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Peony and Parakeet

4 Social Tips for Improving Your Art – with The Students of Peony and Parakeet

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Tina Mitchell, Nicaragua.

This blog post is mostly illustrated by the students of the online painting class Planet Color. I am rerunning this class from April 24th to May 7th! Join me to paint fun abstract and colorful art! Suitable for beginners. Sign up before the class starts!

Social Tips

I call this set of tips “social” because instead of just talking in design terms like “white space” or “focal point,” I want to emphasize that art is a messaging tool. We, visual people, are sensitive to visual messages. Every image contains them whether they are added intentionally or unintentionally. As a teacher, I see my role as a guide who helps you to see what your pieces communicate and how you can fine-tune them to express the message that you want to deliver. In this blog post, I explain why beginning artists fail in visual communication and how to fix that. These social tips with sample images will improve the quality of your art!

Colorful mandalas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Read 4 social tips she has about creating art!

1) Bring Out The Leader, Express an Opinion

One of the things we all struggle the most is expressing an opinion. Even now, while I am writing this blog post, I am struggling with that. When I type the first few sentences, I become aware of all of you who might not like this post. I think of you who feels that you are more of a crafter, not a painter. And of you who thinks that this is too basic and you are far ahead. I am aware of you who likes fewer images, as well as you who don’t ever read a thing. Some images might look too dark or too white to your taste. Or you might not even like or value abstract art. What makes the writing even more difficult is that even my personal taste and opinions change over time, sometimes on a daily basis. And then I begin to think that who am I to write about this anyway. There are always people who know better and whose opinions could be more valuable.

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet browsing art journals.

It’s so easy to walk on that path of self-doubt and then rewrite the whole thing so that it actually says very little, nearly nothing. I might still remember the real meaning of the words myself, but you might not get anything to take with you.

The same thing happens easily in art making too. By making every detail equal in size, sharpness, and color, we end up expressing something that’s nearly nothing. It’s just a gang of evenly spread elements waiting for a leader to be picked. But when you do that – choose a leader, express an opinion, say something with clarity that can make people take sides – then the impact is also born. See how Elaine Wirthlin does that in her painting!

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Elaine Wirthlin, USA.

2) Build Bridges, Don’t Stay Alone

When I saw a room full of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings in Musée d’Orsay, I was in tears. Yes, the original paintings were much more than what you could expect based on the photos and prints. But there was another reason too. I was crying because the room was packed with people. Knowing how lonely Vincent had been, it felt heart-breaking. Surely, if there had been social media at his time, he would have got his fan base! A small group of forward-thinkers, perhaps.

I don’t think loneliness is good for anyone. Don’t get me wrong – I am all for introvert lifestyle. Being an introvert myself, I wouldn’t dream of reducing my quiet, creative moments. But in the end, being isolated and expressing isolation is never a solution. Sometimes we are in the wrong place at the wrong time like Vincent did, but with the internet, there are soul-mates for everyone. With your art, you can build connections, not enforce divisions.

A detail of a mixed media painting by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

When being interviewed after a long career, Finnish opera singer Jorma Hynninen said: “All artists want to connect with other people through their art.”

Images that include bridges and closeness make us feel happy. In Sue Jorgensen’s work, I see the message how different personalities can work and move on together.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Sue Jorgensen, Australia.

3) Play with Many Identities, Become Free of Limitations

When I became more serious about art, I questioned my love for crafts. One of my crafty hobbies was scrapbooking. I took photos and wrote stories about my everyday life. Sometimes I challenged myself to journal and sometimes, I let the photos and the decorations tell the whole story like on the layout below that shows the four seasons by focusing on trees.

Four Seasons. A scrapbooking layout by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

“An artist who also scrapbooks” sounded like a big joke to me back then. But the more ambitious I have become in my art career, the more I have learned to value other things that I do, scrapbooking included. After a long workday, it makes me feel free to take the dogs for a walk and listen to scrapbooking podcasts. After using embellishments and photos, it makes me feel free when I pick up my brushes and work with canvases, without limiting myself to the concept of scrapbooking.

One person can wear many hats. Some people might have seen you only wearing one, and their opinions about you only relate to that. However, don’t let it limit and define yourself in the other areas of life. People who knew me as an IT project manager saw a different side of me than you who reads this blog. I may have inherited my detailed style from the engineering part, but there’s so much more that I want to express and play with, than one chapter in my past.

