Expressing Mystery – Self-Portrait as a Fox

"Self-Portrait as a Fox" - an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

In my latest webinar, I showed some unconventional ways to make portraits. This week, I show how to build the sense of mystery for a portrait. Here’s my sample project, an acrylic painting that I made on a sketchbook. It’s called “Self-Portrait as a Fox.”

In Finnish, we have a saying “ketunhäntä kainalossa” – “to have a foxtail under the arm.” It means that someone tries to hide the true thoughts or goals, and you are noticing it. So it’s like a mystery that’s partly revealed without intention to do so.  When building a mystery for the portraits, you somehow have to show that foxtail – to reveal a part of the mystery. Otherwise, the viewer doesn’t realize there’s any mystery at all. Think about leaving the fox out of the portrait above and just trying to express it all with the eyes. It wouldn’t have the same effect.

Expressing Mystery 1 – Start with a Mysterious Space

The lighting has a lot to do with mystery. Think about mysterious scenes in the movies – the light plays an important role there. Instead of trying to add spots of light after adding the face, start by painting the space where all happens.

Step 1 for expressing mystery. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Expressing Mystery 2 – Discover Facial Features

Once you have painted the background full of fun details, try to see a person there. You don’t have to see the whole face, but a cheek, an eye or a nose is enough. Add more facial features so that you can better see the face. Don’t outline everything. It’s a mystery, remember! The face should look like it rises from the background.

Step 2 for expressing mystery. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I rarely get the facial features to look mysterious enough at this point. I suggest that you don’t even bother to try. Just make it clearer where the person is. For this project, I didn’t use any reference images for the face. If you do, use the reference to get some ideas, but don’t make the face too defined.

Expressing Mystery 3 – Connect the Face and the Background Together

Now add more elements to the background. Add geometric shapes to outline hair and to dig out other interesting stuff. You don’t have to know the mystery yet. Keep the process mysterious enough!

Step 3 for expressing mystery. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

To me, it usually happens that if I don’t know the mystery, I don’t have the idea of the facial expression either. I covered the mouth so that I don’t focus too much on that. Working with acrylics is easy because you can always add new layers.

Expressing Mystery 3 – Add Symbolic Elements

Boost the mystery by adding symbolic elements that create tension for the person. I chose a fox and a rose.

A fox and a rose. Photography by Paivi Eerola from Peony and parakeet.

To maintain the mysterious atmosphere, I painted the fox and rose petals so that they partly disappear into the background.

Step 3 for expressing mystery. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

If you use reference photos pick just some details that you replicate more carefully. Put the reference photos away after a while so that they don’t dictate you and reduce the mysterious feel.

Expressing Mystery 4 – Finish the Facial Features

Build connections between the elements and the face by adjusting the facial features. Think about something happening at the scene and the reaction that it embarks. Here, the woman and the fox react differently. The woman looks surprised, but the fox doesn’t. If I had continued with this setting, I would have also added the element that causes the reaction toHowever the picture.

Step 4 for expressing mystery. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

However, I was not satisfied with the idea of the woman and the fox reacting differently. So I repainted the nose and the mouth and made the face shorter so that the woman looks as conniving as the fox. Now the focus is on what they think and initiate.

Detail of an acrylic painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Expressing Mystery 5 – Repeat Some Shapes and Colors

To make the painting more unified and to highlight the mysterious feel, add similarities between the biggest elements. I made some of the triangles resemble the fox’s ears, and continued the fox so that there’s the tail too. The tail is very similar to the woman’s hair. This kind of vagueness – when the viewer doesn’t fully see what belongs to where – also adds to the mystery.

"Self-Portrait as a Fox" by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a sketchbook. See her tips for expressing mystery in portraits!

I hope you enjoyed these tips, and hopefully, I will see you at Innovative Portraits as well!

Innovative Portraits – Refresh the Way You Make Portraits!

In the new upcoming class Innovative Portraits, we will discover new paths to painting and drawing portraits. This class is about increasing artistic looseness, adding more style by using shapes and colors, and inventing ideas so that you never wonder what to put in the background. >> Sign up NOW!

