Painting Blue Light

Lately I’ve been setting up random objects that have a commonality. It crossed my mind that colored light might bring several items together in a different way.

Shopping around, I found Ace Hardware had a blue LED that would work perfectly.IMG_0608

Reflection and blue light were the ideas I wanted to pull together. The white flower and silver canister made a good vehicle to showcase the blue light, while the patterned cloth showcased the reflective metal.


This photo really exaggerates the blue, it wasn’t this intense. That’s why painting from life is so important, your eye can’t be fooled like the camera.

Because the values of light to dark are so close in this scene, a value sketch to get things organized was the first step.


The goal here was to divide up all the areas, assigning either dark, medium or light value to each.

The flower “could” be the most difficult area to paint since it appears to have dark, medium and light in it. And it does, but those darks, mediums and lights must hold together as a light shape so that it doesn’t get fragmented.

Another area, the pattern, could be trouble, but I’m going to push it into mid value.


At this point, the initial lay-in is holding together the way I had envisioned. This is where it really gets fun because I can go in with different temperatures, play with edges, do whatever I want as long as I don’t step out of the value boundaries I set for myself.


The blue light was very deceptive, the areas it hit most seemed to be much lighter, but in reality these areas were a different color not value. This was a great exercise in observation.


And the final-




How to Paint Nothing

Something, is a big vase of colorful flowers on a patterned table-cloth. A hand full of fruit and a cup of tea thrown in for good measure.

Nothing, is a smooth white surface with a clear jar of water, a transparent shot glass and a silver bucket.

If you want to hone you skills at seeing value better, this is the subject for you. Creating cardboard grey value scales can be tedious, so why not paint a setup that tricks you into training your eye?


I painted this from life, which is the only way to see the nuances of what really light does. I chose these three object because they had visual characteristics in common.

  • All are tallish cylinders
  • All lack saturated color, except the bit of orange inside the bucket, it’s always good to throw off consistency a little.
  • All have reflective surfaces.

My goal : to showcase the commonalities between them while giving each a distinct personality.

I started on a Baltic birch wood panel primed with toned gesso, I spent plenty of time on the drawing, no details, just making sure things were placed and sized correctly.

The painting started with getting the value of the darkest dark in the bucket. Than the orangish tone, along with the background behind it. There is no way to know how dull or bright to make this without the background tone. Too often these areas are left until late in the painting. The background and foreground set the whole key for what’s placed on them.


Moving around  I make my best guess as to what the color shapes are. When everything is basically roughed in I go back for another pass, slowing down, making refinements (corrections), to my original guesses. When a few things get nailed down, the rest comes much easier.NothingBlog2.jpg

At this point I look long and hard to see what needs to go away and what needs to be added. The bucket on the right needs the handle, the top and bottom edges need some reworking. The wall behind the items needs more paint and a little more color.NothingBlog5.jpg

And here’s the finish-

Repurposed Paintings

After painting for awhile, we all have them. . . the stack of paintings, that won’t go away. There are small victories in certain areas, but the war was not won. They don’t warrant displaying, even in our own homes.

The best answer I’ve found to finally put them to rest, is making use of them, a repurpose paint-over. Here’s how I go about it:

  1. It’s easiest to select an old painting that is dominantly light to midtown in value. Darker paintings can be more difficult but intersting because initial lines don’t show up, using a grey mix of Ivory Black and White will work.
  2. Flip the painting upside down, which throws the original subject into abstraction, making it less distracting as the new painting takes form.
  3. Get some initial lay-in lines down, the general placement of things, too many lines promote confusion.
  4. Begin blocking in the large masses with paint and turpentine using large brushes. Blog-repurpose1

In the lower third of this paint-over you can still make out the original portrait flipped upside down. I have massed in the large shapes, paying attention to the values as they relate to one another. An old painting is such a nice surface to work on, it is essentially an oil primed canvas. blog-repurpose2

There were some heavy paint areas in the original, resulting in some raised brush work, this serves as a challenge to paint even heavier so I can work them in.Blog-final-large

The final image, notice I left some of the violet from the original painting. Allowing the old painting to show through can make the new work richer.


Let There Be Light!

It has taken me eight months, since we moved to Phoenix, to get my studio in order.

It’s not s huge space as art studios go, but I have managed to divide the space into “zones” for easy work flow. An area to gesso and varnish, and area to work on my laptop and draw and the most important of all, the area to paint.

The last thing to tackle was my lighting. Up to this point I have been experimenting with different bulbs in the existing ceiling fan; too dull, not enough coverage, spot lights on tripods; too strong with excessive glare, and did I mention tripping over tripods?

I’ve finally came to the conclusion that I should steal John’s idea of using long LED lights in his wood shop.

These lights are available, special order from Rockler Woodworking, and they put out a wonderful stream of  5500 lumens of bright light with no shadowing.IMG_2668

John installed two, one on each side of the room. These lights are surface mount so John installed them as close as he could to the ceiling. IMG_2669

Because of previous remodels to this house, there was no way John could run any electrical inside the walls, so he tapped into an existing outlet, which the previous owner used for a wall mounted TV. Running the wires inside surface moulding, up to the ceiling than across to an electrical outlet he mounted on the ceiling. IMG_2671

Both light fixtures plugged into this outlet on the ceiling. Both lights can be turned on at the switch on the wall or turned on individually by the pull chains.


