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!

Intentional or Intuitive Art – Create Both!

Tree of Friendship, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s my new watercolor painting called “Tree of Friendship.” It’s painted freely, first by splashing water, and then by changing to more intentional strokes. But I also show another piece, a more controlled one that I made after this painting. I like to toggle between intuitive and intentional approaches, and maybe this is a working solution for you too in your artistic journey.

Intuitive Art – Start with Freedom!

I regularly need the freedom to paint without any predefined image in mind. If everything that I do is sketched, pre-planned, pre-thought, it’s suffocating. Watercolors have become my favorite medium because they dry rather quickly. I can also splash them without worrying about my safety or the cleaning of the clothes and the studio.

Creating intuitive art. Splashing paint and painting freely with watercolors. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Even if I begin with abstract shapes, most of my work is representational, at least to some degree, when it’s finished. So I slowly discover what the painting could represent and move towards a more intentional approach.

Intuitive art in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

However, I try not to force anything and leave many elements so that they are not fully realistic. I love this freedom between representational and abstract art.

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

In the later stages, I practice intuition so that if I feel like I need to add irrational elements, I do it no matter how silly it is. Then I challenge myself to make them work. In this painting, some color was thrown on the forehead of the other fairy. The spot was connected with the big white flower by drawing a stem.

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

I also like to paint a small area at the time. Then time stops, and painting captivates me. It feels like an adventure, not knowing what will appear within time.

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

When I paint intuitive art, I often end up creating a challenge that feels almost too big. My self-confidence gets low, and freedom gradually becomes a chaotic prison.

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

After this painting, I felt pretty empty and disappointed. I barely managed to make it work, and I questioned many times if this is what I want to do as an artist. I painted this piece for about two days. It took one good night’s sleep to get over the disappointment!

Tree of Friendship, a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See the blog post about creating intuitive art!

This painting is about the beauty of true friendship, secretly connecting two different souls together. When I create intuitive art, I am often able to express bigger themes and more deeply than if I work intentionally.

Intentional Art – Start with Order!

After some free painting, I am usually ready for order, and this time was no exception. Updating the watercolor chart grounds me. I try to do it whenever a pan gets empty and needs to be replaced. The more that I have painted, the more planned my storage has become. I have documentation about the new color that will replace the old one after it’s been used. The upcoming colors have been mentioned in the chart under the actual color.

Watercolor chart by Finnish artist Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

So I have this very controlled side of me that makes me paint a new chart and then memorize it so that when I paint, I don’t have to guess or search for a specific color.

This intentional part of me likes to paint or draw in an illustrative style. Then I often make a quick sketch first. This time, I sketched the face and other main elements lightly with a pencil on watercolor paper and then filled the outlines by painting. I got inspiration from pre-raphaelite paintings and had been thinking for a long time to include more clocks in my work because I really like them.

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

Even if I painted the textures, shadows, etc. freely, there was definitely no splashing involved. I used water much more sparingly and knew what I was doing most of the time.

Fairy watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

The intention of making this piece went so far that I had made a couple of collage pieces to test the style beforehand.

Painting collage pieces with watercolors by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I quite liked how they seemed to fit, and there was no emotional ups or downs!

Why Alternate Between the Intuitive and the Intentional?

If I only painted intuitively, my technical painting skills would stop growing and decay. If I only painted intentionally, my ideas would become too traditional, and I would express too little of myself.

Sometimes we intuitively feel the urge to one direction or another. When you say next time: “I would like to become an abstract painter”, maybe it can be interpreted so that you have left too little room for self-expression lately. Or, if you say “I find it difficult to understand or create abstract art,” maybe it means that you need to practice your technical skills to move forward. Whatever is the case, open the other door too. Permit yourself to let go, and then get back in control again.

Some readers may find this advice worrying, dangerous even when they want to find their style and be consistent in what they do. I would not worry about that too much. If you compare my pieces below, they are not very different from each other. The two approaches will strengthen your voice and make sure that you will keep growing your skills as well.

Matching an intuitive with an intentional painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I am currently building a class that consists of creating both intentional and intuitive art. I am interested to hear your thoughts on the subject! What do You think?

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?

Scroll to top