Intuitive Painting with a Reference Image

Intuitive painting with a reference image – can it be possible? Let me show you how!

Madama Butterfly, an intuitive painting from the sketchbook of Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Here’s a painting from my sketchbook. It’s called “Madama Butterfly.” My reference image was this Renaissance painting called “Flora” by Tiziano Vecellio, 1515-1520. I took the photo last summer when visiting Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

Flora by Tiziano Vecellio. Uffizi gallery. Photo by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

There are very little similarities in these two pieces. The pose is fairly similar, the composition and the facial features have some similarities, but that’s it. The style, the theme, and the technique are all different.

Tiziano Vecellio's painting Flora, and a painting from Paivi Eerola's sketchbook. See how she used the reference for the painting!

The Supplies And the Setting

I like to do fairly quick paintings on my big A3-sized sketchbook. For this sketchbook, I often use Derwent Artbars, a water brush, and Faber-Castell Gelatos because they are easy to layer and I am more relaxed than when working with tube paints. I use acrylic or oil paints for canvas paintings, and working with them is more serious. This time I wanted to demonstrate a concept or a method rather than creating a 30-hour painting.

Derwent Artbars, Faber-Castell Gelatos, and a waterbrush ready for making a sketchbook page.

1) From Intentional to Intuitive Painting

The first idea was to pick the pose and the composition loosely from the reference image and then add geometric shapes to fill the space.

First steps of an intuitive painting that also uses a reference image. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

After sketching the foundation of the figure, the triangles, rectangles, and circles were fun to paint without looking at the reference at all. I painted the face roughly, and then I used the reference image as a guide. But because at this early stage, I didn’t know what I want to express and what kind of person the figure could be, I didn’t bother to spend time perfecting the facial features. At this point, my painting resembles cubistic pieces from the early 20th century.

2) Changing the Style

When creating art for the sketchbook, I like my style to be a bit more illustrational than when I make bigger paintings. Even if I love cubism, I wanted my piece to be a bit more current.

Making an intuitive painting by using a reference image to some parts. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Nowadays, illustrations often use geometric shapes but rather than triangles or rectangles, the shapes are often round, and scallop edges seem to be a bit hit. So I started changing the painting by altering the shapes. This routine work gave me plenty of time to connect with my inner world and work intuitively from one association to another. I tend to be both nostalgic and romantic, so I thought how portrait painters often spend time with the clothing even if they are just a shell. Why not use it as a canvas for the memories, the ideas, and the achievements of the person?

Changing an artistic style by changing angular shapes to round shapes. Example by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

3) From Intuitive to Intentional

After rounding hundreds of triangles and rectangles, I realized that I was painting Madama Butterfly, the opera that I just saw last Saturday! I finished the face after this realization and adjusted other elements so that they fit with the theme.

Madama Butterfly, an intuitive painting from the sketchbook of Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

More Intuitive Inspiration from Opera

This is not the first time I have been intuitively inspired by opera!

>> Tosca

"Tosca" by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Tosca, 2015

>> The Phantom of the Opera

"The Phantom of the Opera" by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

The Phantom of the Opera, 2016

>> La Traviata

"I Am Listening", a hand-drawn art journal page by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

I Am Listening, 2015

>> The Marriage of Figaro

Opera, a mixed media collage by Peony and Parakeet.

Opera, 2014

And there’s also a video about
>> Kaija Saariaho’s Emilie

More About Simple Shapes

>> What to create from simple shapes – 6 ideas

Self-study classes:
>> Planet Color – release your mind by focusing on color!
>> Modern Mid-Century – put a modern twist to simple shapes!

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Passion for Color? – Try This Method!

Passion for Color, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her step-by-step method for creating mixed media art by focusing on one color!

Create a color-focused art journal page! You can choose as many supplies as you want but just one color!

Step 1 – Pick Your Color!

What color speaks to you today? Red, blue, yellow, green, brown, black … Pick any that you feel drawn to! Collect the art supplies that you have in that color!

In most mornings, after taking the dogs out, I go to my studio and start creating sketches, or art journal pages, or continue paintings in progress. I often make a hot beverage called Sunny Grapefruit. I have bought it from a tea shop, but it doesn’t contain any tea, just fruits, and lemongrass. I sit down in an Ikea chair found at a flea market. I have painted it and put a sheep fleece on it, so it’s warm and cozy. All this warmth made me think about red.

Art supplies for a color-inspired mixed media piece. See the step-by-step method for creating an art journal page that focuses on color!

I chose the supplies so that they were all various tones of red ranging from orange to pink.

Step 2 – Source of Energy

Your color is the source of energy. Pick any coloring supply and make a simple circle somewhere on the page! However, don’t begin in the middle! Your work will look more expressive if you don’t make it symmetric.

