Taking it Further

Many times when painting a subject from life there just isn’t enough time to finish, or quality control starts to diminish when “artist fatigue” sets in.

The next day, back in the studio, armed with some photos, one taken a little overexposed to see what’s happening in the shadows and one underexposed to see what’s happening in the lightest areas, it’s time to take a hard look. This is one of the greatest ways to develop a keener eye.

So, how do I take it further? Writing down what I like so far;

  • The strong sense of light on her face, an almost stark quality
  • The composition

Now, what could elevate this, if I saw a more advanced version of this painting at an art show, what is it that would make me stop and look?

  • Correct any drawing/value problems that would take away from the whole
  • Work the edges to lead the eye around the painting and not distract
  • Play up the textures1920rough-lrI began in the studio at this point-


After taking it further with the changes below-

Drawing problems;

  • her left hand and right hands- needed reshaping and softening
  • her left arm, take the value lighter and reshape
  • her knee, not in the right place
  • chin, a little more pointed

Opportunities for texture

  • highlight on her headband
  • shine on her dress
  • fur and sparkles on coat, right side
  • background needs a little more chroma
  • work items on table for more interest

In the beginning when trying to “taking it further” it may seem hard to spot what you need to do, but keep looking with a critical eye and you will soon develop a knack for seeing which direction to take.



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!


Back to Painting Again!

Getting somewhat settled into our new Phoenix home, it is finally time to work in the studio. Still tripping over boxes …. where’s that ruler and X-acto knife, I know there’s more solvent somewhere….. but anyway it felt great to be face to face with a canvas again.

I took the opportunity to attend an open studio session for 5 hours on friday at Scottsdale Artists School, knowing that I would complete the painting at home.


Basic block in. I can’t believe I forgot the basic rule of painting glasses, and was reminded by another artist in the class…paint the eyes first, than put the glasses on.


At this point my concern was blocking in the masses with the right shape and temperature. Decided to use a limited palette to put the focus on textures; yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber and ivory black. Could have got away using the burnt umber instead of black but wanted to get those cold darks on the tie and vest.final-letter

The first thing I like to do when getting back to the studio is evaluate what I have so far and where I want to go. Looking at the painting, not the reference photo making a list (spelling and grammar are the last things on my mind), of what needs to be done helps me to focus and not get off track.

Julian with a Hat

After four more hours in the studio, the end result is the painting below.


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!

To Sum it Up …

We are nearing the end of our 6 month stay in Scottsdale. To recap, John and I decided to celebrate our 20th anniversary by temporarily living in an “art friendly” city, our choice was Scottsdale Arizona.

Why Scottsdale? I have enjoyed attended workshops at the Scottsdale Artists School over the last 15 years. Other art destinations are within easy driving distance, like Sedona and Tucson. The outlying desert regions have a multitude of hiking trail, biking trails (for John) and interesting locations to paint.

What we didn’t expect to happen after 3 months was moving here. So an extended vacation has turned into a life changing event as we have listed our home in Las Vegas for sale and put in a contingency offer for a house in Phoenix.

To sum up the last 6 months I decided a slide show of the work I have completed while here would say it best. Most of the paintings were done from life at the open studio sessions at Scottsdale Artists School.

Some days I experimented with different techniques, some days the paint just seemed to flow while others were a struggle. I learned a lot by painting a lot, and watching some very talented artists. So here are the images in a slide show, in the order they were painted…if you have trouble with the embedded file, try this link


Experimenting with Values

It’s comfortable to have a painting process that I can depend on, steps that if followed will usually carry me through to a positive end…but sometimes that can be boring. To shake things up I decided to play with values.

Values can be used in several ways;

Basic Values– using dark to light to render the illusion of three dimension. Creating the effect of depth on a flat surface. How could it be a bad thing for all the elements in a painting to be rendered in the correct values ?
Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 12.43.33 PM

Value changes create contrast. If a painting has many contrasting areas sprinkled throughout, it can be confusing, sending the viewers’ eye all over the place.

Narrow Values– any colors placed side by side of the same value will harmonize a painting. It will also cause a certain flatness which may or may not be desired.

All rights reserved by Life Through the Lens
All rights reserved by Life Through the Lens

The photo above consists of various colors, but it’s the narrow value range that holds it together.


In the above bars the first one has totally unrelated colors but a narrow (dark range) of values, making them easy on the eyes, not like the one below, which contains colors in the same family as above but different values, nothing I’d like to look at for too long!

Selected Values- Choosing which values to narrow and which to exaggerate in order to create a pleasing design within the painting.

I chose to use this method because my subject had various elements which I wanted to hold together while designing the area within the canvas.

Since I wanted to concentrate on this one concept a limited palette was used , Cadmium Red Deep, Yellow Ochre, black and white.

Bagel Girl by Diane Eugster
Bagel Girl by Diane Eugster

The way I approached this was to hold back on the values until everything in the image was in place. By the time this was done I had a good feeling of how I wanted this to visually move, it may sound funny but I had to get to know her and her world before this came together for me. The rough texture seemed right for this earthy subject.

Girl In a Chair
Counting the Minutes by Diane Eugster

Another painting using the same palette. Controlling the values to express more of what I felt and saw instead of …just what I saw.

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.