Peony and Parakeet

Imaginary People – How to Paint Their Soul?

This week, the theme is painting imaginary people and how to find their soul. There’s plenty of examples in this blog post!

Imaginary People - How to Paint Their Soul? An article by paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

One of the wonders of painting and drawing is that we can give birth to an imaginary person – that we can create someone who breathes, talks, and has a life of her own. However, many times the doll that I have on paper hasn’t come alive. Or she has taken just a few breaths, and after the creative spark has gone, she just stares with empty eyes. So no wonder that I have had a love-hate relationship for painting imaginary people. I want to experience the miracle, but it can also be too much of a struggle.

References – Working with a Soul that Breathes Already

Using a reference may be the least innovative solution but if you find an image that really speaks to you, it can be a good one. Tiny changes in facial features lead to a whole new person so if you don’t follow the reference in the smallest detail, yours is like distant relative to the original – familiar features but still unique. For this oil painting called “Heaven and Earth“, I used a detail of Sandro Botticelli’s painting “Madonna of the Magnificat” (1483) as a reference.

"Heaven and Earth" - an oil painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s a close-up of the faces. I changed the angle of the face, opened the eyes more, and made the mouth look more determined.

Using a reference. "Heaven and Earth" by Paivi Eerola and "Madonna of the Magnificat" by Sandro Botticelli.

Sounds easy, but I often struggle with finding the soul when using references. With this painting, I tried to slowly work towards an individual personality, but creating a connection took a lot of time. Botticelli painted his soul, and it’s not the same as mine.

Here the work was in the early stage so that you can see how she has changed.

Using a reference. "Heaven and Earth" in an underpainting stage by Paivi Eerola and "Madonna of the Magnificat" by Sandro Botticelli. Read about Paivi's thoughts on painting imaginary people with or without a reference.

From the struggles of this painting and many others, I have learned this:

Working on the face alone never brings up the soul.

With the Madonna, as soon as I figured out the purpose and the style of the surroundings, I was able to finish the face.

The Soul Spreads Over the Painting

Even if a person is usually the focal point of the painting, the soul is not focused but spread.

The soul is in the setting, in the things, in the atmosphere. Even Botticelli’s Madonna can look just like a bored person without the crown, the light, the child, the book, etc.

"Madonna of the Magnificat" by Sandro Botticelli.

So no matter if you paint intuitively without pre-defined ideas, sketches, or references, or more intentionally with a clear idea of how you want your imaginary people to look like, seek for the soul in everything you paint.

Flowers have soul.

A detail of "Mirimer" - a floral watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Pots have soul.

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

Hair and hats have soul.

A detail of "Mirimer" - a watercolor fairy by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Inanimate and organic things also give the soul to the imaginary people.

A detail of "Mirimer" - a watercolor fairy painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read about how to paint imaginary people and their soul.
“Mirimer” – a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

In this watercolor painting called “Mirimer“, the fairy is the focal point, but her soul is spread all over the paper.

"Mirimer" - a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read about painting imaginary people and finding their soul.

Imaginary People Exist in Shapes and Colors As Well

The painting doesn’t even need to have a face. Your imaginary people can be abstract, like in this small acrylic painting that I recently painted on a sketchbook.

"Pinkpolka" - a small acrylic painting on a sketchbook by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Shapes and colors have soul.

A detail of "Pinkpolka" - an abstract painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Imaginary People – First or Last?

The idea for this post came from the question that I received a couple of days ago:

“I like your little people peeking out from within your art. I would like to learn more about that. Do you draw them first and paint around them or paint and then save a spot for them?”

I have many approaches.

"Rising Star", a mixed media painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Read about creating imaginary people by drawing and painting!

In Innovative Portraits, we use references and make a sketch. The soul begins with the plan.

"Valomio", a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Buy her class Magical Forest to learn to paint imaginary people like this little fairy!

In Magical Forest, we lure fairies to appear intuitively from the watercolor background. The soul begins with the feeling.

