Peony and Parakeet

From Portraits to Stories – How to Dive Deeper in Visual Expression

"Mirimer" - a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See her blog post about moving from portraits to stories in visual expression.

Here’s my latest watercolor painting called “Mirimer”. The name is a combination of “Miracles” and “Meri” (sea in Finnish). I love to invent these names that mix the two languages!

When I started this piece, I had two things in mind: I wanted to use Cobalt Blue Spectral (see the previous blog post about this gorgeous color), and I also wanted to continue my series of watercolor fairies.

Watercolor fairies by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet

These fairies really speak to me. I feel that I should have started making these story scenes a long time ago and not wasted my time for stiff self-portraits, for example.

Life in Self-Portraits

As a teenager, I stared myself at the mirror and made self-portraits all the time. Any cardboard or piece of paper had my face!

A self-portrait by Paivi Eerola. See her blog post about how to move from portraits to stories.

Every time I wondered if this would be a portrait of an artist: “Would my dream come true? Is this piece good or not?”

It has taken tens of years to move from literal self-reflection to expressing my emotions and my inner world. If I could turn back the time, I would peg myself to move from technique back to childish imagination, because there’s always enough time to learn the techniques, and never enough time to deepen the expression.

A self-portrait by Paivi Eerola.

This is a self-portrait from a couple of years ago, and I like that the inner world finally begins to show.

However, for me, the greatest satisfaction of art is not in self-portraits or portraits in general. I want my art to move from portraits to stories, be more dynamic than just staring faces, tell about my experiences, and how I can see them in a new light. I believe that our inner world is full of stories that connect us to other people on a deep level. When I have thought about my artistic style or whether my art is “good” or “bad,” I have often neglected this story-telling aspect.

Mirimer – From a Portrait to a Story

When painting “Mirimer”, there was a magical moment when I heard my mother calling my name. She passed away tens of years ago, and I thought I had forgotten the exact tone in her voice, but the painting brought back the memory. It must have been because of the blue color, her favorite. I realized that I wasn’t painting a portrait of a fairy anymore. I was painting the story of accepting loss as a part of life.

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

Mirimer became a blue-hooded angel, and the drops of water got some red to indicate that life carries pain that we can’t get to choose.

A detail of a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola. See the blog post about moving from portraits to stories.

Illustrating Stories by Lucas Cranach

Stories also came to my mind when I went to see Lucas Cranach’s exhibition in the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Lucas Cranach (The Elder) and her son, Lucan Cranach (The Younger), were not only German master painters in the 16th century, but they also knew how to run an art business. They had a workshop, an illustration studio, which had many employees, a logo, a style that everyone had to follow, and they produced prints too. So even if they lived in the Renaissance, they did what most artists today dream about. They built a visual world around stories that people yearned for.

Lucas Cranach the Younger, Diana and Actaeon.

Many of the Caranachs’ stories were from Greek mythology. This painting, my favorite from the exhibition, tells a story about Actaeon turning into a stag when Diana and the nymphs splash water on him. They don’t like him to watch them, and his dogs begin to attack him too!

Paivi Eerola and Lucas Cranach, the Younger. See Paivi's blog post about moving from portraits to stories in visual expression.

In the painting below, there’s Venus and her child, a little cupid. The cupid has been stealing honey and the bees have bitten him.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Venus and Cupid the Honey Thief

There’s also an old poem, written in Latin on the top corner of the painting too:

As Cupid was stealing honey from the hive
A bee stung the thief on the finger
And so do we seek transitory and dangerous pleasures
That are mixed with sadness and bring us pain

A detail of a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola.

From Portraits to Stories – 5 Tips

  1. Allow more intuition and imagination into your process: Add splashes and other unexpected elements. Spend time with a color that speaks to you. Instead of actively painting something, spend time discovering and highlighting what already can be seen.
  2. Grow your skills from faces to body gestures. Learn to process a shape that’s on paper, in your head too so that you can find alternative ways to continue the painting.
  3. Play with the scale of the elements. We tend to make shapes that are all equal in sizes. But if you want to paint a tiny fairy, for example, you need huge flowers to indicate the small size.
  4. Let go of strict outlining, and leave room for spots of light and shadows. There’s no story without the atmosphere, and the atmosphere is created by setting the lighting.
  5. Take time to let the story unfold. Often, the stories have many layers, and the first associations are just the path to deeper ones.

Magical Forest – Discover Stories by Painting!

Magical Forest, an online art class by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Move from portraits to stories and paint nature and fairies in watercolor!

