Color the Emotion

Pick a few colors and create without stiffness.

Creative Take on Damask Motifs

This week, we look at damask motifs from a new perspective. I challenge you to make this traditional motif your own and use it in your art!

Colored pencil art inspired by decorative motifs. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

It all started from a dream I saw a few days ago. “You should wear more decorative clothes, Paivi,” I was telling myself. “Like the old historical dress that you had at a ball as a teenager.”

Green damask fabric

I still have the dress. It has damask motifs – woven ornamental patterns that seem to never go out of date (more about their history). The idea of perfecting not only the actual swirls but also the shapes between is a good drawing practice that doesn’t have to be boring at all!

Illustration inspired by damask motifs. Colored pencils art by Paivi Eerola.

This week, I played with colored pencils mostly, but in 2015, I made a mixed media piece called Rococo. So check out this post too!

Rococo, mixed media collage with damask motifs
Rococo, 2015

Damask Lady

The reason for my dream was an unfinished page in my colored pencil journal. I had started it at the end of last year but found it terribly uninspiring. I didn’t feel any connection with the figure, and she looked like someone had forced her to be there. In a way, that had happened. After a series of big paintings, I was knackered, as readers from the UK and Australia would describe. I had no motivation to take a brush and only a little to do something with colored pencils.

First, I added a bit of watercolor to cover white and then colored intuitively without any predefined ideas or models.

Sketching by coloring. A journal spread in progress.

Sometimes it’s just that when you are tired, it’s best to leave the piece and come back later, even if it would be a tiny spread in a small journal. After the dream, I knew what to do: play with damask motifs!

Damask lady illustration in a journal. Colored pencil art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I feel drawn to this damask lady. She looks both curious and self-confident – everything I would like to be in this new year!

Looser Damask Motifs – Nature

I got so inspired by coloring the swirly lady that the next spread was born quickly. Again, first some watercolor splashes, and then details with colored pencils.

If you compare the flowery spread above with the portrait below, you see the change in looseness. The flower is much freer than the lady, but I like both. I like how damask motifs can be seen as a part of nature – snow on trees, water drops, butterfly wings and their spots. But I also like how they can be more architecture- and design-related and a part of human fantasies and mysteries.

Damask lady from a colored pencil diary of Paivi Eerola.

Which take do YOU like more?

Sketching a Damask Motif

Next, I wanted to go even further in stiffening the expression. I would design a damask-inspired motif so that there would be no looseness at all.

Designing a damask motif.

I started by sketching the motif in the middle of the spread, using the fold as a guide to achieving the required symmetry. In damask motifs, the negative – the shape of the background – is as important as the positive is. So after the careless sketch, I then went through the surrounding area and adjusted its swirls.

Sketching a damask motif.

This motif felt like a forbidden fruit. I was surprised to hear myself saying: “You have crossed the line now, Paivi. Even if you always paint the inside, now it will be reverse – illustrating the outside world.” I didn’t get this first at all – I thought I was just drawing was a simple flowery ornament inspired by damask motifs!

But when I was making the finishing touches, I realized that my drawing did illustrate the outside world – our living room: a wooden ceiling, windows on the left, a wall rug on the right, a vanda orchid hanging without a pot, and the snake plants growing lower.

Damask motif in an illustration. Colored pencil art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s a picture of my vanda when it was blooming in 2020!

Vanda orchid.

This spread is not loosely made at all, and yet I find that the looseness is how I unconsciously picked and interpreted the subject.

Colored pencil journal spread by Paivi Eerola.

Which of the pieces of this post inspire you the most?
Are you inspired by the stiffness or looseness?
How do you want your damasks to look?

Please leave a comment! It would be so interesting to know!

Joyful Flowers and Exploring Joy with Colored Pencils

Let’s draw joyful flowers together, step by step! This post is enabled by the grant that I got from Arts Promotion Centre Finland. This is the fourth blog post of the project, see the first one here, the second one here, and the third one here!

Here’s what we will create: flowers that have joyfully gathered together and reach towards the light. No references, imagination only!

Joyful flowers - a spread in a colored pencil journal. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I made the drawing in my colored pencil journal and used colored pencils only. But these instructions can be easily applied to other mediums too.

Step 1 – Flowery Blobs

Pick a pencil of any color and draw blobs.

Starting an art journal page.

