Helene Schjerfbeck – Step-by-Step Formula for Her Style

Portraits in the style of Helene Scherfbeck, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her step-by-step instructions!

In this blog post, I will show you how to create a stylish portrait and learn from a Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946).

The Famous Helene Schjerfbeck

Helene Scherfbeck had an impressionistic and fairly detailed style. But during the years, she became a true expressionist, a master of expressing the most essential through simplifying. She painted a lot of portraits, and many of them have become very valuable. The Red Haired Girl II was sold for 1.5 million euros at Sotheby’s last year. One of my aunts admired Helene Schjerfbeck, and many years ago, she bought me a book about her paintings. The book is called “Helene Scherfbeck – Elämä ja taide” (Life and Art), and it’s written by Lena Holger. To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the style and didn’t even browse the book for years. But the more I have learned about art, the more enthusiastic I have become to study various styles. As I love to figure out a formula behind a style, it started to feel tempting to solve Helene’s secrets too.

Helene Scherfbeck - Elämä ja taide, a book about a famous Finnish artist, written by Lena Holger, published by Otava.

Independent Visions – Helene Schjerfbeck in New York!

There’s also another reason why I am writing this. Currently, there’s a rare opportunity to see Finnish female masters in New York, USA.   The Ateneum Art Museum, which is part of the Finnish National Gallery, displays an excellent exhibition at Scandinavia House from 29 April to 3 October 2017. The exhibition presents four early 20th-century Finnish artists from the Ateneum collection: Helene Schjerfbeck, Sigrid Schauman, Ellen Thesleff and Elga Sesemann. If you visit New York this summer, do go and see it, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Here are a couple of Helene Scherfbeck’s paintings that you will see there.

Helene Schjerfbeck: Girl from California I (1919). Finnish National Gallery/Ateneum Art Museum, The Kaunisto Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery/Hannu Aaltonen.

Helene Schjerfbeck: Girl from California I (1919). Finnish National Gallery/Ateneum Art Museum, The Kaunisto Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery/Hannu Aaltonen.

I find the abstract nature of Helene’s style especially fascinating. The way she simplifies the spots where the light hits or where a shadow is formed is like she is building an abstract composition instead of painting a face.

Furthermore, the girl below is wearing a shawl that is like an abstract painting!

Helene Schjerfbeck: Girl from Eydtkuhne II (1927). Finnish National Gallery/Ateneum Art Museum, The Kaunisto Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery/Hannu Aaltonen.

Helene Schjerfbeck: Girl from Eydtkuhne II (1927). Finnish National Gallery/Ateneum Art Museum, The Kaunisto Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery/Hannu Aaltonen.

Mixing Helene Scherfbeck’s Style with My Personal Approach

One primary factor in building a style is the shape of the elements. I for one love organic elements and flowing form. Simple rectangles are not as appealing to me as more complicated and diverse shapes. However, I wanted to add Helene’s twist to a couple of watercolor paintings. As Helene Scherfbeck also painted still-lifes, I decided to paint a woman with a flower or two. First, I made a tiny painting and played with layers to create angular shapes. Then I painted a bigger watercolor painting with familiar flowing shapes but using the insights that I had got by painting the first one.

Watercolor paintings by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

After these two paintings, I was ready to record a simple formula for achieving Helene Scherfbeck’s style.

The Formula for The Modern Woman – Step by Step!

During this drawing process, improvise, but also check that your drawing is not symmetric. It makes the drawing dynamic and reduces stiffness.

1) Draw a couple of arcs to create a face. Then add rectangles and triangles for hair. It is a fun and easy way to add hair without focusing on the shape of the head.

A step-by-step guide to drawing a portrait in Helene Schefbeck's style, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, step 1.

2) Add a neck and shoulders by drawing a rectangle and a couple of triangles that point to different directions. Then draw eyes, mouth, and other facial features. Use as many geometric shapes and simple lines as you can. After facial features, turn the work upside down and complement the drawing with geometric shapes so that it’s more like a balanced, asymmetric abstract painting than a portrait of a woman.

