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!

Loosen Up! – Free Mini-Course for the Email Subscribers!

Loosen Up! - A mini-course about drawing and painting freely by Peony and Parakeet. Subscribe to her weekly emails and get this 2-part course for free!

Exciting news! I have created a new mini-course called Loosen Up! It is all about getting rid of the stiffness and starting to draw and paint more freely.

The mini-course has two parts. First, you will learn how to start creating freely without any pre-planned ideas. You will learn a set of tips and tricks on how to remove stiffness from your art. In Part 2, you will learn how to start with an intention, and still, bring more You in your work.

Loosen-Up is free for the subscribers of my weekly emails! If you haven’t subscribed yet, do it now and receive Part 1 immediately after subscribing!

See the video below if you hesitate!

Let me be your mentor in creating: Subscribe to my weekly emails!

Bad Ideas Make You a Better Artist!

Handdrawn Paper Doilies by Peony and Parakeet

About four years ago, I got a crazy idea to draw doilies on a watercolor paper and cut them out like they would be crocheted pieces.

Handpainted Paper Doilies – Not So Good Idea

Handpainted Paper Doilies, a phase photo, by Peony and Parakeet

The process of painting the background circles and then decorate them with doodles was so much fun that I got carried away and made plenty.

Handdrawn Paper Doilies by Peony and Parakeet

After I had finished a pile, I enthusiastically showed them to my husband: “Look what I have made!”
– “What are these?”, he said. “What are you going to make from these?”
– “Maybe I share the idea in my blog or make a big wall hanging by joining the circles together. Wouldn’t that be cool!?”

I saw it on his face. He didn’t get it. And furthermore, he didn’t want paper doilies on our walls either.

Mandala Madness

But to me, the doilies made perfect sense even if they weren’t crocheted. By painting them, I wanted to build a bridge from crafts to art. The paper doily was a raw idea, and as I, fortunately, learned later, raw ideas can look really bad at first.

Big Ideas Come from Bad Ideas

The idea of a doily translated into art didn’t leave me alone. Last year, three years after inventing it, I launched a workshop called Planet Color, where I teach people to paint abstract compositions.

Planet Color and Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

For the class, I needed a lot more ideas. I also needed to build a system and a structure that any beginner can follow. I needed to set it loosely so that everyone can use their imagination, but make it clear so that there would be no room for frustration. The idea of a paper doily was a seed, but it took some time to grow the flower.

Sowing flower seeds

Often when we admire other people’s art, we see the flowers instead of seeds. Most artists don’t show the seeds because many times, like in my case, they are pretty pathetic. Still, it’s the seeds, the raw ideas, that make the published work possible.

Finland 200 – Not So Good Idea

Before I started making a new big painting, I saw some elegant yet simple still lifes in my mind. I had just seen a superb piece of art, a Finnish sculptor Laila Pullinen’s bronze sculpture Spring in Man. So I wanted to start a new painting with the intention to create something grand and dramatic to celebrate Finland’s 100th anniversary. “This would be called Finland 200”, I declared.

First layers of an imaginative painting by Peony and Parakeet. Read how you can turn your bad ideas into good ones!

After painting for a couple of hours or so, I began to wonder what I wanted to say. Starting the painting with this much drama felt like a bad idea and I wasn’t convinced about the centerpiece either. Would that be some kind of mushroom or what? Then my bad ideas just got worse – I decided to continue by writing an imaginary story about Finland after 100 years.

Writing a story in an journal, by Peony and Parakeet

While quickly pouring the words out on my journal, I didn’t realize that I was actually writing a dystopia. The idea of a catastrophe in nature seemed exciting at first, but while painting, I realized that my visuals became very gloomy and weird-looking. I tried to make something positive out of it. I wrote a happy end to my story and painted a pink bubble with rare flowers inside it. That would be a new treasure of Finland, something everyone would want to come and see.

An imaginative painting in progress by Peony and Parakeet. Read how you can turn your bad ideas into good ones!

Even if the painting wasn’t finished yet, I already hated it. My original idea was bad enough, and now I had some more. I felt the despair rising.