More than perfecting each flowery blob, make sure that the blobs are:
a) not similar in size – draw small, medium, and big blobs!
b) not separate – draw some only partly so that they go on the back of others!
c) not fully on the paper – draw some near the edges so that they are only partly visible!
d) not spread too evenly – leave some space too, but don’t place it in the middle!

This way, you set the foundation for joyful flowers so that you express diversity (a), togetherness (b), continuity (c), and freedom (d).

Step 2 – From a Blob to a Flower or a Leaf

Pick flowery colors and a black pencil for the background. Focus on the area in the low middle and work towards either side of the paper.

With black, color notches on the blobs so that they begin to look like flowers.
With bright and flowery colors, color some random shapes on the blobs.
Color a center for the blob to make it look more like a flower.

Drawing joyful flowers - coloring freely with colored pencils. No references, only imagination.

All the blobs don’t need the center; they can be leaves. You can also draw veins on them.
Add many colors so that the leaves and flowers look lively. Layer colors to get a variety of tones.

Step 3 – Background

Start with the black background, but gradually change to lighter tones. Leave a pitch-black area small, and add layers of other colors, like blue, on the top of the black, then gradually let the different colors take over. Leave a blank area too. Color softly and gently so that every layer adds intensity to the drawing.

Coloring gradual changes. Colored pencil techniques by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

One of the joys of coloring is to relax and not rush at all. Stay in a small area and work with a few flowers only (Step 1) before feeling confident enough to expand the working area and focus more on the background.

Step 3 – Setting the Colors for Joyful Flowers

You can mark the colors for each flower and leaf by coloring them carelessly first.

Coloring freely with colored pencils. From blobs to joyful flowers.

When some parts are more finished than others, there’s both joy of looking and joy of coloring!

Step 4 – Changing Most Whites to Pastels

I assume that you now have white everywhere: between the strokes, near the edges, in the flowers, and in many places on the background. But let’s change that! Leave only one area in the background that’s pure white and color over other blank parts.

Coloring on an art journal. Joyful flowers in colored pencils.

Add more color on the areas where careless coloring has left white stripes, and change the larger white areas to pastel colors. All this makes the image more joyful because the joy is in the nuances, not in the big changes.

Step 5 – The Joy of Cohesion

One of the greatest joys in art-making is to feel togetherness. So more than trying to achieve a particular style, I make changes to the image so that it feels like a place where I belong. I also want my flowers and leaves to look happy, but not so that I force them to smile by throwing “happy colors” but imagining that everyone has a friend in the scenery: someone to trust and lean on.

Artist Paivi Eerola and her love for colored pencils.

I also make some flowers look like me: who need to feel free to bloom. So they are less defined and almost disappear into the light, but their spirit still looks strong. So, the less realistic a flower is, the more room there’s for the expression.

Drawing joyful flowers with colored pencils.

At some point in art-making, I begin to question if other people will like the image. It’s comforting to know that if we manage to create the feeling of effortless belonging, the image will naturally resonate more widely. The joy of cohesion also allows something to go wrong and become different than we expected. If we make every element feel accepted and welcomed, joy will naturally appear.

Drawing a stem for a flower by erasing. Colored pencil techniques by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I a flower or a leaf looks lonely, add a stem that connects it with others. Long lines can look commanding and stiffen the image, so erase a glimpse of a stem only. Stems also look more natural if they don’t start right from the flower but appear and disappear as softly as possible. Stems can also go across each other and form a connecting mesh.

Joyful flowers in an Archer and olive blank notebook. Drawn with colored pencils. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

When one flower leads to another, and the eye always finds a clue about where to look next, cohesion is present.

More Inspiration for Joyful Flowers

I have got so many ideas from flowers that even when I don’t create them, my visual language is very flowery.

Flower paintings and abstract art. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
Some of my oil paintings

This week, I started two big oil paintings. These are 120 x 100 cm – it’s the biggest size that I have ever painted!

Huge canvases in a little artist studio.

My first inspiration source for these is floral still lives from the 17th century. But these are just beginnings, and let’s see how they will progress in the upcoming weeks.

Big oil paintings in progress.

My little studio has been full of projects this week and will continue to be so!

Artist studio by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Colored pencil art and oil paintings.

I hope this blog post inspires you to create joyful flowers – big or small, pencils or paints!

Messy Art Journal Style with Colored Pencils

This week, we go deep into the messy art journal style. See how to mimic messy mixed media pages in colored pencils!

I wanted to add some happy freedom to my colored pencil diary. So here are the most recent spreads!