A step-by-step guide to drawing a portrait in Helene Schefbeck's style, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, step 2.

3) Soften the shape of the hair, the clothing, and some of the facial features. Then color the face, neck, and hair. Helene Scherfbeck often used grayish colors for the skin and a more striking color for the hair.

A step-by-step guide to drawing a portrait in Helene Schefbeck's style, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, step 3.

4) Add light and shadows on the face. Use mostly simple geometric elements.  Then turn the work upside down and finish the abstract composition by using color to balance the painting. Remember to maintain the asymmetry!

A step-by-step guide to drawing a portrait in Helene Schefbeck's style, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, step 4.

5) Remove some sketch lines and add more finishing details if needed. If you used long lines, make some of them shorter so that your drawing is not so stiff.

A step-by-step guide to drawing a portrait in Helene Schefbeck's style, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, step 5.

Helene Scherfbeck’s Style – The Combination of Simplicity and Softness

Even if Helene Scherfbeck’s style is very graphic, she also embraced uneven edges and soft color changes. This softness combined with distinct, even clumsy-looking geometric elements is the essence of her style.

A portrait in the style of Helene Scherfbeck, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her step-by-step instructions!

She also uses strong lines and bold colors to draw the viewer’s attention to the selected details. However, she does that very sparingly like there would be a limited storage of lines and pigments.

A portrait in the style of Helene Scherfbeck, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her step-by-step instructions!

Find The Passion Behind Your Many Styles

I often find it distracting when people talk about their personal style like it would be the final destination for their artistic journey. They say tat once they have found their style, it would be like coming home and they would never need to go back to explore. I think it can be a harmful mindset. It leads to thinking that artists could be divided into three categories: a) those who search their style, b) those who stick with their style, and c) those who are afraid of going deeper because they don’t want to stop playing. That kind of controversy is not good at all! Going deeper allows, not prohibits, playing! Creative people are meant to travel spiritually!

Portraits in the style of Helene Scherfbeck, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her step-by-step instructions!

Instead of searching for your perfect style, your final destination, connect with your passion! Your passion can be like a base camp for your explorations, energizing you to take up new challenges.

Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, a Finnish artist inspired by art history.

Sign up for The Exploring Artist to discover the passion behind your art
and to become more confident with the big word “artist”!

The Exploring Artist, a coaching program for building an artistic identity by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Finding Your Purpose in Art – Remember that You Never Create Just for Yourself!

A Day in The Garden, a watercolor and ink painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read her thoughts about finding the purpose for your art making!

Here’s my latest small mixed media painting called “A Day in The Garden.” I used Dr. Ph. Martin’s Hydrus Fine Art Watercolors and Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Inks for making it. Like the title says, the inspiration for the painting came from the time spent in the garden.

Garden Inspiration – For the Beauty of Tulips

Tulips from Paivi's garden, see her garden inspired art at www.peonyandparakeet.com

Even if the spring is about two weeks behind this year in Finland, we had a lovely weather last Sunday. The tulips were blooming, and I decided to go out and do some weeding to make them stand out.

As I was working in the sun, I soon warmed up. When putting away my cotton cardigan, I noticed a little red robin watching me. He sat in the bushes but had a curious look on his face. As I often talk to my budgies, I couldn’t help myself telling him how fine looking little bird he was. He clearly enjoyed my voice because he flew closer. He must have been a young bird as it didn’t take long before he was so close that I could almost touch him!

Garden Inspiration – For the Nourishment of A Red Robin

Dr. Ph. Marten's Hydrus Watercolors and Bombay India Inks. A photo by Paivi Eerola, a visual artist from Finland.

