Rebuilding Art – Using Reference Images for Self-Expression

Using a reference image as a model for the painting. By Peony and Parakeet.

This blog post is about composing new art by using reference images. At the moment, I have a couple of paintings in progress that are based on reference images, and I also show other examples as well.

Why Don’t Artists Always Tell About Using Reference Images?

While painting my first oil painting at The National Museum of Finland, the visitors of the museum were able to visit the studio and watch us paint. Many people asked why we paint copies of the old paintings. The teacher Emmi Mustonen replied that it’s a good way to learn the old painting techniques and develop the understanding of formal elements. But I got the feeling that some of the people didn’t get it. Their facial expressions were imprinted on my mind, and it made me ponder why using reference images raises conflicting feelings.

Even if most artists who create realistic art or include realistic elements in their art, use reference images, many are not very open about it. I think that one reason is that many artists believe that people know that already and another reason that the process is not interesting. My experience is that there are surprisingly many people who assume that artists don’t take photos or use other than live models. And to me, the process of composing a new image from old ones is fascinating. I always stop to see an article where an artist shows how the reference images were used. I am especially interested if it’s about choosing the photos and combining several reference images into one piece.

Strawberry Madonna – Combining Several Reference Images to Tell a Story

A reference image of Strawberry Madonna and painting in progress. By Peony and Parakeet.

I am currently painting an acrylic painting on canvas that I call “Strawberry Madonna.” It’s my first using old masters’ painting techniques with acrylics instead of oil paints. The idea for the painting started differently than usually. I invented the title first and then started to think how Strawberry Madonna would look. I wanted to find a young woman who would have lips like she had just eaten a strawberry. By googling Renaissance paintings, I found Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio‘s painting. After that, I moved to building a story around the original idea.

Strawberry Madonnas are young girls who enjoy life without worries, have long summer holidays, eat strawberries, learn to crochet and read books like Emily of the New Moon or Anne of Green Gables. I have been one of them, and I feel quite nostalgic about it. I wanted the painting to include surrealistic elements. It has a big strawberry that is placed so that it could be a sleeve of the madonna’s dress. I am also going to change the flowers in the hair wreath to strawberry flowers and play with green and red paint. It will happen when I move on from underpainting to adding colors. In the background, there’s a photo that I took last summer. I am going to make it a little less detailed.

I used Photoshop to compose the reference image and made the sketch on canvas with charcoal. I drew a grid to make the sketching quicker.

Girl with a Ferret – Changing the Meaning with a Simple Trick

A reference image and a painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I have also started a new oil painting under the guidance of Emmi Mustonen. I got to pick the reference image freely. I wanted to pick an old Renessaince painting, but I couldn’t find any that would have a couple of my favorite features when painting with old masters’ techniques. I love to paint fur and fabric, and I wanted to find a face that would include openness. I fell in love with Boccaccio Boccaccino‘s portrait of a gypsy girl, but it didn’t have any fur. So I remembered Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” and created a new image by combining the two in Photoshop. I have several stories about this one.

The first one is about today’s society and how the pets have become more human in our eyes. I want to show the similarities in the wild gypsy girl and the tame ferret. Another story is about young girls and their love for taking care of animals. They might not know the wildlife, but they help to rescue animals and are ready to work hard when taking care of them. They are against fur clothing and not afraid to show it. The third story goes back to the 16th century. I imagine that the gypsy girl was hired to dress up and hold the ermine because the lady didn’t have the patience to pose for the artist. In the end, she never showed. The artist became frustrated and painted the girl instead. I can imagine the magical moment when the girl realized that she would be in the final painting instead of a lady.

I would like to talk with Boccaccio Boccaccino about my version. I also wonder, how he was able to paint the portrait of the gypsy girl when the artists mostly painted for churches and aristocrats back then.

At Monet’s Garden – Including All the Good Stuff to the Same Image

Last spring, I published a mini-course called Strokes of Energy as a part of the Imagine Monthly Spring series. I asked my students to name their favorite artists, and Claude Monet was among most popular ones. But when I thought about Claude Monet, I didn’t want just to serve those who love the garden or those who adore his way to paint the sky, or those who want to express the windy scenes. I wanted to have all the good stuff in one image and then some more.

A digital collage combining 3 paintings from Claude Monet. By Peony and Parakeet.

So I created a reference image in Photoshop combining three of Claude Monet’s paintings: “Woman with a Parasol” and a couple of paintings from the water lily series. Then I invented a technique where you can paint some of the elements as collage pieces so that you can adjust the overall composition before making the final decisions. This way it is possible to add more details one by one and improve the image during the actual creative process.

A Monet-inspired art journal page by Peony and Parakeet. See her mini-course Strokes of Energy.

So this painting is about a woman who is experiencing strong wind. She doesn’t mind wind catching her parasol. She enjoys the fresh air and the beautiful scene around her.

