Peony and Parakeet

Cobalt Blue Spectral and Experimenting with Watercolors

Cobalt Blue Spectral, a watercolor study by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

This week, I want to share something I don’t always do publicly: experimenting! The exploration and experimentation also have an important role in my upcoming class Magical Forest, so it’s a perfect time for some play!

Why Experiment?

Experiments are great, especially when:
– you want to try out new art supplies
– you are working on a bigger piece and need time to think between layers
– you have a very limited time to create
– you want to practice new techniques
– the process feels more important than the outcome: you need just to relax

This time, I could tick all the boxes! I had bought some new pans last week. A bigger painting was in progress. It was a late evening when I started painting. I wanted to use mostly angular, not so many organic shapes than usually, and I had lots of cheap watercolor paper for fun.

Cobalt Blue Spectral – Using Color as an Inspiration

I like to start an experiment by deciding a color or a couple of colors that I particularly enjoy. This time, I had a special treat – Cobalt Blue Spectral.

White Nights watercolors, Cobalt Blue Spectral by St. Petersburg

I have a small local art supply store in Helsinki, Finland, called Diverse. There are bigger stores in Helsinki too, but the service is never as good. The owner always has time to talk, and he knows what he sells. I happened to mention that I loved Cobalt Blue Spectral and that it’s so sad that St. Petersburg doesn’t produce it anymore. It was just one little sentence, among many. However, the sentence was heard, and I was astonished when the owner suddenly handed me a blue pan saying: “This is the last one that I have, and it’s from my personal collection.” So now, I have this amazing color again: Cobalt Blue Spectral. It’s much brighter than the usual cobalt and quite extraordinary indeed!

Painting with Cobalt Blue Spectral watercolor by St. Petersburg. A painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I also bought a few pans manufactured by Roman Szmal. The brand name is Aquarius, and I like all the Aquarius pans I have. Here I am testing a wonderful yellow Quinacridone Gold. I can’t get enough of warm yellows, and this is the most beautiful I have had so far. It’s golden orange when it’s thick, and lovely warm yellow when thinned.

Trying out Roman Szmal Aquarious Quinacridone Gold. Experimenting with watercolors.

Multi-tasking

I like to paint many small studies at the same time so that when I wait one to dry, I can continue another one.

Watercolor experiments in progress by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Looking for the Blank Spots

A big part of the play for me is to notice all the small little accidents, especially the blank spots, and figure out how to save and highlight them as the painting progresses.

Discovering blank spots in watercolor painting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Including Experimentation for More Serious Pieces

I like to start bigger projects with an experimental mindset too. I use a lot of water so that I can later decide which accidents to enhance and which to hide. A spraying bottle is my trusted assistant.

Watercolor painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

The size of this painting in progress is a half sheet (approximately 38 x 56 cm / 15 x 22 inches). It has 100 % cotton paper, and Cobalt Blue Spectral shows there too. Compared to the experiments, my painting pace is much slower.

My little art room has been a watercolor studio during the last weeks. I also bought a cheap interchangeable frame from Ikea and ordered a Passepartout from a local framer. Now I can easily display half-sheet paintings!

Magical Forest – Come to Paint and Experiment with me!

Start the new year with the new class Magical Forest!
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Painting Watercolor Still Lives

A watercolor still life painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

I usually have a lot to say but this time I can barely type any words. I am madly in love with painting watercolor still lives. They keep coming! It feels that any topic can be put in the form of a still life whether I am painting a princess or a bonsai.

A watercolor still live painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I think that art is this kind of a bonsai: even if it would be nourished very little, it keeps staying alive, producing flowers and fruit. It’s both ancient and fresh at the same time.

First a Mess, Then a Still Life!

I love how watercolors have a mind of their own. Especially, when painting without reference photos, the first brush strokes feel exciting and the possibilites seem endless.

A beginning of a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

The bonsai painting was just a mess after the first layers. I had a lot of fun making the mess!

Starting a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and parakeet.

But I even had more fun bringing out the bonsai.