As the little bird grabbed an insect in his beak, I realized why he was so interested in me. Working the soil made it easier for him to find food. In the first place, I had thought about having some me-time in the garden and making room for beauty, but then unexpectedly I had got an audience, a client even! It caused me to think how similar it is with art. In the beginning, the practice can be very self-serving, but art never lives in a vacuum. Even if we would hide our pieces, art always has an impact on its surroundings. If not directly, then through our actions.

Making of a mixed media painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Purpose Needs People

Our soul-searching through art making can start similarly as the day in the garden, with an intention to spend some time with beauty. But as we progress, we begin to yearn for a deeper meaning. I believe that this purpose is related to people. Even just thinking about sharing art with other people brings in a wider perspective, a bigger vision, and more ways to use the imagination. No matter whether you ever share, sell, blog or show your pieces to anyone, you can still work with the themes like opening up, finding words that boost your art making process, and imagining the people you want to connect with through your art.

Mixed media painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

If we focus on style issues only, we will never see the whole ecosystem. We are like gardeners who sweat for their tulips but miss the impact on their environment.

Ideas Change but the Passion Stays the Same

A detail of a mixed media painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read her thoughts about finding the purpose for your art making!

In a coaching program The Exploring Artist, I talk about finding “Your People.”  There may be only one red robin in the beginning, but recognizing that they do exist is inspiring. Imagining what you can be for them is a big thing when you want to find a passion and a direction for your art making.

A detail of a mixed media painting. Dr. Ph. Marten's Hydrus Watercolors and Bombay India Inks. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read her thoughts about finding the purpose for your art making!

Namely, your targets of interest can and should change all the time. But your passion stays the same for a much longer period. You don’t have to create similar pieces again and again. You can freely explore the world of art and imagination. Your red robins will follow you because they know that you’ll always find something that benefits them too.

An American singer-songwriter Conor Oberst has said:
“Art is essentially communication. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. That’s why people make art, so other people can relate to it.”

Sign up for The Exploring Artist to discover the passion behind your art
and to become more confident with the big word “artist”!

Boosting Imagination + Last Days to Sign Up for Planet Color!

Boosting Imagination, an art journal page spread by Peony and Parakeet. Sign up for her painting class Planet Color to create fun and colorful abstracts!

Sometimes it’s difficult to use words when you want to give a hug. Like when I get emails that say: “I am afraid I have no imagination.”

I know how the story goes because I have experienced it several times myself: First, there’s no imagination and then if you manage to get started,  there are problems with the composition. I often turned the music louder just to make my brain make some sense of what I had created. And then next morning, I wondered why it’s so difficult to say whether my work is good or bad.

Regular practicing, getting a degree in design, educating myself through classes helped but if I could turn back time, I would have just given myself the formula that I have created for Planet Color and stop all the fuss. So nowadays when I get some occasional thoughts about lacking imagination, like last Monday, I open the class material and get started. The heart is for all of us who sometimes feel the need for boosting imagination.

Boosting Imagination. A detail of an art journal page. By Peony and Parakeet.

It’s the last week to sign up for Planet Color!
Watch a new video below to see what I think about boosting imagination, and to get more information about the class!

Last fall when I ran this class for the first time, it was for acrylic paints only.
But now I have included an extra video for those who want to apply the techniques to watercolors.

Planet Color, a painting class for beginners and for those who struggle with composition

>> Sign up before the class begins!

Easter Still Lifes in Watercolor – Video Included!

Easter Still-Life, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Watch the video about making this painting!

In February, I went to see an art exhibition with my husband. The destination was one of my favorite art galleries in Helsinki. Helsinki Contemporary has interesting artists, and I also like the gallery space and how it’s located in the center, near many art supply stores. This time I was to see watercolor paintings by

This time I was to see watercolor paintings by Kati Immonen. She is a master in watercolor techniques, but I also became fascinated by the theme. The exhibition called Flora included many still lifes that were like miniature worlds. My husband is fond of bonsai trees so he liked the theme too.