Ulla’s Take

One of the students, Ulla M. Holm, made a Photoshop sketch from another set of Monet’s paintings and then painted the image with short impressionistic strokes. I love how the result also reminds me of her home country, Sweden!

A Monet-inspired art journal spread by Ulla M. Holm, a student of Peony and Parakeet.

Using Reference Images More Intuitively – From a Story to an Experience

I admit having mixed feelings about following the reference images carefully. With my art, I want to express freedom, and I don’t think that following reference images too closely helps with that. On the other hand, I don’t want to restrict myself doing abstracts only or creating similar paintings one after another. Many artists create the same again and again and become better and better with that. To me, art is about exploring and the hook there is to widen my perspective continuously.

So even if you would prefer abstract art, it doesn’t mean you can’t have reference images. Instead of connecting with the actual story, you can connect with an emotional experience.

Emile Vernon's painting and Paivi Eerola's abstract interpretation. By Peony and Parakeet.

I picked colors and ideas from Emile Vernon’s painting and imagined what it would be like wearing that soft dress. The dress felt like a dream, so I wrote: “Muisto unelmasta” –  “a memory of a dream” in the image.

Using reference images: a photo and an abstract interpretation. By Peony and Parakeet. To learn how to do this, sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!

Here’s another example from my class Inspirational Drawing 2.0: a photo from The National Library of Finland and my interpretation, “The Power of Knowledge.”

Do yo want to experiment with this approach using your personal reference images? >> Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!

For the Fans of Monet – Strokes of Energy

My Monet-inspired mini-course Strokes of Energy is now available as an individual self-study course. >> Buy Strokes of Energy!

Strokes of Energy, a Monet-inspred mini-course by Peony and Parakeet.

Geraldine’s Take

I want to end this blog post with a skilled artist Geraldine Norris from Australia who created her version of Monet in my class. She had just seen an art exhibition showing Monet’s work, and I think it shows how deeply she connected with the experience.

A Monet-inspired painting by Geraldine Norris, Australia, a student of Peony and Parakeet.

But wait, there is more beautiful Monet-inspired art from my students, see the presentation page of Strokes of Energy!

Until next time!

Intuitive Still Life – Video with Gelli Plates and Golden Open Acrylics

Intuitive still life painting using both Gelli plate and brushes. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s my latest painting, an intuitive still life with tulips. Last week, I had a short visit to an art supply store in Helsinki. I was surprised that they had a collection of Gelli plates for sale. When I got my first one several years ago, it wasn’t as accessible. I had to contact a shop in Italy which was the only retailer in Europe at that time. It’s great that Gelli plates have become more widely known. I have noticed that on my blog too. Month after month, the post “Self-Expression with Gelli Plate” is at top ten!

So I couldn’t help myself at the art supply store and bought another Gelli plate. My old one is 8 by 10 inches. The new one is a smaller, only 3 by 5 inches. It’s easier to handle and clean but mono printing with the big one is quicker.

Could Gelli Plates Be The Cure for Blank Paper Syndrome?

I wanted to have an experiment using both of the plates. Without any pre-planned idea about what my painting should represent, I would get over the blank paper syndrome using random monoprints. Then I would move on using brushes and working more intentionally. As always with mono printing, I used Golden Open Acrylics as paints because they don’t dry as quickly as regular ones.

Here’s my painting after I had some fun with Gelli plates.

Intuitive still life painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

And here’s the finished piece.

Intuitive still life painting using both Gelli plate and brushes. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Intuitive Equals Subconscious!

After I had finished painting, I realized that it’s a combination of recent events: I got a lot of tulips for my birthday, made a strawberry birthday cake and enjoyed the winter sun with Stella.

Photo collage from February: tulips, birthday cake, winter sun.

Intuitive Still Life – Watch the Video!

Here’s a video about creating the intuitive still life. There you can see how adventurous my process was.

Enjoy creating more intuitively: Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!

Mixed Media Seascapes – 5 Tips for Expressive Art

Notice the new, useful categories for the blog posts, see the sidebar “Posts by Theme” or if you are in mobile, see the end of the page!

Sometimes I regret creating my art on the journals. When I created these mixed media seascapes for the mini-course Stormy Scenery, I wanted to keep the journals open and visible for days just to get back with the process and look at all the colors. And when I saw what my students had created, I secretly wished the same – that not so many weren’t in journals but frames. I want to share some art made from the mini-course and share some tips for expressive seascapes.

1) Play with Colors!

When creating the waves, show how the water reflects the colors from its surroundings. When there’s a storm, there will be a lot that’s moving, and it will affect the colors too. You can show your current state of mind as the sea and bring out the variety of thoughts and feelings. See how Claudia Watkins has made a row of waves with various colors.

Claudia Watkins, UK. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Claudia Watkins, UK

2) Create a Connection Between The Sky and The Sea!

If the sea represents you and the sky represents the outside world, how do they interact? Susan Rajkumar has expressed the connection in a brilliant way. It looks like the sea is willing to hug the sun and the overall feeling in the piece is warm and happy.

