Getting to Know my Subject

Spanish Steps by Diane Eugster

Sometimes when I begin a painting I feel the need to get to know my subject better. I’m not talking about the person posing but what I have before me, the way to translate it into paint.

I could see there was a face, hands and pattern in this image, any or all of which I might struggle with in the painting unless I really knew what I was looking at. There’s no better way to do this than with a sketch pad.


Only by drawing the lines could I realize all the nuances of each of these areas. I probably would have figured this out in the painting eventually, but by the time this happened, overworking and general frustration would be the probable result.

I discovered that the face is tilting upwards, meaning the bottom of the chin and nose would be seen as well as the top of the head not being as full as you’d think it should be because of the angle. I also discovered the pattern on the skirt was rounder in the areas facing me and got flatter and longer as it wrapped around her body.

Spainsh1lrLately I’ve been starting my paintings with no drawing, using more of a blocking in of the masses. This gives me more freedom to express what I’m feeling about the subject.

Spanish2lrThe beginning of the second day, it seemed best to save the pattern on the skirt for when my mind was fresh. I used to dread patterns in a painting, but now it’s almost a zen experience just getting lost in the shapes, forgetting about what the “thing” is and just building one shape next to another. Layering up the complexity until the level I’m looking for is reached.





Monday Afternoon at the Art Group

Quick Study of Anastasia by Diane Eugster
Quick Study of Anastasia by Diane Eugster

It may not be realistic to work from live models all the time but most cities have groups that facilitate two or three hour sessions with real people.

Even in our city, Las Vegas, which is not a mecca for the arts, there are several types to choose from.

Nude figure drawing groups which can be hosted by gallery spaces or individuals at their homes. Look at Meet-up online for what’s going on in your area.


Portrait painting, short and long poses are another type of group that help hone your skills. Usually the model fee is split up between the participants. This type of group is easy to find models for, family members, neighbors etc. In a previous blog post I wrote about other places to find models.

These groups are fun and good for us types that spend too much time in the studio and need to mingle with humanity. If you can’t find one, start one, maybe in your garage with a few friends, you’d be surprised how these things can grow.

New Painting, Dreaming in Red

Dreaming in Red by Diane Eugster


When I began “Dreaming in Red” , I knew the feeling I wanted, so it was a matter of taking the tools and making them work for me.

Soft and ethereal meant large soft brushes and a paint consistency that I could easily move around the canvas. Using vivid warm tones of Cadmium Red light and Cadmium Red Deep neutralized with Viridian green gave me the bohemian atmosphere I pictured.

Beginning stage of Dreaming in Red


It was then a matter of how much and where it should happen to make the image materialize.


Spending 50% Of My Time On 25% of the Painting

Oak Creek Trail 1 by Diane Eugster


The more I paint the more I realize the need to be selective within each painting. It’s back to the center of interest discussion, to have one or not to have one? For me, there needs to be a focus.

In Las Vegas we have a multitude of Cirque du Soleil shows. They are the epitome of visual stimulation, with performers riding oversized contraptions on stage while others do unnatural contortions, all the while costumed acrobats zoom overhead sparkling and glowing. I love these shows but they’re also exhausting. Some painting are like that, they scream “look here”, “no look here”, “hey – over here”. When it come to painting I think all parts suffer when there isn’t one thing special to lead the eye.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 8.47.56 AM
The Sharp Eye, an article by Laura Robb


In an article titled “A Sharp Eye”  byArtist Laura Robb she explains how she begins her paintings with a rectangle around the focal area, to remind herself to keep the focus there.

The best way I’ve found to keep this in check is by spending 50% of my time on that special 25% of the painting. I’m not talking about detailing; that three haired brush, hard edged, labored place that no painting should go, but getting to the heart of the subject, by asking, what is it about this scene that made me want to paint it. Slowing down to finesse it, exaggerate if need be to make the point. Make that glass really sparkle, that rock really rugged or those lips really luscious.

Featured Artist on Daily Paintworks!

I was surprised and honored when Daily Paintworks asked me if I wanted to be interviewed as part of being their featured artist this week.

Reflection by Diane Eugster


My painting “Reflection” is also being given away on their site. To qualify you must have purchased art on the Daily Paintworks site in the last 30 days.

Here is a link to the article, thanks for sharing this with me!

Memorial to a Paintbrush

Have you ever had a tool that made painting a better experience for you, something that you just couldn’t do without? Until you found out, one day, you would have to do without.


The Royal & Langnickel Royal Sable brush. I always thought of it as the brush with the funny name. It wasn’t sable at all, didn’t even look like sable, but was  made from badger hair.