Easter Still Lifes with a Wet Brush

Yesterday when I picked up my watercolor set to paint something seasonal for you, I remembered the exhibition. I became inspired by the simple idea of painting a pot or a vase and then adding some spring flowers using a lot of water. By painting with a wet brush, the flowers could appear naturally along with any other unintentional decorative elements.

After painting with oils and acrylics recently, my skills were a bit rusty so I made three paintings. Here’s the first one.

Easter Flowers in Watercolor by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her blog post for painting easter still lifes!

Here’s the second one.

Easter Still Life in Watercolor by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her blog post for painting easter still lifes!

Easter Still Life on a Video

After the second painting, I turned on the camera and recorded a video of making the third one. It is a mixture of the two previous ones, a bit simpler than the first one yet somewhat complicated and refined than the second one. After creating these, I applaud Kati Immonen! I have a long way to go to challenge her, but it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying the watercolors from time to time. Watch the video with some tips to create your own spring painting!

Acrylics or Watercolors – You Choose!

I enjoyed painting with the watercolors so much that I made an extra video for my next online workshop Planet Color. Whether you want to use acrylics or watercolors (or both) in the class, I will help you! Sign up now! 

Planet Color online painting workshop by Peony and Parakeet. You can choose either acrylic paints or watercolors!

Freedom and Fear of Drawing – with Students of Peony and Parakeet

Asian Bunny, an illustration by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I dedicate this blog post for drawing, but I want to talk about cross stitching first. It’s one of my long-time hobbies, and I find it relaxing. I don’t have to make any decisions, use any imagination, just follow the chart, and the result will be just like I wanted it to be. Cross stitching is like a simple house plant. If you give a little bit of time for it fairly regularly, it will grow even if it doesn’t feel like so at first.

Paivi likes cross stitching

I can choose complicated charts or simple ones, and easily adjust the attention required for stitching. But there’s one problem that always remains: pixelation. Each image is made from single square-shaped stitches. No matter how complicated the design is or thick the fabric is, the pixelation is there.

Christmas at Gingerbread Lane, a cross stitching project in progess

Working with single stitches is not only a visual problem. It’s also a problem if we want to create more freely. Then we need a medium that allows faster and more flexible thinking. Like drawing. There are many kinds of drawing styles. When I want to experience creative freedom, I don’t do sketching using a pre-made model. (The photo shows a recent Renaissance-style painting in progress. I have designed it first in Photoshop.)

A sketch for a Renessaince style painting, by Peony and Parakeet

A Fear for Freedom – A Fear of Drawing

When I want to feel free, I don’t want models. Then it’s just a blank paper and a pen and a wish for a glimpse of imagination.

But freedom and fear are strangely connected. About three years ago, when I planned to leave my day job and start an art business, I warned myself. I told how I would no longer be anyone noticeable. I would have no office, no place to go every day, no colleagues to discuss with, no job title, no respect from others, no self-esteem. I would live in the darkest edge of the society and completely against the way of life I was taught. With these stories, I tried to prevent myself making the life change, and at the same time, I knew I had to try it. I had to turn the page and start a completely blank one.

Drawing on a blank page, by Peony and Parakeet.

I often connect with the same fear when I start drawing. That I am no one, that I have no power, that it is overwhelming and I don’t know what to do. But then, it’s the same gate that leads to the most wonderful feeling: the feeling of freedom.

Before I left my day job, I started to follow other self-employed women online. I listened to podcasts where they told their stories, and they all had one thing in common. They had put what they already know into use and then learned more. It made me list all the skills that I had and be more content about the decision I had made.

Paivi just before her life change

Drawing Factory Teaches You to Draw from Stick Figures

Still, on this day, I find it both assuring and inspiring to acknowledge what is already there before starting something new. So last year, I wanted to create a mini-course about line drawing, using the same philosophy. That was how Drawing Factory was born. It teaches you to start from stick figures and then move on to flowing lines and more imaginative illustrations.

