Painting Words

Have you ever had a subject you went back to time and time again, but just couldn’t figure out what to do with it?

This image from a photo shoot several years ago kept surfacing. I loved the scene, although it was not dynamic enough to warrant a painting . . . until…..I approached it like a writer telling a story.

Where did this girl live, what was her day like up until this point, what would she be doing in a hour? Only after I “fleshed her out” did I start to understand what this could become.

After extrapolating this scenario it was time to rein it in, to its’ most basic core, two words that summed it up. “Dreamer” and “Earthy”. How could I, using this reference, translate these two thoughts into paint?

“Earthy”, push rough texture, use warm orange browns and greens.

“Dreamer”, exaggerate her expression and stance

Now I had something to work with! Since there were not many browns and oranges in the scene, putting a Burnt Sienna wash over the entire surface, than letting it show through as texture would be my approach.

At this point I checked back with my original plan…whoa, no violet in the interpretation I wanted, so I had the choice of pushing this area toward brown, orange or green, I chose a grey green. Sometimes being really rigid and sticking to an idea helps guide the painting toward more harmony, this was one of those cases. 

Moving along, this was the point to refine her stance and expression.

I was happy with the outcome of using words to drive my paint application.

“Waiting”, can be seen at the Meyer Vogl Gallery, 122 Meeting St., Charleston, South Carolina in early October.

 

 

Composition is King

How the painting is put together, the design, the composition will always be the most important element of painting to me.

That’s why I have a list of images in queue ready to be started but waiting for a solution to design problems. This is one of those images. Even though it had a lot going for it, the colors were washed out and the photo was flat, no real contrast. Having no distinguishable dark areas and light makes it hard to compose a painting, so I decided to really push the values where I needed them in order to make a good break up of the space.Ticket-draw

An exploratory sketch, my way to flesh out the idea, confirmed that this could work. Of course you never really know until some paint is on the canvas, but it seemed the odds were good for success!ticket-draw2

Starting with the darks, the framework, the anchor, I used Burnt Sienna to get a warm glow underneath the build up of paint I was planning to do. I wanted to keep the darks moving through the picture. I remember once someone said you should be able to walk across the darks in your paintings.

Ticket to Ride by Diane Eugster
Ticket to Ride by Diane Eugster

I used Gamblin’s oil priming on the canvas for this painting, it creates a slick surface but provides a ground where a lot of textural effects can be used, which was great for this subject with old wood surfaces.

Before & After

I’ve always loved before and afters, whether it’s a personal makeover or a living room makeover, but my favorite before and afters are paintings.

At the beginning of this year I did a 30 paintings in 30 days challenge, which was very rewarding, but of course the time was limited, so decisions had to be made, and fast.

Now that I have time I’ve been looking over some of these small 8″x 8″ paintings…what subtle improvements could I make, things that I missed the first time around.

The original painting  “Little Swans” could have used a darker mass to anchor the girls. In the after I chose to use a darker version of a green tone already in the scene, the additional dancers liven things up.

In the painting “Saturday at the Dog Park” I  asked myself “what is the point of this painting”, my answer; it’s all about the dogs and their owners.  In the before, the strong blue shadows overtake everything. The man in the middle floats because his pants are the same value and color as the shadows. In the after I lighten the shadows and totally eliminated the distant ones which pulled my eye right out of the scene. Now it’s easier to see the people and their pets.

There are some small changes here. In the before a red hand comes in at the far left, there isn’t enough of the person to identify that it’s a hand. The same for the leg on the far right, more confusion than help, in telling the story. In the after I eliminated the hand and leg, got rid of too many horizontal lines in the bars, pushed the green in the back wall a little, added some red to the bags on the floor… all little things but they make a big difference.

Why don’t you pull out one of your old paintings for a remodel, you might be surprised at how your judgment has developed and how your problem solving skills have increased.

 

Painting News…

Every year since 1934 Las Vegan’s have celebrated Helldorado Days. The theme harkens back to our frontier roots. The celebration concludes with an art show, which I decided to enter this year, a western theme was not required.