Innovative Portraits, drawing faces and portraits in mixed media. An online art class by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Innovative Portraits includes a 3-month membership in my art community Bloom and Fly so you will also get monthly live sessions and weekly feedback Tuesdays. >> Sign up NOW!

3 Weird but Working Tricks for Portraits

Here’s the replay of yesterday’s free webinar “3 Weird but Working Tricks for Portraits”. There was a slight delay with some pictures, but I have edited the recording so that it won’t show there. I hope you will enjoy these ideas and mindsets!

Drawing Faces – Refresh the Way You Make Portraits!

In my new upcoming class Innovative Portraits, we will discover new paths to painting and drawing portraits. We will gather ideas, make sketches to process them and find solutions to the problems that have caused frustrations. This class also includes a 3-month membership in my art community Bloom and Fly so you will also get monthly live sessions and weekly feedback Tuesdays.

Innovative Portraits, drawing faces and portraits in mixed media. An online art class by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Innovative Portraits – Reserve Your Spot Now!

The early-bird price is available when you sign up before Sept 16, midnight PDT.
>> Sign up NOW!

Oil Pastels and Spicing Up Your Art

Girl Power, mixed media art by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. This piece has Sennelier oil pastels, acrylic paints, and graphite pencils.

This week, I show you how to use oil pastels with other art supplies. I also talk about spicing up your art, especially by choosing subjects that are so personal that they make you tremble a bit!

Early Memories of Oil Pastels

Making art can be compared to cooking. Sometimes the food tastes good because the ingredients and the way are processed go well together. That was how my mother cooked. Her food was delicious because it was fresh and made with care. Even if our family wasn’t wealthy, the time that she put on cooking, made the meals worth remembering. I still don’t know how she was able to include the thick layer of blueberries into her pie. When there was a local art competition for children with the theme “home,” it’s no wonder that this is what I drew.

A childhood drawing with oil pastels by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I remember struggling with the oil pastels, definitely not artist’s quality, but the drawing won the first prize. It was a little unpleasant that the organizer has written the prize in the drawing, but now it just adds a nostalgic flair to it.

My mother wanted her children to step away from cooking and caring for the home. She wanted me to get a good education and declined to teach me how to cook. I grew to question what women and men are supposed to do and felt rebellious in that respect. As a result, I went to study engineering and worked in a field that had mostly men.

QUESTION: What memories do oil pastels or other early art supplies bring to your mind? 

Sennelier Oil Pastels – First Experiment

I bought a small set of Sennelier oil pastels for mixed media art. I didn’t want to spend money on a bigger set until seeing if I like them or not. My first experiment was to draw a portrait on a small sketchbook.

Sennelier oil pastels and an example drawn by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

My mother used two spices mostly: salt and pepper. When creating art, salt and pepper are the lightness and the darkness of colors. You need both, but not too much. As beginners, we often think that we don’t need any salt and pepper. That the fresh ingredients – bright colors – will do the trick. But you need some paler and darker colors, not too much, but enough to harmonize a busy painting.

For the first experiment, I thought that making a basic portrait with salt and pepper would be enough. But creating just a pretty face often lacks expression, so I added a hand because oil pastels and fingers go together. No matter how hard I tried to use a palette knife for blending, I ended up enjoying the waxy feel of oil pastels on the fingertips.

A sketchbook page with Sennelier oil pastels by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

The first experiment made me remember why I had tossed away my old oil pastel set over 10 years ago. Oil pastels are messy! Later in the evening, I made a big mistake of not wiping the table carefully and then placing my cross-stitch projects on the very same tabletop. I had to wash oil pastel marks from the fabrics, and that was very upsetting!

Woman’s World – Oil Pastels with Graphite Pencils

I wasn’t ready to give up oil pastels but headed for the new experiment the next day. This time my idea was to use a sponge for blending and combine oil pastels with graphite pencils. They have called me more and more these days. Maybe it’s because my friend Eeva Nikunen uses graphite a lot and I have one of her drawings on the wall. I am not so much into using graphite alone, but I love using it with watercolors, so why not try it with oil pastels as well!

