Peony and Parakeet

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?

The Only Thing You Desire to Paint – Whether You Are Aware of It Or Not

"Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.
“Heaven and Earth” – one of my latest oil paintings

I finally painted something that I have tried for years – my view of life and my personal mystery.

Art, Religion, and View of Life

Art and religion have been connected for centuries. Some see it primarily as a business connection – churches have ordered paintings and artists have made their living.

Murals of Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy

But I like to think that the connection is not only about money but that’s spiritual too. At best, art expresses what we think about life and death. This doesn’t mean that an image has to be gloomy, or that it has to illustrate any particular religion. Vice versa, I believe that every person has their view of life. Let’s call it a personal mystery!

Searching for Personal Mystery

Your personal mystery sets the direction of your deepest thoughts, but it’s difficult to put into words. Now and then, you can catch it emotionally. But intellectually, it can feel impossible to reach.

Church of the Savior on Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia
Church of the Savior on Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

Even if your personal mystery is unique for you, it’s so authentic that it resonates with many other people too. When I go to historical places like the Church of the Savior on Blood, they have a flavor of my mystery. But still, it’s not quite in line with my deepest thoughts and feelings.

The Only Thing You Desire to Paint

Your personal mystery dictates your artistic goals. Whatever you say you want to accomplish, the deepest desire is to express your personal mystery. You can say you paint because you want to escape everyday life, but in truth, the escape is about reaching your mystery. No matter how successful you want to be, you also want to be authentic – and that requires discovering your mystery! Your visual style may seem like the primary goal but believe me, it’s secondary – just a tiny hammer in a big toolbox that you need to reveal your mystery.

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

No matter how orderly you begin the painting, the final goal of the process is to let go and become one with your mystery.

Painting Your Mystery

In the middle of the painting process, your mystery like a secret whisper, so sacred that it feels forbidden even to try revealing it. This secrecy sends mixed messages to your creativity and the process gets confusing and disappointing.

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

When painting the woman and all the colorful details, I started to hate the mess and get disconnected with it. The image felt too complicated and decorative, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I was traveling through strange places and wondering how to reach an unknown destination.

At this point, it’s tempting to give up. I put my painting away for months. My plan was to wipe the paint away with turpentine so that I can re-use the canvas for another painting. But about a month ago when I picked the unfinished piece again, I knew instantly how to finish it.

Making of "Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

Five Tips for Revealing Your Personal Mystery

I don’t think there’s a straightforward formula for revealing the mystery, but here are some things that are helpful:

  • Grow visual skills so that you can freely choose what you paint whether it’s representational or not. Learn to use references creatively, and study the principles of abstract art (my favorite book about abstract art).
  • Grow confidence so that you can let uncomfortable, erroneous, silly, and “wrong” things happen while creating. You won’t find the mystery if you stay in your normal zone (breaking the rules)
  • Grow imagination so that you can jump from one association to another and come up with a unique solution. Creating from prompts help with that (I recommend Inktober).
  • Curate what you love and value. List things that inspire you and keep filling and editing the list (remember to include innocent little secrets)
  • Become more aware of details and nuances in all art-related things. The more general you think (“I am an abstract artist”, “I draw faces only”, “these are pretty flowers”), the more difficult it is to connect with your uniqueness and find inspiration.

I used to think that when painting people, humans should look as realistic as possible. But I am more of an engineer and an innovator than a portrait painter. By trying to make the woman look like a real person, I had blocked my personal view of life appearing on the canvas.

"Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

When I realized that the woman is just an anonym observer, the painting was very straight-forward to finish.

A detail of "Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

My Personal Mystery

In my mind, science, beauty, and spirituality are all connected.

A detail of "Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

The biggest miracle for me is how the universe works, and how I can take parts of that to create a new world.

A detail of "Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

Historical buildings and paintings connect me to the origin of our culture and universe emotionally. To me, the painting looks historical enough to fit in.

Paivi Eerola at Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy.
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy

In the future, I hope to create more pieces that express my personal mystery.

"Heaven and Earth", an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. read about her blog post about painting a personal mystery.

For Finnish readers: Come to see this piece and more of my art! I show about 10 artworks in a group exhibition this month in Helsinki. Lisätietoja täällä!

Out of a Creative Rut – Do What Illustrators Would Do!

Illustration by Paivi Eerola. Read her post about how to get out of creative rut by thinking what illustrators would do.

I am currently reading James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. It’s about growing skills and making changes in life a small step at a time. James Clear doesn’t believe in setting goals as much as building a new identity. James tells about a person who lost weight by thinking “what would healthy people do” every time he had to make a decision about eating, sleeping, and exercising. 

Bird and desserts. Illustration by Paivi Eerola. Read her post about how to get out of creative rut by thinking what illustrators would do.

Out of a Creative Rut by Asking What Would Illustrators Do

Since last fall, I have been practicing “what would illustrators do.” I have wanted to make art that is less abstract and more joyful and rememorize the things I learned when studying design several years ago.

Butterflies. Small drawings by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

When building the latest classes Animal Inkdom and Magical Inkdom, I have wanted to include more small projects than before so that you can quickly grab a pen and draw more regularly. James Clear advises building habits by combining them with our current ones. When we do something like having a cup of tea in the evening, we can also grab a pen and doodle a bit. It’s not much, but when it’s repeated regularly, the results will come.

Sealife. Bird and desserts. Illustration by Paivi Eerola. Read her post about how to get out of creative rut by thinking what illustrators would do.

To me, drawing small collage pieces has brought back the joy of drawing. I haven’t always had the time to do a lot, but I have made it a regular practice because “that’s what illustrators do.”

