Color the Emotion

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Watercolor Panoramas to Express Travel Memories

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

I try to have a wide range of topics on this blog, but now I am posting watercolor sceneries again! (See the last week’s post). I have quickly become addicted to them! It all started with buying Daniel Smith watercolors and realizing that many members of my community Bloom and Fly love watercolors. I try to grow my skills in most of the media that the members use. Then I can give advice that’s not only great in theory but also works in practice.

Not So Traditional Landscape Painting

A lot of reasons were needed for landscape painting because so far, it has been one of the most boring genres of visual art to me. I haven’t ever been the kind of person who travels with a tiny watercolor kit and sits down near the sights to paint the surroundings. I do usually carry a camera – often just my phone – when traveling or walking in nature but never before have I understand the fascination of the traditional landscape painting.

But last week, I realized that because art is freedom, I can be as wild and expressive as I want. That made the landscape painting a fun game. It gives me the opportunity to re-live the travel memories, get lost in the process, and then come out with a piece that’s like a souvenir from that creative experience.

Watercolor Panoramas – Playing with Expression

This time, I was not painting just one piece like last week, but five small panoramas at one go. I carelessly chose the reference photos for the last part of the process. I will talk about the process later in this post, but let’s talk about the expressive ideas first.

A) How Would The Place Currently Look?
When painting watercolor panoramas, it was interesting to see what travel memories come to mind and how they got merged with the current life.

When we were in the Scottish countryside in 2014, it was a sunny day in June. The heat felt very similar to Finland’s summer. It was pleasant, not suffocating at all, and remembering it made me ponder how the spring would look there now – perhaps quite similar to Finland too.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet
This was the photo that I used as inspiration when finishing the painting.


B) The Chain of Memories
Barcelona was my husband’s suggestion in 2009. I wasn’t excited until I remembered Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion. And of course, the pavilion was also the first thing that came to my mind when I painted the panorama. But I also remembered Catalonia’s National Art Museum, Gaudi’s architecture, the mountains that surrounded the valley, the sea views, a lot!

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

The long chain of memories and locations started from this (not so artistic!) snapshot showing Barcelona Pavilion.

Mies van der Rohe, Barcelona Pavilion

C) The Emotional Experience

Last summer, we visited Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy. The place has inspired me ever since. I remember entering the museum and seeing the first room filled with chandeliers. It was a hot and relatively quiet evening in Florence, but my mind was buzzing. It’s like I was trying to get exposed to as much art and beauty as I could.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Here’s the photo that I had in hand when finishing the watercolor panorama above.

Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

D) Being Far, Seeing Far
When being far away from home, it’s possible to see the life from a different perspective. It’s like rewriting some parts of the personal story. In the brilliant Palazzo Pitti, I had the same experience than when visiting Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia: I should trust my points of view more, and not hold back. When I looked out of a window of Palazzo Pitti, it didn’t matter what other people saw there. I saw what I saw, and that’s true to me.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Here’s the reference photo that I almost deleted when I came back from the trip because it wasn’t so pretty. While painting, I realized that good reference photos are not only those which show the best scenes. The ones that remind from the best moments are also worth saving and painting.

Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

E) Highlighting What Matters
While traveling in Italy last summer, we visited Vatican Museums too. Some of the things that stuck in my mind were the huge maps on the walls and the incredible number of tourists. While painting, I thought how the old maps could be seen as symbols for the curiosity to know the globe.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

The statue of the reference photo (Arnaldo Pomodoro’s Sphere within a Sphere) expresses the complexity and fragility of the world. I made it dominate the scene in the watercolor panorama and made it look a bit like a round map. To me, it’s much more important than the buildings!

Vatican Museums

Watercolor Panoramas – My Process

The idea for panoramas was accidental. I happened to find oblong pieces when going through the watercolor papers. I often like to paint a square, so I had cut away the excess of a blocked paper. I don’t usually work in this small scale. However, using a thin water brush most of the time, made it quite easy.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

For the colors, I used a mixed collection of watercolor and gouache paints.

1) Background – Traveling to the Mind

The fact that I didn’t use any reference photos until in the end, made the painting fun. The first layers were splashing and blending. I had no idea about the scene or the location that would appear on paper!

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

I took a photo of the backgrounds and then another one when the paintings were finished. Can you recognize which belongs to which?