Starting the morning by creating art. See the method for using one color for one mixed media piece!

I colored a soft circle with a couple of Faber-Castell Gelato Sticks.

Step 3 – Radiating Power

Add more color to the circle with different supplies! Imagine that your passion radiates strength. Use your imagination to color shapes and lines that are connected to the circle. Again, keep the design asymmetric.

Growing energy. See how to finish this mixed media piece!

I used colored pencils and thought about the sun and the fire. You can use your imagination based on the ideas that the color evokes. For example, if your color is blue, you can think about waves and the energy and the movement that they contain. Don’t overthink; it’s just a start! Usually, we get conventional ideas in the beginning but then become more inventive as the work progresses.

Step 4 – Explosion and Spin-Off

Change the supplies again, and imagine an explosion of energy. Let your circle grow but also become less solid. Create a spin-off that has a life of its own.

Using Derwent Artbars for mixed media art.

I used Derwent Artbars and water. I could have used watercolors instead, but nowadays, I often find it quicker to grab some Artbars and use a water brush when I am creating a mixed media piece.

Explosion of color. See step-by-step instructions on how to finish this art journal page!

Step 5 – Look Around!

So far you have focused on one area of the page. Now imagine, that the explosion reveals some of the surroundings. Add some pale elements but don’t cover the whole page.

Using Faber-Castell Gelatos for mixed media art. See how you can combine them with other art supplies!

I just made some soft splotches with Faber-Castell Gelatos. Notice how my explosion travels diagonally across the page and reveals areas that are also diagonal but in the reverse direction. Diagonals make the image look dynamic.

Step 6 – Birth

Color clearly-defined shapes that connect the energy source and the spin-off. Imagine that something concrete is born out of the explosion and moves forward. 

Abstract art journal page with mixed media supplies. See step-by-step instructions on how to finish this page!

I colored geometric shapes with Fabel Castell PITT Artist Pens. To highlight the movement, I make the shapes cross over each other. I also add bigger shapes that are shown only partly so that it looks like they are flying away.

Step 7 – Mountains

Color a big area of the page so that it’s like mountains have grown to your page. Again, keep one part of the page blank. Add some color to the other side of the blank area too so that the blank area is like a gulley between the mountains. 

Painting a color-oriented art journal page. See the step-by-step directions on how to make and finish this mixed media art journal page!

If you have acrylic paints, now it’s a good time to use those. Painting is quicker than coloring with pens, and you can also create layers easily.

Using acrylic paints for mixed media art. See step-by-step instructions for creating a color-inspired art journal page!

I use gel medium to make the acrylic paint more fluid and translucent. I also use two brushes so that there’s more variation in the brush strokes.

Step 8 – Jump!

Imagine being up in the mountains, looking down to the gulley. When you jump, you begin to see that the blank area also contains wonders. The fall is not so high than what you first expected. Softly color some vague shapes in the blank area.

A detail of a mixed media art journal page. See step by step instructions on how to focus on one color and create mixed media art!

I used Derwent Artbars and water.

Step 9 – Test and Adjust!

When creating abstract art, I find it practical to test it based on how well it fits with other patterns, textures, and shapes. I placed my sketchbook near the fireplace where we have a place to watch the fire. To me, it looks like my page doesn’t have enough contrast.

Matching the sketch with the interiors. See how this mixed media piece got changed after the analysis!

So I add some alizarin red which is very dark and some lighter orange to finish the mountain area.

Creating mixed media art. See a method that focuses on one color!

Now the contrast looks better.

Matching art with the interiors. See how this mixed media sketch was made!

Learning to Create – Using a Model, “How To,” or a Method?

There are many ways to learn:
a) Watching someone create and then following it accurately. This way you will create something that you wouldn’t have thought of figuring out yourself. The downside is that your expression and imagination has very little space to come through. You are learning technical skills mostly. Sometimes it can happen that you don’t know why you do what you do.
b) Learning how to use certain supplies in a certain manner. This makes you learn the characteristics of a certain art supply and the techniques that you can use. You can then use the techniques to produce your unique art. The downside is that if you don’t connect with your imagination, you lose the joy of creating. You know why you do what you do but don’t know where else you could use it.
c) Following a method that connects you with your imagination. This gives you preliminary ideas that you can then expand to fit your thoughts and to grow your style. The downside is that if you have no idea how to use the supplies, it will take up your energy.

My Methods

Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet with her art journals

As a teacher and a mentor, I focus on the methods that grow the expression and imagination. Even if I value knowledge and techniques, my strength is in innovating new methods that help you to connect with your creativity. I have heard many say that when they analyze someone’s art, it’s easiest to focus on the technical part. I agree. There are more rights and wrongs to catch. But after creating in a very disciplined manner for the last year, I have come to this conclusion both as an artist and as a mentor: I want to grow my skills to all directions, but if I had to pick one, it would be imagination.