Drawing Factory, a line drawing mini-course that helps you to lose your fear of drawing. By Peony and Parakeet.

Student Artwork

I offered Drawing Factory as a part of Imagine Monthly Fall 2016, the series of monthly mini-courses. See some of the gorgeous pieces that my students have made from the course! Another central theme in the course is Japan, the land of pretty details and high productivity and that has inspired Denise Dineen, Linda Robson, Christie Juhasz, Stepanie Carney, Marie Jerred, and Kathy Gallant, too.

Denise Dineen, USA. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Linda Robson, Canada. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Christie Juhasz, USA. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Stephanie Carney, USA. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Marie Jerred, Canada. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Kathy Gallant, Canada. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Overcome Your Fears for Line Drawing – Buy Drawing Factory!

Drawing Factory is now available as a single self-study class. >> Click here to buy!
You can also buy the whole bundle of five art journaling classes, published last year as Imagine Monthly Fall 2016.

Thank you for supporting my journey now and during the last three years!

Expressing Inspiration Through Art

Storyteller's Power, a mixed media drawing by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read more about expressing inspiration through art!

I made this mixed media drawing “Storyteller’s Power” for the class Inspirational Drawing 2.0. I have created it from a collection of inspiration images. One of them is Luca Mombello’s Renaissance painting “The Immaculate and God the Father” which I saw at the recent renaissance art exhibition of The National Museum of Finland. Seeing the artwork, and how it reminded me of modern fantasy novels, caused a huge spark of inspiration. But when I heard that the frame was handmade by the painter, it felt mind-blowing. What an artist!

A set of inspiration images for creating art. One of the image is Luca Mombello¨s painting The Immaculate and God the Father"

Inspiration is Often Visual

It doesn’t have to be an art exhibition to make me inspired. I see ideas everywhere. Because of that, I am a useless listener without doodling or knitting. If I listen to a long lecture without nothing to do with my hands, I find visual ideas and inspiration everywhere. I look at the pipes attached to the ceiling or count the colors of the clothes. Soon, I have discovered a new idea that has nothing to do with what I came to listen! I believe that especially for visual people, inspiration is often visual too. We get excited by what we see and can’t help being drawn to colors and details.

Only You Can Express Your Inspiration!

Over three years ago I started to find a solution for expressing inspiration by drawing and painting. The world was full of images that embarked my excitement, but it seemed impossible to express it genuinely through art. I was either too intentional which brought stiffness, or too intuitive, which took me just further away from my original inspiration.

I already had some experience of using mood boards when studying design so I was certain that there was a solution to the problem. But rather than creating a new design, I wanted to use the images for enriching artistic expression. The idea was not to copy but boost imagination in a meaningful and intentional way. After all, inspiration is a personal feeling, and it should be interpreted in a personal way. Even if it’s evoked by something or someone, there’s always something unique in the way each one of us experiences it. Only you can express your inspiration!

A detail of Storyteller's Power, a mixed media drawing by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read more about expressing inspiration through art!

Expressing Inspiration Through Art

An inspirational image can quickly touch hearts but drawing and painting is a slower process. We can use images for picking visual ideas but we also need to process the inspiration so that we know why we got inspired in the first place. I believe that the images are like icons that bring up personal memories, points of view and aspirations. If we don’t connect with those, we don’t fully put the inspiration into use for art making.

At the first version of Inspirational Drawing, I showed a method for using an inspirational image as the source of ideas for a new drawing. At Inspirational Drawing 2.0, I introduce an improved process. It helps you to use one or more images as an inspiration source, connect with the thoughts and feelings that they evoke and create unique art from there. First, I show samples and walk you through a simplified process. Then I help you to create a bigger project that uses many kinds of inspiration along creating.

Paivi and Storyteller's Power, her mixed media drawing. Read more about expressing inspiration through art!

