Painting a Series – How I Managed It!

"Living Treasure", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read about her thoughts of painting a series.

I have just finished a series of five flower paintings on canvas. Yesterday, when I was walking back and forth from my studio to the rest of the house, preparing for the photography and the varnishing, I felt both relieved and terrified. I was relieved because nine months of hard work was at the end. I felt terrified because I had run out of excuses for delaying the start of a new series.

Technique Came First, Themes Second

But let’s get back to early spring when I was painting the first of the five paintings. My goal was to master old masters’ painting technique in acrylics so that I could teach it. I had no idea of how many pieces it would require. Before teaching, I needed to understand “why” not just “how.” I also had to develop a logic that makes learning possible, variations that show the possibilities of the technique, and the systematic way of working to make everything as understandable and to the point as possible.

"Strawberry Madonna", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

When I was painting Strawberry Madonna, it soon became clear to me that I was nowhere near to be teaching the technique. I needed to fix my strokes constantly. Even if the fixing doesn’t show in the finished painting, it became clear that I needed more practice. I couldn’t fuss around that way while teaching.

So I bought new canvases and kept on painting. I made experiments, art journal pages, and had several paintings in progress at the same time. I focused on painting what I wanted to include in the class as well: flowers and playing with historical styles. Crafts like crochet, decorative painting, jewelry, fabric, etc were also sources of inspiration. Most of the pieces took tens of hours from me to finish. The quickest is “Four Seasons” that I recorded for the class. With the final touches added after the recording, it took less than ten hours to paint. “Queen of Fantasy” took much longer. You can see me starting it in the free video, but I adjusted the painting many times after that.

"Queen of Fantasy", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Painting a Series – The Most Important Insight

The funny thing about all this is that I wasn’t intentionally painting a series. Working towards the goal of mastering and understanding the old masters’ technique, gave direction to my work. If I had thought about the series more intentionally, I would have probably freaked out! Now when I look back, the most important thing to me was that I expressed the power of flowers in all my paintings but thought about it differently in all the five paintings.

  • For “Living Treasure” I got ideas from gardening.
  • “Strawberry Madonna” connects flowers with fruits and their taste.
  • “Queen of Fantasy” is about flowers representing romance.
  • “Blooming Centuries” tells how flowers have always inspired painters, designers, and crafters.
  • “Four Seasons” shows sisu, a Finnish word for resilience when you work against all the odds and still find the spirit to bloom and prosper.

"Four Seasons", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

So I had a set of generic themes that were repeated in all the paintings, but different interpretations of them. That made them work as a series but so that they don’t look identical at all. Being very intentional about the series and prohibiting new ideas emerge while working can lead to a very boring result and in my case, it would probably make me quit because the lack of excitement and adventure that keeps me going.

I think this insight could also be useful for those who seek for their style. Rather than painting the same thing and get bored by it, find bigger themes and use your creativity to approach them from different angles.

New Era – New Series

During the past couple of months, I have felt fear when thinking where I want to go with my art. I have contemplated that can I share my plans or just keep them hidden because it’s likely that I will fail. For quite some time, I have felt the need to paint abstract art that plays with textures and geometry. I think many of the paintings of this series already have some of that.

I have a funny name for the style of the new series. It is “kinetic-romantic abstract realism.” “Kinetic” means that I want to include movement that is related to machines. “Romantic” means that I want to express through beauty and relationships. “Abstract Realism” refers to the idea of mimicking realistic surface materials for abstract shapes. Very odd, I know, and it terrifies me.

"Blooming Centuries", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Creativity is a Living Treasure – Watch the Video!

Before the new beginning, it’s time to celebrate the finished series. I have made a short video of the five pieces and the thoughts that came to my mind when painting them. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the video!

My Painting on Your Wall?

These paintings are also for sale! I sell them directly, and the prices are:

“Four Seasons” – 300 EUR
“Queen of Fantasy” – 300 EUR
“Blooming Centuries” – 500 EUR
“Strawberry Madonna” – 500 EUR
“Living Treasure” – 900 EUR

Contact me via email paivi@peonyandparakeet.com. I will send you the estimate of the shipping cost and when agreed, the invoice via Paypal.

