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!

Strawberries and Inspiration – Watch the Video!

Strawberries - a watercolor painting by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Watch her video about painting this!

This week, I have a new free video for you. In the video, I create this small watercolor painting and inspire you to create art as well, even if all you can come up with would be just a few strawberries!

With this video, I invite you to join my new class Decodashery where we paint beautiful art with delicious colors.

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.

Rainbow Journal – Fill a Small Notebook with Happy Art!

Rainbow Journal, an art project by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

This week, I get back to the project that I started earlier this spring. It’s a small notebook that I have filled with happy art. I call it Rainbow Journal because it has brought me both joy and hope. Here’s a quote from the video below:

“When working on this journal, I have been able to live inside a happy bubble momentarily. It’s been refreshing, and my inner critic has got gentler. I have gained new inspiration for my paintings and classes.”

Watch the video to get inspiration for yours!

Creative Prompts for Your Rainbow Journal

Use the following prompts to make yours!

Cover – Make It as Decorative as You Can!

Use a limited color palette and let the colors and shapes flow.

The covers of a small traveler's notebook insert. Raibow Journal by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Spread #1 – Get Inspired by Happy Interiors!

Think about textiles, wallpapers, and painted motifs on wooden furnitures and dishes.

Decorative paintings on a small notebook. By Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Spread #2 – Embrace the Good and the Innocence!

Once you have set the style of the world you are building, who could be wandering there, full of happy thoughts with an innocent mind?

A small art journal spread inspired by Jane Austen's book Emma, by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Spread #3 – Paint Something Juicy!

Show how it feels when the glass is full, even overflowing.

Rainbow journal. An art journal spread by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet. Gouache paints and watercolors.

Spread #4 – Grow the Flowers of Imagination!

The dark soil makes flowers grow and shine.

Floral notebook page spread by Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

Spread #5 – Show the Bright Future!

Get creative with rainbows, how many can you fit in?

A spread of Paivi's Rainbow Journal. By artist Paivi Eerola of Peony and Parakeet.

I hope this lifted your spirit and inspired you to keep creating!

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