Peony and Parakeet

Imaginary People – How to Paint Their Soul?

This week, the theme is painting imaginary people and how to find their soul. There’s plenty of examples in this blog post!

Imaginary People - How to Paint Their Soul? An article by paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

One of the wonders of painting and drawing is that we can give birth to an imaginary person – that we can create someone who breathes, talks, and has a life of her own. However, many times the doll that I have on paper hasn’t come alive. Or she has taken just a few breaths, and after the creative spark has gone, she just stares with empty eyes. So no wonder that I have had a love-hate relationship for painting imaginary people. I want to experience the miracle, but it can also be too much of a struggle.

References – Working with a Soul that Breathes Already

Using a reference may be the least innovative solution but if you find an image that really speaks to you, it can be a good one. Tiny changes in facial features lead to a whole new person so if you don’t follow the reference in the smallest detail, yours is like distant relative to the original – familiar features but still unique. For this oil painting called “Heaven and Earth“, I used a detail of Sandro Botticelli’s painting “Madonna of the Magnificat” (1483) as a reference.

"Heaven and Earth" - an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s a close-up of the faces. I changed the angle of the face, opened the eyes more, and made the mouth look more determined.

Using a reference. "Heaven and Earth" by Paivi Eerola and "Madonna of the Magnificat" by Sandro Botticelli.

Sounds easy, but I often struggle with finding the soul when using references. With this painting, I tried to slowly work towards an individual personality, but creating a connection took a lot of time. Botticelli painted his soul, and it’s not the same as mine.

Here the work was in the early stage so that you can see how she has changed.

Using a reference. "Heaven and Earth" in an underpainting stage by Paivi Eerola and "Madonna of the Magnificat" by Sandro Botticelli. Read about Paivi's thoughts on painting imaginary people with or without a reference.

From the struggles of this painting and many others, I have learned this:

Working on the face alone never brings up the soul.

With the Madonna, as soon as I figured out the purpose and the style of the surroundings, I was able to finish the face.

The Soul Spreads Over the Painting

Even if a person is usually the focal point of the painting, the soul is not focused but spread.

The soul is in the setting, in the things, in the atmosphere. Even Botticelli’s Madonna can look just like a bored person without the crown, the light, the child, the book, etc.

"Madonna of the Magnificat" by Sandro Botticelli.

So no matter if you paint intuitively without pre-defined ideas, sketches, or references, or more intentionally with a clear idea of how you want your imaginary people to look like, seek for the soul in everything you paint.

Flowers have soul.

A detail of "Mirimer" - a floral watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Pots have soul.

A detail of "Mirimer" - a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Hair and hats have soul.

A detail of "Mirimer" - a watercolor fairy by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Inanimate and organic things also give the soul to the imaginary people.

A detail of "Mirimer" - a watercolor fairy painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read about how to paint imaginary people and their soul.
“Mirimer” – a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

In this watercolor painting called “Mirimer“, the fairy is the focal point, but her soul is spread all over the paper.

"Mirimer" - a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read about painting imaginary people and finding their soul.

Imaginary People Exist in Shapes and Colors As Well

The painting doesn’t even need to have a face. Your imaginary people can be abstract, like in this small acrylic painting that I recently painted on a sketchbook.

"Pinkpolka" - a small acrylic painting on a sketchbook by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Shapes and colors have soul.

A detail of "Pinkpolka" - an abstract painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Imaginary People – First or Last?

The idea for this post came from the question that I received a couple of days ago:

“I like your little people peeking out from within your art. I would like to learn more about that. Do you draw them first and paint around them or paint and then save a spot for them?”

I have many approaches.

"Rising Star", a mixed media painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read about creating imaginary people by drawing and painting!

In Innovative Portraits, we use references and make a sketch. The soul begins with the plan.

"Valomio", a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Buy her class Magical Forest to learn to paint imaginary people like this little fairy!

In Magical Forest, we lure fairies to appear intuitively from the watercolor background. The soul begins with the feeling.

Art for the class Decodashery. Paint flowers, lace, cakes, and omaginary people called Decodollies! By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

In the new class, Decodashery, we start by building a visual world and then make the dollies to fit with it. So the soul is first just a small flower, then it expands to floral paintings, cakes, lace, and finally, the imaginary people are born. By gradually setting the style and the spirit is the best intentional way to add soul to your work.

Decodashery, an online art class by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Decodashery will begin on June 29, 2020. >> Sign up now!

Hello Fall! – 10 Problems and Solutions for Watercolor Landscapes

Hello Fall - a watercolor landscape painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

It’s fall in Finland, and it’s a bit sad, even if it’s also beautiful. Our beagles Cosmo and Stella have their quilts, and when we go for a walk, we have to speed up because it’s getting colder every day.