New Vision – Imagination Takes the Lead

Luckily, I have a secret weapon for these situations. I connect with my passion and use the imagination to go to my happy place. It sets the mood, reminds why I create art and loads the right atmosphere into my mind while I am creating. The side of me that wants to control steps back and the side of me that is good at persuading re-evaluates the work.

– “What about changing the orientation of the painting,” she said.
– “And loose all the hard work?”, my pessimistic side responded.
– “No, nothing would be lost, we would just add a little bit of color over it.”
– “Color? What color?”
– “Brown,” she said cheerfully.
– “Why on earth would I pick brown of all the colors?”

And then she reminded me gently about my passion, about what inspires me and how I can feel free.

Phase photos of an imaginative painting by Peony and Parakeet. Read how you can turn your bad ideas into good ones!

And she was right. I loved the painting after adding layers with umber. It became clear to me what the painting would be. Not Finland 200, but expressing something that has been here for hundreds of years and most probably stays the same for the next hundred: nature’s wonders when exploring the garden. I continued the painting by adding flowers that I have had in the garden. I adjusted the elements in the first layers so that they became the building blocks of the new vision.

Garden-inspired painting in progress by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

My painting is not finished yet, but it’s already a good example of how the raw ideas can be translated to more inspiring ideas with the help of imagination.

Bad Art, Bad Ideas – Also Behind This Blog Post!

Before I wrote this blog post, I decorated my work planner to get ideas for it. I cut pretty ladies from a wedding magazine and put funny hats on them. While creating this, I thought how this kind of activity would be seen something that a “real artist” would not do, yet it’s essential to me to have a bit of play regularly. So that’s how I got the idea of revealing some bad ideas and how essential this kind of exploration is for producing work that you want to publish.

A planner spread using images from a wedding magazine. By Peony and Parakeet.

When Your Best Art Exists Only in Your Mind

Before I started making the paper doilies, I had wonderful daydreams inspired by my beautiful yarn stash. By seeing beautiful images in my mind, I came up with my bad idea, the ugly version of those daydreams.

Daydreaming is good, but it’s not successful when you try to translate something you see in your mind to paper. The creative process rarely works so literally. The images in our minds are often vague. Copying them detail by detail is practically impossible. The imagination is more like the leader who supports your art making, not a manager who controls it or the specialist who does the work. During the recent years, I have developed a method of using imagination to connect with the passion of creating art. I teach this method in the group coaching program called The Exploring Artist.

6 Steps to Making an Impact

6 steps to making an impact with your art. Sign up for the Exploring Artist, a group coaching program by Peony and Parakeet!

The Exploring Artist helps you to connect the play with your deeper passion and use that to move forward in all levels of art-making. During this program, you will:
– lead yourself by playing and imagining
– grow ideas from your personal feelings and experiences
– remove blind spots and build skills through the challenges
– get confident for publishing your art, whether it’s just friends or a bigger group of your people

The Exploring Artist is also about connecting and soul-searching within a friendly group. We will work through 6 steps and have live group coaching sessions, where your art and your art-making is in focus.

This is not a class where you create after me and try to get to the similar result. It’s for you who wants to get support and guidance for creating freely from your personal standpoint. You can use any media you are comfortable with and apply the methods to your visual project(s). If you feel that you are “all over the place,” and want to find a creative direction, The Exploring Artist is the program for you!

The Exploring Artist - a coaching program for new artists by Peony and Parakeet

The Exploring Artist begins July 1st – Sign up Now!

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3 Secrets for Removing Stiffness When Creating Mixed Media Faces

Mixed media portrait by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips about removing stiffness when drawing faces!

When you don’t want to spend too much time on deciding what to create, a portrait is an easy choice. This blog post is for you who struggles with stiffness when drawing faces and feel the lack of imagination when creating mixed media faces.

1) Draw Curvier and Shorter Lines

Long straight lines or arcs and fully outlined shapes look stiff no matter what you create. Cut the lines, make them curvier and change their thickness. This way you express light and shadows in a 3-dimensional shape and let the viewer use the imagination to complete the shape.