A flowery art journal spread with colored pencils. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.
A messy and loose art journal spread with colored pencils. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

These spreads have an impression of a messy mixed media look – collage, paints, and all – but they have been made with colored pencils only.

Confessions from a Former Art Journal Book Junkie

Let’s first turn back time over ten years when my best hobby was art journaling. My day job took a lot of time, so buying became a part of self-expression. I bought almost every possible book about art journaling and dreamed about becoming a mixed media artist.

Art journal publications
A few examples of art journaling books from my collection

Now when I look at these books, their examples look clumsy, sometimes even ugly. But I still get attracted by the easiness that made me buy the books: “Messy is ok, you can do it!” And so did I: mixed paints, pens, collage, and all the possible media into one spread. “Mixed media techniques” was the word that I was looking for when browsing a book store or Youtube.

Art Journals Started a Journey

These journals were all the art that I created for a long time. Like the books stated, I assumed that the messy pages would be enough to define me as an artist. In some ways, I was right. A messy art journal style was a ticket to the world of art-making, blogging, even teaching. For example, in Collageland, I use paints, pens, and scissors to create fun and messy pages.

Mixed media art journaling.

But in 2013, when I was in a local art supply store and proudly presented one of the journals to the owner, his fake smile told me that I hadn’t even started yet. In the traditional side of art-making, that is!

Art journals galore!
Art journals from the past

Nowadays, I think of myself being a traditional artist rather than a mixed media crafter. I prefer to stick with one medium at a time and my main artworks are more on the traditional side. And I wince every time when someone calls me a mixed media artist!

A new oil painting in progress.

But art journaling has led me to so many happy places that I don’t ever want to get too far from it. Often, I have just replaced images from magazines with my own hand drawings.

Art journal pages with colored pencils.

So, instead of collecting products, I can be the product. My most popular classes like Animal Inkdom and Magical Inkdom have started on that idea.

Choosing the Shortest Pencils

The best thing that I have learned from art journaling is to not over-think and just start creating. It often feels like my hand knows more than my brain. So, when I want to think further and forward, I say to my shortest pencils: “Let’s create something messy, like in the old times!”. And these little pensioners are always willing to get back to work and do what’s expected.

Using old and much-used pencils also takes off the pressure of pursuing brilliancy right from the beginning. For example, before I started building the class Intuitive Coloring, preliminary pieces were made with the shorties, and then for the actual recordings, I picked longer and more prestigious pencils.

So, when coloring a mess, do it with a small and diverse set of retired pencils that no longer care if you are a true artist or not!

Collage Imitation in Messy Art Journal Style

On the first spread, I mimicked what we used to include in our messy art journals: paper scraps, geometric stencils, scribbling, simple marks like x’s and o’s, flowers, and curves.

Layering colors and motifs with colored pencils.

Just keep layering until the paper is covered, and don’t forget to mimic the glue too! Make the elements go on top of each other, or erase a part of them to make everything look integrated.

Art journal spread with colored pencils.

Look at my little pencils! Aren’t they endearing? I have started to carry them in a pencil case so that they are always with me, ready to be pampered.

Paint Imitation in Messy Art Journal Style

Then let’s change the mindset a bit and move from mimicking products to imitating paints. Start with stripes and small splotches and slowly grow them so that they cover more of the blank page.

Scribbling with colored pencils. Starting an art journal spread.

When we make a mess with paints, the edges are jagged, so color freely and intentionally make errors on the shapes.

Coloring freely with colored pencils.

My orange rectangles represent a product, a stencil maybe, but most of the elements are more like watercolor, acrylics, or inks.

Imitating watercolor splashes with colored pencils.

Watercolor spots have dark edges that softly fade away. By adding more colors, you can make the spots look translucent.

Acrylic paint has wider shadows, reflections of light (stripes and spots), and less transparency.

Add tiny spots too and make sure that their patterning is irregular.

Faux mixed media by using colored pencils. Imitating paint with colored pencils.

Drawing all kinds of splashes and drops was so much fun that I am now thinking: could I imitate watercolor in oils. Doesn’t this prove that mess-making and traditional fine art are not so far away from each other after all?

I hope this inspired you to pick your pencils and start faux mixed media with them!

Art Inspiration from Lucas Cranach the Elder

This week, I gather inspiration for the next painting of a series, enabled by the grant that I got from Arts Promotion Centre Finland. This is the third blog post of this project, see the first one here and the second one here!

