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

Workshop’s Over Now What

It’s been a week since I finished the Sunny Apinchapong workshop and I am still hearing his words as I paint, which is a good thing.

Sometimes coming away from a workshop can leave me with a let down feeling, like that was exciting and stimulating but now I’m on my own.

White flowers in a Vase, by Diane Eugster
White flowers in a Vase, by Diane Eugster

Sunny gave me so much to work on, here are a few of his mantras:

  1. Mass in with a big brush, you’re not ready to start the painting, keep roughing in those large shapes!
  2. Compare, compare, compare, is that lighter or darker than that passage over there? Look, look, look
  3. Trust yourself, don’t think too much, just get it down!
  4. Is that area really that orange, it’s orangish, not orange!
  5. Check your edges, if two dark object meet with a soft line in the shadow, join them together as one!

The still-life above was a challenge, at first all the white flowers looked very similar, but I searched for the small differences in color and found them, I compared the shape of this one to that one and saw the differences. I knocked back the colors when they were not subtle enough.

Pitch and a Basket, by Diane Eugster
Pitch and a Basket, by Diane Eugster

The same applied to the still-life above, in order to paint better I need to see better. Detail is not what I’m looking for but ways to translate the complications of the really world into paint.

Painting the Color of Light

Since finishing up with the Robert Lemler workshop at SAS I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea that light has color temperature.

When outside in the late afternoon, the sun starting to go down, the color of light is very warm. Everything the late afternoon light falls on will have warmth (orange) in the color while the shadows will have cool or blue tones.

Cool light comes from LEDs or the sky on a cloudy day. The result is everything illuminated by it will have cool tones in it, the shadows will be warm.

Paintings that use these principles will have a heightened sense of brightness while still having vivid color. Getting control of this concept, one can exaggerate it for special effect. An artist who used this in all of his work was Joaquin Sorolla.

Painting by Sorrolla
Painting by Sorolla

In the painting above by  Sorolla I’ve noted just a few of the many temperature changes. These areas are patches of the same color, but one in light and one in shadow.

Here are three paintings I’ve done using  this principle.

Painting by Diane Eugster
Painting by Diane Eugster

This portrait sketch has a cool light, warm shadow relationship.

Painting by Diane Eugster
Painting by Diane Eugster

This painting, a warm light with cool shadows. Even though there are some warmer areas in the shadow, cool dominates with grays, blues and greens.

Painting by Diane Eugster
Painting by Diane Eugster

Here a cool light falls on the figure with warmth in the shadows.

I’m going to start paying special attention to see how this works outside and inside.

First Day Robert Lemler Workshop

Monday was the first day of a workshop I signed up for with renowned artist Robert Lemler.

Why Robert Lemler? I’ve long admired the way he distills a complex subject down to a beautiful, simple design.

The day was started with a demonstration to illustrate how to see only the light and shadow pattern, than how to work within these divisions to add interest with color changes not value changes.

Painting by Robert Lemar
Painting by Robert Lemler

The painting above (sorry for the glare), is one of three paintings Robert brought to the class. A very difficult subject because her skin is basically one dark value, it’s the way the reflected lights are placed on her face that describe the form.

Painting by Robert Lemlar
Painting by Robert Lemler

This one is a fantastic example of how light falls on a form, just look at the stair steps of light that hit his face under his lips, how getting just the right value perfectly explains what is happening there.

Painting by Robert Lemlar
Painting by Robert Lemler

Another painting with basically one large dark shape in cool light. The dimension he is able to suggest with just the right bits of light in the right places!

We did small oil studies for the rest of the day, some under warm light, some under cool, so that we could not only decider the shapes of light and shadow but how the temperature of the light changed the colors.

Composition is King

How the painting is put together, the design, the composition will always be the most important element of painting to me.

That’s why I have a list of images in queue ready to be started but waiting for a solution to design problems. This is one of those images. Even though it had a lot going for it, the colors were washed out and the photo was flat, no real contrast. Having no distinguishable dark areas and light makes it hard to compose a painting, so I decided to really push the values where I needed them in order to make a good break up of the space.Ticket-draw

An exploratory sketch, my way to flesh out the idea, confirmed that this could work. Of course you never really know until some paint is on the canvas, but it seemed the odds were good for success!ticket-draw2

Starting with the darks, the framework, the anchor, I used Burnt Sienna to get a warm glow underneath the build up of paint I was planning to do. I wanted to keep the darks moving through the picture. I remember once someone said you should be able to walk across the darks in your paintings.

Ticket to Ride by Diane Eugster
Ticket to Ride by Diane Eugster

I used Gamblin’s oil priming on the canvas for this painting, it creates a slick surface but provides a ground where a lot of textural effects can be used, which was great for this subject with old wood surfaces.

Choosing a Direction

Friday in open studio at Scottsdale Artists School I was presented with a young woman in a long wool coat. Just painting what was before me could have produced something lackluster. Yes, the model was attractive and the coat interesting but that’s not enough. Thinking about how I wanted to portray this young woman with a long wool coat, was the key to a successful painting.

She could be a Russian spy……or

A homeless teen with an oversized coat……or

A New Yorker, in the 50’s….or

A Vogue model…..yes, this is the one I like best

Having an idea of the elements to exaggerate in the scene helped me make decisions working through it. The long graceful lines in her coat screamed grace and fashion, one hand  in a pocket, the other at her side gave her some attitude, her hair an isometrical wave. Picking out these things and exaggerating them  provided  a strong direction to take. wool1

I wanted to get the coat shape in right away, since it was the largest, most important thing in the image.


