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!

How to Use Art Prompts for Self-Expression and Creative Enjoyment

Now when Inktober is running, art prompts are especially popular. This week, we use them so that they highlight more than suffocate our self-expression.

Sketchbook pages from art prompts. Made by artist Paivi Eerola, Finland.

Art Prompts – Threat Or Opportunity?

Using art prompts is a tricky thing. The prompt can be your master, telling you literally what to create. You can take “Snow” and draw a pile of white stuff, and then wonder if that was fun at all. On the other hand, many say that they want to create freely from their ideas but then struggle with getting in touch with what they truly want to create.

I have been using art prompts successfully to expand my artistic expression and to become more clear with my artistic vision. For me, a prompt is a starting point to discover things I love to spend time with. I don’t just draw the first idea that comes to my mind, but process it further before I start drawing.

Ideas vs. Techniques – How to Become a Better Artist with the Help of Art Prompts?

Art blogs rarely talk about processing ideas, and in general, the discussion about art, especially when artists lead it, is very technique-heavy. But if I had to choose between ideas and techniques, my choice would be ideas. In my opinion, it should be ideas that make you learn the techniques, not vice versa. The art that is only about mastering the techniques is more like craft – it can be skillfully made, but the freedom of expression and creativity doesn’t shine through. On the other hand, we sometimes create art that is packed with emotion that other people don’t see. Then the process was cathartic, but the lack of techniques flattened the expression.

Balancing between the ideas and the techniques is not easy, and all artists struggle with it. If you focus on the techniques only, the process of creating becomes joyless and meaningless. The ideas bring back the passion for creating. That’s why I also talk about ideas in my classes.

This week, I share my ideas behind the recent Inktober prompts (days 11-18). I rate how difficult each prompt was for me between 1 to 5, how I discovered the ideas for the images, and what I learned from the process. Like last week, I have also written stories for each image, articulating my thoughts after the creation process. This post is also an example of how you can use journaling to clarify your artistic vision. Words go well together with the art prompts. If you feel the need to write as a part of the actual image, you can challenge yourself in visual expression. Think about how you could visually express the words you want to write!

Prompt 1 – Snow

Difficulty: 1 – Easy
Ideas: I live in Finland, I know snow! I was thinking about the harshness of winter and if my new orchids will survive it. I am always inspired by Russian folk art and wanted to the illustration look like a northern fairytale.
Lessons Learned: When I look at the image, my emotional reaction is strong. This is who I am and what I love to create at the moment.

Snow, one of the Inktober art prompts. Drawing by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: Hope carries us. When times are hard, we have the need to protect and nurture. We want to find something to fight for. Even if those things are like rare orchids, freshly wounded, impossible to plant, we want to believe they can be saved. Women have the strength to give a home to a helpless. As well as the weakness to suffocate with love. Still, it is one of the reasons why the world functions, how we can cope through the snowy seasons, and why absolute compassion still exists in this universe.

Prompt 2 – Dragon

Difficulty: 4 – Challenging
Ideas: I elaborate on my challenges more in the story part below, but this prompt made me feel that it has to be done quickly and with as little damage as possible! So I picked my sketchbook and found a face, painted with watercolors, and decided to made it look like a dragon. The agony disappeared once I started drawing, and I really enjoyed adding horns, scales, and all.
Lessons Learned: Drawing can be a role-play or a dress-up party where I can stretch my perception of myself.

Dragon. Watercolor and Copic fineliners on paper. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. One of the Inktober prompts.

Story: This prompt has been the most uncomfortable for me so far in this year’s challenge. I do like to draw animals, but I haven’t seen myself as the one who draws dragons. I realized that I was also questioning whether YOU want to see any dragons either, and every time I begin to overthink what I should or shouldn’t draw, there’s a creative block that I must overcome. So, I wanted to show myself that yes, I can be the dragon lady. I don’t just create art to protect and admire what I love, but to become open to new adventures. I had a lot of fun drawing this one, inspired by Renaissance too!

