How to Make Your Friends into Your Models

The other day someone asked me how I find the models for my paintings and photograph them? Over the years I’ve found what works best for me and thought I would share this process in next several blog post.

Finding Models, the most extraordinary people can be found in the most ordinary places.

This young woman was the hair stylist where I use to get my hair cut…

The Photo
The Painting

In most cities, on-line you can find Meetup groups. Look for photography sessions that you can get in on. I joined a one night photo shoot, this was one of the models –

The Model Photo
The Painting
The Painting

Places I’ve found “models” are, the gym, neighbors, the clerk at the grocery store, co-workers and family of co-workers. While at a Christmas get together for my husband John’s work, a fellow teacher introduced me to his daughter, which I knew would make a striking model.

The Photo
The Painting

How about yourself? I’ve posed for many of my paintings with the help of a timer and tripod.

I posed for this, who would know?
I posed for this, who would know?

Renaissance Fairs are one of my favorite place, I don’t need to ask, everyone expects to be photographed.

Age of Chivalry Painting

I’ve found some great and willing subjects at the a local horse riding stable, Cowboy Trail Rides.


It might seem kind of awkward at first, to ask someone to be your model, but many people are surprisingly willing. It’s easier if you already know the person and they have some knowledge of your artistic pursuits. But even on the spot, like the cowboy above, many people get a kick out of being photographed. Give it a try!

In the next post I’ll cover how I prepare them and choose a location-





Color Choices

nickblog1This photo I took of a neighbor girl had a lot of things going for it, but color wasn’t one of them. Color is a very personal thing, and personally this was too dark and dull for the youthful quality I wanted in my painting .

I decided to exercise my artistic license and make new color choices by replacing the existing colors with corals, pinks and pale green tones.

On to the value sketches, I soon realize a high key value pattern would work best, I will work with the one on the right.
A couple quick color studies helped guide me in the right direction. I’m always drawn to cool color schemes so I needed to get the one on the left out of the way, to say to myself, “I told you this wouldn’t work”. The one on the right will be very helpful in finding my way.
Getting the block in finished, I’m happy with how things are coming along. This is the time I like to spend a day with the painting visible to me while I do other things, so that I can better judge what I need to do.
After a day I can see the shadow in the upper right is too dark, also the red is too intense and draws attention away from the main focus. More refining and I’ve arrived at the core of what I wanted the image to say.




What a Difference a Museum Makes

Over the weekend my husband John and I, had the opportunity to visit the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena California

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Women Ironing, 1884, Edgar Degas

What struck me was the large collection of Edgar Dégas oil and pastel paintings there.

 It was interesting to get up close and personal with those paintings, really look into all the wonderful layering of color on color on color, the end result being indescribably beautiful.
When I got home, the goal on my next painting was to layer some intense, unexpected colors together and just see what would happen.
 I started with some simple color studies just to get a feeling of what direction I wanted to take, then I did my “predictable beginning” , just starting with any color to block the masses in and get something started.
Then I had some fun, seeing what paint would do. I was tempted to use burnt umber and sienna for the warm brown background but I reminded myself the point was to use bright color to achieve muted tones and shades, so I chose Cadmium Red light, Cadmium Orange and Viridian. I used the same mixture for the hair, plus white for the skin tones. I did sneak in Naples Yellow and Ivory Black in smaller amounts.
I’ve painted this model before and I’ve always been bored with the outcome. But this time, not being concerned with the things, i.e. a dress, a chair a fold in the backdrop, but how “the things” existed as shapes in space, how one shape reacted to the shape next to it. I was much happier with the results .


Welcome to my Struggle-

My previous post described how I begin a new painting, here what’s next-



At this point I can learn a lot from my painting if I ask the right questions.

Is the eye path or movement the way I had envisioned? Is there anything distracting from the flow?

-I can see that the dark area at the bottom is way too overpowering for the top area. Seem like it’s weighing the painting down. I need to lift things upward.
-The girl blends with the background too much, more contrast needed there.
-The dark hat is not interesting enough. It commands  attention way up there at the top, but just doesn’t deserve it. There’s a need for more color intensity or dynamic shape, or a pattern…all viable  options…
Getting closer… I even signed it, but things are still not right. At times like this I go to my computer desktop.
During the week I go to Pinterest, grab onto inspirational paintings that I admire and put them on my desktop to study throughout the week. Taking an image of my painting and shuffling it in amongst the others usually will make a painting in need scream out for help. See below –
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There’s mine in the middle, it is becoming more obvious that –
1. The contrast in the upper areas is too weak
2. Her hand, in that position is not working, interrupting that upwards flow
3. The top of her leg is too light, fracturing the upper body from the lower
some other minor things and…
After the changes, I think this is an improvement.


In the Beginning …the blank canvas



This used to be the hardest part of the painting process for me, staring at that blank canvas.

I have some thoughts in my head about a great painting, but the minute I put a brushstroke on the canvas, reality sets in, can I really make those ideas a reality?

My solution to this has been what I call my “predictable start.” It’s a way of easing into the painting without a lot of decision making while having a little more fun.


The first step is a simple pencil sketch of the dark and light shapes and how I’m going to organize them in the painting.  This is kind of a bridge between the reference material and the painting.
Next I choose a color to represent the darks and block in those shapes on the canvas, doesn’t matter what color, sometimes the right thing painted over the wrong thing can be very exciting so any color will do.
This is where I wanted to be with my start. The canvas broken up into simple value shapes, now I’ve got something solid to work into. I’ll let this dry, look at it a little bit, come back tomorrow and start painting.


Painting Small Faces

The problem with painting small faces from photos-


Here is the photo I am working from-

The first problem is what I think I can do- just dash a few spots and magic, I have a face. Nine times out of ten this does not work. Then I realize I really don’t know what’s going on with that head, is it tilting slightly upward or downward turning left or right, how is it attached to the neck?
Here’s a painting I’ve started with a small face. Maybe you can sense already the struggle I’ve had with that little face.  This is when I know I need to grab a sketchpad look at that face do a sketch of what is really
What I know now is her head is slightly tilted to one side also tilted slightly upward because I can see the bottom of her nose and a little bit of the bottom of her chin.
Also where the ears are on the side of the head always are a good clue. If they line up with the tip of the nose the head is level if they’re below the nose than the head is tilted back if they’re above the nose then the head is tilted forward.
It’s starting  to go in the right direction,  onto the next challenge….