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

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

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

1) Doodle with a Brush

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

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

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

2) Doodle with Masking Fluid

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

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

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

3) Add Geometric Shapes to a Scenery

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

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

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

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

4) Leave Blank Spots to Express the Light

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

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

5) Add Muddy Colors to Make the Brights Shine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watercolor Journey – More Watercolor Wisdom for Self-Study!

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

 

Facebook Live Watercolor Painting

Watercolor journal page by Paivi Eerola. You can see her painting this one in a live session that's on Peony and Parakeet's Facebook page.

Here’s the watercolor painting that I painted yesterday on Facebook Live while chatting away. You can find the recording on Peony and Parakeet’s Facebook page, go to Live Videos!

I had a wonderful audience, and many have posted their versions too in the thread, so it’s definitely worth checking out!

Watercolor Journey begins on July 1st!

Watercolor Journey - an online art class by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

My online class Watercolor Journey will begin on Sunday, July 1st. If you want to fall in love with watercolors, you don’t want to miss this class! Sign up here!

Watercolor Panoramas to Express Travel Memories

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

I try to have a wide range of topics on this blog, but now I am posting watercolor sceneries again! (See the last week’s post). I have quickly become addicted to them! It all started with buying Daniel Smith watercolors and realizing that many members of my community Bloom and Fly love watercolors. I try to grow my skills in most of the media that the members use. Then I can give advice that’s not only great in theory but also works in practice.

Not So Traditional Landscape Painting

A lot of reasons were needed for landscape painting because so far, it has been one of the most boring genres of visual art to me. I haven’t ever been the kind of person who travels with a tiny watercolor kit and sits down near the sights to paint the surroundings. I do usually carry a camera – often just my phone – when traveling or walking in nature but never before have I understand the fascination of the traditional landscape painting.

But last week, I realized that because art is freedom, I can be as wild and expressive as I want. That made the landscape painting a fun game. It gives me the opportunity to re-live the travel memories, get lost in the process, and then come out with a piece that’s like a souvenir from that creative experience.

Watercolor Panoramas – Playing with Expression

This time, I was not painting just one piece like last week, but five small panoramas at one go. I carelessly chose the reference photos for the last part of the process. I will talk about the process later in this post, but let’s talk about the expressive ideas first.

A) How Would The Place Currently Look?
When painting watercolor panoramas, it was interesting to see what travel memories come to mind and how they got merged with the current life.

When we were in the Scottish countryside in 2014, it was a sunny day in June. The heat felt very similar to Finland’s summer. It was pleasant, not suffocating at all, and remembering it made me ponder how the spring would look there now – perhaps quite similar to Finland too.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet
This was the photo that I used as inspiration when finishing the painting.

Scotland

B) The Chain of Memories
Barcelona was my husband’s suggestion in 2009. I wasn’t excited until I remembered Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion. And of course, the pavilion was also the first thing that came to my mind when I painted the panorama. But I also remembered Catalonia’s National Art Museum, Gaudi’s architecture, the mountains that surrounded the valley, the sea views, a lot!

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

The long chain of memories and locations started from this (not so artistic!) snapshot showing Barcelona Pavilion.

Mies van der Rohe, Barcelona Pavilion

C) The Emotional Experience

Last summer, we visited Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy. The place has inspired me ever since. I remember entering the museum and seeing the first room filled with chandeliers. It was a hot and relatively quiet evening in Florence, but my mind was buzzing. It’s like I was trying to get exposed to as much art and beauty as I could.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Here’s the photo that I had in hand when finishing the watercolor panorama above.

Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

D) Being Far, Seeing Far
When being far away from home, it’s possible to see the life from a different perspective. It’s like rewriting some parts of the personal story. In the brilliant Palazzo Pitti, I had the same experience than when visiting Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia: I should trust my points of view more, and not hold back. When I looked out of a window of Palazzo Pitti, it didn’t matter what other people saw there. I saw what I saw, and that’s true to me.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Here’s the reference photo that I almost deleted when I came back from the trip because it wasn’t so pretty. While painting, I realized that good reference photos are not only those which show the best scenes. The ones that remind from the best moments are also worth saving and painting.

Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

E) Highlighting What Matters
While traveling in Italy last summer, we visited Vatican Museums too. Some of the things that stuck in my mind were the huge maps on the walls and the incredible number of tourists. While painting, I thought how the old maps could be seen as symbols for the curiosity to know the globe.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

The statue of the reference photo (Arnaldo Pomodoro’s Sphere within a Sphere) expresses the complexity and fragility of the world. I made it dominate the scene in the watercolor panorama and made it look a bit like a round map. To me, it’s much more important than the buildings!

Vatican Museums

Watercolor Panoramas – My Process

The idea for panoramas was accidental. I happened to find oblong pieces when going through the watercolor papers. I often like to paint a square, so I had cut away the excess of a blocked paper. I don’t usually work in this small scale. However, using a thin water brush most of the time, made it quite easy.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

For the colors, I used a mixed collection of watercolor and gouache paints.

1) Background – Traveling to the Mind

The fact that I didn’t use any reference photos until in the end, made the painting fun. The first layers were splashing and blending. I had no idea about the scene or the location that would appear on paper!

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

I took a photo of the backgrounds and then another one when the paintings were finished. Can you recognize which belongs to which?

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

2) Doodling with Watercolor and Masking Fluid

After I had painted the background, I started doodling. Working with five watercolor panoramas at the same time was handy. I could work with one painting while others were drying. I used both pigments and masking fluid for doodling. Some backgrounds had watercolor doodles first. Others went straight to masking.

At this point, I started thinking about a reference photo that could suit the painting. For some panoramas, I found the picture quickly. But there were a couple that raised no memories at all, so I just doodled this and that!

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

After the masking fluid had dried, I was having fun again. I splashed the paint and enjoyed the wonders of watercolor.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

After the topmost layers had dried, I removed the masking fluid.  Here’s “Scotland.”

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

3) Finishing the Painting with a Reference Photo

When aiming for an expressive and loose image, the reference photo is more like an inspiration photo. I can glance at it, pick some ideas and elements from it but I don’t follow it to the detail. I let my associations and memories override the photo and build an inner vision of the place. (My class Inspirational Drawing guides you to master this process more in detail.)

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Why I Have Never Learned Watercolor Painting from the Books

Some elements of the panoramas are more abstract, some more recognizable. It’s important to cherish the abstract nature of art when making room for expression.

I must confess that during the years that I have experimented with watercolors, I have found the books and videos difficult to comprehend and adapt. Watercolor tutorials usually follow the reference photos very carefully. To me, it doesn’t make sense. I need to know “the code” – the logic and the principles behind the image, not just the image. After you’ve got the code, you can express much more!

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

As an artist, I have always been more interested in what something expresses than how it looks. I have often felt disappointed by the lack of the expression part in tutorials, so I try my best to focus on the expression when teaching others.

The Magic of Finishing Touches

To me, the most challenging step in creating is finishing. The first two steps are usually just happy happy happy, but then there is a danger that the project becomes sad sad sad. 

The watercolor panoramas were quite easy to finish, but if I have bigger struggles, I use the camera for the whole creative process. Then I take a photo of my work and look at it in several ways, enlarge it, make it smaller, etc. It’s fast and makes the finishing much easier than just staring at the actual piece. In May at Bloom and Fly, I will show how to use a camera and other digital tools to make the most out of your art, even if the actual creating would happen manually.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

The Summer Season (July-August) of Bloom and Fly is Watercolor Journey
>> Sign up here!

Painting a Loose Scenery with Daniel Smith Watercolors

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a watercolor painting with Daniel Smith Watercolors

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

Inspired by Ippolito Caffi

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

Piazza del Pantheon by Ippolito Caffi, 1837

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

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Rome

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

Painting with Daniel Smith watercolors

Scenery with Daniel Smith Watercolors

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

Painting with Daniel Smith watercolors

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

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

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

Daniel Smith Watercolors, water brush, iridescent scarab red.

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

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

Time to loosen up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finished Painting and Signature

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

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

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

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

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

Create with an Inspiring Community – Join Bloom and Fly!

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

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

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

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