Paint watercolor fairies and nature’s spirits in their magical surroundings. Enjoy freeing up your expression while exploring flowery woods, shallow ponds, leaf chapels, and adventurous sceneries. Magical Forest begins on January 1st >> Sign up Now!

Embracing Artistic Origin – How to Make Images That Feel Genuine

Aquanora, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Finnish watercolorist. Read how she has become to embrace her artistic origin.

Here’s my recent watercolor painting called Aquanora (or “Akvanoora” if you say it in Finnish). I have always been passionate about art but never loved my paintings as much as I do now when I have been painting these wood spirits in watercolors (see this post and this one too).

I hope that this week’s post makes you ponder about your artistic origin. I claim that if you don’t recognize the origin when looking at your art, you don’t feel the connection with the images either.

My Cold and White Artistic Origin

The sad fact is that when I don’t paint, my life in Finland is about walking dogs and knitting. And most of the time, I dream about Europe’s glorious museums and palaces. Winters in Finland can be rough, and Stella and I don’t like them.

Finland in winter.

As you see from the photo, taken in winter a couple of years ago, Finland’s color is white. Not only winters are white, but Finnish people decorate their homes with white furniture. So even when it’s green and warm in summer, Finns stay cold in their white boxes. My home is considered very colorful, especially the bright yellow corridor gets glances. But recently, I have started to accept the Finn in me. I have come to love fresh white watercolor paper, filled with possibilities.

A watercolor painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

With watercolors, white has become my friend. Painting is like having a white fairy holding my hand, tightly at first, and then little by little she releases her grip.

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

Even if I would like to be the painter of the Renaissance palazzos, I am a Finn walking the dogs in bad weather, knowing the core of whiteness instead of gold.

Artistic Origin Can Be Opposite to Inspiration

We are often inspired by things that are new and exotic. Our origin can feel so common that it’s barely recognizable. It’s what we see and breathe every day and often, it’s what we want to escape when we create art. But the more I have created, I have started to think otherwise. Because I live observing moss and other nature’s wonders more than marble floors, maybe I should paint more of that greenness too.

Stone covered with moss.

Namely, when European nobility played minuets in the 17th century, Finnish savages were freezing and starving in the land of thousand lakes and forests. So we know our stones, mosses, and swamps – the language of our nature – better than musical notes or calligraphed letters.

A detail of a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read how she has come to accept her artistic origin.

When European priests and saints trooped on huge church halls, Finns believed in Tapio, the god of the forest. Even if old beliefs are only old stories anymore, maybe it’s no wonder that these little fairies of mine rise from nature sceneries.

Aquanora. A detail of a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I have always thought that my art should not be spiritual because I don’t want to offend anyone. I don’t have any particular religious view myself, and because of that, I haven’t felt eligible to create spiritual art. But recently I have found it impossible to separate nature, spirituality, and imagination from each other. Nature can be our church, and for our imagination, there’s no conflict of dressing a wood spirit in a Renaissance outfit. By bringing the noble (inspiration), the wild (origin), and the playful (creativity) together, it can all fall into place. Art is about freedom after all.

How does your origin show in your art?
How could you deepen the connection?

A sketchbook page spread by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Fairies and wood spirits. Read about giving more attention to your artistic origin.

Coming Up – New Watercolor Class!

My sketchbooks are full of ideas for the upcoming class. It will be about nature’s light, textures, and spirits. There are intentional drawing exercises with pencil and intuitive painting projects with watercolors. I am looking forward to being your guide in the woods of creativity and self-expression. The class will begin in January and the early-bird sale is soon on Black Friday weekend. So stay tuned!

A Fairy Called Shyeling – Finding Your Silence Instead of Your Voice

"Ujokki / Shyeling" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. A watercolor painting on Arches cold press watercolor paper.

I call this watercolor painting “Ujokki” which is not a real word at all. “Ujo” means shy in Finnish. Maybe it could be something like “Shyeling” in English, expressing a timid and sensitive fantasy figure.

What Is The Shyeling?

The shyeling sees the little miracles of nature, the growth of the plants and how the light hits on the petals. She smells the soil, walks barefoot on the moss and listens to dewdrops falling on the ground. The shyeling is the most delicate and vulnerable part of us that we wish to connect and show through our art. It’s a silent power that originates from the memories and nuances rather than a loud voice demanding the ownership of the stage.

A detail of a watercolor painting called "Ujokki / Shyeling" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

In my painting, the shyeling is pictured as a little flower fairy with big wings of imagination.

Why the Shyeling Is So Difficult to Find?

When I led IT projects and solved problems that involved different parties, personalities, and systems, the strength that I needed to possess was very different from what the shyeling has. Dealing with crises and interruptions echoed hard in my mind, and it scared my shyeling away.