Three Artist Types and Why You Should Become All of Them!

Blooming Centuries, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s my latest acrylic painting “Blooming Centuries”. With this piece, I show you how stepping into roles of three different types of artists can grow your skills.

Tight Focus – Don’t Believe it!

The conventional way to grow artistic skills is to choose your media, mindset, and style and stick with the choice. To me, this kind of tight focus has never worked. It feels boring and too straight-forward to work in practice. It forgets the fact that creativity comes with limited persistence but with unlimited imagination.

For example, when I have a heavy heart and want to get quickly into the core of it, I don’t want to stick with the technique that is more labor-oriented. On the other hand, when I want to think and adjust, quick and simple is not what makes the most of the contemplation. Sometimes my imagination wants to be playful, other times it wants to be timeless and deep. When the moment and the mood can define the supplies and techniques, I not only enjoy more but also surprisingly, learn more!

3 Moods – 3 Artist Types

In my upcoming workshop, I will expand your toolbox for creating art in various moods, rather than trying to force everything under one media and one way of working. I have defined three types of artists and picked the techniques accordingly.

Three artist types by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

The most interesting column in the table above is “Emotion” because it brings up the benefit of the mood.  When you imagine being a designer, you aim for clarity. You get happiness out of clearing your thoughts and communicating the essence. When you step into the role of an intuitive watercolorist, your core desire is freedom of expression. What appears on paper, is exciting and your adventurous mind makes the most of it. As a Renaissance painter, you are searching for the peace of mind. By creating a layer after another, you gently caress your way away from busy life.

Now you might say: “But Paivi, I am nothing but an intuitive painter. I am all about quickly creating a beautiful mess.” But don’t let your successes take you on the wrong track. Think about your struggles and what you can learn from the other artists. For example, if your mess has become nothing but beautiful it’s often because the small portion of clarity that we all need has been missing. Or if your mess looks too flat, it’s because your work doesn’t follow the concepts of the three-dimensional world. Also, the time that it takes to create tens of pieces quickly could be used to creating one piece that rises to another level.

I believe that growing as an artist is about learning the best of the many approaches. It’s like getting ingredients for the soup and then making a personal recipe to fit the current mood and style.

3 Artist Types – 1 Painting!

With “Blooming Centuries,” I wanted to express how flowers may be fleeting things, but in general, they have a strong position in the history of art and design. Flowers have inspired artists and designers through past eras, and they still inspire us to create no matter what mood we have. This painting is based on playing with different artist types from a designer to a Renaissance painter.

Designer: Some elements of the painting are more related to crafts and design than to the fine art. They are built from geometric shapes and are quite minimalistic.

Blooming Centuries by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Geometric elements that have been created with designer's mindset.

Intuitive artist: There are also elements that have been born freely and intuitively.

Blooming Centuries by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. The intuitive elements of the painting.

Renaissance painter: Some of the elements have a lot of layers and are more 3-dimensional than others.

Blooming Centuries by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Layered elements created with old masters' painting techniques.

Another Example – Combining Intuitive with Art Nouveau

Let’s imagine that you love Art Nouveau. You adore Alphonse Mucha’s work and everything from the beginning of the 20th century. You want your style to include a lot of Art Nouveau but in a refreshing way. So you might think you need to focus on developing your drawing skills only. You draw and draw, and you get closer and closer to Alphonse but the new twist that you want to give to your drawings, “your personal style,” is missing.

But if you start learning from Intuitive Watercolorist and Renaissance Painter, your Art Nouveau designs will take a new turn. By adding more transparent layers, you can express liveliness so that it still looks graceful. By finding ways to manipulate water, you get free-flowing shapes more effortlessly. Your art no longer is a copy of what someone else has created, but it takes a direction of its own. You begin to appreciate all kinds of art because you want to add more spices to your recipe. Your passion for art gets stronger, and the joy you get from it grows bigger. When you struggle, you see a wider range of solutions than before.

Intuitive Nouveau, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

So, every Designer or Illustrator has something to learn from a Renaissance painter or an Intuitive Watercolorist. And the same applies to all artist types.

A detail of an intuitive watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Circles show three different mindsets that have been used for this painting.