Boost Your Visual Imagination!

Without imagination, we just go around the same circle. We don’t feel free, and we end up believing that there’s one more technical trick around the corner that will change the game. But it’s the imagination that will do that. That’s why I don’t select students based on their supplies, or the technique or style they use. Together, we share our love for making the invisible visible and learning to use the techniques to serve that.

Boost your imagination by joining my community Bloom and Fly! We’ll start with a method for your creative goals, then pick easy ideas from Rococo, explore abstracts together, etc. I will help you to express yourself so that it’s adventurous and imaginative!  >> Sign up here!

Mixed Media Sketchbook as a Tool for Self-Discovery

This week, I am talking about using a mixed media sketchbook or an art journal in a new way.

Mixed Media Sketchbook – Watch the video!

Bloom and Fly! – Set Your Goals and Start Creating!

My community Bloom and Fly is for all who want to start and keep on creating. You can get help and encouragement for any art project, and we also have monthly themes.

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

January’s theme is “Mixed Media Sketchbook as a Tool for Setting Your Goals.” You will get ideas on how to use a sketchbook or an art journal for creative goals. Rather than feeling restricted, you will feel energized by the possibilities behind the goals. An art journal can be a playbook that keeps you moving forward!

Make sure that 2018 is your year of art – Join Bloom and Fly!

How to Make Your Art More Captivating

Captivating Connection by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her five tips for making your art more captivating!

Captivating is a big word, but I like to explore it from many angles. In this blog post, I give you six tips with examples. The first two are more related to the process of creating art than to the result. I believe that if the process itself doesn’t captivate, it’s less likely that the final piece will! The last four tips are about finishing your art so that it will be compelling.

1) Captivating Supplies – Choose What Gets You Going!

Using too many art supplies can cause overwhelm and unnecessary distraction. I choose the supplies based on how many hours I want to work on the project.

  • Under an hour: Black drawing pen and colored pencils. They are quick to grab and work on any paper.
  • Few hours: Water-soluble media like watercolors or inks. They cover big areas quickly, but they also allow detailed work, especially when combined with colored pencils.
  • Tens of hours: Acrylic or oil paints. The result lasts time and can include tens of layers.

The projects shown in this blog post have taken 2-4 hours. These are all created with water-soluble media but this time, not with watercolors or inks. Namely, while organizing my supplies, I found Faber-Castell Gelatos and Derwent Artbars from my stash. I bought them many years ago when I was obsessed with having all the mixed media artist’s stuff. I purchased this and that, tried everything for few times, and then got disappointed because they didn’t improve my art. My solution back then was to reduce the number of art supplies and learn more about the basics of visual communication. It worked much better than hoping for the miracle with the new supplies!

But now when I opened the boxes, I was looking at Fabel-Castell Gelatos and Derwent Artbars with the new perspective. They could be quick and handy for sketchbooks and art journals. Because both of them are water-soluble, they could watercolors and inks once in a while.

Starting an art journal page by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See more tips on how to create intuitively!

I have now used Derwent Artbars and Faber-Castell Gelatos for my big sketchbook. I use Artbars for detailed brushwork and Gelatos for big and blurry areas.It has been quick and fun. The downside is that the result is quite waxy and I don’t think it will endure time very well. Furthermore, I can’t cover the opposite page because the staining would ruin it. However, the old and neglected supplies have managed to inspire me, and I think it shows in my recent work as well. The image above shows how I started the piece that you can find at the beginning of this blog post.

2) Captivating Looseness – Start without Intention!

The second captivating thing is related to the process of creating as well. I like to start most of my pieces, whether they are small sketches, bigger art journal pages, or big paintings intuitively without accurate planning. Sometimes I have an image, a word or a style in mind. It inspires me to start, but as soon as I have sat down and made the first strokes, I try to let go of it and just enjoy creating freely from the imagination. In this short video, you see me working with Derwent Artbars and Faber-Castell Gelatos.

More videos: I have explained my adventurous creative process shortly in a mini-course called Loosed Up! It’s free for the subscribers of my weekly emails. If you haven’t a subscriber yet, subscribe here!

3) Captivating Story – Make Fantasy Portraits!

Artists often talk about communicating a story through art. Usually, referring to the story doesn’t mean so much what’s in the image, but how the image can deliver a handle to the viewer’s personal stories. One of the easiest ways to embark stories is to make a portrait that is relatable.