Light over my easel area-
Light over table area-

The whole project came in at under $250. (free labor), which was well worth it.

Making it More

Friday at SAS we had a lovely model with a complex setup. Her outfit was shocking orange and bright white, silver sequins, ruffles, three large hoops woven in and out of her arms.

A wonderful costume for her performance on stage but how can it transfer to a painting?  I begin by asking the question

How do I create harmony ?

Minimize the colors, minimize the shapes, this means zooming in on a selected area which will create fewer shapes.

O.K. now I have a direction to take. Since there was a lot of orange in the scene I chose burnt sienna, this will give me a large range of values. Cadmium orange will be good for a strong shot of color in the midtone range. Cadmium red seemed a good choice for the duller mid to dark values (when mixed with white, it will actually appear grayish compared to the oranges.)

Feeling that there is more energy in the head and torso area, this is where I will focus.acrobat2lr

As I took this further some things were gained, others lost.

Back in the studio, minus the model, plus a reference photo I have more questions, which usually start with…

If I saw a better version of this painting what would it look like?

It would have more interplay between the background and foreground, there is too much separation in this image. It would also have a livelier mood, more expressive brushwork. More texture, shine v/s dull, smooth v/s rough. And last but not least check the drawing for proportion errors.

The Acrobat, by Diane Eugster
The Acrobat, by Diane Eugster

In short how can I make this more of what I want, push it without breaking it!


DIY Protective Bag for Oil Paintings

It’s important to protect a framed painting from abrasion while being shipped in a box and this soft fabric bag, which I make, is what works for me.

I start out with cotton furniture pads from U-Haul, that’s right, they are made from a very soft 100% cotton felted material, which means no static electricity to attract dust to your painting.

Furniture pad from U-haul, about $7.99 each.
Furniture pad from U-haul, about $7.99 each.

What you’ll need for this project is:

  • U-haul pads, ( I can get two bags for 18″  x 24″ paintings from one pad, each pad measures 69″ x 86″ ).
  • sewing machine
  • Straight edge
  • Ruler or tape measure
  • Sharpie or other marker
  • Scissors or rotary cutter

I make these in one piece, so there’s a minimum of sewing involved. Begin by drawing a diagram with the height, length and width of the framed painting plus the seam allowance, as below. Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 2.27.49 PM


The measurements going across the top from left to right are

  • 1/2″ seam allowance
  • 1″, in this case the depth of the framed painting was 2″, divide in half I have 1″ on each side
  • 28 1/2″ this is the actual measurement of the front wide, plus 1/2″ for ease
  • 1″, the other half of the 2″ depth
  • 1/2″ seam allowance

The measurements going down the right side from top to bottom

  • 1 1/2″ extra at top edge to fold over
  • 38″, the length of the painting
  • 2″, the 2″ depth of the painting, this is the bottom of the bag
  • 38″, the length of the painting, (going up the other side)
  • 1 1/2″ the extra to fold over the topbag2

With a Sharpie and straight edge draw lines on the pad to represent the overall width, on this project 31 1/2″, than lines across for the overall length, 81″ here.

Cut this piece out with scissors or a rotary cutter.


If making multiple bags I like to pin a tag to each bag with the dimensions and bag #, this saves time trying to figure out which bag is which later.

Fold the fabric in half, bringing the 1 1/2″ edges together and sew a 1/2″ seam down each side.


Making the corners in order to get the width at the sides; go down to the lower edge and flatten the seam out to make a triangle. Lay the measuring tape across the corner centering the tape, here on 1″ since the bag is 2″ wide.blog9

Using the tape as a guide sew across the corner at this point, (being careful to not sew the tape).blog10

Trim off the corner close to stitching, repeat on other side. You’re done!blo11

Shipping box before the insulation is inserted

Slip it over the painting, and put it in the box. We usually cut 3/4″ foam insulation sheets (from Home Depot) to fit the top, bottom and sides of boxes.

These boxes are easy to pack up and easy for the people at the other end to repack in case the painting needs to be shipped back. Have never had any damage, and they are reusable several times.


What not to do…when shipping a Painting

Boxing the remainder of my paintings for transit to Phoenix, takes me back to the first time I shipped an oil painting …

Vinnie by Diane Eugster

Many years ago when my painting “Vinnie” was accepted into the Oil Painters of America Annual Show, hiring  a professional packaging company to box up my work seemed like the best choice.

After arriving home with the prepared, boxed, painting, a temptation to open it up set in. How had they protected the painting, what type of packaging materials did they use?

I finally gave in. Carefully cutting the tape, (didn’t want to destroy what I had just paid for), slipping it out onto my work table I saw several layers of bubble wrap. Unraveling the plastic sandwich revealed the surface of Vinnie’s face… pock-marked with bubble imprints! Panic set in.

John and I stood there silent, trying to take in what our eyes were seeing. When we could finally think straight, the deduction was that the varnish had reacted with the wrap. Maybe removing the layer of varnish on the painting would also erase the textured layer. Carefully messaging mineral spirits over the surface eventually removed the marks, restoring Vinnie to his former self.

My lesson… never use bubble wrap next to an oil painting, and…DIY in the future.

In the next post, I’ll share how I make custom bags to protect my paintings in transit…