Get into the Minds of the Three Artist Types!

In my online workshop Floral Fantasies in Three Styles, we will dive deeper into the three artist types. It will expand your impression of style and how to construct one.  It’s the class you don’t want to miss if you love flowers and want to become an imagination-driven artist! Reserve Your Spot Now!

A detail of Blooming Centuries, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Floral Fantasies in Three Styles: Reserve Your Spot Now!

Altering a Flower Painting – Inspiration from Vatican Museums

Queen of Fantasy by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. A flower painting with acrylics and glazing medium.

About three weeks ago, I quickly painted a small flower painting while sharing my thoughts about painting softly (see this blog post, which also includes a video).

A flower painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

During the past weeks, I have been wondering what to do with the painting.  I thought it could be a little more detailed and tell a bit more glorious story. So this morning, I decided to work more on it. Some artists are always afraid of “over-working” their paintings. But I belong to the group who thinks that the painting is almost never fully finished. There seem always to be more ideas I could add and more adjustments I should do.

1) Painting a Decorative Frame

This time I decided to use a selection of old decorative art as an inspiration source. I picked photos that I took from the visit to Vatican Museums in June. I often work like this: letting images spark ideas that I will add to my work. It’s not so much “copying” but picking concepts or generic ideas. My first inspiration came from these decorative panels.

Decorative floral panels from Vatican Museums

By using a Chinese marker, and a lid of a jar as a template I drew a circle on the center.

Painting a decorative flower painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

A huge porcelain piece and a beautiful ceiling inspired me to paint a frame with lots of swirls.

Beautiful details from Vatican Museums

I just added some burnt umber around the drawn line and then painted the swirls in white. I added several translucent layers to make the shapes look more three-dimensional.

Painting a decorative frame to a flower painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

2) Playing with Colors and Shapes

The next ideas came from this picture. It’s one of the many beautiful ceilings, so full of images and details that it’s almost overwhelming.

A beautiful ceiling from Vatican Museums.

The ceiling inspired me to add more color variation to the painting. I used mostly ultramarine blue, ochre, and cadmium yellow on the center, and quickly some elements with white on the bottom left corner. While waiting for each thin color layer to dry, I pondered what to do with the rest of the painting.

A process picture of a flower painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I almost heard a voice saying: “Stop right here, don’t ruin the painting!”

3) Letting Go – More is More!

While browsing the photos taken from Vatican Museums, I remembered the astonishment that came from the number of visitors there were. It was Friday afternoon, but the area was packed. Each huge corridor was filled by us, tourists walking and staring at the beautiful ceilings. The Sistine Chapel was even more crowded. Frescos, mosaics, statues, paintings and decorative textiles covered the surfaces. Everything was full in every possible way. And now in Finland, I was sitting in my half-empty studio with my half-empty painting.

So I said to myself: “Go for it!” And took some extra boost for my confidence by examining a photo of a wonderful wall textile. If men can be this decorative, why not just continue the painting!

A beautiful wall textile from Vatican Museums

I worked more with the center of the painting, making it grow towards the edges.

A flower painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

A detail of a mosaic floor gave me an idea to combine geometric shapes with curvier lines.

Mosaic floor from Vatican Museums.

Here’s a close-up showing tiny additions on the left:

A close-up photo of a flower painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

4) Bringing up the Expression – Highlighting the Visual Message

Before the final touches, I still had some stiffness in expression. To me, it’s often difficult to fully trust my intuition unless I know what I am expressing. I was almost finished when I realized that my painting is about being a queen of the fantasy, ruling every little detail, making ships change their direction on the sea, and wearing a crown that shines further than anyone could imagine.

Altering a flower painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and parakeet.

Some Close-Up Photos of the Flower Painting

Ships sailing:

A detail of "Queen of Fantasy" by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. A flower painting with acrylics and glazing medium.

The center. This is a very small painting, only 12 by 12 inches total:

A detail of "Queen of Fantasy" by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. A flower painting with acrylics and glazing medium.

Floral Fantasies

Lately, I have been more and more aware of the fact that I want to paint fantasies. To me, the first version of the painting was too bland. I dress modestly, I hate wearing too much jewelry, my home is not full of stuff, and still, I want my art to be full, to go beyond what’s expected and accepted.