Susan Rajkumar, India. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Susan Rajkumar, India

Sheila McGruer’s sun has left the sea, and it has caused an explosion of energy.

Sheila McGruer, Australia. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Sheila McGruer, Australia

Sheila’s piece also has the softness which takes us to the next tip …

3) Express the Softness of Water

Cheryl Rayner shows the softness with both long strokes and splashes of water. With softness, you can practice gentleness towards yourself and others.

Cheryl Rayner, USA. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Cheryl Rayner, USA

4) Show The Movement of The Waves

Enjoy the transformation that happens when you focus on creating art! Strokes and lines express the movement. Lorraine Cline’s green sea is captivating because it’s wonderfully dynamic!

Lorraine Cline, USA. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Lorraine Cline, USA

Terttu Laitinen has the great eye of the storm.

Terttu Laitinen, Finland. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Terttu Laitinen, Finland

5) Make The Scene Look 3-Dimensional!

In any scene and any mind, some things are closer, and some things are further away. Add more 3-dimensional look to make some elements more blurry and some sharper than others. Satu Kontuvuori has a striking focal point where sharp white waves are on the top of the blurry black eye of the storm.

Satu Kontuvuori, Finland. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Satu Kontuvuori, Finland

Mackie d’Arge also has a clear focal point and lots of less defined splashes around it.

Mackie d'Arge, USA. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.

Mackie d’Arge, USA

Internal Seascapes – Connect with Your Internal Energy!

The mixed media seascapes shown in this blog posts are made from the mini-course Stormy Scenery which was part of my Imagine Monthly Spring series last year. You can now purchase it individually too. When creating Stormy Scenery, I was inspired by the long chain of seascape painters, especially by J.M.W. Turner and Ivan Aivazovski. I also have a Pinterest board called Internal Seascapes where I have collected inspirational sea paintings.

But in Stormy Scenery, more than just to paint the sea, I coach you through the process of opening up and bringing out your expression. With the mini-course, you are not so much mimicking the sea outside but expressing the power inside. I believe that every artist has a unique power as well as every day has a unique energy.

Create Mixed Media Seascapes!

Use colored pencils, watercolors, and acrylic paints to create expressive mixed media art!
>> Click here to buy Stormy Scenery!

Stormy Scenery, an art journaling mini-course by Peony and Parakeet

P.S. If you want more personal guidance and community support to get deeper in self-expression, you can still sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!

Year 2016 in Review – In Terms of Art Supplies

A handdrawn collage by Peony and Parakeet. Her course Inspirational Drawing 2.0 teaches how to create these + more!

I am not usually so keen on “year in reviews,” but I thought it would be interesting to look back regarding art supplies used in 2016. When people ask me what supplies do I use, my quick response is: “Acrylic paints, watercolors, and colored pencils.” If I get detailed questions, I often refer to these blog posts: What Art Supplies Do I need? and What Acrylic Colors to Buy?

But it hit me that I have used a more diverse selection of supplies in 2016. And then, there are all kinds of necessary stuff that we don’t often mention but still use all the time. So, I dedicate this blog post to supplies. It’s not so much about the single pieces created in 2016. If you want to have a look at those, go to 2016 Gallery!

Must-Haves for Collage Art

The image that is at the beginning of this post is a collage made for January’s lesson at Inspirational Drawing 2.0 while teaching how to create unique collage pieces and enjoy freehand drawing. I have been blown away by the beautiful art created by my students, and I am more certain than ever that introducing the ideas for drawing piece by piece makes freehand drawing and the use of imagination easier than trying to build a bigger illustration in one piece. (You can still sign up for the class and get the first lesson immediately after the purchase!)

I like to create collage art to my biggest art journals. I have two of large Dylusions Creative Journals. The first one is almost full, so I hope I can fill it in 2017 and make a flip-through video of it. I purchased the second one last year because I love the quality of the paper. It’s perfectly smooth for colored pencils and sturdy enough for collage art.

Making of a hand-drawn paper collage. By Peony and Parakeet. Her course Inspirational Drawing 2.0 teaches how to create these + enjoy hand drawing!

Like in the previous years, I have used “Golden Soft Gel Gloss” gel medium for attaching the collage pieces and Tim Holtz’s non-stick scissors for cutting the pieces.

A new discovery is to use a piece of cotton cloth to remove excess gel medium. First, I started using old t-shirts for finger painting. But when learning old masters painting techniques at a class, we used old linens for cleaning the brushes and realized that they work well for wiping off too. Since then, I have been a collector of old cotton fabric pieces. A fellow artist told me that she has several plastic bags filled with waste cotton fabric for art making!

Cutting collage pieces. By Peony and Parakeet.

Speaking of collecting, I am still a collector of the best handmade supplies: hand drawn and hand painted paper pieces! If you have never tried creating collage pieces, see Step by Step page for basic instructions! I also have a mini-course called Doodled Luxury, that shows how to combine doodling with collage techniques.