Art for the class Decodashery. Paint flowers, lace, cakes, and omaginary people called Decodollies! By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

In the new class, Decodashery, we start by building a visual world and then make the dollies to fit with it. So the soul is first just a small flower, then it expands to floral paintings, cakes, lace, and finally, the imaginary people are born. By gradually setting the style and the spirit is the best intentional way to add soul to your work.

Decodashery, an online art class by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Decodashery will begin on June 29, 2020. >> Sign up now!

Why I Paint White Flowers – How Your Artistic Voice is Influenced by Others

There’s a lot of talk about finding your artistic voice, but very little about how other people affect it. So this week, I share a story about my mother and her influence on my art.

Painting the Same Thing Again and Again

A couple of days ago, I was on a morning walk near my home in Southern Finland. The air was fresh as well as the view, dominated by the blue sky and white clouds. My beagles’ busy noses and a glimmering brook followed a sown field that had already started to green. Both birds and earphones fed entertaining listening. But all I could think of was my painting. Was it finished? Should I add more color to the flowers? What else did I need to adjust to make most of the tens of hours? I was alone with my dogs, but the inner critic kept me company: what kind of artist doesn’t even know the meaning of her images?

An oil painting in progress by artist Paivi Eerola, Finland. Read her article about how artistic voice is not only our personal choice, but can be influenced by others.
Signed, but is it finished?

Yes, I am no artist at all. I paint white flowers, the easiest anyone can imagine, and the worst that my mother knew. “No white flowers,” she repeated to my father when her wedding anniversary came close, and he was about to buy a bouquet. “White flowers mean death.” And now, long after she has passed away, all I want to paint is white flowers.

Cherimona. Watercolor painting by artist Paivi Eerola.
Icebreaker. Watercolor painting by artist Paivi Eerola.
Torchbearer. Watercolor painting by artist Paivi Eerola.

Commenters are Your Art Coaches

Rebelling had no place in my upbringing during the 1970s and 1980s. As a teenager, I tried to respond to my mother’s corrections and criticism with an ignorant smile. Not for long. She didn’t hesitate to tell that it wasn’t a proper reaction. She was both a direct and shy person. Her presence was almost invisible in public gatherings, but at home, in her empire, she was the master of rights and wrongs. So when I showed drawings to her, she either approved or disapproved. She didn’t talk to me as directly as to my father – what to do or what not – but her words and facial expressions told everything.

My mother was like a strict gymnastic coach with high expectations, but she lacked one essential skill – the ability to show how the tricks could be done. She was as honest to herself as to anyone in this matter and put her energy for finding time, supplies, and art education for me. Time to create was the easiest part. My mother was a housewife. She had left her job at a young age right after she got married. She didn’t want her daughters to have the same destiny, so she did her best to keep me out of the kitchen and constantly reminded me how children would prohibit me from doing what I love.

Artist Paivi Eerola and her mother. Read about how she has influenced her artistic voice.
Me and my mother in 1984

We lived in a small town near the Russian border, and our family wasn’t wealthy. The only income came from my father’s pension. In the evenings, my mother wrote all the expenses on a small black book. But purchasing pens and paper was mandatory. To her, it was the lowest level of civilization, more important than books. Our town had one bookshop that sold some supplies, but after we got more knowledge from local art groups and competitions, it became evident that I needed a better and broader selection. So every month, when my parents drove to a bigger town, I was often with them, selecting paper, paint boards, crayons, and acrylic paints from a real art supply store.

A Praised Piece Sticks into Your Mind

When I was some years over ten, in one spring morning, I decided to try out a new set of crayons. It was just a warm-up, a quick landscape without using any reference. “Look, mother, what do you think,” I said like so many times before. She looked at the image, tightened her lips, but unlike her, she didn’t say much. Later, when I opened a narrow kitchen closet to pick an iron, I stopped. The landscape was taped inside the wooden door. “I like to look at it,” she said after seeing my puzzled face.

Landscape with crayons by artist Paivi Eerola. From her teenage years.