Prompt 3 – Ash

Difficulty: 2 – Normal
Ideas: Ash reminded me of the Phoenix bird, and I wanted to include some orchids too. My original idea was just to make a woman rising from the ash, but I accidentally drew the thumbs on the wrong side of the hands! Then I remembered cupids from old paintings and added the two little girls so that the hands are theirs. I really like those two mischief-makers.
Lessons Learned: Working with the non-erasable media stretches creativity and mistakes can take the work to the new level. The processing of ideas can happen also while creating, not only before.

Using art prompts for expanding self-expression. Ash by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: We are all mythical phoenix birds. When one era ends, another one begins. About 10 years ago, I had a long row of African violets. Then a few years later, I fell in love with Streptocarpus flowers. Now they are gone, and I am beginning a new era in my hobby of growing houseplants – the era of orchids! So my love for plants is regularly reborn. Do you recognize this kind of rebirth in your life?

Prompt 4 – Overgrown

Difficulty: 1 – Easy
Ideas: One of the easiest prompts for me! The image came instantly to my mind, and all I had to do is to draw it. I wanted to make the hands, legs, and wings for the playful fairy so that they are very plant-like.
Lessons Learned: I need to draw more fairies. It’s funny that I haven’t ever been drawn to them before this year, and now I am really fond of them! I guess I have found my way to interpret their playfulness.

Overgrown flower fairy. Illustration by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: I used to think that when my art grows, it will become deeper and deeper, reaching the remotest end of fine art. But during the past couple of years, my images have become more humorous, playful, and illustrational. It’s been surprising to notice that the same building blocks and ideas that could express the agony in the world can be used for making illustrations that include hope, even childishness. I cherish this child in me, and I want her always to grow bigger than her current pot. And at the same time, I want to protect her from becoming so big that she stops seeing life’s little pleasures.

Prompt 5 – Legend

Difficulty: 5 – Agonizing
Ideas: I hated the prompt. It made me think about photo-realistic images of Marilyn Monroe and old rock stars which are not my favorite art at all. Then I tried to approach the subject from the story-perspective, and all that I could think of was Robin Hood, King Arthur, and other similar historical stories that didn’t inspire me. I realized that I needed to pick a legend that I truly appreciate, and Jane Austen came to my mind.
Lessons Learned: I really like this illustration! There’s a lot of elements, but their hierarchy is so clear that the image is easy to look at. It was perhaps because I started the sketch in the evening, but finished the image the next morning. All the ideas that I had, fell in place during the night.

Jane Austen. An illustration by Paivi Eerola.

Story: Jane Austen is one of the most famous women in history. Do you think she predicted that? Did she know her books would make an impact on the world for hundreds of years? But there she was, alone with her thoughts in late evenings like creative people do, planning her plots. Her life was just a blink of an eye in the universe, but still, the cosmos echoes her name. Generations after generations, we have a human bond with her – no matter how linear time feels and no matter if we really even knew what she looked like.

Prompt 6 – Wild

Difficulty: 2 – Normal
Ideas: Because the prompt is so general, I just picked an inspirational image from my Instagram archive, and started from there. The image was a photo of an old clock, and it reminded me how the sense of time disappears when creating. So I made the clock look like it floats and falls apart, and followed my intuition for all the other elements. The couple on the left corner probably came because I have been watching Dancing With the Stars while drawing!
Lessons Learned: I like to express movement and create surrealistic illustrations. It makes me feel free, and sometimes it’s important to focus on the process of creating rather than controlling the result.

Inktober drawing challenge 2019, day 16. Wild by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See her blog posts about how to use art prompts for self-expression!

Story: There’s a place in your mind where everything gets mixed, where nothing stays static, and where rules are broken. What you can’t do is only other people’s false assumptions. The way they define drawing – or any other skill – doesn’t matter anymore. You are in a place where all is wrong and thus so right. Time flies, and you live forever. Go wild and get creating to travel there!

Prompt 7 – Misfit

Difficulty: 3 – Hard
Ideas: This prompt was for Friday, and I want Fridays to be a bit more light-hearted than other weekdays. So I wanted to make a humorous illustration that would start the weekend in a cheerful mood. First, it felt a bit challenging to combine the prompt with the humor. I love to draw women in historical dresses, and it made me think about how romantic mind and everyday chores are a definite misfit!
Lessons Learned: The empty space can be used to highlight the message. Here the composition is built so, that the romantic steps toward the past (to the left), the butterfly scene directs the eye towards her face and lower lip, and the empty space highlights the bucket. The bucket and the emptiness of the horizontal scene created by the hem are central to the message. It took a couple of extra sketches to get all the elements in place.