Colored Pencils – Not for Art-Making Only!

Because I create a lot with colored pencils, I often get questions about which colored pencils to buy. Many contemplate between regular and water-soluble pencils. I love regular colored pencils because they are easy to carry and easy to use when you only have a minute or two. I use regular colored pencils also outside my art-making. I love to use them to make written notes more visual and add visual ideas to my notebooks and planners.

Work Planner Spread. By Peony and Parakeet. She uses Happy Planner for her art business.

It’s why I always have colored pencils in my reach, and I think it’s also why I find it so easy to create with them. If I have to create something quickly that isn’t very big in size, it feels natural to choose them. I use Prismacolor Soft Core pencils when I create art pieces and a selection of old pencils for more mundane purposes. My e-book Coloring Freely focuses on regular colored pencils and shows easy techniques for creative coloring.

Using watercolor pencils by Peony and Parakeet. See her class Inspirational Drawing 2.0.

I also have a mixed selection of watercolor pencils, and I enjoy using them too, especially in the beginning of coloring. Using water makes it quicker to fill a paper with a soft mix of colors. It is the technique I use a lot at Inspirational Drawing 2.0: starting the coloring with watercolor pencils, inks or watercolors and then moving on to dry supplies like colored pencils and felt-tipped pens.

Using Watercolor Paper – and Not!

This is a supply that makes my heart sing – I only have to touch it: a good quality watercolor paper! My absolute favorite: St Cuthberts Mill’s Saunders Waterford HP watercolor paper. It’s smooth and thick (300 gm2/140 lbs), and it’s perfect for both watercolors and colored pencils. I especially enjoy creating intuitive still lifes on the thick paper. I often cut the paper to a square to enable easy changes in orientation. See this blog post to watch me creating the intuitive mixed media painting below on a watercolor paper!

March Still Life, a mixed media painting by Peony and Parakeet.

March Still Life, 2016

Even if I love smooth watercolor paper, I don’t want to limit the use of watercolors. I use watercolors constantly and often with paper that is not designed for it. I like to carelessly splash watercolors on any paper because there are a lot more opportunities to use watercolors than to use watercolor paper. For example, watercolor paper is not good for collage pieces because it’s too thick. I like to use sketching paper instead.

Watercolor painting in Hundertwasser's style. By Peony and Parakeet.

The best exploration with watercolors so far happened in 2016. I studied Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s way of using watercolors and created a mini-course about imaginative painting style. This painting style uses only a little water, and it’s easy to apply on almost any paper. See the mini-course Painter’s Ecstasy!

The Year of Canvas

If I had to name one supply that marks 2016, it would be canvas. I have created more canvas pieces than ever before. I have painted five small acrylic paintings and two medium-sized paintings. “Human Nature” was not a wall-sized, but so far the biggest that I have painted. See this blog post: 5 Lessons Learned When Painting on Big Canvas

"Human Nature" by Peony and Parakeet. This was her biggest painting in 2016.

I always take the canvas more seriously than if I create a painting on a watercolor paper or an art journal. A blank paper syndrome is nothing compared to a blank canvas syndrome! But I enjoy larger projects between smaller ones, and I have two blank canvases waiting for 2017 creations.

Experiments with New Supplies

Oil paints 
I would have never guessed that I would be 47 years old before trying out oil paints for the first time, but that was how it went. I started painting as a young teenager and my parents purchased acrylic paints to me. They explained that using oil paints would require all kinds of liquids that would not be safe and acrylic paints were better in that way. They were so right! Not to mention all the smells! I live in a house built in the 1960s, and the smell stays there for some time. It would be impossible to me to use oil paints daily just because of that.

Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet exploring old master painting techniques with oil paints.

But I have signed up for an art class and will start my second oil painting next week using the old masters’ techniques. (See this blog post to read what any artist can learn from old masters!) I love the pigment and gloss of good quality oil paints. We are using Schminke’s Mussini oil paints, and they are the best quality paints that I have ever experimented with.

Soft Pastels
During 2016, I saw quite a lot of art that was created with soft pastels. I almost bought Unison soft pastels to treat myself but then realized that I already had a small set of Rembrandt soft pastels. I had purchased them many years ago for industrial design studies, but we had been using them very differently than how people use them usually. We scraped them to get powder and used the powder to create soft shadows.

A detail of an art journal page by Peony and Parakeet. Made using soft pastels.

I created an art journal page (see the full image in the middle of this blog post) to try them out. Now I just grabbed the sticks and drew with them, but it felt like there was powder everywhere. And then, in the end, I had to use fixative, of course. It felt tedious even if it was not. I had no desire for new pastels anymore, but afterward, I have wondered if I gave up too easily. Maybe I should try the soft pastels again sometimes in 2017.

Liquid Watercolors and Watercolor Markers
In the late fall, I got a couple of surprise packages from one of my students! I got to use liquid watercolors and watercolor markers for the first time, and I liked both of them.