Even if you have started freely and intuitively, you can turn almost any blotch to a face, especially a side profile, by adding a color area that defines it. In my piece, I realized that with black, I could bring up two persons. I was intrigued by showing the connection between the two fantasy figures. To me, they express the two sides of me, when I am creating. One side is more feminine, full of emotion and ideas, and the other more masculine, trying to figure out how to put the ideas into subsequent steps. At best, these two sides work together and enter the same flow.

Making of Captivating Connection by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See her tips on creating captivating art!

In the enlargement, you can see that the dark areas also include subtle details so that they are not monotone and so that they communicate the connection. The colors also play a role here. Blue expresses the connection that the two share together.

A detail of Captivating Connection by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips on how to make your art more captivating!

The story that you see in this piece doesn’t have to be the same than what I have told. For you, the image can bring a romantic moment to mind. Or it can take you to a fantasy movie. In the same way, the art that you make can have several meanings and when creating, focusing on the general message makes it more captivating. In this case, the message is the shared connection, and I have tried to adjust the details so that they all support this message.

4) Captivating Richness – Build a System!

Usually, the longer we work with one piece, the more valuable it will become. Not only that we get more attached to it ourselves, or that it has a higher monetary value, but also that time brings the richness of the details. This is especially the case if you don’t try to get the piece finished in one sitting but let it captivate your mind between the sessions.

Starting an art journal page by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See how this page grew to a bigger picture!

Many artists are afraid of “overworking,” but to my experience, “underworking” is more common. Also, only creating tiny pieces can be one form of underworking. See how a small art journal page, a modest scene, grew to a captivating system or a map when I continued the page!

Art journal page by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips on making your art more captivating!

When working with a detailed big picture, remember to leave some breathing space between crowded areas. Connected lines between the clusters make sure that your system is like a running machine with all the necessary pieces.

Creating a detailed art journal page. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips on making captivating art!

5) Captivating Clarity – Highlight a Direction!

Sometimes clarity can be more captivating than an overwhelming amount of details. My example is an orange that I drew one morning after a fruity breakfast.

I apologize for the low quality of the first image below. There you can see a shadow of me shooting the photo with my mobile phone. But actually, it brings up a good point about the clarity: when you are in doubt what to add, take a photo. It helps you to see your work with different eyes. You can zoom out to test if your image looks both clear and interesting when it’s small. You can also analyze, how your eye wanders around the work and where do you want to lead it. If your art looks like one big mess, adding a direction also brings more clarity.

An illustration in progress by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See how she made this more captivating!

With the orange, I wanted to express the forward-thinking attitude that I usually have in the early mornings. I wanted to add more importance to the single juicy drop that leaves the orange with the bouncing energy. The idea behind the illustration was not just express a fruit that explodes but how a source of energy can keep you moving forward. It’s similar to the idea of my community Bloom and Fly – to keep you inspired to create and remove creative blocks that prevent you from that!

Illustration by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Morning energy!

6) Captivating Contrast – Use Two Different Styles!

The last tip is about contrast. However, this time I don’t bring up the contrast in color, value, or size, but in style! Now you might say: “Paivi, I have been searching for a personal visual voice for so long. Are you talking about mixing different styles to one piece?” I certainly am! Don’t be a one-trick pony but go to see all kinds of art and practice all sorts of styles! Your technical skills will grow, and you will get ground-breaking ideas. Showing the versatility can also make your art more captivating. See how I combined abstract with realism how it makes the images more captivating and thought-provoking.

Combining abstract with realism by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. This is the abstract element, see how she adds a realistic element to the same picture!

With a realistic pansy, I was able to communicate the contradiction that we all get when we envy someone: “When a jewel wants to feel free and be a pansy … And when the pansy secretly wishes to live forever and be the jewel.”

Envy by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips on making your art more captivating!
By adding the realistic eye, I was able to express the difference between two different worlds – the inner and the outer world. Paul Klee has said it so brilliantly: One eye sees, the other feels.”

My Mind's Eye by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips on how to make your art more captivating!

Set Your Goals and Start Creating!

My community Bloom and Fly is for all who want to start and keep on creating. You can get help and encouragement for any art project, and we also have monthly themes.

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

January’s theme is “Mixed Media Sketchbook as a Tool for Setting Your Goals.” You will get ideas on how to use a sketchbook or an art journal for creative goals. Rather than feeling restricted, you will feel energized by the possibilities behind the goals. An art journal can be a playbook that keeps you moving forward!

With January’s theme, you will also get easy jumpstarts for stepping into the world of art journaling without feeling the pressure to buy more supplies. The money spent on staying inspired and connected with like-minded artists can be more useful than adding extra supplies to your stash.

Make sure that 2018 is your year of art – Join Bloom and Fly!