Peony and Parakeet

The Job of a Studio Dog

This post is written by Cosmo, the best studio dog ever.

A studio dog is a position in an artistic family. In short, the job is to maintain the artist’s mental and physical health. This happens by interrupting the artist regularly, but not too often, to get exercise, process inspiration, and stay grounded.

Artists often criticize themselves too much, so it’s essential to love them unconditionally. Whatever they create, they are always worth to get noticed and appreciated. It’s not the job of a dog to decide whether the art is good or bad but to value their temperament and overall creative personality.

Encouraging the artist to take breaks is not always easy. A regular schedule for interruptions is recommended. Sometimes the artist can get annoyed, but it’s good to remember that art is like pig ears. It’s easy to develop an addiction to them. Dogs can’t live with pig ears only, and artists can’t survive by only making art.

When walking the artist, it’s helpful to understand that eyes are her nose. She needs to stop and take pictures once in a while, and these sights are not always what a dog would appreciate.

Creating art is lonely. The artist may want to be alone, but there’s also a limit. Just lying on the studio’s floor can keep her company.

The hardest part of the job is to understand how the internet works. The artist wants to share pictures and stories like this, so sometimes studio dogs also end up on the internet. No matter how old you are, it’s your job to look cute and approachable. It helps if you are not entirely black or white and if you have lop ears. And when the artist is browsing the internet, that’s some kind of a pig ear too.

The job of a studio dog is a job for life. You don’t leave the artist until you have to. At the age of 15 and a half, it’s now time to say goodbye and pass the position to my assistant Stella. She is much cuter than I am, and I’m pretty sure she will handle other things as well. I do have trained her for over eight years.

Lematja’s Heathcliff, “Cosmo”, 23.3.2005 – 18.9.2020. Our hearts are broken, it was so hard to let him go.

Making of a Miniature Painting

This week, I have a new miniature painting and share tips for making small-sized paintings in general.

Ebony, a miniature horse painting, 4 by 4 inches, by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Let me introduce Ebony, my newest miniature painting! It’s only 10 cm x 10 cm (4 inches x 4 inches). The size shows better in the photo below.

Holding a miniature horse painting, made by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

This is an oil painting, and it took over a month from start to finish, but just because I let each layer dry properly. There’s about a week drying time between each layer. If you use acrylic paints or watercolors, the process is much quicker!

The Beginning – Making Not So Beautiful Mess

As usual, I didn’t have any particular idea for the painting when I started. Here’s how the painting looked after a couple of layers.

The beginning of a miniature painting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

My surface here is Ampersand Gessoboard Panel. It’s very smooth and thus suitable for small details. I had bought a pack of four over a year ago. I finished the first one last year, see this blog post!

When making an abstract mess, I don’t usually settle for pretty little messes, but make the mess more layered. When the mess is as ugly as I can bare, it begins to talk to me. It came to my mind, that the random strokes could be mane, and there could be a horse coming up.

The middle and the end of a miniature painting. This is called Ebony, and it's made by Paivi Eerola, Finland.

Using Negative Painting to Dig Out the Spirit

I like to use negative painting a lot. So here, I painted the background first so that it defined the head of the horse. When painting the surroundings, you slowly get closer to the actual spirit. It’s like taming a wild animal!

A small-sized horse painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Ebony is now a gentle soul, and she reminds me of Black Beauty, the television series in the 1970s. I watched every episode and it inspired me to play with plastic horses.

Working on small paintings on Ampersand Gessoboard Panels. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I still have two more panels to finish. I think I will dig out horses or other animals from their messes so that I get a small series of miniature paintings.

My Four Tips for Painting in Miniature

  • Start boldly and enjoy all kinds of mark-making and color play. If you are painting on paper, you can start with a bigger piece, and then cut it into smaller ones.
  • Make a few big shapes that contain smaller ones. In my painting, the horse is one big shape, the background another. Let smaller shapes break the borders of the bigger shapes so that the image doesn’t look stiff.
  • The negative painting technique where you paint the surroundings of the shape enables you to paint delicate shapes easily. Magical Forest is the class to take for mastering this technique!
  • We hold miniature pieces quite close when looking at them, so the quality of brushwork matters. Use thin paint, small brushes and even magnifiers if needed. Taking photos and zooming them helps to see the details too. Decodashery is the class to take for making the best out of every stroke!

