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-

1920-final-lr

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.

 

What’s The Point?

When sitting (or standing) in front of a new subject my first consideration is what’s the point? Why am I painting this thing, because it’s there is the worst possible reason. I’ve got to have a point of view, a motive for lifting the brush to the canvas.

My subject; a young woman with ringlets, red hair and a period dress, sitting stoically upright in a chair. The obvious road to take; a somber earth tone palette with quiet softened edges. My motive, to not paint it this way.

How about a primary limited palette of Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium yellow. This choice could help to keep the color lively even in the flesh tones. wedge1-lr

The initial block in, pushing the color – maybe too far, but I can always take it back later if needed. Separating the dark from the light, which is important for holding on to the form.wedge2-lr

At this point I’m starting to discover the color world she will be living in. It’s now a mater of refining the drawing, deciding how much to include. Is every ruffle necessary or will it take away from the whole. For me, it’s more about what I can put in that makes my point the best, and what I can leave out, just fluff.wedge3-lr

Working with a palette knife was a good way to get the rough textures to play against the smooth. The finished painting ” Wedgwood and Lilac” reflects the way I felt and what I wanted to say about her.

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.)
acrobat1lr

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!

 

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 …

Vinn
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!

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

Bagel Girl by Diane Eugster

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.

values

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.

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.

demoLady1

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

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.