Beagles under quilts in the fall

I have done a lot of drawing lately, and to relax a bit, I picked my watercolor set and a piece of Arches cold press watercolor paper. My watercolor set is a good friend, always ready for a new adventure. This time I started with a photo that was taken when walking the dogs, but I also painted freely. I hope you enjoy the video below!

10 Problem and Solutions for Watercolor Landscapes – Watch the Video!

Paint with me! Take a photo of the nature scene of your surroundings, and create a watercolor painting with this video tutorial. This time I built the video so that I picked 10 common problems in watercolor painting and explain how I solve them in practice.

Express Yourself by Painting Watercolor Landscapes – Buy Watercolor Journey!

Connect the dots between techniques and expression! Watercolor Journey has expressive watercolor techniques for beginners who want to loosen up and for more experienced artists who want to boost their imagination.

Watercolor Journey - online class about painting landscapes in watercolor

To celebrate the season and beautiful autumn colors of Finland, Watercolor Journey is for sale this weekend. Get 20 % off! The sale ends on Oct 6, 2019, midnight PDT.

Watercolor Interiors – Four Tips

"Heritage" - a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s a watercolor painting that I made while being a student of Finnish watercolor artist Mika Törönen. I took the class to understand more about watercolors. Watercolor is a weird medium, and its weirdness fascinates me! Watercolors seem simple and easy at first. But the more you paint, and the more atmospheric you want your paintings, especially watercolor interiors, to be, the more challenging they become.

I have recently realized that more than outdoor sceneries, I love painting interiors. Here are some of my tips for painting watercolor interiors!

1) Start with Geometry and Positive Attitude

Last spring, I committed to learning more watercolor techniques. I built a class called Watercolor Journey.

In the past, when I was teaching IT professionals my colleagues often said: “You learn best when you are teaching.” First, it felt like cheating because I thought that teachers have to know everything already before starting a class. But when you have to break things into small manageable and teachable parts, deeper insights come up. This way I have found simple methods and easy guidelines for making rich and creative paintings.

This painting is made for the exercise of Watercolor Journey. It’s about painting geometric shapes and thus simplifying the interior. You can make the photo more blurry by squeezing your eyes, and focus on the flat shapes that you see from it, for example.

Pyhaniemi Manor, watercolor interiors by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

But methods, tips, and guidelines are not the only useful things that I have learned by building classes. By making sure that I teach with a smiling voice and appearance, I have learned to think positively about what I do and how to encourage myself. One of the most depressing things in classes is to hear negative self-talk, whether it comes from the teacher or the student. That’s why I think it’s important always to express positive emotions, the love for art, and all the enthusiasm that can be found from creating.

2) Choose a Reference You Love

Mika Törönen creates his beautiful paintings from the references. We also had to pick some for the class. I wanted to continue the inspiration that I got by visiting Italy a couple of years ago. I chose a snapshot taken from one of my favorite places – Palazzo Pitti, Florence. Many students used the same photos as references as the teacher did, but to me, it’s difficult to use references that I don’t have any connection.

"Heritage" - a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet and its reference photo, taken at Palazzo Pitti.

I didn’t aim for an exact copy but still, the photo was quite complicated and it took all the three sessions to complete to painting. I learned some tricks from Mika Törönen, like how to prevent the paper from curling while working (watch the video where I use the method for painting a watercolor bookmark), and the courage to use small shapes and lines of very thick paint when finishing.

The class was based on us students watching him paint. He wasn’t very good at translating his methods to words but as far as I saw it, a lot was to do with finding abstract elements from the photos and building a composition from that. He didn’t guide much, and the painting time was quite limited. The benefit for me was that I got new energy for working with watercolors. I painted a lot between the three weekly sessions.

3) Embrace Surreal to Express Emotions

One of the paintings that I have made recently, is this surreal interior. I used several references for this one and also worked quite loosely from them. Choosing one reference is not always the best starting point because it can control the work too much.

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

Here, my most important influencer was the feeling that I got after the first class session. The session was very quiet, and I felt the loneliness that felt both good and bad. Loneliness gives the chance to spend quality time with imagination. But of course, it is also a sad feeling.

When I have clarity about a specific emotion, I have both the positive and the negative aspect in mind. That tension inspires me to express it. In this painting, I used a fish to symbolize creativity that I connect with the time spent alone.

A detail of "Lonely", a surreal watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Often, the loneliness is in your head. You can feel alone even if you are surrounded by people. So I left a blank triangular ray of light that hits her head.

