Using Pattern in Paintings


Lately I’ve been incorporating more patterns into my paintings. I’ve long admired how other artists like Gustav Klimt and Henri Matisse used this tool. What can patterns do for a painting?

  • Add motion, the repetitive component of a pattern takes the viewer’s eye on a visual journey, which can work for you as a tool to lead the eye in a painting.
  • Add interest, backgrounds can get….well…..boring, patterns can liven up an otherwise static background. This is something I learned in Sunny Apinchapong’s workshop. I can hear him behind my shoulder saying “don’t paint it like that, it’s boring, break it up!”
  • Add to your story, instead of putting your subject in a room or landscape that tells more about “their world” , use a pattern that conveys the mood you want to evoke. If the scene is set up from the beginning this way, it’s a great way to get a solid direction going.
  • Keeping harmony, there’s nothing worse than a background that doesn’t share color harmony with the main subject. Patterns are a great way to weave foreground tones into the background and vice a versa.

    Coral and Sage by Diane Eugster
    Coral and Sage by Diane Eugster


Looking For The Angles

When faced with a subject, from life of a photo, one of the first decisions that’s necessary is, how much to include in the painting.

There are a few questions I ask myself which help to pin this down.

  • What is it about this image that excites me, I focus on that. If it’s the expression on someone’s face, crop in close. If including the whole body, the face will end up measuring 2 inches or less (unless working large), it’s very hard to project expression on a 2 inch head.
  • How much time do I have or want to invest in this painting? Whenever you zoom out you include more shapes, more shapes equal more time to render each one.
  • But most importantly I ask myself, where are the angles?

I call them the dynamic diagonals, the strongest compositional tool there is. Successful ones pull your eye around a scene, weak ones, none at all or the worst of all; pointing in random directions, can leave a viewer not knowing where to look and confused.

This is a scene where there were multiple cropping possibilities. Using the whole scene would have utilized long, weak diagonals in the lower half. So many angles in the top half unbalanced the long lines of the lower half almost cutting the picture in two.


The tight cropping I decided on below, used the diagonals to move the eye around and around while capturing her wonderful expression.

Still Got It! by Diane Eugster
Still Got It! by Diane Eugster
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