Alla Prima, My New Obsession

Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla, all used it in the creation of their fabulous art-


Alla Prima is a style of painting where the entire surface is worked wet into wet.

Artist Richard Schmid even wrote a book about it  Alla Prima; Everything I know about Painting, which has a wealth of  advise and information for every artist .

Pushing wet paint around, the brush gliding over the canvas, long strokes that intermingle, that’s the beauty of direct painting. After working with this direct approach for a month on the 30/30 challenge, there’s no going back to the way I worked before.

In the past it was so frustrating to approach a painting on the 4th or 5th day only to find the paint in a worse than dry state… that gummy in between stage, where I felt like I was wading through mud with rubber boots on.  Yes, it’s time for a change.

Some of the most successfully completed work I’ve done were fast and fresh, like this image I did of my husband John-johnLR

In the next post; all about my painting process make-over….




New Painting- It’s all about the Sun

OvertheWallLRThis is the painting I finished yesterday from the shoot with Harley.

What I wanted to showcase was the warmth of the day. You might think that a painting that is mostly blue and green would be about coolness, but this dominantly cool situation highlights the warm passages, making them the focus.


Developing a Critical Eye

I’m always trying to sharpen my skills at evaluating my own work.

The absolute best time to do this is on day two of a new painting.

Day one got things started and developed to a certain point until painting fatigue kicked in and my decisions started going south.

On day two the first thing I do is sit down, notebook in hand, and begin training my eye to really see what the painting needs to be successful.

Below is a recent painting, Angelina, at the end of day one.


Here’s my critical list of things that needed attention;

  • Light panel on side of face needs value adjustment
  • Far arm too thin
  • Dress at knee more rounded
  • Soften fabric, near her hands
  • Color to right of face in background more green, less violet
  • Get rid of dark shape on right, use mid value grey green, (I like to put in all the general shapes that are actually in the background, and get rid of them later if needed, in this case it was distracting and added nothing to the scene).
  • I also do a visual check of the drawing, dropping vertical and horizontal lines to see if things are lining up where they should be.
  • And a distraction check, is there anything drawing attention out of the painting, things in the corners etc.

These may seem like little things, but they add up to a big disconnect in the painting.

Below is the finished painting, minus the rose in her hair, not sure if it was a compositional thing (the rose being the same shape and parallel to her forehead), or esthetic , too contrived, anyway I think it’s better gone.

I feel sure I would not have gotten this result without my critical list to start the day.

Angelina by Diane Eugster



Yes! A Better Photo Shoot

I showed up at Ed’s studio at 9:30 with my bag of scarfs and gloves, clothes on hangers, cameras (always have a spare in case of a malfunction) and new 50mm lens. We pinned fabric curtains in the window,  moved chairs around and talked about potential poses before Harley arrived.

Harley , who is truly wonderful, was our model today. Always on time, upbeat personality, easy to work with, beautiful, what more could you want?

After experimenting on my cat and dog I was anxious to try out my new camera lens on a real person. After the first few photos, with some adjustments, I could see the images on my camera were nice and sharp in limited light, much better than my old zoom lens.

Both of these photo were taken using available window light, one facing south and the other west.

It’s always fun working with another artist, the collaboration of ideas expands the potential to get great shots exponentially.

Now to get the images off the card and start painting-

New Addition to my Bag of Tricks

Have you ever been shooting pictures indoors in hopes of getting something inspirational to paint from, only to end up with a lot of very dark, somewhat blurry images? …..well I have, plenty of times.

I want to preface this by saying I am not a Photographer, however, this year I’ve resolved to embrace  anything that will enhance my painting skill level, including a new lens for my Canon Rebel XT.

What I’m looking for;

1.  Indoor photos with dramatic lighting

2. Sharp images in dim light

3. A separation of the subject from the background

The Canon 50mm prime lens seems to cover all of these. Available in a f1.8, f1.4 and f1.2 version, the largest number letting the least light in, (it’s always backwards in photography, that’s what makes my head hurt). The one in the middle, the f1.4 should do the job.

lensA little impatient to try this out, I ripped the box open!