An art journal page spread by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. She has a class called Planet Color for painting colorful abstracts!

Susana König’s painting reminds me of IT business and how it’s all teamwork too!

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Susana König, Germany.

In Debbie Kreischer’s painting, the decorative style can take a more expressive twist, showing how things are not so black and white after all.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Debbie Kreischer, USA.

In Lisa Clemmer’s painting, the colors are soft, but the shapes are dynamic. This controversy makes it compelling.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Lisa Clemmer, USA.

Linda Thompson’s painting has playful colors and the dynamics of a fun game.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Linda Thompson, Canada.

Lois Dimler’s painting is like a happy circus where everybody has fun!

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Lois Dimler, USA.

4) Listen to Others, Let It Inspire You

I have always been an idea person. I invent new things quickly and have always been eager to find all kinds of unique approaches, also in art. However, I have also noticed that we often overestimate the uniqueness and the originality of our first ideas. But when we start combining many ideas into one, the result can be something new. My idea of drawing your own coloring page is not that unique but the way I have colored it gives it a modern twist. (Also read: How to Transform Ideas into Paintings)

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet with her art journal.

It’s not good to try to protect yourself from seeing what others do. We consume all the time anyway. If not art, then something else. Listening to other people, seeing other people’s art and getting to know art history is not a threat but an enabler to your personal style. Sometimes it can be a real eye-opener to create from a similar standpoint with somebody else and then compare.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Meri Andriesse, USA.

Compare Meri Andriesse’s and Pirkko-Liisa Mannoja’s paintings above and below! They have many similarities, but their style is different. Meri’s piece is soft, carefree and modern while Pirkko-Liisa’s is strong, detailed and historical.

Student artwork from the class Planet Color. Pirkko-Liisa Mannoja, Finland.

I love people who speak enthusiastically about what they have done. Even if they would talk about something that I would never even want to try, like deep-sea diving, it’s fascinating to hear how they express their experiences. While listening, I imagine the places that I would explore if I were that person. It gives me ideas that I wouldn’t ever have found by myself.

We never know enough about art history, other artists, other people, other fields of expertise, other anything! Artist’s mindset is being an immaterial collector – collecting thoughts, stories, visuals, any ideas and then expressing that inspiration. By developing the ability to see nuances in other people’s talk and work, you will also begin to see what’s unique about you.

What tip would you give?

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet with her abstract painting made for the class Planet Color.

Planet Color is available as a self-study class: Buy Now!

Rebuilding Art – Using Reference Images for Self-Expression

Using a reference image as a model for the painting. By Peony and Parakeet.

This blog post is about composing new art by using reference images. At the moment, I have a couple of paintings in progress that are based on reference images, and I also show other examples as well.

Why Don’t Artists Always Tell About Using Reference Images?

While painting my first oil painting at The National Museum of Finland, the visitors of the museum were able to visit the studio and watch us paint. Many people asked why we paint copies of the old paintings. The teacher Emmi Mustonen replied that it’s a good way to learn the old painting techniques and develop the understanding of formal elements. But I got the feeling that some of the people didn’t get it. Their facial expressions were imprinted on my mind, and it made me ponder why using reference images raises conflicting feelings.

Even if most artists who create realistic art or include realistic elements in their art, use reference images, many are not very open about it. I think that one reason is that many artists believe that people know that already and another reason that the process is not interesting. My experience is that there are surprisingly many people who assume that artists don’t take photos or use other than live models. And to me, the process of composing a new image from old ones is fascinating. I always stop to see an article where an artist shows how the reference images were used. I am especially interested if it’s about choosing the photos and combining several reference images into one piece.

Strawberry Madonna – Combining Several Reference Images to Tell a Story

A reference image of Strawberry Madonna and painting in progress. By Peony and Parakeet.

I am currently painting an acrylic painting on canvas that I call “Strawberry Madonna.” It’s my first using old masters’ painting techniques with acrylics instead of oil paints. The idea for the painting started differently than usually. I invented the title first and then started to think how Strawberry Madonna would look. I wanted to find a young woman who would have lips like she had just eaten a strawberry. By googling Renaissance paintings, I found Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio‘s painting. After that, I moved to building a story around the original idea.