Flower painting, two versions. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I am currently preparing a new online workshop about painting flowers … If all goes well, it will take begin in October.

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Paint Gentleness – Watch the video!

Gentle Flower, acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Watch the video of how she made this!

It’s the time for a video blog post! This week, I talk about gentleness and how you can experience that through a painting technique. I show some basic elements from the old masters painting techniques. In the past, artists painted with oil paints. For acrylic paints, the secret is to use glazing medium for thinning the paint. Have fun!

Let me be your art teacher: Subscribe to my weekly emails!

Lessons from Palazzo Pitti – Don’t Apologize for Your Art!

Strawberry Madonna, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Here’s my latest acrylic painting called “Strawberry Madonna.” I started it in February, and it’s my first painting using old masters’ techniques with acrylic paints. It’s much more difficult to use acrylics instead of oil paints, but I managed to find few tips and tricks that helped. But this blog post is not so much about the techniques. I want to write about being unapologetic when creating art. It feels like a never-ending journey to me, and I hope this blog post will resonate with you too.

Palazzo Pitti and Traveling to Florence, Italy

Last week, I traveled to Italy with my husband to see Renessaince art. We flew to Rome, then took a train to Florence. After spending a couple of days in Florence, we got back to Rome, spend a couple of nights there, and then flew back home. We visited so many museums that it was a bit exhausting at times. I took over 700 photos, and there were so many highlights in our journey that I decided not to try to fit it all in this blog post, but focus on the glory of Palazzo Pitti, an art museum located in Florence, and save other experiences for later.

Namely, seeing Palazzo Pitti on the first evening in Florence, reminded me of how needless it is to tone things down and how we can be as glorious as possible when creating art and when using our imagination.

One Chandelier is Never Enough!

When watching the chandeliers of Palazzo Pitti, my first thought was: “Isn’t one enough?”
Then I realized that on my artistic journey, I have often thought like that: “it should be enough.”

  • Creativity: “I should be enough to have one idea for one image.”
  • Time: “It should be enough to have two hours for this piece.”
  • Skills: “It should be enough to just have a little bit of fun with it.”
  • Potential: “It should be enough to stick with what I know now.”
  • Imagination: “It should be enough to replicate the reality.”

Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

But one idea, one short session, one technique, one reality, is never enough if you want to continue the journey. When you have passed the first steps in creating, the room gets bigger. Making art frustrates you. It feels like your chandelier is broken. But instead of continuously changing the chandelier, you need more chandeliers to lighten your way.

A detail of Strawberry Madonna, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

When you begin creating, it’s just fun to change the chandelier: the theme, the technique, the idea. But when you have been creating for a while, it becomes overwhelming. The nature of creativity is never to focus on one small thing at the time. One chandelier is never enough for the curious mind. You need to learn to:

  • combine your many ideas
  • take more sessions for one piece
  • find the blind spots in skills and knowledge
  • and the most important of all: increase your imagination so that it takes you above the everyday life.

When you have many chandeliers, you see it clearer why you create art and where you want to go with it. Don’t apologize for your lacking focus but embrace all aspects of your creativity!

Ask What Your Heart Says!

When I saw “The Horrors of War” by Peter Paul Rubens in Palazzo Pitti, it caused an immediate emotional reaction. I was in tears before I was able to analyze the painting. Even if the theme was very dramatic, violent even, the movement and the wind was so beautifully painted. To me, it expressed the beauty of change, the theme that has always been close to my heart.

Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

When I was a teenager, I often drew scenes or portraits where the wind was present. It just looked fun and dynamic. But the more I have been creating, the more I have realized that I love to express movement, change, and transformation in one way or another, and the wind is often a symbol of that in my work. Thinking about big changes is one of those chandeliers that always lightens my inspiration.

A detail of Strawberry Madonna, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

I believe in digging deeper behind the first reactions. If art makes you emotional, there’s something important that’s behind it. It’s often contradictory, something so different that you have a hard time in believing it.