Testing it against my old 18-55mm zoom lens, I already see a difference.



The photo on the left, with my old 18-55mm zoom lens, giving all the items equal sharpness, you can’t tell that the clock is 6″ behind the manikin, the flag is 15″ behind and the framed picture 6′ away. The one on the right, taken with the 50mm is more like my eyes see things, focusing on one object at a time.


In this photo of my dog Brandy, her head which is closest to me is very sharp, while her tail, which is furthest away starts to soften, instead of the compressed look of the zoom lens, which would have made all the edges equally hard.

AliBlogThis picture of our cat Ali, was taken at night with a dim light source, I couldn’t get anything like this with my zoom lens.

The real test will be in a few days when I take some model photos at my friend, Ed Davis’s, art studio.

Painting Better Backgrounds

The poor lowly background. It’s got a bad rap, it’s second rate, an after thought, that thing behind the good stuff. This is the farthest thing from the truth.

Have you ever seen one of “those” paintings, maybe a portrait, where the main character has been plastered on a flat background made up of a random color? This may have been done in desperation after completing the “interesting” part, what do I fill in that space with, she has red hair so a blue background would make her stand out, or if I paint it brown, it will just go away.

The fact is, the background is the most important part of the painting. Would you start building a house before you knew where your boundaries were, or buy some furniture when you had no idea what room you were putting it in? It’s working backwards.

The background tells me everything I need to know about my main subject, the world it breathes in, the air that surrounds it.

I always start a painting with the background until I get a feel for what’s going on in the world of my subject. What temperature is the light, is it bouncing around or sucked into heavy fabrics. What are the main color notes, these are the tones to use in the flesh. Notice the beginning stages of my latest painting below –Finish2LR

The dark greens in the foliage told me that the darks in her hair were the same color and value. Likewise the reds in the flowers told me her hand needed to be the same. The blues in the distant window casings were the blues in the foreground accessories.Finish4LR

The gold in the table is the gold in her hair, The violet in the flowers means violet in the flesh tone, everything connected. Painting like this is so much easier than trying to figure out every mixture from scratch, also it works harmony into every item.

FinishLR11In the final image above I finally painted in the dress, this was the most subtle passage. By the time I got there, the accessories on the table told me what I needed to do.

Below is a slide show of the entire painting, photographed every half hour until completion.



30/30 Lesson learned #3, Getting Stuck

Without fail during each and every painting, I came to the point of getting stuck. That, just can’t get the nose right, can’t get the hand right, can’t get the contrast right feeling. The two main situations where this happens are areas that require precise drawing and areas of subtle value/color.

In the past I have spent hours trying to work out a troublesome area. It becomes a battle between the painting and myself, “you aren’t going to win”, “I’m going to get this right if it’s the last thing I do”, my painting became my adversary instead of my ally.

For instance I was getting so single focused on getting a profile to stand out from the background that I didn’t notice that there were leaves behind it, which gave the face the contrast. Around painting number five I realized I was wasting a lot of time, and I didn’t have time to waste.

So I forced myself to move along, go to another, easier area and work instead. If I wasn’t making progress, but struggling  in an area for more than 5 minutes…..I moved on. And I made a discovery, as the other parts of the painting were developed, the problem areas told me what they needed.


In the above painting my stuck area is circled in red. At first I couldn’t even guess at the value and color of the very subtle water area. It was one of those areas that could suffer from overworking, so I went for the more obvious figures. Once they were established the color and value of the sand was clear, moving toward the water, making the transitions, the water almost told me what it needed to be.

BoutiqueLRexThis one had two challenging areas. The dress in shadow – what are all those subtle tones? And the window at the back, I struggled with getting the temperature of the wall as compared to the window as well as the contrast.

I went for the most obvious area, the pink chairs in the distance, than moved outward, the rug was darker and warmer, the group of hanging dresses lighter and cooler than the rug, one step at a time until I worked up to the dress. Likewise working backward to the window, comparing one passage to the next, the window revealed what it needed.

