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…

Being your own Best Critic

Training your critical eye is one of the best tools to improve painting skills. After all who can you depend on to be available anytime, who knows and understands what you’re trying to do……you.

Here are three ways that have helped me to become my best art critic;

Attend open studio sessions, while there, walk around the room and really look at what others are doing. Find several people who are more experienced, see how they have handled areas that you are struggling with. Take pictures of their work (if they give you permission), and study it later. What things are they doing that could elevate your work, more varied edges, more subtle colors, using warm passages against cool etc.

Before you try the next suggestion you might say “what’s the point, just go on to something else”. I’ve found to take my work to the next level I need to dig deeper, take an unbiased look at my paintings, remove myself from it’s creation and ask these questions;

If I saw another version of this painting in a gallery and really liked it, how would it be different from my version? I did this with my painting below.pinkdressOriglr

The big things;

The shape of her skirt would be more interesting, as it is, one half is a mirror image of the other. It could also have more form, there must be a top plane, front planes and side planes, but where are they? More variety in color, even though it’s not totally a flat color, the surface suffers from sameness. More movement, the diagonal at the bottom of the skirt  has the potential for a more interesting edge.

The background could be cooler. The main character should call the shots on the painting temperature. She is built with very cool tones, I don’t believe her world would have that much orange in it.

The small things;

The girl’s posture is a little stiff, so is her expression. Before I rework her head I better make sure it’s in the right place, (which it wasn’t).

Can I make this more than a girl in a big skirt?PinkDresslr

Going through several days of revisions, I think it’s finally a better version of it’s former self! I definitely learned some things on this one!

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.


Phoenix Rising from the Ashes

Lately I’ve been going through some of my older, not as successful paintings, deciding which one to use as a base for a new one, a sort of “Phoenix rising from the ashes” approach.

There are huge benefits to working this way. The color and texture provide a great jumping off point for something new, also a primed surface with a layer of dryed oil paint is a wonderful support, the new paint layer will retain the richness of the color not sinking in like a more porous surface would.

At first, starting the new painting can be a little confusing. Thinking of it as a mosaic, one patch at a time helps me until the new overtakes the old.


Working the simple to the complex, saving the head and face for last, since it will require the most accuracy. I’m using the placement of everything else to tell me the location of the head. After the head is established than the planes of the face, than the features, big shapes to small.


The planes of the face are laid in, always comparing. The angle of the chin compared to the shoulder, the center of the back compared with the  back of the head, the forehead is a continuation of the upward sweep of the arm.

When everything was in it’s basic location, it was a good time to focus on the painting, forgetting about my reference image. Is this succeeding on it’s own merit? Are things moving in a comfortable way, balanced?

Something that bothered me was too many major shapes pointing upward to the right. Reworking the central diamond shape, pushing the right point downward might help.

This is so important to me, looking at the big picture, well rendered areas mean nothing if the whole is not balanced and flowing.

Jasmine and Sage by Diane Eugster

Pulling that central background shape downward was the adjustment I was after.



How to Critique a Painting in 5 Steps

Pin-Diane-Eugster-CritiqueWe all know that Sorolla was a master artist, so I am going to use one of his paintings, Evening Sun, to illustrate the points below.

Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903
Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903

1. Composition

Does your eye flow throughout the painting or does it stop awkwardly and hit dead ends?

Notice how the elements of this painting draw you right in and form a loop that keeps your eye moving around and around.

Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903

2. Color

Has color been used to provoke an emotion or just copied, are similar colors woven throughout?

Sorrolla uses a grayed green tone many times in this painting, whether it is a hat, water or shadow on an ox. This repetition creates a wonderful harmony.

Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903

3. Unity

Have elements been treated stylistically the same across the painting?

Sorrolla uses a wave-like shape in all areas of the image, creating the strong feeling of movement. Notice the one strong horizontal line at the horizon that anchors all of this motion.

Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903

4. Center of Interest

Do element within the painting support the Center of Interest?

Sorolla shows us what a master he is by putting his center of interest successfully in the middle of the painting. Does anything convey strength like the muscled hind ends of those oxen fighting the rushing waves?

Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903
Evening Sun by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1903

5. Emotion

Is the painting a collection of “things” or does it evoke a deeper emotion in you?

Is this painting “Evening Sun” by Sorolla y Bastida simply a seascape with some oxen and figures. . . you decide.

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.

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.