Order From Chaos

girlingardenlrHave you ever held onto an image in hopes of painting it one day, you pass over it periodically but always end up choosing something else.

This is one of those images. Why did I want to paint it? I liked the mood of stems and leaves going in all directions while the girl, among the chaos pumped water from an old iron pump. What kept holding me back was my perception of its complexity.

I decided it was time to paint it or discard it, so the struggle began, but with a happy ending.

Here are some of the “tricks”, methods I used in order to make this scene paintable to me.

Before starting I searched for the patterns that would make the best eye path through the scene.girlingarden1Studying the foliage I could see how using some of the longest stems to lead upward around and down would make a good composition.

Omitting a bright area of sky in the upper left helped to direct the interest into the central part of the scene instead of up and out the corner.

After the face was established I used stripes of paper to mask off areas so I could concentrate on others, it felt less overwhelming and helped me to actually see what was going on.

When I felt painters’ fatigue creeping in I even set my phone on a 15 minute timer. Every time the alarm went off I turned the painting and photo a quarter turn. Working on it upside down and sideways offered a new perspective and freed my mind up to just think shapes instead of objects.

The more I finished the easier it was to continue with the remainder, until it seemed I said all I wanted to say about this scene.

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-


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.


Painting the Same Subject, Three Ways

I have a series of images that I like so much that through the years I keep painting them, but from different perspectives.

One day while my daughter was in middle school I took a series of photos of her with her flute. Several were in one location while others in another, but all were the same day.

It’s fun to get the flute paintings together and see “where I was” in my painting journey at the time I did them.


The above painting I did about twelve years ago. I remember my goal was to make her appear almost sheltered by the large chair, separated from the world with her music. I like the composition and the sense of light.


This was painted about five years later, from a different photo on the same day. I was experimenting with heavy textures at the time. I like the motion and lively quality of it even though she was sitting. I can now see some drawing issues with the anatomy, my motto is “you do the best you can with what you know at the time”.


This is a recent painting from a similar photo. I wanted to emphasize  the relaxed mood of the girl, including the flute but minimizing it’s importance.

All three of these similar but so different. Having an idea, a specific thing I want to say about the subject has always been very helpful to me in taking a painting to completion.

The Bridge between Reality and the Painting

This is a subject I’ve been wanting to paint for some time. When John and I visited Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia this summer we had to see the Woodshop, of course, John being a woodworker and all.

What was so awesome about it was these men were dressed in 1800’s era clothing and building real furniture, filling orders for pieces built with only hand tools, unplugged, as they did over a hundred years ago. As we listened to this woodworker talk about constructing these pieces the wonderful smell of sawdust filled the air while the sound of hand sawing hummed in the background.


A sketch helped me to explore some possibilities within the scene, but more importantly it’s the bridge between reality and the painting; it gets me even more excited about the potential in the subject!


During this block in I could fully see where I wanted to go with this. On the left side of the image were a jumble of chairs in various stages of being built. I wanted to include them, but a sketch would help me to boil them down to their simplest form.


Again, the bridge between reality and the painting. Thinking shapes, not things makes it so much easier to decipher what may first look like a complex area.

"It's all About the Wood" by Diane Eugster
“It’s all About the Wood” by Diane Eugster

So many times I’ve heard John say “it’s all about the wood”, so that title just seemed my natural choice for this painting.

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.




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…..now, 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 line..you 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).


New Painting, Sunday Afternoon

Sunday Afternoon by Diane Eugster

This is the kind of scene I love to paint, relaxed, casual and fresh. The vintage feel of the old porch and Adirondack chair set the perfect mood.

I have a sort of scale the I rate the difficulty of a subject on, this painting was right up there on the chart.

List of challenging things

+2= Full body, requires accuracy.

+2 =A small head, requires accuracy and softness.

+1=A small head at an angle, things are not where you expect them to be.

+2= Wild foliage, needs to be greatly simplified.

+2= Layered subject, foliage in front of a chair, in front of a girl, in front of a house.

Block-in for Sunday Afternoon


This was almost a ten on my scale, which made it fairly complex, but that’s ok, as long as I realized what I was getting into, the frustration level was kept to a minimum by slowing down and really concentrating on what I was looking at.

I used my limited palette of White, Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Red Medium, Viridian and Cobalt Blue.


A Photo Shoot, Starting at the End

Harley, posing at the "train station"
Harley, posing at the “train station”

I have a bulletin board in my studio, that holds all kinds of relevant things, enty forms, shipping box size charts, but most importantly inspirational images.

