conventional is to add geometric shapes to a realistic theme, for example, to a scenery.

The Resort of Imagination. A watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

You can also paint vice versa: start with the geometry and then make it look like scenery.

An abstract watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

4) Leave Blank Spots to Express the Light

Think about your painting as a collection of layers. Paint 6-10 layers so that every layer is a bit smaller than the previous one. Leave blank spots when painting the first layer. Focus on tiny details in the last layers. Let every layer dry before adding a new one.

Two Seasons II. A watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

5) Add Muddy Colors to Make the Brights Shine

Don’t be afraid of dark areas. If your work looks unfinished or the colors don’t shine no matter how much you add them, the solution is to add more really dark areas.

"I left my heart in Florence", a watercolor journal spread by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

There are a lot of browns, greys, and blacks in these two small sceneries which make the color glow!

"Hanko", a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

6) Pick One Dominating Color, but Use Many Tones of It

When applying paint on paper, add small drops of other colors too. Use the transparency of watercolors to get new tones: add watery paint, let dry, repeat!

"Oban". A watercolor painting of a small town in Scotland. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

“Oban,” a small town in Scotland that left an impact on me. I could have painted the sky solid blue, as well as the water, but adding more variation of the color makes this painting.

Watercolor Journey – More Watercolor Wisdom for Self-Study!

The pictures and tips of this blog post are picked from my class Watercolor Journey. In this class, you will learn how to use the techniques and the imagination to express energizing sceneries. The fun thing is that these sceneries can be either realistic, or imaginative, or anything between. Sometimes the scenery is born with the technique. Other times painting is more about reconnecting with a happy memory. I have tried to make the videos as inspiring as possible so that you and your watercolors become a better match after each one.
>> Buy Watercolor Journey!

 

Minimalism in Creating – Making the Most of What You Have

Ikebana, a mixed media painting with watercolors and colored pencils by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Here’s my latest little study in watercolor, called “Ikebana.” I finished it today, but for a long time, it was just a piece of watercolor paper with random doodles and colored spots. I had started the piece in December 2016 when running a local art class. I had just painted mindlessly while discussing with the students and then left the piece unfinished.

Choosing Not to Toss Away

When I was holding the unfinished, ugly painting, I thought of my choices. I could toss the paper away and forget the thing. Or I could treat it as a treasure and make the most of it, despite the controlling straight lines that went through the page and other uninspiring details. To me, choosing to continue the painting, is usually always the better choice. Making the most what I have calms me down, gives me a sense of purpose, and positively challenges me. I don’t consider it so much as a choice of saving money or space but getting a peace of mind.

I have also noticed that when I work on with the old pieces, I find new ways to make them more expressive. That in turn, helps me to develop better classes and help my students. This time, I was inspired by April’s theme of Bloom and Fly – surreal art!

Getting back to old doodles also reminds me that even if I can’t make all the details work together, art is never fully perfect. Often the minor “mistakes” add personality and interesting tension to the piece.

Storing finished pieces. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I also like to store the finished pieces organized in folders.

Using Up Old Art Supplies

One of my favorite things is to organize art supplies once in a while. I try to find the best places for them so that they get used up. I find it much more pleasurable to buy new supplies when there’s the actual need. It’s also nice when I have had time to think what to purchase next.

So when I noticed that some pans of my White Nights watercolor set are getting empty, I decided to experiment and fill some with paint from the old tubes. I found an old gouache tube by Schminke, the pink that I totally love but had forgotten, and I hope it will keep on wetting well even after the pan is fully dried.

Filling watercolor pans with tube paint. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read about her approach to minimalism!

One of the pans that I made, the muddy green, is a color mix. It’s a color that I usually use for watercolor paintings to give brighter colors more power.

My Meditation – Cleaning Brushes

The longer I have created art, the more I have put a focus on my brushes. I used to buy them carelessly and toss them away once they didn’t seem to work anymore. But nowadays, I like to appreciate what I have and take time to clean the brushes carefully after each painting session.

The cleaner that I currently use is The Masters Brush Cleaner, recommended to me by my artist friend Eeva Nikunen. I have saved many old brushes by cleaning them properly with this cleaner, and I couldn’t even think of cleaning oil paint from the brushes with anything else.

The Masters Brush Cleaner

This cleaner is a solid soap. You dip the brush in water and then rub the soap with the brush. Formerly, I only washed the brushes with warm water after watercolor painting. Now I use the cleaner for watercolor brushes too, and it’s lovely to begin a new painting session when my brushes are like new!

No Need for Inventing New Ideas

To me, looking old stuff with fresh eyes is one of the best things in art, and it applies to ideas as well. See “From Innovation to Experience” from 2014 and Origami from 2016-2018!

