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.

Portrait to Pin

Sometimes I like to build a step by step of a painting and make a Pinterest Pin out of it. This was a recent open studio session, with an abbreviated breakdown of my process –


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”.