The Limited Palette

The image I wanted to paint was of a woman sitting on her luggage, facing a backlit screen. So the scene was in the shadows with warm illumination coming from the front.

It’s times like this I opt for a limited palette. Because all the tones are muted this is a good opportunity to use a complimentary scheme, using the compliments to tone down each other instead of placing them full strength next to each other for intense color effect.

The first stop, one of my favorite sites for color inspiration, Design-Seeds. They showcase a photograph and a break down of the main colors in it. This gets the creative juices flowing for me! Below are two combinations I was considering.

The first being more of a monotone, I chose the one on the right. Below are the three colors used to represent these tones, Yellow Ochre, Violet Transparent Magenta and Burnt Umber.BlogPaint

This is what it looked like on the color wheel –



I made a chart with some random color mixtures from my three selected colors, a good thing to have on the wall as I paint in order to remind me of the possibilities.

colorsBlogSometimes the best way to start something like this is to begin brighter than intended and slowly knock down the color. This was accomplished by adding bits of the other colors of the same value, (amount of lightness or darkness). Using broken color is also a good way to animate large areas where one solid tone could be boring.


In the above image you can see how intense the background color was in the beginning, and below, in the finished painting, “Last Train to St. Louis” how much I  toned it down.

Last Train to St. Louis by Diane Eugster
Last Train to St. Louis by Diane Eugster

Patterns and Paintings

Scarlet and Lace by Diane Eugster

I love the look of patterned clothing and backgrounds in a painting. On a  recent photo shoot I  included patterns in almost every picture, maybe I went too far, but one thing’s for sure, I am going to get some good practice painting patterns.

Patterns can be tricky, they look a certain way in real life, but don’t always translate without some major tweaking. Many times they look too harsh, hard and busy, screaming for attention over the center of interest.

While studying how other artists have handled this issue I came upon this Whistler painting, “Caprise in Purple and Gold, The Golden Screen” This really demonstrates a masterful handling of many patterns. I especially like the way he hints at most of the patterns instead of being literal.

Caprice-in-Purple-and-Gold1detail below-

Caprice-in-Purple-and-GolddetailI began the new painting below with an averaged tone in the background, the tone I saw when squinting down the pattern.  The pattern in the original picture was bold and repetitive, my challenge was to tone it down, while keeping the flavor of it.


As more of the figure was established, I adjusted the background tone and began established the pattern. I kept working back and forth between the figure and the background. After about two days I put some oil on the surface of the painting because it was dry to the touch. I brought up the things that were important in the pattern, and neutralized those that weren’t.

Scarlet and Lace by Diane Eugster
Scarlet and Lace,, by Diane Eugster

It’s a balancing act, I was able to bring the pattern up to a point that enhanced not detracted from the main figure.




Painting Better Backgrounds

The poor lowly background. It’s got a bad rap, it’s second rate, an after thought, that thing behind the good stuff. This is the farthest thing from the truth.

Have you ever seen one of “those” paintings, maybe a portrait, where the main character has been plastered on a flat background made up of a random color? This may have been done in desperation after completing the “interesting” part, what do I fill in that space with, she has red hair so a blue background would make her stand out, or if I paint it brown, it will just go away.

The fact is, the background is the most important part of the painting. Would you start building a house before you knew where your boundaries were, or buy some furniture when you had no idea what room you were putting it in? It’s working backwards.

The background tells me everything I need to know about my main subject, the world it breathes in, the air that surrounds it.

I always start a painting with the background until I get a feel for what’s going on in the world of my subject. What temperature is the light, is it bouncing around or sucked into heavy fabrics. What are the main color notes, these are the tones to use in the flesh. Notice the beginning stages of my latest painting below –Finish2LR

The dark greens in the foliage told me that the darks in her hair were the same color and value. Likewise the reds in the flowers told me her hand needed to be the same. The blues in the distant window casings were the blues in the foreground accessories.Finish4LR

The gold in the table is the gold in her hair, The violet in the flowers means violet in the flesh tone, everything connected. Painting like this is so much easier than trying to figure out every mixture from scratch, also it works harmony into every item.

FinishLR11In the final image above I finally painted in the dress, this was the most subtle passage. By the time I got there, the accessories on the table told me what I needed to do.

Below is a slide show of the entire painting, photographed every half hour until completion.