I was honored to receive the first place award in oil painting for the piece below, “Mending Her Shoe”.

MendingHerShoeLR2As John and I walked around admiring the other art work, several people we talked to congratulated me as well as told me how well the frame fit the painting. I truly believe that a frame can make or break a painting, and believe me, I realize how very luck I am that my woodworker husband, John is also my framer. He carved and gilded the frame especially for this painting.

It was a joint project as I found a motif for the corner, drew it, and he did the rest, a process which he has documented on his own blog here.

The painting was from a photo I took while visiting our Nevada Ballet Theatre during a rehearsal .

 

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.

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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.

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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.

Getting to Know my Subject

SpanishStepslr
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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Testing the 50mm lens on the Landscape

Last week I did more research online to find out if the 50mm lens was useful for more than just shooting indoors with low light.  I found out that it also has some great advantages for outdoor landscape photos.

To wrap my head around this I practiced in my backyard.

50ForLandscape

For both of these photos I stood in exactly the same location, ISO 100, shutter priority mode 125. In both I focused on the low tree in the middle.

The one with the zoom lens (that came with the camera) is flatter, has duller color and shadows. The 50mm lens photo doesn’t take in as wide an image, but has much more life to it.

The sun is shinning, the sky is clear and I’m ready to take my new 50mm 1.4 lens out to Red Rock and see how it performs. John and I got on our hiking boots , got in the truck and headed for the mountains.

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Our desert can be rather dry and flat, but hike 10 minutes up a trail and the beauty starts to unfold.

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I like the way the 50mm allows focusing on a near object, while softening the background, more like I see things with my own eyes.

 

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This photo, focusing in the distance, allowed the foreground to soften. Next week another trail….

Yes! A Better Photo Shoot

I showed up at Ed’s studio at 9:30 with my bag of scarfs and gloves, clothes on hangers, cameras (always have a spare in case of a malfunction) and new 50mm lens. We pinned fabric curtains in the window,  moved chairs around and talked about potential poses before Harley arrived.

Harley , who is truly wonderful, was our model today. Always on time, upbeat personality, easy to work with, beautiful, what more could you want?

After experimenting on my cat and dog I was anxious to try out my new camera lens on a real person. After the first few photos, with some adjustments, I could see the images on my camera were nice and sharp in limited light, much better than my old zoom lens.

Both of these photo were taken using available window light, one facing south and the other west.

It’s always fun working with another artist, the collaboration of ideas expands the potential to get great shots exponentially.

Now to get the images off the card and start painting-

New Addition to my Bag of Tricks

Have you ever been shooting pictures indoors in hopes of getting something inspirational to paint from, only to end up with a lot of very dark, somewhat blurry images? …..well I have, plenty of times.

I want to preface this by saying I am not a Photographer, however, this year I’ve resolved to embrace  anything that will enhance my painting skill level, including a new lens for my Canon Rebel XT.

What I’m looking for;

1.  Indoor photos with dramatic lighting

2. Sharp images in dim light

3. A separation of the subject from the background

The Canon 50mm prime lens seems to cover all of these. Available in a f1.8, f1.4 and f1.2 version, the largest number letting the least light in, (it’s always backwards in photography, that’s what makes my head hurt). The one in the middle, the f1.4 should do the job.

lensA little impatient to try this out, I ripped the box open!

Testing it against my old 18-55mm zoom lens, I already see a difference.

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The photo on the left, with my old 18-55mm zoom lens, giving all the items equal sharpness, you can’t tell that the clock is 6″ behind the manikin, the flag is 15″ behind and the framed picture 6′ away. The one on the right, taken with the 50mm is more like my eyes see things, focusing on one object at a time.

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In this photo of my dog Brandy, her head which is closest to me is very sharp, while her tail, which is furthest away starts to soften, instead of the compressed look of the zoom lens, which would have made all the edges equally hard.

AliBlogThis picture of our cat Ali, was taken at night with a dim light source, I couldn’t get anything like this with my zoom lens.

The real test will be in a few days when I take some model photos at my friend, Ed Davis’s, art studio.

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.