Drawing Small

Small horse drawings by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Of course, your miniature artwork doesn’t have to be a painting, but a drawing! For me, drawing has been in a significant role in becoming a better painter. It can be just free drawing like in Inspirational Drawing, or more intentional practice like in Animal Inkdom and Magical Inkdom. I use both approaches in painting too.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s project. Do you like painting or drawing in small size?

3 Tips for Improving Busy Mixed Media Pieces

This week, I have a revamped old piece, and share three tips about making busy mixed media pieces more attractive for the viewer.

"Song of Glass", a mixed media painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See how she revamped an old busy mixed media piece and made this!

The image above is a revamped version of the busy mixed media piece below. It’s 12 by 12 inches, and I originally made it back in 2014 for a blog post about how to paint glass.

A busy mixed media painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See how she revamped this one!

I visited the Finnish Glass Museum a couple of weeks ago, so this piece felt really inspiring again! Let’s dive deeper into how I changed it.

Tip #1 – Cure the White Spot Fever

Back in 2014, I had fallen in love with all kinds of white pens, paints, and correction fluids. A little dot here, another there, and the element looked prettier. But adding dots and spots also make the piece busier. For the viewer, it’s like trying to find its way through crowded streets where everyone is trying to get the attention: “Hey, hey, hey, you there, look at me!”

Lots of small white dots can lead to problems in composition. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

When you are a doctor for the white spot fever, start by toning down all the spots that are located near the edges. We want to steer the eye to the middle first, so the edges don’t have to be so eye-catching. If this is the first time you work on this job, watercolors can be a good choice. Even if the pigment wouldn’t stick on all the surfaces, you get the impression of how the piece looks if you make the edges less noticeable. Turn the piece upside down, so that it’s easier to focus on the task, and not look at the big picture.

Painting over an old busy mixed media piece. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Of course, your pieces can have fever, even if it’s not the white spot fever. The general advice for any fever is to remove all the eye-catching small elements that are located near the edges.

Tip #2 – Form Friendships between Elements

Often when we don’t feel connected with the image, the image itself doesn’t express connection. When the elements are floating separately, there can be a lonely undertone in the whole piece. On the other hand, if there is no contrast between the elements, the image can look busy no matter how connected the elements are.

Here are my two versions side by side. In the old version, there are big glass jars, but the contrast between them is not very clear. There are a lot of small shapes that are floating lonely.

Improving old artwork. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

At best, adding connections make the image to deliver a message. When I looked at my piece, it was unclear to me what it was about. In the old blog post, I had written: “It’s about parents trying to protect their children. The parents have good intentions, and they do their best, but in the end, they have to let the child step into the world. I have painted two glass vases to represent the parents. The child sees the world through the parents, and even if they want to protect the child, they are fragile too.”

But now, I found the element that looked like jaws most intriguing. It seemed to be a rising spirit, a small but powerful baby dragon, which only needed a neck to become a central element.

Creating mixed media and painting with acrylic paints. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I used dark india inks and black pen to quickly sketch how I would connect the elements, and then continued the work with acrylics and lighter colors. I broke the biggest jar near the edge to two jars so that they won’t compete with the focal point so much.

Tip #3 – Make a Highway for the Viewer

Busy pieces often have so many paths for the eye that it’s not clear where to start and how to continue. The best thing is to be clear and make a highway that goes around the image. The viewer can then take smaller scenic routes around the details, but there’s always the big safe road to return to that leads to the main attractions.

Improving composition. Art advice by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Building a highway requires that you know what your main elements are. After finding the spirit of the jar, I made the red circle communicate with it. Now I added a couple of white spots so that it looks like there’s a voice or a reflection flying between the two. So there’s use for those white dots, just use them sparingly and near the places where you want to lead the eye!

Painting shadows with acrylic paints. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

With turquoise tones, I painted a route from the right bottom corner to the two central elements. I also added more depth to the image by painting shadows. Shadows would be my fourth tip, but it’s worth a separate post, so I will get back to it sometimes later.

No More Busy Mixed Media!

I named the revamped version as “Song of Glass” because it’s now about finding the singing spirit of the silent jars.

"Song of Glass", a mixed media painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I hope you found this post helpful for busy mixed media pieces. See my classes for more handy tips and advice!

