Peony and Parakeet

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!

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!

Come to draw fantastic art (+ fantastic frames) with me – 
Sign up for Magical Inkdom!
Right after the registration, you will get all the lessons, and you are good to start drawing! >> Sign up here!

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!

Breaking the Rules – Creating What’s Right for You

This blog post is about breaking the rules when choosing what to create.

Madonna of the Heart, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Let’s begin with this oil painting. Oil paintings are big projects for me, and I only finished two of them last year. The first was Temptation, and this is the second one, called Madonna of the Heart.

Following the Heart – Breaking the Rules

My Madonna is a small painting, only 18,5 x 23,5 cm, but it’s quite detailed. I first planned to make it fully abstract, but then got second thoughts.

Starting an oil painting, painting intuitively, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

As a child, I learned the basics of eastern-orthodox art by attending an icon painting group. I was taught many rules – what colors to choose, how to mix the right tones, how to build layers, etc. It was not just about learning the right techniques, but also obeying the long tradition. The repeating discussion in the group was the difference between right and wrong. There was very little room for creativity, and I loved it! I was about 10 years old and eager to learn new things. Work was challenging, and it was comforting to know that there’s one clear direction.

Madonna of the Heart, an oil painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

When painting the small canvas, I was tempted to travel back to my childhood, and participate in that small and safe group of icon painters again. But I also knew that it’s very wrong not to follow the rules. My supplies were wrong, my background was wrong, the whole idea was wrong. But it felt natural and tempting, so I made it.

Natural to You, Wrong to Some

Recently, I have found many creative blocks like this one. To paint an icon with oils on an abstract background is wrong to some, but it’s natural to me. I love painting intuitively, and the idea of an icon is the most beautiful that I know. Don’t we all need an image that offers consolation and reminds about kindness? To me, it has nothing to do with any specific religion. Everybody has a right to have a Madonna of the Heart.

While building the class Animal Inkdom, I have also filled my “boxes of joy” with hand-drawn collage pieces. Very soon after starting, I realized that the principle “natural to me, wrong to some” also applies to these small drawings.

Paivi's box of hand drawn collage pieces. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Yes, I love to draw flowers, birds, butterflies, very innocent stuff. But there are also pieces that are quite odd like this one.

Hand drawn ornament by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

This hand-drawn ornament has two women, both dressed in old Byzantine clothing, and the lion. It has a handle so that it can be held like a sacred image. This small drawing is packed with stories about my childhood. I remember the conversations with my mother, already passed away. I remember my idol, Joy Adamson, and her lion Elsa. I remember my love for blue color. Seeing all that together makes me happy.

I also love to play with the ornament by adding more handdrawn elements around it!

Hand-drawn ornaments by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Breaking the Rules Between Serious and Playful

So it happened that a carefully painted oil painting and this little ornament became equal. Of course, not equal in monetary value, but equal in the kind of satisfaction I get from them. And it also feels that this world that I am building is surprisingly inclusive, both humorous and deep. All I need to do is to make what’s natural to me, even if it would look wrong to some.

Paivi Eerola's art. An oil painting and hand-drawn ornaments. Breaking the rules of what's right and wrong in art.

We often miss this natural zone because we are so focused on what makes sense to others. When choosing what to create, we work with pre-defined labels like “portraits” or “art journal pages” or “abstracts.” We do what seems to be right for the genre, rather than step into the world where someone might not get it, or in the worst case, might get offended. Still, the freedom in art can’t exist without the freedom of imagination.

Come to Play and Draw with Me!

So, I dare to suggest: play with your art! Cross the boundaries between “right” and “wrong”! Follow the general rules of aesthetics but brea the rules of subject matters.

I think that with Animal Inkdom, you can nail it. You will get practical tips and techniques, but there’s also humor and play, all flavored with the love for wildlife.

Drawing animals and decorating them with motifs. Paivi Eerola has a fun drawing class called Animal Inkdom.

It’s still a good time to sign up for Animal Inkdom! The first one of the five modules is published, and you will get it right away after the registration.

Let’s keep on drawing, and never forget the playing part either!

Scroll to top