Back to Painting Again!

Getting somewhat settled into our new Phoenix home, it is finally time to work in the studio. Still tripping over boxes …. where’s that ruler and X-acto knife, I know there’s more solvent somewhere….. but anyway it felt great to be face to face with a canvas again.

I took the opportunity to attend an open studio session for 5 hours on friday at Scottsdale Artists School, knowing that I would complete the painting at home.

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Basic block in. I can’t believe I forgot the basic rule of painting glasses, and was reminded by another artist in the class…paint the eyes first, than put the glasses on.

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At this point my concern was blocking in the masses with the right shape and temperature. Decided to use a limited palette to put the focus on textures; yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber and ivory black. Could have got away using the burnt umber instead of black but wanted to get those cold darks on the tie and vest.final-letter

The first thing I like to do when getting back to the studio is evaluate what I have so far and where I want to go. Looking at the painting, not the reference photo making a list (spelling and grammar are the last things on my mind), of what needs to be done helps me to focus and not get off track.

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Julian with a Hat

After four more hours in the studio, the end result is the painting below.

 

Experimenting with Values

Bagel Girl by Diane Eugster

It’s comfortable to have a painting process that I can depend on, steps that if followed will usually carry me through to a positive end…but sometimes that can be boring. To shake things up I decided to play with values.

Values can be used in several ways;

Basic Values– using dark to light to render the illusion of three dimension. Creating the effect of depth on a flat surface. How could it be a bad thing for all the elements in a painting to be rendered in the correct values ?
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Value changes create contrast. If a painting has many contrasting areas sprinkled throughout, it can be confusing, sending the viewers’ eye all over the place.

Narrow Values– any colors placed side by side of the same value will harmonize a painting. It will also cause a certain flatness which may or may not be desired.

All rights reserved by Life Through the Lens
All rights reserved by Life Through the Lens

The photo above consists of various colors, but it’s the narrow value range that holds it together.

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In the above bars the first one has totally unrelated colors but a narrow (dark range) of values, making them easy on the eyes, not like the one below, which contains colors in the same family as above but different values, nothing I’d like to look at for too long!

Selected Values- Choosing which values to narrow and which to exaggerate in order to create a pleasing design within the painting.

I chose to use this method because my subject had various elements which I wanted to hold together while designing the area within the canvas.

Since I wanted to concentrate on this one concept a limited palette was used , Cadmium Red Deep, Yellow Ochre, black and white.

Bagel Girl by Diane Eugster
Bagel Girl by Diane Eugster

The way I approached this was to hold back on the values until everything in the image was in place. By the time this was done I had a good feeling of how I wanted this to visually move, it may sound funny but I had to get to know her and her world before this came together for me. The rough texture seemed right for this earthy subject.

Girl In a Chair
Counting the Minutes by Diane Eugster

Another painting using the same palette. Controlling the values to express more of what I felt and saw instead of …just what I saw.

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.

Choosing a Direction

Friday in open studio at Scottsdale Artists School I was presented with a young woman in a long wool coat. Just painting what was before me could have produced something lackluster. Yes, the model was attractive and the coat interesting but that’s not enough. Thinking about how I wanted to portray this young woman with a long wool coat, was the key to a successful painting.

She could be a Russian spy……or

A homeless teen with an oversized coat……or

A New Yorker, in the 50’s….or

A Vogue model…..yes, this is the one I like best

Having an idea of the elements to exaggerate in the scene helped me make decisions working through it. The long graceful lines in her coat screamed grace and fashion, one hand  in a pocket, the other at her side gave her some attitude, her hair an isometrical wave. Picking out these things and exaggerating them  provided  a strong direction to take. wool1

I wanted to get the coat shape in right away, since it was the largest, most important thing in the image.