Working on a toned surface saved a lot of time. The mid-tones are already there, making it easy to judge the lights against. The light source was cool, so her flesh tones had alizarin, lemon yellow and white in them. Working now to quickly get the background in so I can see all the pieces and how they work together.wool3

At this point everything is blocked in and I like the value (dark and light), patterns, my job from here on out is to develop more interest in each area while keeping the values close. The face gets some shadows, but all fairly light to keep the face together and not fracture it with dark tones.WoolCoatlr

I debated on using the stripes in the background and decided they would make an interesting contrast to the fluid lines in the coat. Since taking David Shevlino’s workshop I have been reaching for my 1″ flat synthetic brushes all the time, they enable a long stroke with sharp or soft edges depending on how it’s angled.



Lessons from Mary Cassatt

While demonstrating how to make a form show dimension using color temperature instead of value, artist Jerry Salinas suggested we take a closer look at the work of impressionist artist Mary Cassatt.

Girl Arranging Her Hair, 1880, Mary Cassatt
Girl Arranging Her Hair, 1880, Mary Cassatt

She was a master of controlling the space in her paintings by using big shapes of dark against big shapes of light. In Girl Arranging her hair she has grouped the girl and the sink top together by using close values in the light range. We know that there is porcelain, glass, a stiff white fabric and soft flesh without the use of dark to light modeling, just subtle color temperature  shifts and very few dark calligraphic lines.

detail of Girl Arranging Her Hair
detail of Girl Arranging Her Hair

In this close up of her arm you can see how many subtle colors are in the flesh and how effective it is at making that arm read as warm soft and round.

Girl in a Blue Chair, 1880, Mary Cassatt
Little Girl in a Blue Chair, 1880, Mary Cassatt

This painting, Little Girl in a Blue Chair really amazed me when I changed it to grey scale. I was so sure the girl would stand out as a light shape against the chair she is sitting in.

Grey Scale, Little Girl in a blue Chair
Grey Scale, Little Girl in a blue Chair

The truth is, she is very close in value to the chair seat, but totally across the color chart with her orange skin tones. I love the masterful placement of those few dark lines to give her volume as well as the shape of the large sash defining her roundness as well as the left sock explaining the curve of her leg as it comes forward.

Having the opportunity to work from life, I am going to be more conscious of looking for those color temperature changes. This is one of those skills that can be infused into paintings done from photographs in order to make them more vibrant and life-like.

When the Painting is Fueled by the Model

It was Saturday morning, I left one hour early for the 9am open studio session, even though our apartment is only five minutes away from the art school, I’ve learned over the last few weeks that if you are not one of the first six people who make it in the doors when they open in the morning, you will be left holding a palette, paint box and canvas, trying to find the best position in the second row of easels, or worse.

Anyway, I was the first one in the parking lot and the first one in the door. Set up my palette, walked around the school a little, waited….and waited…..The model was late, this was unusual as they usually arrived a half hour early so that the lights could be set up etc. Five after nine, a wispy figure raced in to the room…. that must be the model.


She flung off her glasses and coat and launched into the model’s chair. This was going to be a full on, front face view from my spot in the room. Why was she late? What was she thinking? There was an expression on her face that couldn’t be explained, only painted.


At this point the solid structure of her face was established, it’s amazing how unsymmetrical the human face really is. I slowed down to check my angles like David Shevlino suggested, comparing  things like; the angle of the end of the eye to the edge of her mouth, the angle of the widest part of her jaw to the inner corner of her eyes.


This is the finished sketch, I feel that I captured the aura surrounding her.

I had another experience like this only when an elderly cowboy model, “Vinnie” had a hard time finding the art studio, arrived late, and announced to the class that he liked horses more than people. His pensive expression fueled my painting for the rest of the day.


Only in Scottsdale

The other day in open studio I heard talk of a painting demonstration at the new Scottsdale Museum of the West. I was taken back when I found out who the artist was. This was a stroke of luck, one of my favorite painters, Scott Burdick was to be the featured artist, in town because his wife, Sue Lyon was giving a workshop at the school.

Scott Burdick
Scott Burdick

We arrived early enough to grab a seat in the second row of the auditorium. Scott was there in his usual ball cap and jeans, so unassuming for the master painter that he is. After introductions he began his painting of a dramatic black model.

Scott and his Model at the Western Heritage Museum Demonstration
Scott and his Model at the Western Heritage Museum Demonstration

He began drawing with burnt sienna on a white canvas, stressing how important it was, even at this stage, to be accurate with placement. Next he blocked in all the darks with one tone of burnt sienna. Instead of mixing a violet on his palette, for the head scarf, he layed in a red tone than a blue on top of this, mixing them together on the canvas which created a lively effect.

Scott Burdick demonstration

His next goal was to cover all the white canvas as he painted carefully  around the edge of her face with the background blue.

Building up to a thicker and thicker paint layer, it was amazing to watch him massage the heavy paint in order to get interesting edges as all the elements registered more and more dimensional.

Scott Burdick Demo
Scott Burdick Demo

In the above image the painting was 80% completed, I wish I had a photo of the finish painting, but the crowd rushed down and enveloped Scott and his painting. Many patrons wanted to get their names in the hat to purchase it for $1,200., a great discount for one of his paintings.


Scott Burdick painting

He also sold two others he had brought, again, more buyers than paintings, so they drew names.

It was a great afternoon of watching a master work and listening to his entertaining stories.