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!

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12 Responses to Intuitive Painting with a Reference Image

  1. Elaine Wirthlin says:

    Paivi ! You continue to amaze, enchant, and enthrall me with your beautiful art and your sharing ways! Thank you for all you do for us.

  2. Pat Catucci says:

    You are an amazing teacher! Love your intuitive paintings.

  3. ceevee says:

    Very interesting as always! Thank you

  4. Patricia Bush says:

    Thank you for sharing this. So much that I am going to try.

  5. Wendy says:

    I love Your Tosca and Figaro paintings!!!!

  6. Shelly says:

    Beautiful and inspiring, Paivi!

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