Intuitive Painting with a Reference Image

Intuitive painting with a reference image – can it be possible? Let me show you how!

Madama Butterfly, an intuitive painting from the sketchbook of Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Here’s a painting from my sketchbook. It’s called “Madama Butterfly.” My reference image was this Renaissance painting called “Flora” by Tiziano Vecellio, 1515-1520. I took the photo last summer when visiting Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

Flora by Tiziano Vecellio. Uffizi gallery. Photo by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

There are very little similarities in these two pieces. The pose is fairly similar, the composition and the facial features have some similarities, but that’s it. The style, the theme, and the technique are all different.

Tiziano Vecellio's painting Flora, and a painting from Paivi Eerola's sketchbook. See how she used the reference for the painting!

The Supplies And the Setting

I like to do fairly quick paintings on my big A3-sized sketchbook. For this sketchbook, I often use Derwent Artbars, a water brush, and Faber-Castell Gelatos because they are easy to layer and I am more relaxed than when working with tube paints. I use acrylic or oil paints for canvas paintings, and working with them is more serious. This time I wanted to demonstrate a concept or a method rather than creating a 30-hour painting.

Derwent Artbars, Faber-Castell Gelatos, and a waterbrush ready for making a sketchbook page.

1) From Intentional to Intuitive Painting

The first idea was to pick the pose and the composition loosely from the reference image and then add geometric shapes to fill the space.

First steps of an intuitive painting that also uses a reference image. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

After sketching the foundation of the figure, the triangles, rectangles, and circles were fun to paint without looking at the reference at all. I painted the face roughly, and then I used the reference image as a guide. But because at this early stage, I didn’t know what I want to express and what kind of person the figure could be, I didn’t bother to spend time perfecting the facial features. At this point, my painting resembles cubistic pieces from the early 20th century.

2) Changing the Style

When creating art for the sketchbook, I like my style to be a bit more illustrational than when I make bigger paintings. Even if I love cubism, I wanted my piece to be a bit more current.

Making an intuitive painting by using a reference image to some parts. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Nowadays, illustrations often use geometric shapes but rather than triangles or rectangles, the shapes are often round, and scallop edges seem to be a bit hit. So I started changing the painting by altering the shapes. This routine work gave me plenty of time to connect with my inner world and work intuitively from one association to another. I tend to be both nostalgic and romantic, so I thought how portrait painters often spend time with the clothing even if they are just a shell. Why not use it as a canvas for the memories, the ideas, and the achievements of the person?

Changing an artistic style by changing angular shapes to round shapes. Example by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

3) From Intuitive to Intentional

After rounding hundreds of triangles and rectangles, I realized that I was painting Madama Butterfly, the opera that I just saw last Saturday! I finished the face after this realization and adjusted other elements so that they fit with the theme.

Madama Butterfly, an intuitive painting from the sketchbook of Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

More Intuitive Inspiration from Opera

This is not the first time I have been intuitively inspired by opera!

>> Tosca

"Tosca" by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Tosca, 2015

>> The Phantom of the Opera

"The Phantom of the Opera" by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

The Phantom of the Opera, 2016

>> La Traviata

"I Am Listening", a hand-drawn art journal page by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

I Am Listening, 2015

>> The Marriage of Figaro

Opera, a mixed media collage by Peony and Parakeet.

Opera, 2014

And there’s also a video about
>> Kaija Saariaho’s Emilie

More About Simple Shapes

>> What to create from simple shapes – 6 ideas

Self-study classes:
>> Planet Color – release your mind by focusing on color!
>> Modern Mid-Century – put a modern twist to simple shapes!

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

From Intuitive to Intentional Painting

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

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

Day 1 – Watercolors

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

Watercolor set

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

Beginning a painting with watercolors, by Peony and Parakeet

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

Creating a mixed media painting, by Peony and Parakeet

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

Day 2 – Acrylic Paints

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

Acrylic paint tubes

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

Creating a mixed media painting, by Peony and Parakeet

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

Creating a mixed media painting, by Peony and Parakeet

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

Day 3 – Colored Pencils

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

Colored Pencils

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

Creating an intuitive painting, by Peony and Parakeet

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

Day 4 – Acrylic Paints + Colored Pencils

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

Creating a mixed media painting, by Peony and Parakeet

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

Here’s the result again:

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

Intuitive Painting – Guess What!

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

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

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

Get a Free Mini-Course: Subscribe to my weekly emails!

What Acrylic Colors to Buy?

Tosca, a mixed media painting by Peony and Parakeet

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

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

Guidelines that I Follow when Choosing Acrylic Colors

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

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

My Basic Collection of Acrylic Paint Colors

A basic collection of acrylic paints, by Peony and Parakeet

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

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

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

A Red Day

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

Three red acrylic pigments: magenta, pyrrole and quinacridone

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

Painting a background with watercolors

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

Adding acrylic paint over watercolors

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

Colored Pencils Make the Details

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

Tosca, a mixed media painting by Peony and Parakeet

Subscribe to my weekly emails! Get a free mini-course Loosen Up! 

Find a Focus for Your Art

"I am listening", an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet

Here’s my latest art journal page with colored pencils. It is called “I Am Listening.”

Drawing Process

I knew that it would be a good moment to create art when I heard about a live broadcast of an opera La Traviata. To enhance the atmosphere, I adjusted lighting and closed sliding doors in the room where I was creating.

Evening of opera and art, by Peony and Parakeet

When I started drawing, I had no idea what the final result would represent.

First phase in creating an art journal page, by Peony and Parakeet

And even when I began coloring the page, I had no clue.

Creating a drawing on an art journal, by Peony and Parakeet

But once I had worked for a while, I saw the face appearing on the page. Soon I knew that the drawing would be about listening to music and how it activates the whole brain. I have experienced that personally, but Finnish researchers have proved it scientifically too.

"I am listening", a detail of an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet

Focus Sets You Free!

I used to hate people who repeated: focus, focus, focus! I questioned back: “Isn’t experimenting an essential part of creating art? Shouldn’t art set us free, instead of steering us to a narrow path?”

But after finding my focus, I realized that I had had misconceptions. The focus should not be a single subject like “birds” or “faces,” certain supplies like “acrylics” or certain style like “cubism”. The focus should not come from outside, but inside. It should answer the question: “When thinking of self-expression, where are you best at?” This kind of focus will lead you to see more possibilities. You will experiment more and you will broaden your perspective.

I did not mistakenly listen to dramatic music in the suitable surroundings. I used it as a tool to bring out where I am best at – visualizing experiences, systems, and transformations. That’s my focus. Whatever I doodle, I can feel free as I do not have to worry about what will appear. My focus will feed my subconscious and my imagination.

For some of my students, the focus has been “feelings in relationships”. For some, it has been “fairy tales” or “mysteries.” Some have been skillful in seeing “the beauty of everyday life,” others thrive on “atmospheres of dimensional spaces.”

"I am listening", an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet

Subscribe to my weekly emails – Get a free mini-course!