German Renaissance Portraits by Lucas Cranach

The first painting of my series (The Empire of Light) was inspired by Sandro Botticelli, Italy. Now I move further up in time and on a map and go to Germany to meet Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553). Here’s a spread in my colored pencil journal inspired by Cranach’s style.

Art journal spread inspired by Lucas Cranach the Elder's art.

She is a weird-looking little woman but so are Lucas’s portraits too.

Portrait paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of a Young Woman (1525), Portrait of a Young Woman (probably Princess Emilia of Saxony, before 1537), Dido (1547)

Their faces are small and not so pretty at all, at least according to today’s standards. Are these two even smiling at all? Is that boredom or irony?

Portraits by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Cranach’s women seem so arrogantly materialistic that it doesn’t feel suitable for a series about spirituality at all. But because expressing light is impossible without painting the darkness, I have decided to explore spirituality’s ultimate opposites as well. Like insolence, materialism, and money.

Lucas Cranach’s Super Production

Lucas Cranach the Elder wasn’t just a painter. He was a businessman who ran a workshop and a pharmacy too. His unusually large workshop wasn’t just for fine art. Printing presses produced religious images for people who had less money.

St Mary Magdalene (a detail) by Lucas Cranach the elder.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Ecstasy of St Mary Magdalene (a detail), woodcut, 1506

Lucas Cranach surely knew how to run a business. When he needed pigments, he decided to found a pharmacy at the same go. He got friends with prestigious people like Martin Luther. I can imagine Lucas whispering to Martin at a dinner: “What kind of images does your religious movement need? I can produce thousands of them!”

Illl-Matched Lovers by Lucas Cranach the Elder, a detail.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Ill-Matched Lovers, 1530

He must have had a sense of humor too. And yet, his figures and the way he painted the clothing, are a bit stiff and clumsy.

From Cranach’s Bluntness To Sharp Pencils

When Botticelli made an elegant curve, Cranach added a straight like like saying: “That’ll do. They won’t notice it anyway.” So my Cranach imitation was built around similar angular lines and weird proportions.

Colored pencils on Archer and Olive's blank notebook.

But the more I worked with the face, the more real it felt. The woman wasn’t just an angel but had vices as well. She felt so relatable and maybe because I was glancing at my new sharpener. In the middle of the spirituality project, I had become very materialistic and spent almost 150 EUR on it.

Caran d'Ache metal pencil sharpener in action.
Caran d’Ache metal pencil sharpening machine, Calvin Klein blue.

Botticelli’s goddesses wouldn’t be even willing to touch it. But Cranach’s women would grab the handle without hindrance. They would crank fast and smile quietly, and it would all look a little immodest.

A detail in Lucas Cranach the Elder's painting Dido. Dido's face.

My workshop has produced a lot of pencil shavings lately.

Caran d'Ache metal pencil sharpener, Calvin Klein blue.

I can assure you that all my pencils are sharp!

Long Live the Spirit of Lucas Cranach!

Queen Dido’s smile in Cranach’s painting is deceiving. She had made a decision to leave the materialistic world.

A detail in Lucas Cranach the Elder's painting Dido.

Her story goes like this: Dido founded the city of Carthago after her husband died. Then her lover, a Trojan hero Aineias was taken away and in agony, she killed herself.

Black and white always go together. Dido was not just a wealthy royal, but a sensitive woman too. Maybe Lucas Cranach and Martin Luther had deep discussions over dinner. Perhaps my sharpener will live longer than I do and serve many enthusiastic colorers after me.

Colored pencil art in progress. Colored pencils and art journaling.

The most inspiring detail in Dido’s clothing is this carelessly painted ornament on the hem. It just floats there! It doesn’t follow the folds of the fabric at all. But its living line documents Cranach’s spirit.

A detail in Lucas Cranach the Elder's painting Dido. A hand-painted ornament.

No matter what the subject is, art always carries a spirit with the way we draw lines.

A detail of colored pencil art by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Like Cranach, I made two layers of lines, first x-shapes, then swirls.

Colored Pencil Journal

This journal spread will be my inspiration for a new abstract oil painting.

An art journal spread made with colored pencils. Inspired by Lucas Cranach the Elder's work. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

My little journal has quite many drawings already. I browse it often and it brings me joy.

Do you also have an art journal, a visual diary, or a sketchbook that you like to browse and fill? Can you find your living line there?

Colored pencil visual diary by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

P.S. My photos of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s paintings are from an exhibition in 2019, see this blog post for more pics!

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