"Misfit" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Ink drawing on paper.

Story: Sweeping, scrubbing, dusting … Misfit chores for artistic souls like us, at least today!

Prompt 8 – Ornament

Difficulty: 2 – Normal
Ideas: I have been drawing ornaments quite a lot lately, and I love it. Every time I design an ornament, it makes me feel like I am doing something that I am meant to do. It’s probably because it’s so close to my studies in engineering and industrial design. This time I wanted to make an ornament that’s not symmetrical, and that would also express a personal story.
Lessons Learned: Many of my ideas easily take the form of an ornament, and I would also like to teach making them! (Would you be interested?)

"Ornament" by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See her blog post about  how to express yourself visually with the help of art prompts!

Story:
This prompt is especially close to my heart. It reminds me of how important it is to become the true self. When I studied industrial design, I realized that my expression was too ornamental. “Simplify, simplify,” my teachers said. Plastic stuff that we were taught to design has to be manufactured as cheaply as possible. But I took another route and geared towards art. Ten years have passed by, and I still struggle to accept how ornamental I see the world.

But that’s how it is. To me, an ornament is a time machine. I can travel through the history of humanity by merely picking shapes of any era. It also brings me closer to my roots. My grandfather studied drawing, and my father drew to me when I was a child. These two men passed away a long time ago. I never got to see my grandfather, and I wasn’t very close to my father. But now there’s this strange yet pleasant feeling of being who I am meant to be. I continue the chain of generations, fulfilling not only my dreams but also my father’s and grandfather’s secret wishes. These people enabled me the life I am living, and I am giving back to them by drawing and designing – being as ornamental as I can be.

Repeating Art Prompts – Another Version of Ornament

Difficulty: 2 – Normal
Ideas: I started working with the prompt “Ornament”, but then realized, that this one is a more time-consuming piece. So I finished it for Day 19, instead of making the official prompt of the day. The idea became from art deco table lamps. They often have a statue that holds the bulb. I didn’t use any reference for this one, and lately, my drawing skills have grown so that I have drawn a lot without any references. I enjoy that a lot!
Lessons Learned: This one started as a quick sketchbook drawing, but I got hooked about the idea and made it a gouache painting, black and white, in the spirit of Inktober. The paper of the sketchbook (Leuchturm A4) wasn’t suitable for wet media, but I finished the painting anyway. My gouache paints were Arteza in colors Noir and Titanium White. Noir wasn’t pitch black but more greyish tones. The cheap paints usually have white to lower the price. The process would have been much more pleasurable with the art supplies of better quality. It would be best if the idea, the technique, and the choices of supplies would serve each other!

"The Guardians of Imagination", a gouache painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Story: I call this “The Guardians of Imagination” and it is to our soul sisters in art. They keep the lights of imagination switched on, and support others to do the same. They bring the best of the past times to this day, so let’s thank them, and let’s be sisters to them as well.

This painting is my last contribution to this year’s Inktober. I am currently working on a big illustration project, and want to focus on finishing it next week.

More About Art Prompts

Here are some older blog posts that you might want to check out too.

Experiences from Inktober 2018 when I finished all the 31 prompts:

The best art prompts of this blog:

Let’s keep creating, my soul sister in art!

Inktober Warm-Up Exercise

Ink drawing by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See her step-by-step instructions for creating black and white ink art that combines both abstract and realistic elements.

It’s soon October and with that – Inktober! Last year, I did all 31 prompts. Read about my previous experience here and here!

This year, I intend to make at least some drawings. And because Inktober was such a great experience for me last year, I want to support you to take it too. Here’s an Inktober warm-up exercise. I hope it inspires you to use inks and black felt-tipped pens to create black and white art. Follow the steps to keep going!

1) Paint an Abstract Composition

Let’s start by playing with liquid ink! Mine is Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink. I make the image on Leuchtturm 1917 Sketchbook.