A detail of a watercolor still life painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I use an abstract approach, and it’s so exciting that it keeps me painting. What was first just a clumsy geometric shape is soon a delicate flower! I teach this technique in the upcoming class Floral Fantasies.

A detail of a floral still life painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

My Watercolor Set – A Mix of Brands

I like to use pans more than tubes because it’s much quicker to start painting right away, not wasting time for opening and cleaning the caps. But I also buy tubes because when a pan gets empty, I can use a tube to refill it.

Painting with watercolors by Paivi Eerola from Parakeet

My watercolor set of 36 pans is originally White Nights by St. Petersburg, but within time I have purchased other brands too.

New Pans – Roman Szmall Aquarius

One of my latest purchases are pans manufactured by Roman Szmal Aquarius watercolors. It’s a new professional quality brand from Poland. I find their color chart fascinating. For example, they have a very light pink called Cobalt Violet Light and their black called Aquarius Black is very granulating which means that it has a grainy texture. So far, my favorite of theirs is a warm grey called Przybysz’s Grey. It’s very good for muted color mixes. I am lucky that my local art supply store sells this brand!

Watercolor set of 36 pans and mixed brands.

Drawing a Watercolor Chart

Always when I change the pans, I also draw a new chart in a notebook. This is how the chart looks currently (VG = Van Gogh, RS = Roman Szmal, DS = Daniel Smith, “Oma sek“= my personal mix).

Watercolor Color Chart by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I love to curate my palette. When one color runs out, I consider carefully whether I buy more or change it! I also like to examine what the best order is for the pans, and as you see from the chart above, I often change the order a bit! This is my way to bond with the supplies, and every time I begin a new painting, I feel that they are my team, working with me!

Painting Watercolor Still Lives Together

Watercolor Still Lives by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Come to draw and paint flowers with me – Sign up for Floral Fantasies in 3 Styles!

Varnishing, Framing, and Celebrating Your Best Paintings

"Temptation", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

I have finished an oil painting called “Temptation.” I started it at the beginning of this year and after tens of painting sessions and weeks of drying time, I finally got it finished, varnished, and framed. So it’s time for celebration! So, the theme for this blog post is our best work, and especially our best paintings.

I have been planning this post for well over a year to get all the images I want to show you, and the experiences that I want to share with you, so I am happy that with the latest painting, the time has come for this article too!

Best Work – How to Know?

In art, there are very few absolute rights and wrongs, so this question can have many answers. But here’s how I know when I have produced my best work:
1) Time: I have worked on the painting for tens of hours and tens of sessions. Even if some artists work quickly, in general, most people underestimate the time that professional artists spend with their pieces. Overworking is rarer than underworking!
2) Message: I know why the painting exists. 
I can start a painting without a specific idea in mind, but when the painting progresses, I need to find a connection and a story to be able to make all the decisions needed.
3) Details: I have paid attention to every area of the painting.
Some areas can be freer or less detailed than others but they have to be aligned with the overall message of the painting, supporting the most important areas.

Painting an oil painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Best Work – Test!

I have a couple of tests that I always use for my best work. Try these!

A) Do you want to hang your painting on your wall?
Here, I mean your painting, on your wall in your home. When I use this test, I don’t imagine anyone else’s home or anyone else’s wall. If I don’t want the painting on the wall, it’s likely that no one else will either.

B) Do you see your painting as a treasure?

Place the painting on the table, walk away from the room, and then come back and glance at it. If your instant reaction is that there’s a valuable item on the table, the painting is close to the finish. Here, the difficult thing is that you need to recognize your reaction quickly and glance at the painting from a distance. The further away you can be and get the impression of a treasure, the better. When I use this test, I try to alienate myself from the painting before entering the room.

Holding "Temptation", an oil painting on canvas by Paivi Eerola, a Finnish artist.

When you have produced a painting that meets your criteria, why not varnish, frame and celebrate it?! These are all important steps to me. Let’s start with varnishing!

Before Varnishing – Take Photos!