Illustrations by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Bullet journal art.

Drawings are Like Pets – Treating Them Gently

I have also developed gentle self-talk by thinking of these animals as my pets. That way, I don’t try to control the outcome too much or negatively judge a single piece. They are my pets, and I love and care about them because “that’s what animal lovers do.”

Hand-drawn collage pieces and illustrations by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Breaking a Creative Rut and Moving Forward

At the same time as I have developed the illustration classes, I have also built my illustration portfolio

Illustration by Paivi Eerola. Read her post about how to get out of creative rut by thinking what illustrators would do.

During the next couple of months, I am doing more “what illustrators do” when I am making images for a book. I will share more pics about this commission later.

Practicing illustration has also brought new perspectives to my fine art projects and what I want to create in general. So, I highly recommend practicing “what illustrators do” – especially if you are in a creative rut or have a too strong inner critic.

Start now – Animal Inkdom Is for Sale!

Online art class Animal Inkdom. Taught by Paivi Eerola, a Finnish illustrator.

This weekend: Buy Animal Inkdom for 59 EUR (normally 79 EUR).
The sale ends on Sunday midnight Sept 1st, 2019 (PDT).
>> Buy here!

Between Fine Art and Illustration – Combining Both Into One Artwork

Flower Fairy's Year by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See how this project was made and read her thoughts about choosing between fine art and illustration.

This week, I continue showing pieces that will be presented in the upcoming group exhibition “Flower Gardener’s Diary” (Kukkatarhurin päiväkirja, 9.- 22.9.2019, Hietsun Paviljonki, Helsinki). This one is called “Flower Fairy’s Year.” I will be presenting both paintings and drawings, so I wanted to create a piece that would build a bridge between fine art and illustration. I hope you find this project inspirational!

Inspiration Piece: Wheel of Fortune

When building the class Magical Inkdom earlier this year, I made a fun drawing called Wheel of Fortune. It has a center that’s separate from the rest of the piece, and it can be rotated so that the heads of the figures change. The bigger drawing is attached on thick cardboard so that it feels like it’s a game board, not just a flimsy piece of paper.

Wheel of Fortune. Illustration by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I wanted to use the idea of a separate centerpiece and sturdy base for this project too.

Fine Art Centerpiece: A Miniature Oil Painting

The project started by finishing a miniature oil painting that I suitably had in progress. It’s only 4 by 4 inches.

A miniature oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

The painting was made very traditionally. I sketched the face with charcoal, and then made an underpainting with umber and white. I used Bernardino Luini’s portrait of Saint Catherine as a loose reference for the facial features.

Making of a miniature oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

The color layers were thin so that the previous layers stayed visible too. It took a bit of courage to give a green wash to the face, but I really like the result. Decorations were easy and fun. They are quick lines and shapes that make the saint look like a floral fairy.

Miniature oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

With oil, the most difficult thing is to wait for every layer to dry separately. Other than that, I find oil easier to handle than acrylic paint.

Illustration: Decorative Flower Frame

For the frame, I cut a piece of Bristol paper. It’s about 10 by 10 inches.

Drawing a decorative illustration. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I wanted to include flowers from January to December so that the frame is like a clock that has months instead of hours. The drawing was made with Copic Multiliners (I mostly use 0.05 tip), and I colored it with watercolors.

Coloring a decorative frame with watercolors. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Plywood Base

My original idea was to cut two layers of cardboard so that the topmost layer would have a 4-by-4-inch hole. But when I told my husband that “Ideally, the base would be wooden”, he went to his workshop and came back with a hand-carved plywood base!

Between fine art and illustration. Composing an artwork of painted and hand-drawn pieces.

Putting All The Pieces Together

I painted the plywood black near the surroundings of the miniature painting. It makes sure that the plywood won’t show if the piece is observed from different angles. I varnished the oil painting with Gamvar and let it dry overnight. I put a plastic plate over the frame to reduce the curviness of the paper after painting it with watercolors.

Between fine art and illustration. Composing an artwork of painted and hand-drawn pieces.

Then I glued the painting to the base with gel medium and attached the frame with double-sided tape. Finally, I marked a line of 0.5 cm from the edge of the base and made sure that the motifs extend there. This piece will be professionally framed, so I didn’t want to leave too much empty space around the edges.

Flower Fairy's Year by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. This piece combines fine art and hand-drawn illustration.

Between Fine Art and Illustration

In the art world, there’s a lot of talk about choosing between fine art and illustration. Many define fine art so that it comes up solely from the artist’s own creative expression when illustration illustrates a story or can easily be used with the text. One way to separate them is the number of copies. Fine art pieces are often unique or manufactured in very limited quantities only when illustrations are more of everyday art, consumed by the masses. Some say that it requires talent to create a piece of fine art, and just art education to create a piece of illustration.

In my artistic path, I have found the definitions both helpful and destructive. It has been essential for me to expand to illustration – to learn how to visualize text and written ideas. It has made me more connected with the surrounding world, and it has also brought me more work. However, I feel that art is free, and without exploring that freedom, it’s also difficult to create insightful illustrations. So I have tried to keep up with both worlds.

However, I hate when people say that you have to choose between fine art and illustration. For me, bringing the two approaches as close as possible has been a working solution. I think this project shows really well how one is not the enemy for the other.

Flower Fairy's Year by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. This piece combines fine art and hand-drawn illustration.

I can’t wait to show you more pieces that I have finished for the exhibition! I will also have many framed and will blog about how I selected the frames in the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned!

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