Respecting Your Boundaries

The real world and a painting are two totally different things.

You’re standing in front of the model, here lovely Marisa. Interesting costume, nice pose, that rug with the oriental design is great, what a wonderful group of objects by her feet, all shiny and shimmery…

You’ve been there before, you want to paint it all but….you are limited… your boundaries, the canvas. Those four edges restricting the world you can paint.

On a recent open studio session at SAS this is how I made those decisions.


I wanted to paint those silver vessels on the floor, I wanted to paint her shoes, but…Reclinelr1

more importantly I based my composition on how small I was willing to make the head and where on the canvas  boundary to place it comfortably, not too high, too low, too near the edge.

What I didn’t concern myself with yet was the actual color, bright green and magenta. Instead getting neutral value blocks in that filled the space well was what I was after.reclinglr2

Here I was thinking, how is the visual information going to enter my boundaries, how comfortable is it to explore the scene leading to her face? What I gave up was her legs and shoes, too much information where I don’t want you to look. The bright green and magenta just didn’t matter anymore.reclinelr3

Now that “things” are basically the way I want them, what is fighting my original intent? The dark edge next to her uplifted hand in the previous image was causing a tension, pushing against her, so it’s eliminated here. Also the dark shape in the lower area of her dress was distracting.relinlrfinal

This is where it really gets fun, adding pattern, textures, refining her expression…and knowing when to stop!

Order From Chaos

girlingardenlrHave you ever held onto an image in hopes of painting it one day, you pass over it periodically but always end up choosing something else.

This is one of those images. Why did I want to paint it? I liked the mood of stems and leaves going in all directions while the girl, among the chaos pumped water from an old iron pump. What kept holding me back was my perception of its complexity.

I decided it was time to paint it or discard it, so the struggle began, but with a happy ending.

Here are some of the “tricks”, methods I used in order to make this scene paintable to me.

Before starting I searched for the patterns that would make the best eye path through the scene.girlingarden1Studying the foliage I could see how using some of the longest stems to lead upward around and down would make a good composition.

Omitting a bright area of sky in the upper left helped to direct the interest into the central part of the scene instead of up and out the corner.

After the face was established I used stripes of paper to mask off areas so I could concentrate on others, it felt less overwhelming and helped me to actually see what was going on.

When I felt painters’ fatigue creeping in I even set my phone on a 15 minute timer. Every time the alarm went off I turned the painting and photo a quarter turn. Working on it upside down and sideways offered a new perspective and freed my mind up to just think shapes instead of objects.

The more I finished the easier it was to continue with the remainder, until it seemed I said all I wanted to say about this scene.

Spending 50% Of My Time On 25% of the Painting

Oak Creek Trail 1 by Diane Eugster


The more I paint the more I realize the need to be selective within each painting. It’s back to the center of interest discussion, to have one or not to have one? For me, there needs to be a focus.

In Las Vegas we have a multitude of Cirque du Soleil shows. They are the epitome of visual stimulation, with performers riding oversized contraptions on stage while others do unnatural contortions, all the while costumed acrobats zoom overhead sparkling and glowing. I love these shows but they’re also exhausting. Some painting are like that, they scream “look here”, “no look here”, “hey – over here”. When it come to painting I think all parts suffer when there isn’t one thing special to lead the eye.

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The Sharp Eye, an article by Laura Robb


In an article titled “A Sharp Eye”  byArtist Laura Robb she explains how she begins her paintings with a rectangle around the focal area, to remind herself to keep the focus there.

The best way I’ve found to keep this in check is by spending 50% of my time on that special 25% of the painting. I’m not talking about detailing; that three haired brush, hard edged, labored place that no painting should go, but getting to the heart of the subject, by asking, what is it about this scene that made me want to paint it. Slowing down to finesse it, exaggerate if need be to make the point. Make that glass really sparkle, that rock really rugged or those lips really luscious.