It’s kind of funny how much time I spend at home, doing the daily routines, and how my mind is in grand transformations and explorations. But to find what’s your true passion, the mundane life and your everyday wishes don’t give answers to that. You need to connect with your imagination.

Don’t apologize for your circumstances but use your imagination to experience the freedom! 

Decorating is Not an Enemy for Expression!

One thing that I found very delightful in Palazzo Pitti was how the number of decorative designs. I have always felt drawn to decorative painting style and even called myself as a “decorative artist.” It was my way of saying that I don’t feel like being very expressive. But nowadays I think that it’s possible to combine both decorative and expressive together, and there’s no need to limit the inspiration. Namely, who couldn’t be inspired by this ceiling?

Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

And look at the door and the tabletop! The most amazing thing is that the table top is made from stoneware!

Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

We may not be the similar masters as those decorative artists, but the experience in crafts can still be a treasure chest of ideas. For example, in my Strawberry Madonna, I added a crocheted lace on her dress and truly enjoyed painting it!

A detail of Strawberry Madonna, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Don’t apologize for your background in crafts (or in anything) but see that as a part of your artistic journey!

About Confidence and Belonging

When walking in the aisles of Palazzo Pitti, I felt sweaty and modestly dressed. The Medici family would not have invited me to their party, for sure. I thought about my art too and how modest it felt after seeing the big masterpieces.

A Finnish artist Paivi Eerola at Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

But it’s not only my art but I also often struggle when writing these blog posts. I don’t want to just write about my thoughts. I want to write so that you would continue creating and evolving with me. I want to offer classes that make you draw the connecting lines between your brain and your heart.

So that the way you speak about your art, would include more joy and confidence.

A detail of Strawberry Madonna, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

So that the way you see art, would be filled with happy surprises and inspiration.

A detail of Strawberry Madonna, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

So that the way you explore between the many styles, would make you see higher to your passion.

Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

So that the ideas that you get, would get full wings because you value them.

A detail of Strawberry Madonna, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Here’s what we can learn from the treasures of Palazzo Pitti:

There’s no reason to be apologetic when creating and sharing your art. There’s no reason to underestimate the impact that art can have on your life and others as well.

Strawberry Madonna, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet - with a ceiling from Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

Art is Timeless but Our Time to Create It is Limited

The final image is a view from Palazzo Pitti. It is a reminder of how art can stand time but how our time to create is limited.

A view from Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

If your heart wants to create in a new way, don’t postpone it. If you are struggling, don’t delay solving the problem. I hope I will see you in my upcoming coaching program The Exploring Artist, where your art and your artistic identity is in focus. It’s about finding ways and confidence to create unapologetic art as well as building belongingness with the like-minded people.  >> Sign up here!

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Have You Ever Felt Like an Outsider?

Gypsy Madonna, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, combining two Renaissance paintings into one

I have finished a new oil painting called “Gypsy Madonna.” I painted it at Emmi Mustonen‘s class during this spring while learning more about old masters’ painting techniques. It took about 42 hours from start to finish and about four months in calendar time. Every thin layer of paint had to dry before adding a new one. I show you some phase photos, but I focus on the deepest thing that I learned from this painting: feeling like an outsider and what to think about it.

The Basics of the Painting Process

My Gypsy Madonna combines two Renaissance paintings: Boccaccio Boccaccino‘s Gypsy Girl and Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine.

By Boccaccio Boccaccino and Leonardo da Vinci

First I was just on a mission to get better with the painting technique.

Making of a Gypsy Madonna using old masters painting techniques, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Then I wanted to play with the setting and discovered several stories that could be told through that (some of them are in this blog post).

Making of a Gypsy Madonna using old masters painting techniques, underpainting, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Experiences of Being an Outsider

One day during the painting process, I remembered a childhood memory of a real gypsy girl. The local library had a weekly hour for children to listen to fairy tales and to play together. We were playing a game where two of us danced in the middle while others were watching. There were a lot of children, all waiting for to be chosen. Someone picked me, and we danced in the center of the ring while others were cheering.

Then it was my turn, and my friend Anne almost stepped up. But I had seen a sad gypsy girl sitting there, head drooping. She knew that nobody would pick her up. It was one of those games that would only depress her. It broke my little girl’s heart to see her sadness. I just had to do it, leave Anne sitting and ask the girl to dance with me. I never forget that smile when we were swirling around. It may have been the best thing that I have done in my life so far.

