Painting Fantasy Portraits

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

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

Fantasy Figures Keep On Appearing!

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

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

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

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

Fantasy Portrait in Oil

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

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

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

Painting Fantasy Portraits – An Intuitive Approach

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

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

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

Painting Fantasy Portraits – Watch the Video!

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

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

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

Helene Schjerfbeck – Step-by-Step Formula for Her Style

Portraits in the style of Helene Scherfbeck, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her step-by-step instructions!

In this blog post, I will show you how to create a stylish portrait and learn from a Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946).

The Famous Helene Schjerfbeck

Helene Scherfbeck had an impressionistic and fairly detailed style. But during the years, she became a true expressionist, a master of expressing the most essential through simplifying. She painted a lot of portraits, and many of them have become very valuable. The Red Haired Girl II was sold for 1.5 million euros at Sotheby’s last year. One of my aunts admired Helene Schjerfbeck, and many years ago, she bought me a book about her paintings. The book is called “Helene Scherfbeck – Elämä ja taide” (Life and Art), and it’s written by Lena Holger. To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the style and didn’t even browse the book for years. But the more I have learned about art, the more enthusiastic I have become to study various styles. As I love to figure out a formula behind a style, it started to feel tempting to solve Helene’s secrets too.

Helene Scherfbeck - Elämä ja taide, a book about a famous Finnish artist, written by Lena Holger, published by Otava.

Independent Visions – Helene Schjerfbeck in New York!

There’s also another reason why I am writing this. Currently, there’s a rare opportunity to see Finnish female masters in New York, USA.   The Ateneum Art Museum, which is part of the Finnish National Gallery, displays an excellent exhibition at Scandinavia House from 29 April to 3 October 2017. The exhibition presents four early 20th-century Finnish artists from the Ateneum collection: Helene Schjerfbeck, Sigrid Schauman, Ellen Thesleff and Elga Sesemann. If you visit New York this summer, do go and see it, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Here are a couple of Helene Scherfbeck’s paintings that you will see there.

Helene Schjerfbeck: Girl from California I (1919). Finnish National Gallery/Ateneum Art Museum, The Kaunisto Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery/Hannu Aaltonen.

Helene Schjerfbeck: Girl from California I (1919). Finnish National Gallery/Ateneum Art Museum, The Kaunisto Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery/Hannu Aaltonen.

I find the abstract nature of Helene’s style especially fascinating. The way she simplifies the spots where the light hits or where a shadow is formed is like she is building an abstract composition instead of painting a face.

Furthermore, the girl below is wearing a shawl that is like an abstract painting!

Helene Schjerfbeck: Girl from Eydtkuhne II (1927). Finnish National Gallery/Ateneum Art Museum, The Kaunisto Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery/Hannu Aaltonen.

Helene Schjerfbeck: Girl from Eydtkuhne II (1927). Finnish National Gallery/Ateneum Art Museum, The Kaunisto Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery/Hannu Aaltonen.

Mixing Helene Scherfbeck’s Style with My Personal Approach

One primary factor in building a style is the shape of the elements. I for one love organic elements and flowing form. Simple rectangles are not as appealing to me as more complicated and diverse shapes. However, I wanted to add Helene’s twist to a couple of watercolor paintings. As Helene Scherfbeck also painted still-lifes, I decided to paint a woman with a flower or two. First, I made a tiny painting and played with layers to create angular shapes. Then I painted a bigger watercolor painting with familiar flowing shapes but using the insights that I had got by painting the first one.

Watercolor paintings by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

After these two paintings, I was ready to record a simple formula for achieving Helene Scherfbeck’s style.

The Formula for The Modern Woman – Step by Step!

During this drawing process, improvise, but also check that your drawing is not symmetric. It makes the drawing dynamic and reduces stiffness.

1) Draw a couple of arcs to create a face. Then add rectangles and triangles for hair. It is a fun and easy way to add hair without focusing on the shape of the head.

A step-by-step guide to drawing a portrait in Helene Schefbeck's style, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, step 1.

2) Add a neck and shoulders by drawing a rectangle and a couple of triangles that point to different directions. Then draw eyes, mouth, and other facial features. Use as many geometric shapes and simple lines as you can. After facial features, turn the work upside down and complement the drawing with geometric shapes so that it’s more like a balanced, asymmetric abstract painting than a portrait of a woman.

A step-by-step guide to drawing a portrait in Helene Schefbeck's style, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, step 2.

3) Soften the shape of the hair, the clothing, and some of the facial features. Then color the face, neck, and hair. Helene Scherfbeck often used grayish colors for the skin and a more striking color for the hair.

A step-by-step guide to drawing a portrait in Helene Schefbeck's style, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, step 3.

4) Add light and shadows on the face. Use mostly simple geometric elements.  Then turn the work upside down and finish the abstract composition by using color to balance the painting. Remember to maintain the asymmetry!

A step-by-step guide to drawing a portrait in Helene Schefbeck's style, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, step 4.