Art supplies. Liquid watercolor bottles.

I like the intensity of color in liquid watercolors. Mine are Dr. Ph. Martins’s Hydrus watercolors.

A detail of a painting made with gouache, watercolor markers and liquid watercolors. By Peony and Parakeet.

Watercolor markers seem to be very versatile because you can use them with or without water. I also received a set of gouache paints, and they encouraged me to dig out my old gouache tubes as well. To see what I created with the new supplies, watch this video blog post!

Going Digital?

Based on 2016, my answer is both yes and no. Yes, I have created digital art, see this blog post especially! I have used Adobe Photoshop CS5 for so many years that it feels very intuitive and I don’t have to think about the commands and such, I can just focus on the fun stuff.

Digital art by Peony and Parakeet.

But when I create digital art, I like to use my hand-drawn and hand-painted pieces as building blocks. I know that many buy stock photos, but it feels much more exciting to me to use my art as a starting point. Sometimes when I don’t work I buy a digital kit and have fun with it, but that’s just playing in my spare time (Sometimes I do wonder, how much do I have to create, to stop creating …)

I have a student at Inspirational Drawing 2.0 who is adapting the exercises to work with her iPad mostly. I look forward to seeing more of this happening because I see a potential of more people going into creating art. However, I don’t want to spend all of my time with devices, so I enjoy creating pieces by hand and as long as I can do it, I think I will, also in 2017!

What about you? What supplies were new to you in 2016, and what supplies are you going to continue using in 2017?

Begin Like a Crafter, Finish Like an Artist

Waiting for Snow, a mixed media painting by Peony and Parakeet

Here’s what I made today: a mixed media painting with a Christmas theme. When I began creating, I had no idea that this will express the season. I didn’t even start with a blank paper but cut a piece of a big pre-painted watercolor paper. It had just careless splotches of color, and I had painted it months before to wait for the right moment. I had just enjoyed knitting some old sock yarn into socks, so I thought to use up that paper with the same mindset: using what I already have and making that more inspirational.

Begin Like a Crafter

I picked a black Zig drawing pen and started doodling without any idea in my mind. I often think about knitting or crocheting when I doodle. I feel more like a crafter than an artist at the beginning of the process. Exploring the paper with a pen is like crocheting with a hook and yarn. It’s much more relaxing than trying to find a grand idea first. When you starts as a crafter, you are ready to do the work. You don’t expect miracles to happen, you know you just have to keep on going, and it will get easier after a while.

Begin like a crafter, learn to start creating intuitively, by Peony and Parakeet

After filling most of the paper with crossing lines, I felt that there was a lack of connection between the drawing and the background painting. They looked like they were two separate layers, each made by a different person. But because I had used a good quality watercolor paper, I was able to add water and wipe off color here and there so that the layers began to interact.

Removing watercolor paint to make the painting more vivid. By Peony and Parakeet.

Again, I felt like a crafter adding stitches that would tie the two layers together. I also used white and black colored pencils to enhance the effect.

Begin like a crafter, learn to start creating intuitively, by Peony and Parakeet

Find Routines that Start the Change

Working with black is my thing. It always brings in more excitement, more drama, and my identity begins to change from a crafter to an artist. This time, just holding a black pencil, made me want to start painting. I picked few bottles of India ink first.

Using India inks in mixed media painting. By Peony and Parakeet.

My brush felt stiff, and the shapes that I painted were controlled and modest. But I knew I just had to keep going. There were times when I stopped too soon, and I have seen that happening to many people too. When you stop too soon, you are still too much of a crafter. You try to focus, and you don’t feel like doing anything risky.

Begin like a crafter, learn to start creating intuitively, by Peony and Parakeet

I changed to white acrylic paint to get more ideas and contrasts. There were some round shapes on the paper, but I had no idea what they could be.

Begin like a crafter, learn to start creating intuitively, by Peony and Parakeet

Finish Like an Artist – a) Do Something Risky

After spending some time painting, I was ready to take risks. All I needed was to choose a little black ink bottle and turn on Jean-Michel Jarre’s Stardust, a song that always gets me into the flow. Uncontrollable black brush strokes felt scary, and of course, there’s a risk of “ruining everything”. I often set an area, where I don’t go. This time I decided to be as wild as I want but leave the center of the biggest bubble alone.

Black ink for a mixed media painting.

Before doing this phase, I convince myself that my subconscious knows what I could bring up from the mess because I have been staring that for a while already. I often repeat the words “trust” and “knowledge” before I turn to the music. I try to be as quick as I can and focus on adding more speed to my brush. This short phase where I leave the crafter behind is the most enjoyable thing in creating. I feel free while pushing the limits of my creativity.