Making of a Gypsy Madonna using old masters painting techniques, finishing, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

When I continued painting, it was suddenly me in the picture. I became the gypsy girl who gently scratches her pet. The outsider who never got children because she was much more enthusiastic about her love for animals. The outsider who was the only girl in most of the classes when studying technology. The outsider who dreamt about art while trying to tackle the more practical career. There are so many moments when I have felt like a black Madonna, not quite fitting in.

A detail of a Gypsy Madonna, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, combining two Renaissance paintings into one

Everybody Is an Outsider

To me, the finished image symbolizes the beauty of choosing differently, being different. Even if I know that it’s perfectly ok to be different, the painting helps me to connect with the feeling on a deeper level. It makes me empathize with other people as well. Everybody is an outsider despite their personal story. We all belong to a minority in some ways. We are all Gypsy Madonnas in one way or another.

A detail of Gypsy Madonna, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, combining two Renaissance paintings into one

Have You Ever Felt That Nobody Understands Your Art?

To be honest, I feel shy about showing this painting. It’s not what I usually create, and I have shared some very personal stories. It has crossed my mind for several times how you, as a reader of this blog, might feel confused: “Is this what Paivi is creating nowadays? Is she going back to the Renaissance age?” I have also feared that the dark colors of the painting will make you want to stop reading. But on the other hand, I don’t want to stop exploring. If you don’t explore, you are unable to integrate new things into your creative work. Pablo Picasso has said: “To copy others is necessary, but to copy oneself is pathetic.” So no wonder if there are times when nobody understands what you are creating!

It’s also difficult to grow artistic identity when a part of that experience is feeling like an outsider. When you start creating art, you want to find your personal way to do it, but those discoveries can also make you feel lonely sometimes. This contradictory has caused me to challenge myself. I want to be better at not only understanding my personal feelings but also supporting other artists in their explorations. In the end, we are all on the same journey. We are standing together on the border of art and the rest of the world, expressing the same view through different eyes.

Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, with Gypsy Madonna, one of her oil paintings. Read her blog post about feeling like an outsider as an artist and how to get through it!

Stay tuned for my new class for building belongingness, making art that matters, and strengthening your artistic identity! The registration will open in May!

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?

What Any Artist Can Learn from Old Masters

Draming Salome, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. A copy of a detail from Loretto da Brescia's old painting "Portrait of a Lady as Salome".

If you have followed me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve already seen that I have had a special project in November. I have been painting a replica of an old painting and learning techniques that artists used already hundreds of years ago. These are called old master painting techniques. Famous old masters like Leonardo da Vinci and Johannes Vermeer used them when creating their masterpieces. My painting is a copy of detail from Moretto da Brescia‘s painting “Portrait of a Lady as Salome.” I call mine “Dreaming Salome” because I gave her a more dreamy look and different meaning. The portrait was painted in the course organized by The National Museum of Finland. The teacher of the course was Emmi Mustonen.

5 Tips You Can Learn from Old Masters

After painting my first oil painting, and the first one that uses these techniques, I feel that there is still a lot to learn. So I will be painting another one with these techniques during the spring. However, I have already found out a lot of things that can be used with any supplies, and I wanted to write a blog post about what you can take from my experience. These tips can be applied to any themes, even to abstract art. At the end of this post, there’s also a short video (watch it on YouTube) that shows more images from the process.

1) Don’t Get Discouraged in The Beginning!

A sketch and the finished painting using old masters techniques. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

My process of making the painting started with a charcoal sketch. While sketching, I felt I was just making a big mess. I pressed too hard, and the drawing wasn’t detailed enough. The image shows the sketch once it was cleaned with an eraser – just before the first layer of paint. If you compare it with the finished painting, there’s a huge difference between the two. The expression of the lady looked sad in the drawing, but she has a half-smile in the finished version. I understood that the facial features and characteristics are so subtle that it takes a long time to get them right.

When sketching, I hadn’t the persistence to finish her hair and shawl but still, I was able to make them quite detailed during the painting process. If I had made the original sketch without attending the course, I would have called it a failure and lost my hope of achieving something that would look like an old painting.