Varnishing makes the painting harder to photograph because it will have glares more easily. If you have produced your best work, you will also want to get good photos of them!  I use a tripod when taking photos, and if the weather is good, I take the photos in natural light.

Photographing a painting. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Varnishing an Oil Painting – The Traditional Way

Oil paintings are tricky to varnish because they dry slowly. The drying time depends on how thick the layers are and how much drying time there has been between them. In any case, it’s months, and it can be more than a year! With “Gypsy Madonna,” I waited for nine looooong months.  Every layer had dried a week or more, and they were very thin, so based on the advice that I got, that would be enough.

Varnishing an oil painting with Rublev Dammar Finishing Varnish. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, Finland.

I bought Rublev Conservar Dammar Gloss Varnish with UV protection and applied it with a broad and soft goat bristle brush.

Varnishing an oil painting with Rublev Dammar Finishing Varnish. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, Finland.

Always when varnishing, it’s good to:
1) double-check and follow the instructions of the specific product that you use. Don’t rely on the instructions that come with the bottle but go to the manufacturer’s website to see if there’s more advice.
2) apply a small amount of varnish and keep the layer thin.
3) let the previous varnishing layer dry properly before adding a new layer. Usually, a couple of layers are needed.
4) if possible, reserve a brush for varnishing only

Varnishing an Oil Painting – A Quick Solution

Luckily, there’s an alternative for traditional oil varnishes. It’s called Gamvar Picture Varnish. I got to know about it from my artist friend Eeva Nikunen. She has also made a process video about using Gamvar.

Varnishing an oil painting with Gamvar Picture Varnish. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, Finland.

This medium only requires the surface to feel dry. So it can be applied after a few weeks after finishing the oil painting. I used Gamvar for the first time now, and because it’s thicker, it’s much easier to handle than the traditional varnish. Spreading Gamvar is more like rubbing with small strokes than painting with long strokes. A little sturdier brush works better here. I used a watercolor brush.

Varnishing an oil painting with Gamvar Picture Varnish. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, Finland.

The pleasure of varnishing is the same regardless of the medium. The colors become more vibrant, and the painting begins to shine. I prefer using glossy to matte varnishes because I love the extra glow!

Varnishing an Acrylic Painting

Varnishing is not just for oil paintings! You can varnish acrylic paintings as well, just remember that they have their own products. I mostly use Golden acrylic paints, so when varnishing acrylic paintings, I have also used products of the same brand.

Varnishing an acrylic painting. Step 1: Adding a layer of gel medium. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

First, I add a layer or two of gel medium (Golden Soft Gel Gloss) before I begin the varnishing. Gel medium separates the paint layers from the varnishing layer. I mix some water with the gel medium to make it more fluid so that the brush strokes don’t show so well. I use a broad and flat brush and let every layer dry before adding a new one. It’s good to wait at least a day because polymer products can feel dry even if they haven’t dried properly yet.

Varnishing an acrylic painting. Step 2: Adding a layer of glossy polymer varnish. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Then I add 1-3 layers of Golden’s glossy polymer varnish. It has to be mixed with water, and every layer has to dry 3-6 hours before adding a new one. I try not to put too much pressure on the brush so that the brush strokes won’t show.

Freshly varnished paintings by Paivi Eerola, Finland.

I think that after varnishing, the increase of the vibrancy is as visible as with oil paintings. Definitely worth the effort!

Celebrating the Finished Painting – Framing

If my opinion, the best way to celebrate the finished painting is to get it framed. If varnishing is the makeup, framing is the dress. The impact of the frame is incredible when it fits well and continues the personality of the painting. Sorry about the glare in the sample images!

Gypsy Madonna, an oil painting combining Leonardo da Vinci's and Boccaccio Boccaccino's work. Framed and varnished. By Paivi Eerola from Finland.

I use a local professional framer because I love the quality. I chose an old-fashioned and heavy frame for the Renaissance-style painting, and it made it look like an old masterpiece. Without frames, the image was much more modest.

For this acrylic painting, I chose a dark frame that makes the colors shine.