Finish like an artist, learn to let go when painting, by Peony and Parakeet

Finish Like an Artist – b) Bring in the Intention

After adding those black strokes and splotches, I knew what I was expressing: holiday decorations on this black Christmas. In the southern Finland where I live, all the snow melt away just before Christmas Eve. I had taken photos just a couple of days ago that connect well with the painting. In this last phase, I try to find the fastest and most natural route to finishing the painting and focus more on composition and clarity than trying to make the image other than what it seems to be already. Accepting that my image can go to the area that is unknown to me at the beginning of the process, allows me to be less stiff.

Waiting for Snow, a mixed media painting with Christmas photos that complete the imagenery. By Peony and Parakeet.

I find it so fascinating that art is a combination of knowledge and letting go. There are clear guidelines for communicating visually such as how to set your composition. And still, it’s also about taking all that knowledge and jumping into the unknown. Every day, I want to know more and then, relax more!

Beagles at Christmas. By Peony and Parakeet.

First Lesson of Inspirational Drawing 2.0 – Start with a Mood, Finish with an Image!

Like knitting starts from the first stitch, drawing starts from the first line. Somewhere between the lines the transformation happens and the crafter changes to an artist. The ideas grow with the imagination. Moods turn to motifs, motifs to modules, modules to streams, streams to images.

Learn to enjoy drawing! Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0! An art class by Peony and Parakeet.

The first lesson of Inspirational Drawing 2.0 will be published on January 1st. This is the class you don’t want to miss! Every lesson takes you further in enjoying drawing from inspiration and imagination! I will help you create unique art in unique ways that will make you absorb the knowledge and then let your ideas grow.

Learn to enjoy drawing! Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0! An art class by Peony and Parakeet.

Enjoy drawing from inspiration and imagination!
>> Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0

Finding Balance through Journaling Practice

Romantic Geometry, an art journaling mini-course by Peony and Parakeet, teaching the basics of abstract art.

Here’s an art journaling spread that I created for December’s mini-course at Imagine Monthly Fall. The mini-course is called Romantic Geometry, and it’s about creating abstract art and traveling through the history of art and design. It’s a perfect example of what journaling has brought to my life: a sense of freedom and limitlessness. When you paint, draw or write, you are limited only by your imagination.

Everybody is an Introvert

I want to dedicate this blog post to introvert in us. They say that most people have some introvert characteristics in them. To me, very little needs to happen and I get a lot of ideas, associations, and thoughts to go through. It feels like a curse sometimes. If I don’t get enough time to be alone, I become unhappy and everything feels overwhelming. We in Finland, have the most forests in Europe. For many Finnish introverts, forests are the places to go to process the thoughts. I do like to spend time in nature with my dogs, but it’s not the same as spending time with my journals. I need to get out what’s inside me and even more: use my imagination to create something playful, no matter how childish or stupid that might feel first.

Abstract art journal spread by Peony and Parakeet.

My art journals contain a lot of painting and drawing, but I also like to write down my thoughts, especially after I have created the image. I also like the practice where I write a question, then answer it, and then find a new question related to my answer. These kinds of internal conversations fill me with positive energy. I also like to analyze what I did wrong but have found a positive way to do that. I look back, pick things where I succeeded and then make notes how I can still improve.

Everybody Needs “Me-Time”

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet browsing her art journal.

When I browse my journals, it’s easy to feel grateful and forgiving because the pages complement my life’s story. I fill them randomly, and in many sessions but try to do that as regularly as I can. When I start to journal, I often don’t feel particularly inspired, but after a while, I am fully enjoying the creative challenge. I have never been an introvert in the sense of being a quiet person. But when they say that introverts live in a world of their own, I recognize the habit through my journaling practices. My journals are like mini-worlds with limitless possibilities.

Paivi's art journals. She loves art journaling.

Everybody Needs a Place to Experiment

Behind every bigger art piece that I create, there are plenty of art journal pages where I have experimented with the ideas. This possibility of experimentation also happens with my writing. I don’t always write about myself but empathize with a fantasy character. This fall I wrote a haiku poem with the help of my husband, also an introvert.

I think that many who haven’t fell in love with their journal yet, forget to experiment. They drool over beautiful notebooks at bookshops or pin colorful art journal pages at Pinterest. But when they begin a journal, they feel they need to make decisions and stick with those. They pick the supplies they should use, or the style they should follow, and then get bored or disappointed with how the pages look. But you can change the direction as many times as you want, explore what excites you today, and cherish all that diversity. The more I have journaled, the more I feel the calling to show how paper books can balance your life. Life is less mess when you save some time for journaling.

Classes for Art Journaling

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet with an art journal and a canvas painting.

Romantic Geometry guides you to create dynamic abstract art from simple shapes. It’s the last mini-course of Imagine Monthly for now.

I will be running a new class “Inspirational Drawing 2.0” in spring 2017. Like Imagine Monthly, it will also have a monthly format. Inspirational Drawing 2.0 is about drawing from imagination and inspiration. It’s a skill-oriented, excellent class when you want to free up your expression and add more abstract ideas to your journal. This class will be all new content. If you have attended Inspirational Drawing previously, you will still want to sign up!