Strawberry Madonnas are young girls who enjoy life without worries, have long summer holidays, eat strawberries, learn to crochet and read books like Emily of the New Moon or Anne of Green Gables. I have been one of them, and I feel quite nostalgic about it. I wanted the painting to include surrealistic elements. It has a big strawberry that is placed so that it could be a sleeve of the madonna’s dress. I am also going to change the flowers in the hair wreath to strawberry flowers and play with green and red paint. It will happen when I move on from underpainting to adding colors. In the background, there’s a photo that I took last summer. I am going to make it a little less detailed.

I used Photoshop to compose the reference image and made the sketch on canvas with charcoal. I drew a grid to make the sketching quicker.

Girl with a Ferret – Changing the Meaning with a Simple Trick

A reference image and a painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I have also started a new oil painting under the guidance of Emmi Mustonen. I got to pick the reference image freely. I wanted to pick an old Renessaince painting, but I couldn’t find any that would have a couple of my favorite features when painting with old masters’ techniques. I love to paint fur and fabric, and I wanted to find a face that would include openness. I fell in love with Boccaccio Boccaccino‘s portrait of a gypsy girl, but it didn’t have any fur. So I remembered Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” and created a new image by combining the two in Photoshop. I have several stories about this one.

The first one is about today’s society and how the pets have become more human in our eyes. I want to show the similarities in the wild gypsy girl and the tame ferret. Another story is about young girls and their love for taking care of animals. They might not know the wildlife, but they help to rescue animals and are ready to work hard when taking care of them. They are against fur clothing and not afraid to show it. The third story goes back to the 16th century. I imagine that the gypsy girl was hired to dress up and hold the ermine because the lady didn’t have the patience to pose for the artist. In the end, she never showed. The artist became frustrated and painted the girl instead. I can imagine the magical moment when the girl realized that she would be in the final painting instead of a lady.

I would like to talk with Boccaccio Boccaccino about my version. I also wonder, how he was able to paint the portrait of the gypsy girl when the artists mostly painted for churches and aristocrats back then.

At Monet’s Garden – Including All the Good Stuff to the Same Image

Last spring, I published a mini-course called Strokes of Energy as a part of the Imagine Monthly Spring series. I asked my students to name their favorite artists, and Claude Monet was among most popular ones. But when I thought about Claude Monet, I didn’t want just to serve those who love the garden or those who adore his way to paint the sky or those who want to express the windy scenes. I wanted to have all the good stuff in one image and then some more.

A digital collage combining 3 paintings from Claude Monet. By Peony and Parakeet.

So I created a reference image in Photoshop combining three of Claude Monet’s paintings: “Woman with a Parasol” and a couple of paintings from the water lily series. Then I invented a technique where you can paint some of the elements as collage pieces so that you can adjust the overall composition before making the final decisions. This way it is possible to add more details one by one and improve the image during the actual creative process.

A Monet-inspired art journal page by Peony and Parakeet. See her mini-course Strokes of Energy.

So this painting is about a woman who is experiencing strong wind. She doesn’t mind wind catching her parasol. She enjoys the fresh air and the beautiful scene around her.

Ulla’s Take

One of the students, Ulla M. Holm, made a Photoshop sketch from another set of Monet’s paintings and then painted the image with short impressionistic strokes. I love how the result also reminds me of her home country, Sweden!

A Monet-inspired art journal spread by Ulla M. Holm, a student of Peony and Parakeet.

Using Reference Images More Intuitively – From a Story to an Experience

I admit having mixed feelings about following the reference images carefully. With my art, I want to express freedom, and I don’t think that following reference images too closely helps with that. On the other hand, I don’t want to restrict myself doing abstracts only or creating similar paintings one after another. Many artists create the same again and again and become better and better with that. To me, art is about exploring and the hook there is to widen my perspective continuously.

So even if you would prefer abstract art, it doesn’t mean you can’t have reference images. Instead of connecting with the actual story, you can connect with an emotional experience.

Emile Vernon's painting and Paivi Eerola's abstract interpretation. By Peony and Parakeet.