I often talk about raw ideas (see this blog post) and that applies to realistic art too. The first lines are just the beginning for understanding what the final work will be. When I was sketching, I only had a rough idea about how my lady should differ from the original version. But once I continued the painting process, my vision got clearer. So, stay curious about the insights that you will get during creating, and don’t get discouraged in the beginning!

2) Before Diving Deeper, Limit Your Supplies!

A detail of an underpainting when painting with old masters techniques. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

In my painting, the first layers were made with just two colors: burnt umber and zinc white. These first layers form a so-called underpainting that shows where the shadows and lighted areas are. It enforces the painter to look for contrasts, and on the other hand, it enables working with details without making color choices. The philosophy of underpainting can be applied to any media and style when it’s seen as a phase where you limit your supplies and add more content to the piece. When you go through every area in your work and make sure that it connects well with the next one, you will control the big picture through details. I find this much more enjoyable than trying to see everything at one glance all the time.

3) Slow Down to Maintain a Gentle Focus!

I was surprised by the positive feelings I went through while painting with old masters techniques. I thought that there would be a lot of demanding voices in my head, but the process surprised me. Even if I was stretched out from my comfort zone, I realized that there could be “a gentle focus,” where you put all your energy into work so that it improves your self-image too. I believe that this kind of new self-acceptance was based on two things.

First, I knew that it would take a long time to finish the painting. Six sessions in the classroom weren’t enough. I also had to do homework. Each of the layers had to dry before adding a new one, and drying took several daysThis slow pace felt old fashioned but good too. It made me think how much gentler we would be in general if weren’t so busy all the time. I also noticed how I became less worried about mistakes. When the progress is slow, mistakes start small, and it’s easier to correct them.

Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet learning from the old masters.

The second thing that helped me was that we were using a finger to remove the brush strokes. When I gently caressed the canvas with paint, it affected my whole thinking. It felt like the beauty created and seen by Moretto da Brescia caressed my brain.

4) Don’t Try to Make Your Middle Look Like the End

Before attending the course, I made one decision: I would do my best to follow the teacher’s advice. Because I was not familiar with the techniques, I didn’t know beforehand how the painting should look after each layer. When I teach art, I often see people worry over details that will look gorgeous once they just move on to the next steps. It’s human to compare your middle to the desired end. But if you can set your criteria according to each phase, it will lead to the better quality.

Phase photos of an oil painting using old master painting techniques. By Päivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

So, when laying the colors one by one, I tried to quench my worries about how yellow the dress looked or how red the fur was. When using old masters techniques, colors are not mixed on a palette. The pigments from the tubes are laid in thin layers as they are. So if you want green, you will start with yellow, let it dry for few days and then move on with blue. The transparent layers with soft edges result in a mixed color and a realistic look.

When painting these thin layers of color, I couldn’t help thinking that the skin was too uneven. But my teacher advised me to continue creating color differences to get the painting ready for “a white wash.” A thin layer of zinc white made the skin more even, and all the previous layers made sense. Try this approach of seeing layers and elements as building blocks to new ones!

5) Sharpen The Soft, Not Vice Versa!

I was often reminded to make every area and detail softer. Even most of the tiny spots were softened with a finger to make them more translucent and blurry without sharp edges. As a result of that, the painting looked blurry and untidy. But when finishing, sparingly added sharp lines and dots did the trick. It felt magical how suddenly the whole painting looked accurate. I learned that it’s very easy to sharpen the softness. Adding few strokes finished the fur. Adding a tiny sharp dot finished the eye. The nose didn’t need sharpening at all because I wanted to bring the eye to the mouth where I added a small white spot.

A detail of a painting made using old masters painting techniques. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

When you add softness, you will also make your work look more dimensional. Leonardo da Vinci has said:
“The beginnings and ends of shadow lie between the light and darkness and may be infinitely diminished and infinitely increased. Shadow is the means by which bodies display their form. The forms of bodies could not be understood in detail but for shadow.”