It was the badger hair that made it special; not as soft as a sable, or as stiff as bristle. It held it’s own pushing around oil paint, but with much more sensitivity than a bristle hair brush. A quick plunge in the thinner and it let go of all traces of color, a wipe on a cloth, left it dry and crisp ready for the next stroke.

Back order, out of stock …and the words I didn’t want to see discontinued. To add insult to injury it had been replaced by the new, nylon, Royal & Langnickel Royal SableTek.


Seems like there’s been a population explosion of nylon brushes at the art supply store lately. They’ve muscled out racks of natural hair paint brushes, dyed to look like sable, squirrel and badger, the performance of a nylon brush with oil paint is a sad thing to see.

Has anyone else lost a favorite painting tool to mass production and increased profit margins?

My woodworker husband John wrote a blog on this very subject, the cheapening of the craftsman’s tools.

Royal & Langnickel Royal Sable, the Tek will never replace you, I will miss you my old friend….

On a happier note, my first painting from last weeks hike at Red Rock Canyon-

Southwest of Red Rock by Diane Eugster


Testing the 50mm lens on the Landscape

Last week I did more research online to find out if the 50mm lens was useful for more than just shooting indoors with low light.  I found out that it also has some great advantages for outdoor landscape photos.

To wrap my head around this I practiced in my backyard.


For both of these photos I stood in exactly the same location, ISO 100, shutter priority mode 125. In both I focused on the low tree in the middle.

The one with the zoom lens (that came with the camera) is flatter, has duller color and shadows. The 50mm lens photo doesn’t take in as wide an image, but has much more life to it.

The sun is shinning, the sky is clear and I’m ready to take my new 50mm 1.4 lens out to Red Rock and see how it performs. John and I got on our hiking boots , got in the truck and headed for the mountains.


Our desert can be rather dry and flat, but hike 10 minutes up a trail and the beauty starts to unfold.


I like the way the 50mm allows focusing on a near object, while softening the background, more like I see things with my own eyes.



This photo, focusing in the distance, allowed the foreground to soften. Next week another trail….

Alla Prima, Changes Made

The last thing I needed to deal was time management. Painting two hours here, skip a day, five hours there, isn’t going to work for the direct painting technique I want to use. I’ve decided to harness three days from the week for actual painting. The first day; decide on my subject and get the drawing down correctly. The second day; paint for five to seven hours, the third day, as long as it takes to get it done.

This has multiple benefits. Not only does the paint stay workable for the duration of the painting but it helps me to be more focused. When I leave myself open to paint any day of the week, the guilt sets in, “you should be painting, instead of…….fill in the blank”. With three days totally dedicated to painting I can also hold onto my initial inspiration and excitement for the piece. Many times I’ve worked on a painting over several weeks only to forget why I started it.

Of course working in a shorter block of time means the size of the paintings are going to be kept smaller, for now.


This is my newest painting of Kat. Her gaze and expression are what made me want to paint her. I’ve utilized all the changes to my working process that I’ve mentioned in the previous post and this one.

Changing my ways – Alla Prima

closeupI’ve heard of artists freezing their oil paintings to preserve the workability, or using special oils that retard the drying time, but I don’t have room in my freezer for a painting and I like the consistency of paint out of the tube.

If I’m going to adopt a direct painting style for all my work, where the paint is wet and workable during the entire process I’m going to start by looking at my tools.

The canvas support; the goal is a non absorbent surface, where the oil in the paint sits on top and doesn’t soak into the support, leaving the pigment dry and hard to manipulate. I tested the canvas I’ve been using by putting a stroke of unthinned oil paint on the surface than wiping it off.

StrokeOn Utrecht

Here it is, my first road block, I had no idea my (supposedly triple primed) Utrecht canvas was as porous as a piece of cardboard! The image on the left shows how dry the initial stroke looks, after wiping off you can see the color stained, which I expected, but also the oil layer has been sucked into the canvas. What do I do now? Either buy some oil primed linen canvas, the benchmark for a nonabsorbent oil painting surface, or try to work with what I have.

I’m going to do both, while I wait for the oil primed linen canvas to arrive I’ll  apply two coats of Liquitex Super Heavy Gesso to the canvas.


With two coats of Liquitex Super Heavy Gesso the surface is much better. The initial paint stroke goes on creamier, it wipes off showing a crisper stroke. Meanwhile, the new oil primed linen canvas have come, I’ll run them through the same test.



The clear winner is the oil primed linen canvas, the stroke sits on the surface, wiped off it’s almost gone!

The Paint; I use Gamblin oil paint and am happy with the quality, but since the earth colors, Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna are all fast drying I’m going to keep them off my palette. Approximations of them can be easily mixed so they won’t really be missed.

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