Painting an Intuitive Fantasy

This week, I have a new fantasy painting, and I also share tips about selecting colors.

"Arotuuli / Steppe Wind", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read her post about this intuitive fantasy painting!

This painting is called “Arotuuli,” which is “Steppe Wind” in English. “Aro” must be one of the few words that are shorter in Finnish than in English, as Finnish words are often very long. We write compound words without space, so it makes words look even longer.

Intuitive Fantasy Painting – Two Tips for the Beginning

I like to paint intuitively, and even if this painting has horses and a woman, it started with random strokes and abstract blocks, and I had no other idea than a secret wish to be able to include a horse at some point.

Tip 1 – Dark and Light

When filling the canvas with color, I like to make dark and light color mixes so that the 3-dimensional effect tickles my imagination.

Starting an intuitive painting. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Tip 2 – Less Can Be More

I also like to pick a narrow selection of colors so that the elements look like they are exposed to the same light. In this painting, I mostly used Phthalo Turquoise, Alizarin Crimson, Yellowish Green, and Titanium White. When mixing colors, less can be more!

A Couple of My Favorite Colors

I am especially fond of Yellowish Green and Alizarin Crimson, and I recommend them warmly. Let’s talk about them a bit more.

Color 1 – Yellowish Green

Yellowish Green is a color mix manufactured by Schminke Primacryl. I bought this tube because I love Daniel Smith’s Rich Green Gold in watercolors, and I wanted to have a similar tone in acrylics. I like colors that remind me of lemons and lime fruits – one of the most beautiful things in the world – and I always find use for yellows. This color is like two colors in one tube: it works very well with the mixes that require yellow, but it also produces beautiful greens with blues.

Yellowish Green by Schminke PrimAcryl.

Color 2 – Alizarin Crimson

Alizarin Crimson is an ugly red. I don’t think you would buy it if you didn’t know more about it. It looks like dried blood but works very well with color mixes. White reveals its gentler side, and when mixed with blues, you can get beautiful blacks, browns, and dark purples. It produces a pleasant and quite sunny orange with yellows, and in general, it’s a workhorse, always willing to step in.

Alizarin Crimson, a beautiful red for color mixes. Manufactured by Golden Acrylics.

Alizarin Crimson was originally manufactured from madder, but these old organic dyes faded or changed within time, so nowadays we use synthetic substitutes. I found this color in oils first. Schminke’s oil paint is called “Alizarin Madder Lake”. My tube, manufactured by Golden, is “Alizarin Crimson Hue”. Alizarin Crimson is sometimes called “Madder Lake” or “Alizarin Red,” and the tone may vary. Pick the darkest and ugliest one!

If you are a color nerd, Bright Earth by Philip Ball is a comprehensive book about pigments and their origin.

Here’s the painting before I started adding the figures. The image shows well how Yellowish Green and Alizarin Crimson work in color mixes.

An intuitive acrylic painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Intuitive Fantasy Shape by Shape

I painted the woman and the horses so that they are partly abstract and partly realistic. Some shapes exist just because they look beautiful, others because they are building blocks for the figures.

Painting details shape by shape. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here are some details of the finished painting. The more you zoom in, the more abstract the painting looks.

A detail of "Arotuuli / Steppe Wind", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. This painting has three horses.
A detail of "Arotuuli / Steppe Wind", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
A detail of "Arotuuli / Steppe Wind", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
A detail of "Arotuuli / Steppe Wind", an acrylic painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s the whole painting again.

I wanted to keep the colors light and bright to create an airy impression.

Intuitive Fantasy Painting – Big or Small?

“Arotuuli” is one of my biggest paintings. It’s 60 x 60 cm (about 23,5 x 23,5 inches) and painted on a stretched, fairly thick canvas. I like painting on smooth surfaces. My style is detailed, and the coarse structure doesn’t go well with it. The painting was started about a month ago, and I took few-hour sessions now and then. It’s not as slow as you would think, because the small strokes aren’t as tiny as with small pieces. Sometimes we produce clumsy just because we select a small size. For me, the bigger size has helped to create dynamic scenes rather than static portraits. “Arotuuli” continues the previous bigger painting “Paratiisi / Paradise.”

Paivi Eerola and her intuitive fantasy painting "Arotuuli / Steppe Wind."

But next week, something much smaller, even if I do have a new big canvas waiting!

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