Making of a oil pastel drawing with Sennelier oil pastels. By a Finnish artist Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Making of this sketchbook page both excited and scared me. It went deeper than the first page and expressed thoughts that I don’t usually reveal to the public. I support women becoming equal with men, and often think even more strongly: it’s now the time of the history when we women can take power. I believe that it will liberate men too. Many young women say that they are equal already, but my experiences haven’t been quite like that. And when thinking back to the past, even when narrowing the focus only to the field of art, women have been neglected for centuries. So it can be woman’s world now if you ask me.

Woman's World, mixed media art by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. A sketchbook page with Sennelier oil pastels and graphite pencils.

When creating this piece, I realized how much I had been used salt and pepper only: making images that are aesthetically pleasing, but that could be spiced up with the message.

QUESTION: What thoughts do you have that you haven’t expressed in your art?

When you think about “what to put in the background” next time, maybe perfect the face a little less and spend more time with a message no matter “what others think.”

Girl Power – Oil Pastels with Acrylic Paints

When I processed the theme – the power of women – further, I wanted to send encouragement to today’s young girls. Most girls that I have met are very smart but also polite and gentle. I wanted to express my appreciation for them.

This time, I wanted to try acrylic paints with oil pastels, and I also had a perfect reference image in mind. It was a miniature portrait of Europa Anguissola painted by her sister Lucia Anguissola. There were six sisters who all became painters in the Renessaince age, but only one of them, Sofonisba, continued her career. I saw the portrait of Europa a couple of years ago, and it’s sweet and amazingly detailed for a small painting.

This project was created in my Dylusions Creative Journal. Acrylics were my choice for the face, and I started very traditionally, making an underpainting with umber and white.

Painting a face. An underpainting with acrylics. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Again, I didn’t want this piece to be just about the face, so I added a hand too. Here you can see how far I worked with acrylic paint only.

Creating a portrait with mixed media. The first part: acrylic paints. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. This project was created on a large Dylusions Creative Journal.

Now to the oil pastels. After experimenting blending with a palette knife and a sponge, I gave up and used my fingers only. But I had a new weapon: baby wipes! They are very handy for removing paint both from the fingers and from the table top. After getting used to having a baby wipe in hand, the messiness of the media doesn’t bother anymore!

Blending Sennelier oil pastels. Using a finger with oil pastels. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I love blending out the color when working with oil pastels. It feels enjoyable and natural. I am excited to try these techniques with oil paints as well.

A mixed media portrait in progress. Acrylic paint and Sennelier oil pastels. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s one technique that I discovered: First, lay several colors carelessly on paper. It’s like throwing the ingredients into the pot!

Working with oil pastels. Using oil pastels in mixed media. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Second, mix the colors with a finger – beautiful – not the finger but the art!

Working with oil pastels. Using oil pastels in mixed media. Blending of Sennelier oil pastels. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I also wanted to add some pencil strokes too. Loud and bold oil pastels look very appealing when they meet the quiet power of graphite drawing.

Using graphite pencils in mixed media art. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

So this one is for young girls: “I wish you all the luck and all the power. Europa Anguissola abandoned painting when she got married, but you don’t have to. You can be anything, and we support you!”

Girl Power, mixed media art by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. This piece has Sennelier oil pastels, acrylic paints, and graphite pencils.

Who do you want to send greetings through your art?

Free Like a Bird – Oil Pastels with Turpentine

The true test for the oil pastels: how do they work with abstract art and intuitive process. This time I used colored pencils and graphite as well.

Creating abstract art using mixed media. Oil pastels, colored pencils, graphite pencils. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

In the middle of making this abstract piece, a new problem came up. I wanted to spread a thin layer of paint, and tone down some areas. I got the idea of thinning the pastel with the medium that I use for oil painting. The painting liquid has poppy oil, Dammar varnish, and turpentine. After googling, it seemed that turpentine could thin oil pastels. So I rubbed some color on a palette, added few drops of the painting liquid and started painting.

Thinning oil pastels. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

The liquid worked very well. Of course, the odor of turpentine can be unbearable for many. Working in small amounts, and keeping the lid closed reduces it a bit, though.