Tips for reducing stiffness by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her article with more illustrated tips!

You can also use freely exploring line to create openness and softness as I have done in the eye below.

A detail of a mixed media portrait by Peony and Parakeet. See Paivi Eerola's tips about how to remove stiffness when creating mixed media faces!

Here’s the full portrait:

Self-Portrait in Mixed Media, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her illustrated tips about removing stiffness when drawing faces!

2) See the Light and Shadows as Shapes

When coloring, instead of filling the closed shape with color, create a composition of flowing shapes. If you are creating mixed media faces, using collage pieces, a tiny detail like lips or a chin can be constructed from several organic pieces.

Tips for reducing stiffness by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her article with more illustrated tips!

I often think about light as water that is poured on the face.

A detail of a mixed media portrait by Peony and Parakeet. See Paivi Eerola's tips about how to remove stiffness when creating mixed media faces!

3) Forget The Stereotypes – Focus on Expression

Stiffness is often a result of the stereotypes we have in our minds. We have a certain preconception how the lips should look like, what is the color of the skin, how the eye is constructed, and so on. Even if we used reference photos, these stereotypes often take over. But we can break the stiff ideas by steering our minds to more creative directions. Instead of thinking about drawing lips, think about drawing a landscape.  Instead of trying to control the big picture, think about facial features as miniature abstract art pieces in a larger puzzle.

Tips for reducing stiffness by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her article with more illustrated tips!

I often change the orientation of my piece while working. It helps me to focus on expression and to check that my miniature art piece looks good from all directions.

Tips for reducing stiffness by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her article with more illustrated tips!

These Secrets for Mixed Media Faces Originate from the 16th Century!

These are not new ideas. If you study portraits from 16th century very closely, you’ll see that the painters’ knew how to break the line, leave less important details less defined, use a wide range of colors, and make each area of the painting work on their own in addition to creating a seamlessly flowing stream. Here’s a detail of my recent painting where I have used Boccaccio Boccaccino’s painting about Gypsy Girl as one of the reference images. (I will blog about this painting later!)

A detail of Paivi Eerola's oil painting in Renaissance style.

So you can apply these secrets to any style!

Liberated Portraits in Practice

Knowing these things is good but when you want to integrate these kinds of formulated ideas into your art, seeing how to get started and getting feedback to notice the blind spots can be ground-breaking. In Lesson 4 of Inspirational Drawing 2.0, I guide you to create liberated self-portraits without reference images. I show you how to create collage pieces and compose mixed media faces and draw portraits by coloring with colored pencils only.

Portraits by Peony and Parakeet. See Paivi Eerola's tips about how to remove stiffness when drawing faces and when creating faces in mixed media! She also has a class called Inspirational Drawing 2.0 where you will learn to make these!

Start creating art that is full of imagination and expression!
>> Buy Inspirational Drawing 2.0!

4 Social Tips for Improving Your Art – with The Students of Peony and Parakeet

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Tina Mitchell, Nicaragua.

This blog post is mostly illustrated by the students of the online painting class Planet Color. I am rerunning this class from April 24th to May 7th! Join me to paint fun abstract and colorful art! Suitable for beginners. Sign up before the class starts!

Social Tips

I call this set of tips “social” because instead of just talking in design terms like “white space” or “focal point,” I want to emphasize that art is a messaging tool. We, visual people, are sensitive to visual messages. Every image contains them whether they are added intentionally or unintentionally. As a teacher, I see my role as a guide who helps you to see what your pieces communicate and how you can fine-tune them to express the message that you want to deliver. In this blog post, I explain why beginning artists fail in visual communication and how to fix that. These social tips with sample images will improve the quality of your art!

Colorful mandalas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read 4 social tips she has about creating art!