I was devastated. That little landscape didn’t deserve the place. So many times I had poured my heart out on paper and soon found out that it wasn’t to her liking. And now – I didn’t even color all the paper!

Finding the Why Behind Your Artistic Voice – Connecting the Appraisals and Repetitions

Fortunately, my mother was not the only one commenting on my art. My two big sisters had different opinions, and my teachers and friends as well. One piece didn’t satisfy them all, but there were always kind words from someone. It encouraged me to keep painting and drawing, as everyone, especially my mother, expected.

After my mother’s death, one stormy weekend, I traveled to the childhood home to pick things that I wanted to keep before we would sell it. The house was cold, but I knew it was the last time when I would see it like it used to be. Everything was clean and tidy. Performing tasks effectively with high quality had always fascinated my mother. “If I could choose what my profession was, it would be a researcher of work – if such a profession existed.”

When I got up the stairs to an attic, the sight would surprise anyone but me. The attic had always been nearly empty. In one corner, under a sloped sealing, my father had built a small closet for safe storage. I opened its little door, and there they were, neatly in a big cardboard box – my paintings and drawings. Not all, but a collection that my mother had curated over the years, the little crayon drawing included.

So a few days ago, when I was walking by the field and looking up in the sky, my mother came to me in the form of the freshly colored landscape. I now knew that my urge to paint white flowers hadn’t been an act against my mother, but a yearn for her acceptance that blank white blobs had once given to me. Now my question is: can I let go of them, or do I want to keep her in my art forever.

Paivi Eerola and her painting in progress. Read her thoughs about artistic voice and how other people affect it.

Who has influenced your art? Can you recognize how?

P.S. I also teach drawing and painting flowers in the class Floral Fantasies.

Delicious Colors – Salvage Them!

Delicious reds - a gouache painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet

I have never been overly enthusiastic about bright reds, but now seems to be the time. I feel that in this black world, we need to salvage the delicious colors and amplify them with sugary decorations!

Finding Comfort from Delicious Colors

In the evenings, while waiting for the news around the world to be gathered, I paint in my little studio room. The more I think about the sad statistics, the more I want to create the opposite – a careless world with deliciously tasty and juicy colors.

Painting delicious colors and sugary shapes. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

My studio is now like a sweet bakery, and as the main cook, I have lots of motivation to create!

Delicacies from DecoDashery!

Art journal page spread by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Fruity colors.

What first was just one little painting, has now grown to resemble a series that expresses an imaginary world. I call this world as DecoDashery, inspired by the old haberdashery from the movie Emma. DecoDashery will also be the next class that I am building, hoping to release it within a couple of months!

You Can Always Start Small!

Delicious colors, hand-painted collage pieces, and paintings by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

As usual, I haven’t made paintings only, but also collage pieces to my boxes of joy.

Hand-painted pink rose by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Delicious Meringues, Lace, and Porcelain

Now when my husband is working from home too, we eat together more than ever. Fortunately, he can cook! I have never been into that so much. But my specialties are side dishes and desserts, and it’s been fun to make one good meal in a day and combine our skills.

Delicious merengues with strawberries.

I had never made strawberry meringues, but a recipe from a knitting magazine caught my eye. Strawberries, an old plate, and a hand-crocheted lace doily were all as essential as the meringues themselves.

My current oil painting has progressed well too. Even if there’s a lot of work left, I get a lot of pleasure from working on it. Salvaging all the deliciousness of the random shapes feels so good.

Oil painting in progress by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Doesn’t the painting look strangely similar to the meringues, lace, and porcelain? The world of Decodashery is expanding!

Meaningless Has Given Me a New Meaning

It’s kind of funny that when I decided to remove deeper meaning from my work for a while, I feel that my art the overall creative process has become more meaningful than ever.

Artist Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet and her oil painting in progress.

It’s like I have released the beast that I have always quietly carried with me, and once I have seen it eye to eye, it has become my angel in the crisis.

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!

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