Thinnning oil pastels and using a brush for painting with them. Oil pastel technique tips by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s my finished piece: “Free Like a Bird.” It’s what I hope for everyone, regardless of the gender.

Free Like a Bird", mixed media art by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Created with Sennelier oil pastels, colored pencils, and graphite pencils.

If you compare the images of this blog post, the abstract piece leaves more room for interpretations. Recently, I have felt more and more drawn into creating abstracts, and letting go of delivering a pre-chewed message. Cooking without a recipe can be much harder than you would first think. Making a vast selection of foods, learning to use pepper and salt, helps. But first and foremost, art is not just a matter of learning how to cook a meal. It’s also the matter of choosing what you want to serve to the world. And no matter how clumsy the execution, the subject can be the most significant spice.

The Exploring Artist Begins on Sept 10 – Sign Up Now!

The Exploring Artist is a 12-week group coaching program for artists, between Sept 10 – Nov 30, 2018. This coaching is for you who wants to get clear about your artistic passion and become more open about your art, for example, share your art in social media, blog about art, sell your originals and prints, teach classes, etc.

The Exploring Artist - a coaching program for you who wants to become more confident and get clear about your artistic passion. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

In The Exploring Artist, you will get coaching as a part of a small and tight-knit group. I will personally help you to put your passion into words and visual insights. We will work together to discover what you want to change in your art, where you want to move forward and how to do it. >> Sign up now!

 

Recent News and a Sketchbook Tour Full of Ideas!

Curiosity by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. A painting from Paivi's sketchbook.

My short blogging break is over and to celebrate that I have a full sketchbook to show you!

The Last Page of the Sketchbook

This morning, there was one page in my big A3-sized sketchbook that wasn’t finished. It was a very ugly one! Even if I covered it with a layer of dark colors, it didn’t please my eye at all.

Sketchbook page in progress. The background before adding elements to it. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

But then I got an idea to highlight just some of the elements and paint a young woman on it. At the same time, I had the opportunity to play with the ideas that I am gathering for the new class.

A painting on a Pink Big sketchbook by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I am often fighting against time when I am creating. When I make videos for the classes, I have only 1-3 hours for each project. My principle is that class videos are for guidance and inspiration and nobody wants to watch me paint for a day or two. Even if I speed up most parts, I usually include so much background information and art theory that I have to limit the time that I spend with painting or drawing. And often for blog posts, I have the same couple of hours even if it’s a bit easier if I don’t record the process or try to build a pedagogical package. So when painting this one, I would have liked to continue for a longer time, but I kept telling myself that the sketchbook is not where you make a detailed painting! Anyway, it’s detailed enough to get the idea.

Foxes and Inspiration from Natural Science

During the summer, foxes seem to have appeared in my art. This one is just a quick graphite drawing, but it’s something that really speaks to me: making new creatures and celebrating the potential and diversity of nature.

Best in Show, a whimsical graphite pencil sketch by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s another one with a fox:

Flora and Fauna , an illustration by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her full sketchbook on a video!

This sketchbook page is inspired by the microscopic world, and even if it’s a loose portrait, it also has a fox ear!

An illustration by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Inspired by microscope images. See her sketchbook tour on a video!

I also have a tiny painting in progress that has a fox, but I will show that later in the fall.

Ready for a Sketchbook Tour? – Here We Go!

I have made a quick flip-through video of the full sketchbook. The sketchbook is from Pink Pig. There’s also a glance of the summer’s big project on the video – our Japanese garden!

Plans for the Fall

Here’s what will happen here at Peony and Parakeet during the fall – come along!

1) July-September: Watercolor Journey, you can still sign up, and if you love watercolors this really is the class to take! (When you sign up you will get immediate access to the material provided so far.)
2) Sept 10 – Nov 30: The Exploring Artist – a soul-searching coaching program for any artist who wants to get clear where to head next! There are only 12 seats available so sign up fast!
3) Oct-Dec: a new class with a working title “Portrait Revolution” as a part of my art community Bloom and Fly.

I hope that you have reserved some time for creating and will join me! And as always, the best way to stay up to date is to subscribe to my weekly emails!