1) Bring Out The Leader, Express an Opinion

One of the things we all struggle the most is expressing an opinion. Even now, while I am writing this blog post, I am struggling with that. When I type the first few sentences, I become aware of all of you who might not like this post. I think of you who feels that you are more of a crafter, not a painter. And of you who thinks that this is too basic and you are far ahead. I am aware of you who likes fewer images, as well as you who doesn’t ever read a thing. Some images might look too dark or too white to your taste. Or you might not even like or value abstract art. What makes the writing even more difficult is that even my personal taste and opinions change during time, sometimes on a daily basis. And then I begin to think that who am I to write about this anyway. There are always people who know better and whose opinions could be more valuable.

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet browsing art journals.

It’s so easy to walk on that path of self-doubt and then rewrite the whole thing so that it actually says very little, nearly nothing. I might still remember the real meaning behind the words myself, but you might not get anything to take with you.

The same thing happens easily in art making too. By making every detail equal in size, sharpness, and color, we end up expressing something that’s nearly nothing. It’s just a gang of evenly spread elements waiting for a leader to be picked. But when you do that – choose a leader, express an opinion, say something with clarity that can make people take sides – then the impact is also born. See how Elaine Wirthlin does that in her painting!

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Elaine Wirthlin, USA.

2) Build Bridges, Don’t Stay Alone

When I saw a room full of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings in Musée d’Orsay, I was in tears. Yes, the original paintings were much more than what you could expect based on the photos and prints. But there was another reason too. I was crying because the room was packed with people. Knowing how lonely Vincent had been, it felt heart-breaking. Surely, if there had been social media at his time, he would have got his fan base! A small group of forward-thinkers, perhaps.

I don’t think loneliness is good for anyone. Don’t get me wrong – I am all for introvert lifestyle. Being an introvert myself, I wouldn’t dream about reducing my quiet, creative moments. But in the end, being isolated and expressing isolation is never a solution. Sometimes we are in the wrong place at the wrong time like Vincent did, but with the internet, there are soul-mates for everyone. With your art, you can build connections, not enforce divisions.

A detail of a mixed media painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

When being interviewed after a long career, Finnish opera singer Jorma Hynninen said: “All artists want to connect with other people through their art.”

Images that include bridges and closeness make us feel happy. In Sue Jorgensen’s work, I see the message how different personalities can work and move on together.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Sue Jorgensen, Australia.

3) Play with Many Identities, Become Free of Limitations

When I became more serious about art, I questioned my love for crafts. One of my crafty hobbies was scrapbooking. I took photos and wrote stories about my everyday life. Sometimes I challenged myself to journal and sometimes, I let the photos and the decorations tell the whole story like on the layout below that shows the four seasons by focusing on trees.

Four Seasons. A scrapbooking layout by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

“An artist who also scrapbooks” sounded like a big joke to me back then. But the more ambitious I have become in my art career, the more I have learned to value other things that I do, scrapbooking included. After a long work day, it makes me feel free to take the dogs for a walk and listen to scrapbooking podcasts. After using embellishments and photos, it makes me feel free when I pick up my brushes and work with canvases, without limiting myself to the concept of scrapbooking.

One person can wear many hats. Some people might have seen you only wearing one, and their opinions about you only relate with that. However, don’t let it limit and define yourself in the other areas of life. People who knew me as an IT project manager saw a different side of me than you who reads this blog. I may have inherited my detailed style from the engineering part, but there’s so much more that I want to express and play with than one chapter in my past.

An art journal page spread by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. She has a class called Planet Color for painting colorful abstracts!

Susana König’s painting reminds me about IT business and how it’s all teamwork too!

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Susana König, Germany.

In Debbie Kreischer’s painting, the decorative style can take a more expressive twist, showing how things are not so black and white after all.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Debbie Kreischer, USA.

In Lisa Clemmer’s painting, the colors are soft, but the shapes are dynamic. This controversy makes it compelling.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Lisa Clemmer, USA.

Linda Thompson’s painting has playful colors and the dynamics of a fun game.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Linda Thompson, Canada.

Lois Dimler’s painting is like a happy circus where everybody has fun!

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Lois Dimler, USA.