After painting my “Dreaming Salome,” I have become fascinated by watching the edges of items and how soft they are. I know that today’s world is sharp. We aim for sharp photos, clean graphic look and turn on the fluorescent lighting. The things we use are industrially made and as perfect as they have been designed on a computer. But try visiting Leonardo’s softer world! Light a candle and observe the lights and shadows. Let everything soft inspire you when you are creating art and reflect that softness towards yourself too!

Bonus: Make it Meaningful – Watch the Video!

My “Dreaming Salome” is now framed and she has a special place in our library room. I was so happy to be able to finish her before Christmas.

Dreaming Salome, an oil painting using old master painting techniques, finished and framed. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

This painting is my first exercise when learning from old masters, but it also has other symbolic meaning. I have made a short video showing the images from the class and how she was painted layer by layer. In the same time, I also explain what Dreaming Salome symbolizes to me.

Learn a New Approach – Sign up for inspirational Drawing 2.0!

If you have followed my blog before, you know that painting a replica of an old painting is not what I usually do. But if we limit ourselves to learning only one style, one approach, one tool, it prevent’s our artistic growth and the full use of our imagination.

Learn drawing from your inspiration and imagination!
>>Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!
The class has begun in January 1st but you will receive the first set of materials right after signing up.

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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How to Know when Your Artwork is Finished?

Healing Power, a finished artwork by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

This is my latest painting called “Healing Power”. Painting this piece was so much fun so I decided to work with acrylics on a canvas. I’ll show you the main phases on creating this painting while giving my view on how to know when the artwork is finished.

Finished Artwork? – How to Analyze?

I have heard many advice on how to decide when your artwork is finished. The worst is: “When you feel like it is”. Often you are just tired, fed up and that’s not a good point to finish. Take a break instead, sleep over night and then continue!

Then there are more technical approaches like this one including an infographics or based on historical studies and interviewing artists like this one. But as my students usually want to bring more content and self-expression to their art I have composed a simple and short check list focusing on those only. And instead of diagrams, I show how I deal with the issue in practice.

1. Do You Have an Opinion?

Every time I begin creating, I have pretty conventional ideas. Like here, I thought that I would make a flower painting and express “tranquility”. But to truly express tranquility, I show also include anxiety. I should have an opinion, a personal view on the difference between tranquility and anxiety.

Now you say: “But this is just flowers and nothing deeper”. I don’t think so. If you want to express yourself, you should express an opinion of some kind. This doesn’t mean you have to begin with an opinion. It’s more like vice versa: stay open to what is going to appear! But if you don’t have any more thoughts than “flowers”, “tranquility”, “pink”, you are not finished yet.

Painting on canvas with acrylics

So while thinking about opinions, I got anxious and added some of it: brownish red!

adding contrast with dark paint, acrylic painting

Another way of asking this: “Does the painting have both light and darkness?”

2. Do You Have a Focus?

When I continued the painting, it felt good to add rectangular shapes on it. Then some more colors, then some directional brush strokes. But directional or not, I really didn’t have a clue where I was going. Maybe this could be a flower bunch and the white part on the bottom could be a pot. If so, I should make them more clear.

acrylic painting in prgress, no clear focal point

Another way of asking this: “Is it easy to know where to look at first?”

3. Have You Told a Story?

I continued the painting by turning the it upside down as it seemed to be even easier to build a pot with flowers that way. When I was at step 1 (see the image below), the painting was a bit too busy so I added dark thin layers to make it easier to look at (step 2). But then, what does this painting mean? Does it really connect with my thoughts? No, not really!

Steps for finishing an artwork, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

After a break, I turned the painting upside down (3). I saw a woman there, wearing a hat and taking care of the flowers. Maybe that could be a start for a story? I continued painting, trying to make the woman clearer.

Then it hit me: she was some kind of an angel, holding some kind of a magic ball. And finally: this is about healing, a subject I have been thinking a lot lately. My older dog Cosmo has had stomache problems and I have worried about him. I have also thought about many of my students, either in the middle of the sickness or having someone close to worry about. If only I could have the magic power to make everything what’s wrong, back right!

Another way of asking this: Does every element on your artwork contribute or lead to what’s most important?

Healing Power, a finished artwork by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

This finished artwork is for you who would like to have that magic ball of healing power.

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