I picked colors and ideas from Emile Vernon’s painting and imagined what it would be like wearing that soft dress. The dress felt like a dream, so I wrote: “Muisto unelmasta” –  “a memory of a dream” in the image.

Using reference images: a photo and an abstract interpretation. By Peony and Parakeet. To learn how to do this, sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!

Here’s another example from my class Inspirational Drawing 2.0: a photo from The National Library of Finland and my interpretation, “The Power of Knowledge.”

Do yo want to experiment with this approach using your personal reference images? >> Sign up for Inspirational Drawing 2.0!

For the Fans of Monet – Strokes of Energy

My Monet-inspired mini-course Strokes of Energy is now available as an individual self-study course. >> Buy Strokes of Energy!

Strokes of Energy, a Monet-inspred mini-course by Peony and Parakeet.

Geraldine’s Take

I want to end this blog post with a skilled artist Geraldine Norris from Australia who created her version of Monet in my class. She had just seen an art exhibition showing Monet’s work, and I think it shows how deeply she connected with the experience.

A Monet-inspired painting by Geraldine Norris, Australia, a student of Peony and Parakeet.

But wait, there is more beautiful Monet-inspired art from my students, see the presentation page of Strokes of Energy!

Until next time!

Freedom and Fear of Drawing – with Students of Peony and Parakeet

Asian Bunny, an illustration by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I dedicate this blog post for drawing, but I want to talk about cross stitching first. It’s one of my long-time hobbies, and I find it relaxing. I don’t have to make any decisions, use any imagination, just follow the chart, and the result will be just like I wanted it to be. Cross stitching is like a simple house plant. If you give a little bit of time for it fairly regularly, it will grow even if it doesn’t feel like so at first.

Paivi likes cross stitching

I can choose complicated charts or simple ones, and easily adjust the attention required for stitching. But there’s one problem that always remains: pixelation. Each image is made from single square-shaped stitches. No matter how complicated the design is or thick the fabric is, the pixelation is there.

Christmas at Gingerbread Lane, a cross stitching project in progess

Working with single stitches is not only a visual problem. It’s also a problem if we want to create more freely. Then we need a medium that allows faster and more flexible thinking. Like drawing. There are many kinds of drawing styles. When I want to experience creative freedom, I don’t do sketching using a pre-made model. (The photo shows a recent Renaissance-style painting in progress. I have designed it first in Photoshop.)

A sketch for a Renessaince style painting, by Peony and Parakeet

A Fear for Freedom – A Fear of Drawing

When I want to feel free, I don’t want models. Then it’s just a blank paper and a pen and a wish for a glimpse of imagination.

But freedom and fear are strangely connected. About three years ago, when I planned to leave my day job and start an art business, I warned myself. I told how I would no longer be anyone noticeable. I would have no office, no place to go every day, no colleagues to discuss with, no job title, no respect from others, no self-esteem. I would live in the darkest edge of the society and completely against the way of life I was taught. With these stories, I tried to prevent myself making the life change, and at the same time, I knew I had to try it. I had to turn the page and start a completely blank one.

Drawing on a blank page, by Peony and Parakeet.

I often connect with the same fear when I start drawing. That I am no one, that I have no power, that it is overwhelming and I don’t know what to do. But then, it’s the same gate that leads to the most wonderful feeling: the feeling of freedom.

Before I left my day job, I started to follow other self-employed women online. I listened to podcasts where they told their stories, and they all had one thing in common. They had put what they already know into use and then learned more. It made me list all the skills that I had and be more content about the decision I had made.

Paivi just before her life change

Drawing Factory Teaches You to Draw from Stick Figures

Still, on this day, I find it both assuring and inspiring to acknowledge what is already there before starting something new. So last year, I wanted to create a mini-course about line drawing, using the same philosophy. That was how Drawing Factory was born. It teaches you to start from stick figures and then move on to flowing lines and more imaginative illustrations.

Drawing Factory, a line drawing mini-course that helps you to lose your fear of drawing. By Peony and Parakeet.

Student Artwork

I offered Drawing Factory as a part of Imagine Monthly Fall 2016, the series of monthly mini-courses. See some of the gorgeous pieces that my students have made of the course! Another central theme in the course is Japan, the land of pretty details and high productivity and that has inspired Denise Dineen, Linda Robson, Christie Juhasz, Stepanie Carney, Marie Jerred, and Kathy Gallant, too.