4) Listen to Others, Let It Inspire You

I have always been an idea person. I invent new things quickly and have always been eager to find all kinds of unique approaches, also in art. However, I have also noticed that we often overestimate the uniqueness and the originality of our first ideas. But when we start combining many ideas into one, the result can be something new. My idea of drawing your own coloring page is not that unique but the way I have colored it gives it a modern twist. (Also read: How to Transform Ideas into Paintings)

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet with her art journal.

It’s not good to try to protect yourself from seeing what others do. We consume all the time anyway. If not art, then something else. Listening to other people, seeing other people’s art and getting to know art history is not a threat but an enabler to your personal style. Sometimes it can be a real eye-opener to create from a similar standpoint with somebody else and then compare.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Meri Andriesse, USA.

Compare Meri Andriesse’s and Pirkko-Liisa Mannoja’s paintings above and below! They have many similarities, but their style is different. Meri’s piece is soft, carefree and modern while Pirkko-Liisa’s is strong, detailed and historical.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Pirkko-Liisa Mannoja, Finland.

I love people who speak enthusiastically about what they have done. Even if they would talk about something that I would never even want to try, like deep-sea diving, it’s fascinating to hear how they express their experiences. While listening, I imagine the places that I would explore if I were that person. It gives me ideas that I wouldn’t ever have found by myself.

We never know enough about art history, other artists, other people, other fields of expertise, other anything! Artist’s mindset is being an immaterial collector – collecting thoughts, stories, visuals, any ideas and then expressing that inspiration. By developing the ability to see nuances in other people’s talk and work, you will also begin to see what’s unique about you.

What tip would you give?

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet with her abstract painting made for the class Planet Color.

Planet Color begins at April 24: Reserve your spot now!

Mixed Media Seascapes – 5 Tips for Expressive Art

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

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

1) Play with Colors!

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

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

Claudia Watkins, UK

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

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

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

Susan Rajkumar, India

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

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

Sheila McGruer, Australia

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

3) Express the Softness of Water

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

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

Cheryl Rayner, USA

4) Show The Movement of The Waves

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

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

Lorraine Cline, USA

Terttu Laitinen has the great eye of the storm.

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

Terttu Laitinen, Finland

5) Make The Scene Look 3-Dimensional!

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

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

Satu Kontuvuori, Finland

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

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

Mackie d’Arge, USA

Internal Seascapes – Connect with Your Internal Energy!

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

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

Create Mixed Media Seascapes!

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

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

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

What Any Artist Can Learn from Old Masters

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

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

5 Tips You Can Learn from Old Masters

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

1) Don’t Get Discouraged in The Beginning!

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

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

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

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

2) Before Diving Deeper, Limit Your Supplies!

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

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

3) Slow Down to Maintain a Gentle Focus!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) Sharpen The Soft, Not Vice Versa!

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

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

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

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

Bonus: Make it Meaningful – Watch the Video!

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Lessons Learned When Painting on a Big Canvas

Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

I have now finished my first big canvas painting. It is called “Human Nature.”

1) Smaller Paintings Can Take As Much Time

About two years ago, when I left my day job, I had a dream about creating a big painting. But my job is to teach art, and I don’t have much spare time, so it felt impossible to fit in the schedule. Now when I think about that, I kind of feel that the lack of time was an excuse. I think I was intimidated even by the thought of painting on a big canvas. The usual question raised: “What should I paint?” And then: “How could I maintain my focus for such a long time?” I exaggerated the time that painting would take. I thought it would take months and months. But when I started painting, I realized that I could use broader brushes and be less detailed. If you have ever tried to make small paintings as finished and polished as possible, it takes a long time. Adjusting the details on a big canvas is much easier.

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

2) Use an Easel, at Least in the Beginning and Finishing Phases

My canvas was not huge. It’s 60 cm x 50 cm (appr. 23.5 x 19.5 inches) Still, it was hard to see the whole painting when it was laid down on the table. I painted parts of the canvas so that it was on the table but set the foundation and finished the final details with the help of the easel.

Creating a painting on a big canvas. Painting in progress. By Peony and Parakeet.