"Lonely", a surreal watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet, pictured upside down to show Palazzo Vecchio's interiors.

Working with creativity and without other people’s perspectives, can make things turn upside down. I used my photo of Palazzo Vecchio’s Hall of Five Hundred as a loose reference. If I turn the piece, you might recognize some of it.

4) Design the Lighting and Focus on the Light

Here’s my latest watercolor painting called “Eternity”. I think that it’s most loose of all the paintings of this blog post because here, I focused on the light.

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

My reference photo was taken in an old church Chiesa del Gesu in Rome. It was only a starting point. After the first pale compositional layers, I abandoned it.

"Eternity", a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet and its reference photo taken in Rome.

The elements and the lighting didn’t quite match my vision of eternity, so I made a lot of changes. I also wanted to break the symmetry that is in the reference photo. I imagined setting a scene for a movie and let the water express the light more than what it would reveal. There are only a few sharp lines and clearly defined shapes. This way the result is a loose painting and looks less like a detailed drawing.

I used a lot of water when making this one! Sprayed, too!

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

Watercolor Interiors – and Flowers!

I used Arches Rough 300 gsm watercolor paper for these three watercolor interiors. I hope that this blog post inspired you to pick your watercolor set and paint some watercolor interiors!

Watercolor paintings by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

This spring I will rerun my class Floral Fantasies in Three Styles, where we paint watercolor florals, a very suitable theme to go with the interiors! There will also be an extra watercolor exercise, which will be available separately if you already have the class. Stay tuned!

Watercolor Inspiration – 5 Ideas and Techniques

Watercolor inspiration from Paivi Eerola. Watch her video about painting a watercolor bookmark.

Watercolor is a medium where I really want to grow my skills this spring. It’s so versatile and much quicker than oil painting, for example. It can be easily combined with drawings and and … Well, I think if you follow this blog, you also love watercolors! Here’s some watercolor inspiration!

1) Watercolor Bookmarks – A Small and Fun Project

Who wouldn’t like to get a hand-painted bookmark? Watch the video with practical tips for watercolor painting!

2) Illustration in Watercolor – Use a Drawing as a Starting Point

If you like to draw, pick one of your sketches and use that as a starting point. My drawing from last Inktober is very detailed, but I enjoyed painting it!

Ink pen drawing by Paivi Eerola.

Here’s my setting. I kept the sketch visible most of the time but allowed my painting to evolve too. I didn’t use any pencil to copy the drawing, I just started painting with pale colors and made adjustments layer by layer.

Creating a watercolor painting from an ink drawing. Using a sketchbook as an inspiration for watercolors. Watercolor painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s the finished painting. When I drew the sketch, I wanted the person to look like she’s contemplating, and wasn’t quite happy with the face. But here, I was more successful the facial features. Colors also add to the expression.

Watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her blog for more watercolor inspiration.

What I really liked in this project, was the lack of too many decisions at the same time. When I followed the composition and the elements of the drawing, I was able to focus more on the atmosphere.

3) Watercolor Sceneries – Play with the Level of Abstraction

Mastering watercolors is impossible without making most of the happy accidents and allowing abstract elements build the image. Try how abstract you can and want to go!

These images are from my class Watercolor Journey. The first landscape is quite realistic and representational. It’s easy to see that there are trees and the sun.

Watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Watercolor inspiration from her class Watercolor Journey.

Here’s a more abstract version of the same project. Trees are not so clear anymore and the sun is more vague too, but on the other hand, it’s not as static as the previous one.

Abstract watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Watercolor inspiration from her class Watercolor Journey.

Which of the two do you like more? How far do you want to go in your paintings?

4) Intuitive Painting – Loosen Up by Starting with Three Photos

If you like to solve mysteries, here’s a project for you! Pick three photos and use one for each of the three first layers. Watch the video for more detailed tips and instructions!

I definitely did not see that there would be a fish in my piece when I started!

Watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. See her video of how she made this using three inspiration photos for the first layers. Lots of tips included too.

With watercolors, the art of seeing can be sometimes more important as the art of painting!

5) Watercolor Collage – Join my Class Animal Inkdom!

I have also used watercolors several times in my class Animal Inkdom. In Module 3 where we explore the underwater world, watercolors are a natural choice. For example, in this collage project watercolors have a central role. You will learn ways to draw fun and unique sea life animals, and make a playful underwater scene.

Watercolor collage art by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. A sample project from her class Animal Inkdom.

Come to draw and paint with us in Animal Inkdom! You will get the published lessons (including Module 3) immediately after the registration, and you can start drawing and painting right away. Sign up for Animal Inkdom here!

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