My bulletin board



These images are the basis for the feeling I wanted in my new round of paintings. This is where I start, at the end. Now how am I going to get there?

Person; I hired one of my favorite models, Harley, to help me achieve my goal.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.49.00 PM
Clark County Heritage Museum

Place; This one was a little more difficult. Where within a 30 mile radius could I find a location with a 1920’s – 40’s look? Neighborhoods, interiors, museums…..yes….our Clark County Heritage Museum has a transplanted street of houses from that era.

John, helping me with location snapshots.
John, helping me with location snapshots.

Going out to the location before hand, seeing the actual layout as well as things like what direction the sun was coming from,  where the restrooms were, all very helpful information in formulating a plan.

Some of the old luggage a friend loaned me
Some of the old luggage a friend loaned me

Thing; the props. This is the fun part. The museum had a train station, so retro luggage was high on my list. I asked around and bingo….my friend Judy had some old luggage that she generously lent me.

Old gloves, my neighbor Carol had a great pair of cream colored short gloves.

Vintage style dresses, yes the Goodwill is my go to fashionista boutique. Found a variety of things that could work. For my esthetic, keeping the value in mid range and tones muted works best.

Farm related props , a bonus, the museum also had a relocated barn; metal pails, work gloves, the apron I made for the my painting in the previous post.

Now I was ready to make the plan. Using the snap shots from the previous visit I layed out a simple story board of each location and what props were needed.

Knowing the layout I was able to make the best use of time, keeping clothing changes to a minimum while getting maximum impact. This also helps to keep me on track. Otherwise it’s easy to lose focus, go in another direction, spending way to much time.

Having an assistant, my husband John, was a super help, to not only assist with carrying everything but working with my portable lighting when it was needed.

On the day of the shoot we experienced the expected, a beautiful day, and the unexpected, two school bus loads of kids, but it all went well and I was very happy with the photos I took.

Creating the Story

We have a Shaker style dresser that I have always liked for its simple austere styling. It seemed like a worthy subject for a painting, however something more needed to be added, something to tell a story.

It occurred to me an item of clothing, hanging on the dresser would complete the scene, so I went to my favorite source of inspiration, Pinterest. After poking around for awhile I decided some type of a pinafore apron would be just the thing to enhance the idea.

Where would I get such a thing? I’ll have to make it. After drawing some sketches, the type of fabric was the next decision. Some type of sack cloth or gauze or….linen…..I just happen to have some natural toned linen curtains (not in use), perfect.


Above is my work table with the repurposed curtains , soon to be a Shaker apron. This was really fun, cutting, gathering and making the garment something that I  pictured hanging on the dresser. And the painting began-

ShakerDemo1I liked the almost abstract feeling of the simple shapes and how the color blocks related to each other. The canvas was toned a warm color to set the palette for the warmth in this scene.

ShakerDemo2The story was starting to evolve at this point, texture being one of the key elements I really wanted to show case.

Creating The StoryThe palette I used for “Shaker Inspired” was Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow light, Cadmium Yellow medium, Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Red Deep and Viridian Green.





The Lighter Side of Dark

This subject was a challenge in values. My goal was to keep the foreground in shadow, making it dark enough to read “shadow” while light enough so that some subtle color interactions would be visible. Staying on “the lighter side of dark” was where I wanted to be.

HerFav1When holding things together is one of the major concerns, I like to paint a harmonizing tone on the canvas, in this case it’s a warm gray mixture of Viridian Green, Permanent Rose, Cobalt blue, Cadmium Yellow and White.

After the whole canvas was covered I started wiping back some simple lines to get my bearings. This works so much better for me than a line drawing. An accurate drawing in the beginning has given me a false sense of security in the past. As the painting progresses, suppressing some areas while exaggerating others for the good of the image, renders the accurate drawing visually inaccurate.

The wiping away approach is more instinctive and flexible, looking at the whole for what the painting needs. It almost feels like sculpting, carving out blocks of color.

HerFav2Beginning to rough in the big masses. Keeping the values a little on the  lighter side, it’s so easy to go darker and darker, before you know it, you’re digging out of the abyss of a too dark painting.

HerFav3Working around the painting, developing more areas, I can see the need for more darks now, because things don’t look grounded enough. I played with bringing the red fan shape to the right also, but don’t like it, now I have a symmetrical “bulls eye” in the middle of the painting.

Her Favorite Book by Diane Eugster
Her Favorite Book by Diane Eugster

And finally; taking the light in the window as high value as I could while still being able to get a blue tint, while getting a solid feel in the foreground with heavier paint and some darker accents.





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