Living Treasure, an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Framed, varnished, and sold.

If the frame were lighter, the dark colors of the background would have got more attention, and the result wouldn’t be as harmonic.

Today, I got “Temptation” from the framer. Because this painting is like a collection of treasures, I wanted the frame to be luxurious too.

"Temptation", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola, a Finnish artist. Varnished and framed.

Celebrating the Finished Painting – Music!

I also like to celebrate my best pieces by listening to some music when admiring them. I try to find a song that is aligned with the painting and it’s often a song that I have already listened when working on the piece. For “Temptation”, the song is Musetta’s aria from Puccini’s opera “La Boheme”. After exposing the painting to the critical eye for so long, it’s time to forget the struggles and enjoy the accomplishment. I find this combination of musical and visual pleasure one of the best joys in life.

A detail of "Temptation", an old painting by Peony and Parakeet.

I hope you too will celebrate your best work!

P.S. “Temptation” is now available in my art store, see more detailed photos there!

Watercolor Wisdom – 6 Techniques that You Need to Try Before Giving Up!

Painting with watercolor. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her tips for watercolors in the blog post called Watercolor Wisdom!

This week I am writing to you who have always liked the idea of using more watercolors but whose experiments don’t often last long. Try these techniques to keep going and not giving up!

1) Doodle with a Brush

Dip a thin brush into the paint and start doodling! Add more paint to some areas so that the thickness of the line varies and evokes new shapes.

Netfishing, a mixed media watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I have also used acrylic paints for finishing this piece called “Netfishing.”

2) Doodle with Masking Fluid

I don’t often recommend purchasing more art supplies to boost the motivation, but with watercolors, I highly recommend buying masking fluid. For example, Daniel Smith has a masking fluid that comes with handy applicators. You can just pick the bottle and start doodling. And while you are doing that why not fill the whole paper with them! Then add several layers of paint and remove the fluid gradually.

Three Churches of St. Petersburg, Russia. Mixed media watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I have also used golden acrylic paint and colored pencils in this piece, called “Three Churches of St. Petersburg”.

3) Add Geometric Shapes to a Scenery

If all the elements are realistic, defined and “make sense,” you are underestimating the potential of watercolors. An easy way to push beyond the conventional is to add geometric shapes to a realistic theme, for example, to a scenery.

The Resort of Imagination. A watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

You can also paint vice versa: start with the geometry and then make it look like scenery.

An abstract watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

4) Leave Blank Spots to Express the Light

Think about your painting as a collection of layers. Paint 6-10 layers so that every layer is a bit smaller than the previous one. Leave blank spots when painting the first layer. Focus on tiny details in the last layers. Let every layer dry before adding a new one.

Two Seasons II. A watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

5) Add Muddy Colors to Make the Brights Shine

Don’t be afraid of dark areas. If your work looks unfinished or the colors don’t shine no matter how much you add them, the solution is to add more really dark areas.

"I left my heart in Florence", a watercolor journal spread by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

There are a lot of browns, greys, and blacks in these two small sceneries which make the color glow!

"Hanko", a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

6) Pick One Dominating Color, but Use Many Tones of It

When applying paint on paper, add small drops of other colors too. Use the transparency of watercolors to get new tones: add watery paint, let dry, repeat!

"Oban". A watercolor painting of a small town in Scotland. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

“Oban,” a small town in Scotland that left an impact on me. I could have painted the sky solid blue, as well as the water, but adding more variation of the color makes this painting.

Watercolor Journey – More Watercolor Wisdom for Self-Study!

The pictures and tips of this blog post are picked from my class Watercolor Journey. In this class, you will learn how to use the techniques and the imagination to express energizing sceneries. The fun thing is that these sceneries can be either realistic, or imaginative, or anything between. Sometimes the scenery is born with the technique. Other times painting is more about reconnecting with a happy memory. I have tried to make the videos as inspiring as possible so that you and your watercolors become a better match after each one.
>> Buy Watercolor Journey!

 

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