My easel also has sentimental value. My father who passed away a long time ago has made it. He was a skilled woodworker. We didn’t talk much, but I think that making the easel was his way to encourage me to paint.

3) Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time

I got the courage to start the painting when I realized that I could combine painting with building an art class. My upcoming workshop Nature in Your Mind (do sign up!) has instructions for the techniques that I used. I treated the canvas as my sketching board for the class.

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

For example, the project for the first week of the class is “Rising Butterfly.” I practiced the techniques on a big canvas and then sought for the easiest and most enjoyable way to create a butterfly on a smaller canvas.

Rising Butterfly, a painting on canvas. By Peony and Parakeet. The project for week 1 of the workshop Nature in Your Mind.

This kind of experimenting transformed the big canvas to my playground. The size was no longer intimidating.

4) Big Brushes are Great for Details

Thin lines, little dots, all look so much better when working with a big brush! It has changed my attitude towards broader brushes. I have started to use them on smaller paintings too.

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

It was surprising that sharp lines can be so easy with a big brush!

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

5) Big Canvas, Big Story

If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that my style is detailed. I know now why I wanted so badly to create a big painting and why I was so intimidated by it. You can express a much greater story on a big canvas. It’s much easier to create images that are like events or scenes on a big canvas. When one detail connects with another, it’s like moving from one chapter of a book to the next one.

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

My story is about human nature: how we are spiritual beings, have imagination and ideas and are conscious about the circle of life. I doubt if I could have expressed all this on a smaller canvas.

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What’s in a Good Composition?

Quick question:
When you create art, how much time do you spend for composition?
I mean: trying to make it work, trying to balance it, trying to make it look more eye-catching?

For me, finishing the composition can take as much as 50% of my creating time! Some years ago, it was easily 75 % … I don’t find adjusting the details particularly relaxing. I take photos, use a mirror, and change the orientation of the piece to see if I have missed something. Sometimes I sleep overnight and make the last adjustments in the morning.

Testing a good composition. By Peony and Parakeet.

But teaching art has had some benefits here. I get to help people to make better compositions and thus, I have become faster. Namely, the two top requests that I get in my classes are: 1) How can I make this look finished? 2) What more could I add here?

So when I created a new class, Planet Color, I wanted to build a step-by-step creative process so that when you add elements, you don’t have to worry about the composition so much. I wanted to find ways that support you so that you can release your mind and fully enjoy working with colors.

What’s in a good composition?

Here’s my conclusion. A good composition has elements that a great party has:
1) concierges who invite the viewer to the painting
2) a star singer who takes the viewer’s attention
3) clear routes and breathing space which make wondering around easy
4) good food and good company which makes the viewer stay in the party

Art journal page by Peony and Parakeet. Elements of a good composition.

I have built all these elements in one 7-step process. It doesn’t mean that this process produces identical paintings. It means that when you enter the finishing phase, you have already done most of the work you should do anyway. But without all the agony and with all the creative enjoyment! That’s why my workshop Planet Color is as much about composing elements as about releasing your mind with colors.

And again, if you have problems in making the final adjustments, I am there to help for all the 14 days.

>> Reserve your spot now!

See you there!

How to Transform Ideas into Paintings

An art journal spread in a Moleskine Sketchbook. Heartful Ideas by Peony and Parakeet.

I am an idea person. When I get exposed to new things, my mind fills up with new ideas. Most of the ideas that pop into my mind are not that good. They are either too conventional or too radical. Some ideas are impossible to implement, and some have nothing to take on.

An art journal spread in a Moleskine Sketchbook. Color ideas by Peony and Parakeet.

When I was a child, I happily filled the days playing with what came to my mind. But when I was studying computer engineering at a university, I became a master in shooting down my ideas. It may sound depressing, but it has led to a brilliant realization for me: the number of ideas doesn’t equal to the number of projects. When you have limited creative time, you don’t have to divide it with all your creative ideas.

Raw Ideas – Bad that Produce Good

When a new idea comes to your mind, call it “a raw idea.” If you get visual ideas, quickly sketch them on your journal. If they are more words than images, write them down. Don’t over-analyze your sketches, treat this just a routine that makes you move on and continue producing new ideas.