5) Remove some sketch lines and add more finishing details if needed. If you used long lines, make some of them shorter so that your drawing is not so stiff.

A step-by-step guide to drawing a portrait in Helene Schefbeck's style, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, step 5.

Helene Scherfbeck’s Style – The Combination of Simplicity and Softness

Even if Helene Scherfbeck’s style is very graphic, she also embraced uneven edges and soft color changes. This softness combined with distinct, even clumsy-looking geometric elements is the essence of her style.

A portrait in the style of Helene Scherfbeck, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her step-by-step instructions!

She also uses strong lines and bold colors to draw the viewer’s attention to the selected details. However, she does that very sparingly like there would be a limited storage of lines and pigments.

A portrait in the style of Helene Scherfbeck, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her step-by-step instructions!

Find The Passion Behind Your Many Styles

I often find it distracting when people talk about their personal style like it would be the final destination for their artistic journey. They say tat once they have found their style, it would be like coming home and they would never need to go back to explore. I think it can be a harmful mindset. It leads to thinking that artists could be divided into three categories: a) those who search their style, b) those who stick with their style, and c) those who are afraid of going deeper because they don’t want to stop playing. That kind of controversy is not good at all! Going deeper allows, not prohibits, playing! Creative people are meant to travel spiritually!

Portraits in the style of Helene Scherfbeck, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her step-by-step instructions!

Instead of searching for your perfect style, your final destination, connect with your passion! Your passion can be like a base camp for your explorations, energizing you to take up new challenges.

Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, a Finnish artist inspired by art history.

Sign up for The Exploring Artist to discover the passion behind your art
and to become more confident with the big word “artist”!

The Exploring Artist, a coaching program for building an artistic identity by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

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!

Have Some Vincent van Gogh in Your Life!

Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet has an art journaling class about painting like Vincent van Gogh.

When I opened Imagine Monthly Fall 2016 art journaling class for registration, my question to the first participants was: “What is your favorite artist?” The ultimate winner was Vincent van Gogh. So I went to the local library and picked up two huge books showcasing all his paintings. I wanted to create a class that inspires not only playing in his style, but which also makes people relate to him. I wanted to enable people to put their world next to his and see it in full color like he did.

Life in Full Color

Whether you are an actual engineer or not, I think that you too have an inner engineer. She likes the home to be organized and clean. She takes responsibilities seriously. She worries over the practical stuff.

I have some ironing to do again!

But then, truly, you also have an inner artist. She doesn’t care what time it is or whether she’s hungry or not. She doesn’t have a clue if somebody needs her to be somewhere else. Her world has no linear time. She has no other duties than to explore. She sees colors and textures when the engineer sees dirty laundry and a shopping list. No, she would not stay alive without the inner engineer. But the inner engineer could never live the life in full color without the inner artist.

Vincent van Gogh

Thinking about Van Gogh, an art journal page spread by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Me and Vincent van Gogh, merged into one person.

Here’s what every inner engineer knows about Vincent van Gogh: He was a poor artist from the 19th century, painting with thick medium. He had mental issues and he sold only one painting.

But the inner artist feels that he was her soul-mate. He saw the yellow sky and blue ground when other people saw the perfect weather to sow the seed. He saw glorious sunset when other people saw withering flowers. For people of that time, his portraits and sketches looked clumsy even if he had caught the essence. Namely, in his world, the essential thing to do was not to engineer but to express. Instead of aiming for objectivity, he was the master of subjectivity.

Van Gogh Moments

Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet has an art journaling class about painting like Vincent van Gogh.

I believe that most people create art because they need “Van Gogh Moments”. In those moments, you can pick any color for any object, not only green for the grass like the inner engineer would suggest. In those moments, you can not only play with colors but also experience the interaction between the hues and shades. Just like van Gogh did! If you look at any detail in his paintings, you will see the interaction of colors.

Selfie Fantasy is an art journaling class about painting like Vincent van Gogh.

So while the inner engineer waits for the important phone call, the inner artist hears her colors speaking. While the inner engineer worries if she will ever meet someone again, the inner artist paints him or her right there beside her.

Selfie Fantasy

Selfie Fantasy is an art journaling class about painting like Vincent van Gogh.

When I browsed through the two big books of van Gogh’s paintings, I realized that a big part of his production was portraits. They were either self-portraits or portraits of other people. So in Selfie Fantasy, you will not only learn easy ways to create a colorful and swirly scene in Vincent van Gogh’s style. You will also get step-by-step instructions for adding some familiar faces onto your art journals. In the class video, I use those methods to paint my mother and me. My mother is there on the spread, glowing on her wedding day, much earlier than when I was born. This time she is in the foreground because in real life she was always the one in the background, supporting my creativity. She truly was my inner engineer until the day she passed away about 25 years ago.

Give some “Van Gogh Moments” for your inner artist!
Sign up for Imagine Monthly Fall 2016
and get an immediate access to Selfie Fantasy – Sign up now!