Art by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read how she embraces minimalistic thinking!

Is This Too Much Minimalism?

I was hesitant to write this blog post because I don’t want to take the joy out of buying new stuff and starting new art. I also enjoy that! But often the best cure for procrastination is to stop thinking what you don’t have and start using your creativity to make the most of what you already have. Bonding with the old supplies and ideas can give a sense of independence and freedom too.

“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.” – Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

I heard this quote from one of the members of Bloom and Fly, and it feels appropriate here too!

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Painting a Loose Scenery with Daniel Smith Watercolors

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a watercolor painting with Daniel Smith Watercolors

Last week, I did it. I bought some Daniel Smith watercolors because I had heard about them so much and for so long that I had to try them too. I bought the “Watercolor Essentials” set of 6 small tubes and a tube of Iridescent Scarab Red – a brownish red that has a green glow. Exciting!

Inspired by Ippolito Caffi

But what to paint? The idea came this week when I went to see Ippolito Caffi’s architectural paintings and landscapes at Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki.  It’s the kind of art that I personally don’t like to create, but I enjoyed the exhibition. Here’s Piazza del Pantheon by Caffi, an oil painting on cardboard.

Piazza del Pantheon by Ippolito Caffi, 1837

As said, realistic architectural urban scenes and landscapes are not what usually come to my mind when I start creating. But after watching a lot of scenes from Italy brought memories from my trip to Florence and Rome last summer. So why not pick a random photo of the trip and start painting?

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Rome

The photo that I quickly chose was taken at the inner court of Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Rome. The palace has a wonderful art museum that I blogged in July 2017. I thought that I could use it as a loose reference and create something totally different, abstract perhaps. Painting a scenery with watercolors felt too traditional to me. So I just started splashing water and blue paint.

Painting with Daniel Smith watercolors

Scenery with Daniel Smith Watercolors

Daniel Smith watercolors are lively. Not only colors are lively but the pigment seems to travel quickly, and it creates wonderful effects.

Painting with Daniel Smith watercolors

Here’s my painting after playing with big brushes and water.

Painting in progress by Paivi Eerola by Peony and Parakeet. Daniel Smith watercolors.

Then I changed to a water brush that is quite narrow. I love using this brush. It’s so easy to paint small details with it.

Daniel Smith Watercolors, water brush, iridescent scarab red.

Iridescent Scarab Red looks interesting! Very different from any of the watercolors that I know. At this point, I thought about making a fantasy scene of some kind.

Painting in progress by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Daniel Smith watercolors.

Time to loosen up!

Loosening up with Daniel Smith watercolors. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

The more I painted, the more tempting it became to paint Palazzo Doria Pamphilj as I experienced it. It was a really hot summer day when I visited it. It’s located in the middle of busy Rome, yet its thick walls seem to isolate the museum from the city.

Painting in progress by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Daniel Smith watercolors.

I let the image be visible while I was working but did not follow it to detail.

Painting with Daniel Smith watercolors. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her project of painting loosely from the photo.

I found Daniel Smith’s watercolors easy and fun. I don’t like the color selection of the Essentials set so much, and the paints are really expensive compared to any other brand. The owner of the art supply store said that he likes to sell the essentials set at a fairly low price because once you try them, you are hooked and need some more. He may be right! But because I spend quite a lot of money in top quality oil paints, I might not buy more Daniel Smith shortly.

Finished Painting and Signature

The painting of Palazzo Doria Pamphilj became quite loose, but it’s ok. I enjoyed connecting with the memories, and this is a bit like a souvenir from the place.

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a watercolor painting with Daniel Smith Watercolors by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

At my recent visit to the museum, I also saw Giovanni Battista Piranesi‘s amazing graphic works. They had beautiful signatures, so I also added one to the watercolor painting. I think it finishes the painting nicely.

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a watercolor painting with Daniel Smith Watercolors by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. A detail with a signature.

This project is a perfect example of how being a bit adventurous can open new ideas. Landscape and architectural painting don’t feel so boring to me anymore! I have ideas for next quick paintings too. This kind of exploration is not only fun but also important for the creativity. If you limit yourself to one theme, to one type of work, creating becomes tedious. To me, this kind of small and quick projects give ideas and energy to bigger paintings.

Create with an Inspiring Community – Join Bloom and Fly!

When you have been creating art for a while, it’s time to let go of step-by-step instructions, get a little looser, and explore the opportunities that art has for you.

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

Bloom and Fly is a community for you who wants to explore visual and adventurous ideas, get feedback and suggestions for your art, and connect with like-minded art enthusiasts. We have a private Facebook group, monthly themes, live sessions, and weekly opportunities for practical help and feedback.

Registration is now open for Spring season (April – June 2018): Sign up here!