Claudia Watkins, one of the students says: “Paivi is a very profound lady. Her insights are amazing. Although having a technical background, Paivi sees beauty, philosophy, and art in everything. Paivi has helped me a lot in my art journey.”

Express Your Inspiration: 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!

Mixed Media Drawing Tutorial – Create Step by Step!

Intuitive mixed media drawing inspired by old still life paintings. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

With this blog post, I want to encourage you to
… draw from imagination
… fall in love with the combination of water-soluble media and colored pencils
… find inspiration from art that has been created hundreds of years ago

Inspiration from Old Still Lives

A few weeks ago, I visited a small art museum called Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki. I have visited it many times because it’s a cozy old building and small art exhibitions are refreshing more than overwhelming. One more reason is that in Finland you can buy a museum card for about 65 EUR and it gives you free access to most of the Finnish museums for a year. It became available in 2015, and since then I have visited museums more than ever before in a year.

The exhibition at Sinebrychoff Art Museum was about old still lives, painted in the 16th to 18th centuries. I have admired those old, elegant paintings with beautiful flowers and fruits of all sorts for a long time. I have a Pinterest board dedicated to the most luxurious still lives, and I often bring up little things that I have learned from watching them in my classes. So no wonder, I was very inspired after seeing the exhibition, and I had to create a small drawing just to let my imagination play with the memories of beautiful paintings.

Mixed Media Drawing with Imaginative Fruits and Flowers

I picked one of my art journals, a Daler- Rowney’s Graduate Sketchbook, and a black thin-tipped drawing pen that has permanent ink. I prefer sketching with a permanent pen rather than with a pencil. Not being able to erase anything makes me more creative. Using permanent ink allows me to play with wet media as well.

First, I started doodling from the edges towards the center. Then I added some watercolors on the top of the doodling leaving the center blank.

Making of an intuitive mixed media drawing inspired by old still life paintings. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Once the watercolor was dry, I added more doodling in the center and finished the page with colored pencils. The dark background makes the colorful flowers and fruit stand out.

This process was so simple that I wanted to make a small tutorial for another page inspired by old still lives. So here it comes!

Mixed Media Drawing – A Tutorial

1) Set the composition with simple shapes. Draw a big shape and then a smaller one. The shapes can intersect.

A tutorial for an intuitive mixed media drawing inspired by old still life paintings. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

2) Add the horizon by doodling. I wanted to make the drawing dynamic by giving the horizon a diagonal direction.

3) Paint the background leaving most of the shapes blank. I used watercolors, but you can use any water-soluble media like inks or watercolor pens. Just make sure that your lines will show through because it’s part of the visual appeal. Use more than just one color so that your painting inspires you in the next step. Let dry.

A tutorial for an intuitive mixed media drawing inspired by old still life paintings. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

4) Doodle your heart out! Without raising your pen from the paper, doodle over the painted background and on the center too.

5) Color the drawing with bright colors and dark shadows. I used colored pencils, but you can use almost any media for coloring. For example, felt-tipped pens work great. You can also continue to use water-soluble media for coloring. Add dark colors between the flowers and the leaves. Leave some of the painting made in Step 3 visible so that your drawing breathes.

A tutorial for an intuitive mixed media drawing inspired by old still life paintings. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

6) Add the final touches to balance the drawing. I added some lines to make the elements in the background more explanatory and a tiny flower that looks like it’s reaching them. I also made the top right corner look similar to bottom right corner to highlight the diagonal composition in the background.

Intuitive mixed media drawing inspired by old still life paintings. See step by step instructions for making this! By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Mixed Media Drawing – Say You Want to Explore More!

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1) Enjoy Drawing from Imagination!
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Learn to merge drawn areas with painted areas and play with shadows! Flowing Greenery is a self-study class with two projects, a small still life, and a bigger landscape.
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3) Get Creative with Colored Pencils!

Coloring doesn’t have to be stiff or boring. Learn to color freely whether it’s coloring a drawing or creating intuitive art directly on a blank page!
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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!
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