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!

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.

Only in Scottsdale

The other day in open studio I heard talk of a painting demonstration at the new Scottsdale Museum of the West. I was taken back when I found out who the artist was. This was a stroke of luck, one of my favorite painters, Scott Burdick was to be the featured artist, in town because his wife, Sue Lyon was giving a workshop at the school.

Scott Burdick
Scott Burdick

We arrived early enough to grab a seat in the second row of the auditorium. Scott was there in his usual ball cap and jeans, so unassuming for the master painter that he is. After introductions he began his painting of a dramatic black model.

Scott and his Model at the Western Heritage Museum Demonstration
Scott and his Model at the Western Heritage Museum Demonstration

He began drawing with burnt sienna on a white canvas, stressing how important it was, even at this stage, to be accurate with placement. Next he blocked in all the darks with one tone of burnt sienna. Instead of mixing a violet on his palette, for the head scarf, he layed in a red tone than a blue on top of this, mixing them together on the canvas which created a lively effect.

Scott Burdick demonstration

His next goal was to cover all the white canvas as he painted carefully  around the edge of her face with the background blue.

Building up to a thicker and thicker paint layer, it was amazing to watch him massage the heavy paint in order to get interesting edges as all the elements registered more and more dimensional.

Scott Burdick Demo
Scott Burdick Demo

In the above image the painting was 80% completed, I wish I had a photo of the finish painting, but the crowd rushed down and enveloped Scott and his painting. Many patrons wanted to get their names in the hat to purchase it for $1,200., a great discount for one of his paintings.


Scott Burdick painting

He also sold two others he had brought, again, more buyers than paintings, so they drew names.

It was a great afternoon of watching a master work and listening to his entertaining stories.

The Head Leads the Way

Many years ago when I took a figure painting workshop from artist Robert Lemler at the Scottsdale Artists School. he said something that really stuck with me. “When painting a figure, the head leads the way”.


This idea has served me well. In my newest painting, “Changing Seasons”, I first establishing the placement and general lighting condition of the head which helped me to move on to other areas, bringing them up to the same level. Than going back to the head with a second pass of development, more specific placement of the features, more sophisticated broken color areas.


This is where I really need to slow down, keeping in mind the vision I have for this painting. Suggesting form and shape, I need to be careful not to over render. Some areas I actually needed to scrape back and build up again. Always keeping an eye on the path through the image.


Changing Seasons by Diane Eugster
Changing Seasons by Diane Eugster

When to stop? When there is nothing more you feel you need to say about the subject!

The Nuns, revisited

blog-picI painted this about a year ago, from a photo I took during last summer’s vacation. It has never “felt” quite right….something, something, has always bothered me about it. I’ve taken it out from time to time during the year, trying to come to grips with what it was…, a year later …

I can see I let the photo lead the painting, shortcomings and all. I was too literal with the reference. Various areas vying for attention, rendered nothing as the focal point. The areas circled below highlight this;

1. The fountain has a lot of contrast plus too warm a color for the rest of the painting

2. This high contrast edge draws the eye out of the picture to the right

3. Another high contrast line drawing the eye out of the picture

4. Another high contrast get the idea

All of these things work to break down the flow and basic premise of the painting, which was the two nuns at the water cistern.




When I have a painting like this I feel there’s nothing to lose, so I began the makeover…


I got rid of the contrast on the right building, thought what if the fountain was lighter, the steps more in harmony with the nuns, starting to go in a better direction.


Push the fountain way back, just because you can paint something doesn’t mean you should. The nuns are starting to look like they have more life, there’s some air around them to breath.

nunslrfinalA little more work and the nuns have finally prevailed as the  stars of the painting, (even though they were never touched in this made-over version).


Girl with a Red Shawl

About ten years ago I took a series of photos of my daughter in a white antique nightgown with a red shawl. Since then I’ve painted from these photos many times. It’s fun to see how my perceptions of the images have changed as well as the resulting paintings.

This is the first time I’ve worked on one of these images with no drawing to start with. Because of that, it was a painting about moving shapes and altering edges. At times this was frustrating, but the freedom to move things as they appeared to be right instead of holding onto a drawing was worth it.

GirlWithRedDemo1This is the initial block in, where the placement of shapes was similar to the original photo.

GirlWithRedShawldemo3I knew something was off with the visual, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Time to take it back a few notches. Swooshing the background and the foreground together gave me a better place to continue. If I can’t figure out what’s wrong, the worse thing I can do is to continue painting, adding more, in the hopes that something good will happen.

GirlWithShawlDemo2Much more developed at this point…but, something else…, that left shoulder, doubling as a white arrow with a stripe of red going through the middle, that’s it! That area is not only a boring break up of shapes, but it’s way to strong and makes it difficult to look at the face.

GirlwithRedShawllrThe finish “Girl with a Red Shawl”.




Choosing a Point of View

This scene is from the Last Creek trail in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. It was so exciting after hiking for about an hour to hear and see rushing water in the desert. The trail changes drastically nearing the foothills of the Spring Mountains.

When I sat down with the subject, I tried to visualize what it should look like as a painting. One good exercise to get me started;  look at the work of (in the case), landscape painters I admire. What things in those paintings are appealing to me? I’m not talking about copying but borrowing some paint language .

My decision was to draw attention to the foreground rocks, with their varied subtle tones and interesting shapes. This decision was a very personal thing, it all depended on my preferences, but having no Point of View is like someone who will not take a stand on an issue, the result is usually weak and boring. I foresaw there would be some trouble areas because the image contained some chaotic passages but I decided to figure it out as I went.

Last1demo1At this point of the block in I wasn’t feeling good about the harsh green and was on alert that this had to be toned down.

Last1demo2Hello chaos, the background’s twisted trees with green peaking through were fighting the foreground rocks for attention. This is a good time to distance from the painting and figure out what to do next. Years ago when I would arrive at this “problem” phase I would just keep on painting, trying this, trying that, just guessing at what might help, it’s an exhausting way to work.

What needed to happen in order to make it pleasing to my eye:

  • Kill the contrast in the dark tree on the left next to the sky
  • Unify the trees
  • Eliminate most of green in the background
  • Sharpen up the foreground with contrast in the water

LastCreek1lrI finally arrived at my destination, but couldn’t have found the way without a Point of View.




Getting to Know my Subject

Spanish Steps by Diane Eugster

Sometimes when I begin a painting I feel the need to get to know my subject better. I’m not talking about the person posing but what I have before me, the way to translate it into paint.

I could see there was a face, hands and pattern in this image, any or all of which I might struggle with in the painting unless I really knew what I was looking at. There’s no better way to do this than with a sketch pad.


Only by drawing the lines could I realize all the nuances of each of these areas. I probably would have figured this out in the painting eventually, but by the time this happened, overworking and general frustration would be the probable result.

I discovered that the face is tilting upwards, meaning the bottom of the chin and nose would be seen as well as the top of the head not being as full as you’d think it should be because of the angle. I also discovered the pattern on the skirt was rounder in the areas facing me and got flatter and longer as it wrapped around her body.

Spainsh1lrLately I’ve been starting my paintings with no drawing, using more of a blocking in of the masses. This gives me more freedom to express what I’m feeling about the subject.

Spanish2lrThe beginning of the second day, it seemed best to save the pattern on the skirt for when my mind was fresh. I used to dread patterns in a painting, but now it’s almost a zen experience just getting lost in the shapes, forgetting about what the “thing” is and just building one shape next to another. Layering up the complexity until the level I’m looking for is reached.





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.