This has helped me to pickup the pace of my painting, as well as keep the frustration to a minimum.


30/30 Lesson learned #2, The Drawing

After the Dance, newest painting since 30/30
After the Dance, newest painting after 30/30

The draw, the drawing, the drawing, the drawing. Many years ago I attended a workshop at the Scottsdale Artists School. The instructor was a wonderful figurative painter named John Michael Carter.

During the lunch break he agreed to look at some of the work I brought in for him to critique. He said 90% of your problem is the drawing, he was so right!

I found the best friend I had for all 30 paintings was a sound drawing. A mapping of the major points in relation to everything else in the image. No details, just how one shape relates to another.

There are so many things to deal with once a painting begins. It’s like the man at the circus spinning multiple plates at once. The plate of correct value, as it relates to areas next to it, the plate of correct color temperature and hue as compared with the rest of the image, add to this the hardest plate to get correct, the drawing, i.e. everything the right size, shape, place as it fits in the image.

There are a few artists like Richard Schmid and Jeffrey Watts that have such impeccable drawing skills that they can start a portrait at an eye and work outward with supreme accuracy, but that’s not me.

I am changing how I work,  spend more time on the drawing and enjoying it. After all how many things can you practice, while you are really creating something of value?


The Results of 30/30

30 Paintings in 30 Days by Diane Eugster
30 Paintings in 30 Days by Diane Eugster

The image above is a college of the paintings I completed in January as a result of the 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge.

This experience taught me many things I truly believe I would not have learned otherwise. You could say it was a microcosm of how I work, the Cliffsnotes, the Reader’s Digest version.

Going through a beginning, a middle, and end each day, I began to see how I work a painting. Otherwise a painting may take 1 or 2 weeks, things happen so incrementally that I haven’t seen the patterns. I can compare it to watching a time-lapse of myself painting 30 paintings. Isn’t that what athletes do, watch video after video of themselves to determine what they are doing wrong, or right?

My first discovery was how much self-doubt I had while working. It took me about 2 weeks to put my finger on it. Nagging, whispering “you can’t do it”, “why did you do that?” “you’re just not good enough”, all the while holding me back and squelching my creativity. When I finally put a name to it I was ready to fight back.

I’ve never been one for mantra’s …yes you can… yes you can…, but I stopped and looked around, 14 times I did do it, 14 times I figured it out. Having the visual right in front of my face, I began to believe I really could.

This year I am going to make it a goal to put visuals on my studio wall of things I accomplish, got in a show, my work singled out, and not just accomplishments that involve other people’s opinions of me but ones where I achieved a step forward personally in my painting. We are so quick to dwell on the negative things that happen with our work and push away, too easily, all of the positives that we’ve accomplished.

The college at the top of the page was made through an awesome, free, website called PicMonkey. They even have Facebook templates so that you can create a college to fit your banner.

30 Paintings in 30 Days, day 30

The last one, it was a little sad, I’ve become so used to my routine of going into the studio to find out what my subject was for the day.


This is from a series of photos I took many years ago. Several times I’ve tried unsuccessfully to paint these images, until now. I really feel I have gained invaluable experience and information over this last month, which I am going to blog about in my next posts.

The part of all this I wasn’t prepared for was how cutting 5 to 8 hours out of every day would affect my non-painting life. John was a big help, pitching in where he could, but he also had two large custom furniture jobs and a class to teach this month.

Around day 18 I began to get a little cranky when I got up to find I ran out of toothpaste, found the cereal box empty, couldn’t locate any socks and had to kick dust bunnies to the side as I made my way to the studio. I have never been a person to lose things, but this month I lost a pair of earrings, a pair of glasses and my car keys. Guess I was a little preoccupied.

The positives however outweighed the negatives by a huge margin. Painting 30 paintings in 30 days , yes, I’m going to do this again sometime, just not this year!

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