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

2) Doodling with Watercolor and Masking Fluid

After I had painted the background, I started doodling. Working with five watercolor panoramas at the same time was handy. I could work with one painting while others were drying. I used both pigments and masking fluid for doodling. Some backgrounds had watercolor doodles first. Others went straight to masking.

At this point, I started thinking about a reference photo that could suit the painting. For some panoramas, I found the picture quickly. But there were a couple that raised no memories at all, so I just doodled this and that!

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

After the masking fluid had dried, I was having fun again. I splashed the paint and enjoyed the wonders of watercolor.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

After the topmost layers had dried, I removed the masking fluid.  Here’s “Scotland.”

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

3) Finishing the Painting with a Reference Photo

When aiming for an expressive and loose image, the reference photo is more like an inspiration photo. I can glance at it, pick some ideas and elements from it but I don’t follow it to the detail. I let my associations and memories override the photo and build an inner vision of the place. (My class Inspirational Drawing guides you to master this process more in detail.)

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

Why I Have Never Learned Watercolor Painting from the Books

Some elements of the panoramas are more abstract, some more recognizable. It’s important to cherish the abstract nature of art when making room for expression.

I must confess that during the years that I have experimented with watercolors, I have found the books and videos difficult to comprehend and adapt. Watercolor tutorials usually follow the reference photos very carefully. To me, it doesn’t make sense. I need to know “the code” – the logic and the principles behind the image, not just the image. After you’ve got the code, you can express much more!

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

As an artist, I have always been more interested in what something expresses than how it looks. I have often felt disappointed by the lack of the expression part in tutorials, so I try my best to focus on the expression when teaching others.

The Magic of Finishing Touches

To me, the most challenging step in creating is finishing. The first two steps are usually just happy happy happy, but then there is a danger that the project becomes sad sad sad. 

The watercolor panoramas were quite easy to finish, but if I have bigger struggles, I use the camera for the whole creative process. Then I take a photo of my work and look at it in several ways, enlarge it, make it smaller, etc. It’s fast and makes the finishing much easier than just staring at the actual piece. In May at Bloom and Fly, I will show how to use a camera and other digital tools to make the most out of your art, even if the actual creating would happen manually.

Painting watercolor panoramas by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

The Summer Season (July-August) of Bloom and Fly is Watercolor Journey
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16 thoughts on “Watercolor Panoramas to Express Travel Memories

  1. Like you Paivi, I was never interested in painting watercolor landscapes (boring) and I don’t paint Plein air but recently I watched an artist paint watercolor landscapes in a 3″ x 8.5″ Handbook-Journal. Now I am hooked! Painting small and using a photo as a reference appeals to me but now I am half way through the book and feel that everything is beginning to look the same. (Back to boring.) Your watercolor abstracts are beautiful and inspire me to try abstracts and maybe non-traditional colors. Thanks for the inspiration and tutorial Paivi!

    1. Ginny, thanks for commenting, this project sounds perfect for your journal! Mastering abstracts is a really good skill when following reference photos too, it makes the piece look more finished and flowing, and it also brings more depth to the painting.

  2. I love all of these Päivi, and I love this format too! Very inspirational! ?

  3. Delicious Paivi! Your need to know the code, the logic and the principles behind the image shows how you use the whole of your brain – the creative and the analytical whereas most of us who create use just the left side of our brain! I enjoy looking at these pieces but feel somewhat anxious about trying this approach myself in Bloom and Fly … but, it’s all about the learning …..

  4. I love these so much! I wish I could be as free and playful as you are in creating. I, too, found it much easier to paint watercolor on smaller pieces of paper. It was fun to match the backgrounds with the finished paintings!

  5. You are hands down one of my favourite artists! Rarely can I sit through and read a whole post but you captivate me through both your art and words. Thank you.

  6. That was fun! My guess is that the 1st began the 3rd painting, the 2nd began the 4th painting, the 3rd began the 1st painting, and the 5th began the 2nd painting. Your landscapes are perfect in my eyes – full of imagination and beautiful scenes. And COLOR! Always, beautiful colors. Your wasting no time playing with the Daniel Smiths and your results are amazing.

    1. Thank you, Mary! You got it right! However, these were not created with Daniel Smith’s like the one last week. Most of these are made with Van Gogh watercolors.

  7. These are gorgeoud, Paivi! Ilove seeing the layers build and build. And I so appreciate that you teach the art of expression, which I think is the hardest part of art.

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