Moleskine Sketchbook – Another Full Art Journal!

Rococo inspired page on a Moleskine Sketchbook, by Peony and Parakeet.

I just finished my red Moleskine Sketchbook. It always feels like an accomplishment when an art journal gets full.  So I’m happy to show a couple of photos and a flip-through video of all the pages!

Moleskine Sketchbook as an Art Journal

Moleskine Sketchbooks are one of my favorite books for art journaling. The paper is sturdy, and it can be used with a variety of supplies. I use mostly watercolors, acrylic paints, colored pencils and PITT artist pens. But I also use inks, gel pens, hand-decorated papers for collages, etc. The small size is handy for quick pages and easy to put in a bag. However, sometimes the size is a little bit too small, especially for acrylic paintings. So I also use other journals, especially large Dylusions Creative Journals. The paper is very smooth, so it’s not ideal for watercolors. But I don’t mind that too much, I use a little less water to make watercolors work with the paper. Some prefer coarser paper for colored pencils but I love how effortless it is to color the pages in Moleskine Sketchbook.

1960s inspired page on a Moleskine Sketchbook, by Peony and Parakeet.

The Purpose of an Art Journal

For me, art journals are little more than just sketchbooks. I like to call them “idea books” as I often process my ideas further when I am working on the page. I don’t always make one page on the same go, but work with it several times, adding more ideas as the page progresses. However, I have quite low expectations on how my pages will look. They are not pieces of art but more like collections of ideas to me.

As you can see from the flip-through video, my ideas are often connected to art history and different styles. The first photo of this blog post shows a spread inspired by Rococo. The second photo shows a spread that I made after browsing designs from the 1960s. Even if I sometimes write short stories or make notes about my current thoughts, I mostly write about beautiful things that I have seen and visualize the ideas I have gotten from it.

My art journals are not chronological diaries but random visual notes that I process to full images. I can make a quick sketch of a rose one day and then continue the page with painting on the other day. When I am working with a new art class, I use art journals to record my visual ideas and practice the techniques. I also see creating art journal pages a route to bigger paintings. When I paint on canvas, I use the ideas that I have come up with when making the pages. Every artist should also be an art journaler!

Flip-Through Video

Create Step by Step!

I have gathered all the most popular free step-by-step instructions and all my flip-through videos on a separate page. Go to Create Step by Step!

Creative Struggles in the Middle of Possibilities

An art journal spread made for the mini-course Patterned Topiary. By Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s an art journaling spread that I made for Imagine Monthly Fall. It’s a part of November’s mini-course called Patterned Topiary. For the mini-course, I chose three main themes for the inspiration:
1) Gustav Klimt, the famous artist, and especially his Golden Phase pieces
2) playing with patterns and repeats
3) topiary art, the art of cutting trees and shrubs into shapes. As Gustav Klimt has brilliant portraits, I also included a woman there.

Predictions and Creative Struggles

Some time after creating the mini-course, I started the renaissance painting technique class under Emmi Mustonen. Now when I look at my work (which is still in progress), I see the same woman appearing there. It’s like art could predict the future!

Paivi Eerola learning old painting techniques at Finnish National Museum.

The two projects are very different and still – it’s easy to see that the person who created the first image, the art journaling spread, is the same who’s painting the copy of the portrait. I think this is a brilliant example of why we shouldn’t put ourselves in one corner, but be always willing to learn new perspectives. I could have said that I love freedom and won’t go to the class that is “just copying.” Or the vice versa: that I value old masters so much that I won’t combine them with mixed media techniques or with less-valued art forms like cutting trees. I might have avoided some creative struggles, but I would also have missed the possibilities.

My second project for November’s mini-course is also like a prediction.

An art journaling spread inspired by Gustav Klimt. Made for the art journaling mini-course Patterned Topiary. By Peony and Parakeet.

Namely, last Saturday, I went to see Yayoi Kusama‘s exhibition at Helsinki Art Museum. Another celebration of dots and patterns!

Paivi Eerola at Yayoi Kusama's exhibition in Helsinki Art Museum, a pause from creative struggles

Diversity of Themes and Techniques

I have now released 4 of 5 mini-courses for my art journaling master-class Imagine Monthly Fall 2016. There’s a lot of diversity in the projects: painting, drawing, making collages and combining the techniques to create mixed media art. You can still sign up and get all the published mini-courses immediately. There’s also a great community that you don’t want to miss! Seeing many versions of monthly themes is part of the enjoyment! I also lead a discussion related to the theme every month.

Imagine Monthly Fall, monthly art journaling mini-courses by Peony and Parakeet

Struggles in the Middle of Possibilities

When creating and teaching the mini-courses, I have experienced that art is full of possibilities but still, we fight with the fixations all the time. To me, the word “artist” has so much emotional overload that it feels difficult calling myself one.

But I got a wake-up call recently when someone said to me: “You’re already an artist and you should just embrace that. Doing otherwise is denying who you are.”

