Letting the Mood Lead the Painting

Before I began my latest painting ” Delilah” the mood I wanted to convey was in my head. The question was how do you translate a mood into paint?

First I come up with some adjectives;

  • Mysterious
  • Dangerous?
  • Rich
  • Surreal
  • Ethereal

Translated into paint, I have;

Color, Red, Violet, Black, Gold, Cold Blues and Greens

Texture, Rough and Smooth paint, sharp and smooth edges

Value, High Contrast

This appeared to be a simple subject, all the more reason to do an initial value sketch. When there isn’t a lot of “stuff” in the scene, every element has to work especially hard.


Sketch for Delilah
Sketch for Delilah

This really helped me to see some areas that needed to be adjusted, much easier to push a sketch around than a painting. I could see what needed to be done to her hands, the subtle reshaping which would help the movement, making a comfortable eye path around the painting.


Why not start with a red underpainting to get the mystery started. Keeping a cool light, I washed in some Cadmium Red Medium plus Viridian green and white. The shadows were made from a mixture of Cadmium Red Medium, Cadmium Yellow Medium and Viridian Green. The dark accents were Cadmium Red Medium and Cobalt Blue.

Delilah by Diane Eugster
Delilah by Diane Eugster

Working back and forth between the shadows and light struck areas I continued around the painting, scrapping off and building up, until there wasn’t anything else I wanted to say, and it was finished.

The Northwest Experience

The bags are unpacked, the laundry’s done and it’s time to reflect on what I saw. The weather was fabulous, around 90 which was refreshing for us, but not the residents of Spokane, Washington. Seems it was an unusual turn of the thermometer for them.

We experienced the raining ash in the sky and campfire like smell from the nearby forest fires, some close enough to see as we drove along the freeway. Our main purpose was to visit family so painting time was minimal. I did get an opportunity to paint however when I made the sacrifice to forgo a 35 mile bike ride, in order to just walk around and see what I could find to paint.

My plans were to start in the backyard, which contained all sorts of rich vegetation, than work my way into the nearby field. I never made it to the field as there were just so many interesting colors and textures in the yard.

Washington Pears by Diane Eugster
Washington Pears by Diane Eugster

What did I learn? That painting outside, even in the shade, gave me a false sense of the values. I should have known this from taking photos outside and inside. Even the brightest room inside can’t compare with the amount of light in the shade outside.

When I brought this painting indoors, the midrange greens were way darker than they appeared outside, so I needed to make adjustments later to lighten them up.

It was also hard to decide how to begin the painting;

• Should I put in the brightest color and work duller from there? Maybe, but there was a huge leap from the brightest color, the pears, to the leaves in this instance.

• Should I have started with the dullest color and work brighter? Don’t think so because this painting was more about a strong value pattern, but this is how I approached the other painting below.

• Should I put in the darkest darks and work up from there? This is the way I decided to go, although in this case, I started too dark, which I will remember to compensate for the next time.

Little Mountain Town by Diane Eugster
Little Mountain Town by Diane Eugster

We spent two days in a cabin in a little Canadian town called Rossland. I was inspired by this view from the cabin window.

There were so many subtle tones in the distant trees and roof tops, I used the method of laying in the most distant tone of the violet mountain, than working forward with more saturated color, while keeping the values close.

All in all it was a fantastic experience, being outside I also learned a lot about simplifying what I saw, there just wasn’t time to dwell on anything, put it down and move on.

It’s was nice to veer off the subjects I normally paint, although I feel I can use these lessons to enhance my figurative paintings in the future.

Inspired by The California Impressionists

I’ve been thinking a lot about landscapes lately since we are traveling to Washington and Canada soon. I’m going to bring my paints, even though I haven’t painted plein air in quite a while, I’ll give it a try and see what happens.

For many years the California Impressionists have been among my favorite artists, William Wendt, Hanson Putuff, Edgar Payne and Daniel Garber to name a few.

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Their paintings were fresh with spontaneous color, using color harmonies in close value ranges. They were also full of wonderful greens, and it’s those wonderful greens that usually trip me up.

Researching on-line I came across the blog of noted landscape artist and instructor Phil Starke, who has a great assortment of free videos about landscape painting. Any artist could benefit from seeing the boldness with which he approaches his subject. There’s also an informative video download on his website called Masters Study, where he talks about how a group of special artists inspired his work.

Many times when I’m painting I’d like to have a visual reminder of how much variety I can get out of my limited palette, so I decided to make some color charts. Usually color charts are a mind numbing experience to me, and I think that’s because the ones I’ve done in the past were too general, it was hard to see how one color from 200 on a chart would pull my painting out of a troubled place.


This time the charts are going to be focused just on specifically what I need to see, what assortment of greens can I mix from Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow Light, Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Sienna. I used a small 8″ x 4″ grey palette pad (a smaller version of what I normally paint on), so that I can take it along with me. Since Ultramarine Blue is the common denominator in all the green mixtures, I made a the chart above with different amount of Cad. Yellow Light, Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Sienna with no white.

The top of each column shows the blue mixed with different amounts of each color, with more amounts of the additional colors as the columns go downward. This gives me an idea of what greens I can get out of four colors without any added white. In the photo it’s hard to read the darks, but there are some rich and varied greens in there.



This chart is identical except I started with Ultramarine mixed with white in every column. This is where those striking subtle colors live.

Sometimes in the middle of a painting there are so many things going on at once, keeping the values in check, the drawing accurate, the composition… yes, this will be a handy tool giving me some basic ideas, a spring-board to get me going.


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