Inktober warm-up exercise - Step 1

Put a few drops of black ink on a palette. Mix some water to the ink so that it’s grey rather than pitch black. Make some pale strokes with a flat brush. Then add new strokes on the top of previous ones. Work slowly! Enjoy each stroke and the translucency of it.

Inktober warm-up exercise - Step 1

Turn the brush upward and make narrow strokes by using the tip of the flat brush. Experiment with both wet and dry brush.

Inktober warm-up exercise - Step 1

Pick a small round brush and add some ink on the top of the narrow strokes. Now you should have an abstract composition that has a variety of painted elements.

2) Fill Spaces Between the Painted Areas

Use a brush pen or black ink that hasn’t been watered down. Focus on the center of your composition.

Inktober warm-up exercise - Step 2

Fill most of the spaces between the painted areas with black ink. Leave some white to highlight the best parts. Black adds depth to the grey composition.

3) Draw Realistic Objects

Select black thin-tipped drawing pens of various thicknesses. I use Copic Multiliners from 0.05 to 1.0.

Choose a realistic object that you want to repeat in the image. My choice was women’s faces. For example, flowers or birds could be great too.

Inktober warm-up exercise - Step 3

Look at the abstract composition and seek for places where you can add the objects. Add more black, and adjust the shape of the pale areas so that they partly outline the objects. When drawing the objects, play with the scale so that some are big and some small no matter where they are located in the image. All the objects don’t have to be fully visible. Some can hide partly behind the abstract elements.

Inktober warm-up exercise - Step 3

I like to draw faces so that I sketch it first with a thin ink pen, and then adjust it by adding a black element beside the face. (In my classes Animal Inkdom and Magical Inkdom, I show easy step-by-step methods for drawing all kinds of fun figures.)

4) Doodle Decorations

Continue with the black drawing pens, and doodle on the blank and pale areas. I also use a handmade oval template to get a big geometric shape that is fun to decorate.

Inktober warm-up exercise - Step 4

For decoration, the sky is the limit, but I like jewels, frills, laces, waves, and flowers!

Before and after decoration- Ink drawing in progress. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

When doodling, I also add shadows to the elements by drawing thin lines side by side.

5) Finishing Touches: Shadows and Highlights

Squeeze your eyes and point all the white areas. Usually, there are too many and it makes the image look busy. Pick a brush and paint most of the white with diluted black ink.

Inktober warm-up exercise - Step 5

Especially the areas that are near the edges are worth toning down.

Inktober warm-up exercise - Step 5

I also like to paint over the shadowed areas to give them a softer look.

Inktober warm-up exercise - Step 5

White gel pen can be handy for those areas that need a little bit more white.

Inktober Warm-Up – Finished Piece

Here’s my finished piece again. See how limited the number of white areas is.

Ink drawing by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. See her step-by-step instructions for creating black and white ink art that combines both abstract and realistic elements.

I hope you enjoyed this Inktober warm-up! Tell me – are you going to participate in Inktober?

Watercolor Girl in a Spring Garden

Watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I have just finished this watercolor painting. It’s a continuum for this recent one:

Watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

This spring, I have been painting flowers, fruits, vegetables, vases, and pots – my inner garden – while my husband has been busy taking care of our outer garden!

I don’t intentionally paint what I see in the garden, but I am fascinated by it. Our front garden had big changes last summer so it’s interesting to see what has survived through the winter and what hasn’t. It’s a bit like when starting a painting – some details stay, and some get covered.

Watercolor painting in progress.

At the beginning of May, we got snow. We had just had a warm period but then it became really cold!

Snowing in a Japanese garden.

Fortunately, the weather has got warmer again. This morning, I walked in the garden and thought how perfect all the shapes and colors are. I imagined I am a watercolor girl in a watercolor world, translating all the beauty on a coarse cotton paper step by step.

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

It’s just magical when the old cherry tree blossoms in our new Japanese garden for the first time.

Cherry blossoms in a garden.

I only wish our tree would have pink flowers. But for a watercolor girl, everything is possible!

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

One of our flowerbeds is filled with a variety of tulips. We buy some new bulbs every autumn, and the bed gets fuller and fuller every spring.

Tulips in a garden.

I love to paint abstract shapes and then draw lines to make them flowers or filaments!

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

Does your garden appear in your art?

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