Denise Dineen, USA. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Linda Robson, Canada. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Christie Juhasz, USA. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Stephanie Carney, USA. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Marie Jerred, Canada. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Kathy Gallant, Canada. Student Artwork from the mini-course Drawing Factory.

Overcome Your Fears for Line Drawing – Buy Drawing Factory!

Drawing Factory is now available as a single self-study class. >> Click here to buy!
You can also buy the whole bundle of five art journaling classes, published last year as Imagine Monthly Fall 2016.

Thank you for supporting my journey now and during the last three years!

Mixed Media Seascapes – 5 Tips for Expressive Art

Notice the new, useful categories for the blog posts, see the sidebar “Posts by Theme” or if you are in mobile, see the end of the page!

Sometimes I regret creating my art on the journals. When I created these mixed media seascapes for the mini-course Stormy Scenery, I wanted to keep the journals open and visible for days just to get back with the process and look at all the colors. And when I saw what my students had created, I secretly wished the same – that not so many weren’t in journals but frames. I want to share some art made from the mini-course and share some tips for expressive seascapes.

1) Play with Colors!

When creating the waves, show how the water reflects the colors of its surroundings. When there’s a storm, there will be a lot that’s moving, and it will affect the colors too. You can show your current state of mind as the sea and bring out the variety of thoughts and feelings. See how Claudia Watkins has made a row of waves with various colors.

Claudia Watkins, UK. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.
Claudia Watkins, UK

2) Create a Connection Between The Sky and The Sea!

If the sea represents you and the sky represents the outside world, how do they interact? Susan Rajkumar has expressed the connection in a brilliant way. It looks like the sea is willing to hug the sun and the overall feeling of the piece is warm and happy.

Susan Rajkumar, India. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.
Susan Rajkumar, India

Sheila McGruer’s sun has left the sea, and it has caused an explosion of energy.

Sheila McGruer, Australia. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.
Sheila McGruer, Australia

Sheila’s piece also has the softness which takes us to the next tip …

3) Express the Softness of Water

Cheryl Rayner shows the softness with both long strokes and splashes of water. With softness, you can practice gentleness towards yourself and others.

Cheryl Rayner, USA. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.
Cheryl Rayner, USA

4) Show The Movement of The Waves

Enjoy the transformation that happens when you focus on creating art! Strokes and lines express the movement. Lorraine Cline’s green sea is captivating because it’s wonderfully dynamic!

Lorraine Cline, USA. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.
Lorraine Cline, USA

Terttu Laitinen has the great eye of the storm.

Terttu Laitinen, Finland. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.
Terttu Laitinen, Finland

5) Make The Scene Look 3-Dimensional!

In any scene and any mind, some things are closer, and some things are further away. Add more 3-dimensional look to make some elements more blurry and some sharper than others. Satu Kontuvuori has a striking focal point where sharp white waves are on the top of the blurry black eye of the storm.

Satu Kontuvuori, Finland. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.
Satu Kontuvuori, Finland

Mackie d’Arge also has a clear focal point and lots of less defined splashes around it.

Mackie d'Arge, USA. One of the mixed media seascapes from Peony and Parakeet's class Stormy Scenery.
Mackie d’Arge, USA

Internal Seascapes – Connect with Your Internal Energy!

The mixed media seascapes shown in this blog posts are made from the mini-course Stormy Scenery which was part of my Imagine Monthly Spring series last year. You can now purchase it individually too. When creating Stormy Scenery, I was inspired by the long chain of seascape painters, especially by J.M.W. Turner and Ivan Aivazovski. I also have a Pinterest board called Internal Seascapes where I have collected inspirational sea paintings.

But in Stormy Scenery, more than just to paint the sea, I coach you through the process of opening up and bringing out your expression. With the mini-course, you are not so much mimicking the sea outside but expressing the power inside. I believe that every artist has a unique power as well as every day has a unique energy.

Create Mixed Media Seascapes!

Use colored pencils, watercolors, and acrylic paints to create expressive mixed media art!
>> Click here to buy Stormy Scenery!

Stormy Scenery, an art journaling mini-course by Peony and Parakeet

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