A watercolor painting in progress. Expressing with light and shadows. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I have also mistakenly thought that shyelings are everywhere and for anyone. All my life, I have created art so that it pleases other people’s outer expectations. I haven’t even always noticed that. It’s been partly a subconscious and partly a practical thing. Shyelings don’t understand money, time, or numbers. They are weak and meaningless creatures in today’s busy world. But still, if we find ours, we don’t want to let go. We often talk about finding a visual voice, but I believe it’s more about finding our silent power.

Taming Your Shyeling

A watercolor painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola, a Finnish watercolor artist. See the blog post to see this one finished!

I have many paintings and drawings, where I have started to walk towards my shyeling but my impatience has taken over. The fact is that the less you have created, the longer the journey feels. But when you keep going, the destination will feel closer, and you will enter the zone where your shyeling skulks.

Painting a detail with watercolors. Focusing on a small spot to get deeper into the painting process. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Also, remember that shyelings are like wild animals that need to be tamed. Taming needs skills, and skills need practicing. So be open to learning from other people’s shyelings. Yours might not be ready to appear from the bushes yet, but she’s been watching you, feeling more comfortable day by day.

Watercolor painting session in a studio. A studio dog is watching.

Get Closer to Your Sheyeling!

Recently, four things have taken me closer to my shyeling. First, I have stopped questioning my love for painting plants and flowers. If I like to do that, so be it. It’s not really about replicating the plants that I see anyway, but to use their shapes for creating new organic systems.

Do this: Create a piece about things that feel too familiar to you. Keep the idea process short, almost non-existent, create what you find the easiest. But, at the same time, lengthen the time that you usually take to create a piece like that. What do you discover during that extra time?

A detail of a watercolor painting called "Ujokki / Shyeling" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Second, I questioned why many landscape paintings look so empty to me. I found the answer from a childhood memory, always imagining nature as a luxurious place. I wrote more about this in the previous blog post.

Do this: Look at the old photos or dig our old things that reconnect you to the age when you were less than ten years old. What can’t be seen in the photos? What did you do when you were alone and nobody took pictures?

A detail of a watercolor painting called "Ujokki / Shyeling" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Third, I have challenged myself to become more skillful in expressing the atmosphere and space with light and shadows.

Do this: Evaluate your recent pieces so that you list things that lack there. Collect a list of things that you want to be present in your art. Then pick one thing that you start practicing more.

A detail of a watercolor painting called "Ujokki / Shyeling" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Fourth, I have practiced drawing and painting human figures without references. When I paint without references, I feel free and peacefully silent. Then there’s always a chance for my shyeling to appear.

"Ujokki / Shyeling" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. A watercolor painting on Arches cold press watercolor paper.

What do you need to practice next to get closer to your shyeling?

10 Black and White Art Techniques with Personal Stories

One of the many black and white art techniques: Drawing a pattern, and making an image from it. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I have made the first ten prompts of Inktober 2019, and want to share the art techniques and stories behind the images. I have been following the official Inktober prompts that are single words. By brainstorming around the prompt, I have decided what the first element is, and then worked from one association to another. After creating the image, I have documented my thoughts in writing. For me, Inktober is as much about finding personal stories than making the drawings. The stories help me to see where I am as an artist and as a person in general.

For these first ten images, I also set an art technique to make creating in black and white more interesting. I hope you find these black and white art techniques inspiring too!

Day 1 – Ring

Technique: A big solid shape in the background. I like to use a brush pen for large black areas.

Inktober 2019, Ring. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: As a teenager, I read Jane Austen’s novels and wondered if those handsome and honorable men really exist. But when I moved to a bigger town to study at the university, I found my Mr. Darcy. Dark hair, brown eyes, doesn’t smile or talk much, but when he does, it’s always worth listening. He looks at my art like Mr. Darcy watches Lizzie playing the piano. He has many skills, but he never brags about them. What others might consider as faults, are what makes him whole to me. So here’s to commitments and true love!

Day 2 – Mindless

Technique: Strong shadowing so that the outlines disappear to the background. It is quite time-consuming but I love the 3D effect.

Inktober 2019, Mindless. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See more black and white art techniques in the blog post!

Story: Instead of mindfulness, I practice mindlessness. I like to think about thinking, imagine the impossible, and when I relax, I knit, because it can be done mindlessly. Pick a circular needle and row never ends – until it’s 3 am and the low energy level makes you stop! The mindless world of imagination where no one needs to do laundry, make dinner, or find a missing sock, is what we humans need every single day. It’s a world of magic that we carry inside us, and no matter how mindless it feels, it’s one of the best things in being alive.