Selling My Art in Public!

After pondering that, I decided that I have to stop selling secretly based on occasional requests. I should make my art more accessible. So I set up a shop at Saatchi Art, which is a commercial site for artists. The great thing about Saatchi Art is that you can now also order fine art prints from my pieces, not only buy originals. Some of the paintings are sold already, but you can buy them as prints.

Paivi Eerola's paintings at Saatchi Art

Tell me, which struggles do you have with your creating right now? Are they due to a certain technique, certain conditions or a certain mindset?

5 Lessons Learned When Painting on a Big Canvas

Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

I have now finished my first big canvas painting. It is called “Human Nature.”

1) Smaller Paintings Can Take As Much Time

About two years ago, when I left my day job, I had a dream about creating a big painting. But my job is to teach art, and I don’t have much spare time, so it felt impossible to fit in the schedule. Now when I think about that, I kind of feel that the lack of time was an excuse. I think I was intimidated even by the thought of painting on a big canvas. The usual question raised: “What should I paint?” And then: “How could I maintain my focus for such a long time?” I exaggerated the time that painting would take. I thought it would take months and months. But when I started painting, I realized that I could use broader brushes and be less detailed. If you have ever tried to make small paintings as finished and polished as possible, it takes a long time. Adjusting the details on a big canvas is much easier.

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

2) Use an Easel, at Least in the Beginning and Finishing Phases

My canvas was not huge. It’s 60 cm x 50 cm (appr. 23.5 x 19.5 inches) Still, it was hard to see the whole painting when it was laid down on the table. I painted parts of the canvas so that it was on the table but set the foundation and finished the final details with the help of the easel.

Creating a painting on a big canvas. Painting in progress. By Peony and Parakeet.

My easel also has sentimental value. My father who passed away a long time ago has made it. He was a skilled woodworker. We didn’t talk much, but I think that making the easel was his way to encourage me to paint.

3) Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time

I got the courage to start the painting when I realized that I could combine painting with building an art class. My upcoming workshop Nature in Your Mind (do sign up!) has instructions for the techniques that I used. I treated the canvas as my sketching board for the class.

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

For example, the project for the first week of the class is “Rising Butterfly.” I practiced the techniques on a big canvas and then sought for the easiest and most enjoyable way to create a butterfly on a smaller canvas.

Rising Butterfly, a painting on canvas. By Peony and Parakeet. The project for week 1 of the workshop Nature in Your Mind.

This kind of experimenting transformed the big canvas to my playground. The size was no longer intimidating.

4) Big Brushes are Great for Details

Thin lines, little dots, all look so much better when working with a big brush! It has changed my attitude towards broader brushes. I have started to use them on smaller paintings too.

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

It was surprising that sharp lines can be so easy with a big brush!

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

5) Big Canvas, Big Story

If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that my style is detailed. I know now why I wanted so badly to create a big painting and why I was so intimidated by it. You can express a much greater story on a big canvas. It’s much easier to create images that are like events or scenes on a big canvas. When one detail connects with another, it’s like moving from one chapter of a book to the next one.

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

A detail of Human Nature, by Peony and Parakeet. An acrylic painting on a big canvas.

My story is about human nature: how we are spiritual beings, have imagination and ideas and are conscious about the circle of life. I doubt if I could have expressed all this on a smaller canvas.

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What’s in a Good Composition?

Quick question:
When you create art, how much time do you spend for composition?
I mean: trying to make it work, trying to balance it, trying to make it look more eye-catching?

For me, finishing the composition can take as much as 50% of my creating time! Some years ago, it was easily 75 % … I don’t find adjusting the details particularly relaxing. I take photos, use a mirror, and change the orientation of the piece to see if I have missed something. Sometimes I sleep overnight and make the last adjustments in the morning.

Testing a good composition. By Peony and Parakeet.

But teaching art has had some benefits here. I get to help people to make better compositions and thus, I have become faster. Namely, the two top requests that I get in my classes are: 1) How can I make this look finished? 2) What more could I add here?

So when I created a new class, Planet Color, I wanted to build a step-by-step creative process so that when you add elements, you don’t have to worry about the composition so much. I wanted to find ways that support you so that you can release your mind and fully enjoy working with colors.

What’s in a good composition?

Here’s my conclusion. A good composition has elements that a great party has:
1) concierges who invite the viewer to the painting
2) a star singer who takes the viewer’s attention
3) clear routes and breathing space which make wondering around easy
4) good food and good company which makes the viewer stay in the party

Art journal page by Peony and Parakeet. Elements of a good composition.

I have built all these elements in one 7-step process. It doesn’t mean that this process produces identical paintings. It means that when you enter the finishing phase, you have already done most of the work you should do anyway. But without all the agony and with all the creative enjoyment! That’s why my workshop Planet Color is as much about composing elements as about releasing your mind with colors.

And again, if you have problems in making the final adjustments, I am there to help for all the 14 days.

>> Reserve your spot now!

See you there!