A simple hand-drawn sketch by Peony and Parakeet. Recording ideas by sketching.

Raw ideas are often not so great, and you have to be careful not to spend too much time in implementing them. Raw ideas are like raw potatoes. Add some rosemary, salt, pepper, olive oil, carrots, onions, and zucchini and put them all in the oven for 30 minutes, and you will have a brilliant idea.

An art journal spread in a Moleskine Sketchbook. Ideas by Peony and Parakeet.

Many believe that getting new ideas is the thing. They fall in love with their raw ideas and then get disappointed with how they look on paper. But the essence of creating is in the processing. It’s about combining tens of ideas into one focused idea.

Record Everything!

An art journal spread in a Moleskine Sketchbook. Musical ideas by Peony and Parakeet.

We humans are very similar to computers in one aspect. We have a limited capacity of processing unsaved ideas. If you never draw or paint or write down your ideas, the processing of them becomes difficult, almost impossible.

An art journal spread in a Moleskine Sketchbook. Browsing an art journal. By Peony and Parakeet.

I often have an illusion that if I just think a little bit longer before I begin painting, l can start with better ideas. But then I remember that it’s just the opposite: when you see your raw ideas on paper, you can make them better. When you use the raw ideas to create the new painting, you can then visualize stories instead of creating single conventional elements.

An art journal spread in a Moleskine Sketchbook. Two conventional ideas meet more ideas. By Peony and Parakeet.

From a Disappointment to a Happy Art Journal Page

Here’s an example of how a conventional raw idea can turn into an expressive story.

An art journal spread in a Moleskine Sketchbook. Using up left-over paint by Peony and Parakeet.

When I am finishing a painting session, there’s always the same problem: I still have paint on my palette. Have you confronted this too?

It doesn’t feel good just to wash it away, so I take one of my art journals, and use it up. I often feel tired already, and painting isn’t particularly inspiring, especially when there’s a limited amount of colors left on the palette. I made this gloomy landscape on one of those moments. The painting looked sad and empty. It felt like I had wasted my time for a lousy raw idea. But then, another day came, and I got the idea to add pastel elements in the dark painting.

An art journal spread in a Moleskine Sketchbook. Inspired by The X-Files, made by Peony and Parakeet.

While painting, I remembered a television series, The X-files, that we used to watch with my boyfriend, now a husband, a long time ago. When an episode began, I always whistled the tune then grabbed my knitting. Although the episodes were terribly exciting, we always laughed at the whistling. The same mixture of suspense and happiness entered my spread after adding the pastel elements. The painting that had no real emotional connection became a reminder of a happy memory.

Ideas that Keep Coming Back

When you sketch ideas, you will also notice that most of them are very not different from each other.

An art journal spread in a Moleskine Sketchbook. Pastels with brights by Peony and Parakeet.

This similarity of ideas is fascinating. When I come up with the same idea again and again, I have to find out what’s behind it. Why does my mind repeatedly travel to the same place?

An art journal spread in a Moleskine Sketchbook. Expressing electricity by Peony and Parakeet.

When preparing for the fall, I was about to release only one new painting workshop: Nature in Your Mind. It’s an online class where I have processed a lot of technique ideas to give you the very best experiences and results in painting. But while working with Nature in Your Mind, I had one more idea that I kept shooting down again and again. No matter how much I did that, it always came back. I saw color. I saw circles. And yes, I sketched them hundreds of times just to get rid of them! But then one day I said to myself: “Ok let’s find out what behind this idea.” So I discovered a compelling formula for creating abstract paintings so that you can fully enjoy painting with colors.

Planet Color – Get the 7-step Formula!

With the 7-step formula, you can release your mind and focus on color. You can create unique paintings while experimenting with unique color combinations. You can work with your raw ideas and combine them to a bigger picture. The workshop is called Planet Color, reserve your spot now! 

Planet Color, an online painting workshop by Peony and Parakeet

Enjoy colors and release your mind!
>> Sign up for Planet Color!