Day 3 – Bait

Technique: Using white space. The earlier I get the idea about the content of the image, the easier it is to leave white space as well.

Inktober 2019, Bait. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: In today’s world, money seems to be everything. Still, we know that there are more precious things like saving the globe. Sometimes I wonder if someone gives us small rewards just to distract our attention from the bigger destruction. Is the world only a big purse waiting for the next coin, or can we stop the fire?

Day 4 – Freeze

Technique: Spraying black ink. It’s often the best way to remove blank page syndrome!

Inktober 2019, Freeze. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: I love historical places and old art. When I begin to create, I imagine time-traveling to the past. My pens take me to an old palace and start vigorously blowing dust away. I imagine revealing all the beautiful designs under white cloths, opening windows and letting fresh air come in. What’s frozen begins to warm up and get color. My biggest dream is that I can make the forgotten world bloom again.

Day 5 – Build

Technique: Using lots of circles and round shapes. I also like to start with a simple circle and then slightly adjust it. See the jewels, for example!

Inktober 2019, Build. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: When we draw, we are free to build anything. Impossible becomes possible, small can be big and big can be small. All the things we see and collect can be toys for the imagination.

Day 6 – Husky

Technique: Shades of grey. I sprayed ink to make the start grey already. Then I added more grey shades by drawing thin parallel lines.

Inktober 2019, Husky. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: Having a dog of my own – that was my dream as a child. I drew dogs and imagined taking them to shows and running a kennel club. I read books about dogs, learned to identify hundreds of dog breeds, knitted stuffed toys that were as close to real dogs as possible. I wondered how it would feel to be a dog, to look at the world from the animal’s perspective, to run with four legs, and to love undoubtedly. It was a long wait. I was over 20 years old when I finally got a dog, a little spaniel. Now I have two beagles, and I hope I don’t ever have to live a day without a dog. Yes, I am definitely a dog person, what about you?

Day 7 – Enchanted

Technique: Rectangular blocks in watercolor. I used only Dr. Ph. Martin’s Hydrus liquid black for the image.

Inktober 2019, Enchanted. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See more black and white art techniques in the blog post!

Story: If I had to choose between outdoors and indoors, my choice would be indoors. Now when it’s autumn, it’s easy to make the home look like an enchanted place. Just switch off most of the lights, light some candles, and make sure you have houseplants, preferably bonsai trees. They look magical in the dark and bring some outdoors to the indoors as well!

Day 8 – Frail

Technique: Combining watercolors and drawing. Some of the areas are painted only so they look softer.

Inktober 2019, Frail. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: I hope that it wouldn’t be so difficult to remember that people are like plants, not always saying aloud what they feel, think, and plan to do. Their pots can be broken, their roots can be too dry, and their vision can be blurry. But they function, participate, and comprehend anyway. Their beauty is more about persistence than perfection. Their origin is more about cohesion than separation. I wish I could remember that like plants, every person is unique but still shares the need for warmth, hope, and attention.

Day 9 – Swing

Technique: Detailed figure as a focal point, and abstract freely-painted shapes in the background. I love to play between abstract and representational.

Inktober 2019, Swing. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

⁣Story: Rococo is one of my favorite historical styles, and I always try to find a way to include some of its abundance in my art too. So no wonder that today’s prompt immediately brought a famous Rococo painting to my mind. It’s Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Swing, where the main character is a young woman, and other people and details are secondary to her. When we are creating, we are that lady on the swing. The outer world becomes more distant, and we get to rest in the sceneries of our minds.⁣

Day 10 – Pattern

Technique: Designing a pattern, then making it look like a representational image.

Inktober 2019, Pattern. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See more black and white art techniques in the blog post!

I drew a few black shapes in Photoshop and arranged them so that they formed a pattern. Then I traced the printed pattern on another paper by hand. By changing the darkness of the shapes and the background, I made a fall scenery.

Inktober 2019, Pattern. Art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: I haven’t ever taken an ink blob test, but I assume I would see plants. Bonsai trees, orchids, herbs, flowers in bloom, seedlings, you name it. “I hate nature,” I said as a child when a teacher praised my essay. She was astonished: “But you write so beautifully about your surroundings!” I have always wanted to get away from the influence of plants but have never succeeded in it. They enchant me with their silent whispers. Their organic shapes are like stamps in my mind when I start drawing. They never leave me alone, let me be who I am not. The more I age, the more I surrender. My imagination lives in a pot, blooming only when plants are.

What can’t you escape? What do you keep creating time after time?

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