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Working on a toned surface saved a lot of time. The mid-tones are already there, making it easy to judge the lights against. The light source was cool, so her flesh tones had alizarin, lemon yellow and white in them. Working now to quickly get the background in so I can see all the pieces and how they work together.wool3

At this point everything is blocked in and I like the value (dark and light), patterns, my job from here on out is to develop more interest in each area while keeping the values close. The face gets some shadows, but all fairly light to keep the face together and not fracture it with dark tones.WoolCoatlr

I debated on using the stripes in the background and decided they would make an interesting contrast to the fluid lines in the coat. Since taking David Shevlino’s workshop I have been reaching for my 1″ flat synthetic brushes all the time, they enable a long stroke with sharp or soft edges depending on how it’s angled.

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When the Painting is Fueled by the Model

It was Saturday morning, I left one hour early for the 9am open studio session, even though our apartment is only five minutes away from the art school, I’ve learned over the last few weeks that if you are not one of the first six people who make it in the doors when they open in the morning, you will be left holding a palette, paint box and canvas, trying to find the best position in the second row of easels, or worse.

Anyway, I was the first one in the parking lot and the first one in the door. Set up my palette, walked around the school a little, waited….and waited…..The model was late, this was unusual as they usually arrived a half hour early so that the lights could be set up etc. Five after nine, a wispy figure raced in to the room…. that must be the model.

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She flung off her glasses and coat and launched into the model’s chair. This was going to be a full on, front face view from my spot in the room. Why was she late? What was she thinking? There was an expression on her face that couldn’t be explained, only painted.

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At this point the solid structure of her face was established, it’s amazing how unsymmetrical the human face really is. I slowed down to check my angles like David Shevlino suggested, comparing  things like; the angle of the end of the eye to the edge of her mouth, the angle of the widest part of her jaw to the inner corner of her eyes.

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This is the finished sketch, I feel that I captured the aura surrounding her.

I had another experience like this only when an elderly cowboy model, “Vinnie” had a hard time finding the art studio, arrived late, and announced to the class that he liked horses more than people. His pensive expression fueled my painting for the rest of the day.

 

Making it Your Own-

About two months ago my husband John and I had a tent at the Summerlin Art Festival. It was a terrific weekend, great weather and good sales. On Sunday as the fair was winding down I realized I had not even gone over to check out the entertainment on the stage, so phone in hand, (you never know when a good photo op with show up), I found myself watching a Mariachi band made up of teenagers. They were super high energy with their shiny instruments gleaming against a background of black uniforms with crisp white shirts. But alas, the stage  backed up to the bright sun light, it was impossible to get a good shot. I realized the photo wasn’t meant to be and enjoyed the lively music. At one point the band broke for a few minutes. Walking toward me was a beautiful mexican girl with a violin. Quickly I asked, “do you mind if I take your picture?”, I knew at the time, this would be a painting.

Days after the event I opened the image and found my optimism was well founded. I could see what made me want to paint this, it just needed some adjustments.

The original photo
The original photo

First the three value thumbnail sketch would help to “clear out the clutter”, kind of like having a garage sale, it gives me a fresh start.

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Yes, it’s coming into focus now, at this point I begin to see the manipulations that need to happen to “make it my own”.

  • change the expression, a little less smile
  • fade the shadow side into darkness
  • a little more formal
  • some underlying energy
la Niña Mariachi by Diane Eugster
la Niña Mariachi by Diane Eugster

 

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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”.

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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.

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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!

Letting the Mood Lead the Painting

Before I began my latest painting ” Delilah” the mood I wanted to convey was in my head. The question was how do you translate a mood into paint?

First I come up with some adjectives;

  • Mysterious
  • Dangerous?
  • Rich
  • Surreal
  • Ethereal

Translated into paint, I have;

Color, Red, Violet, Black, Gold, Cold Blues and Greens

Texture, Rough and Smooth paint, sharp and smooth edges

Value, High Contrast

This appeared to be a simple subject, all the more reason to do an initial value sketch. When there isn’t a lot of “stuff” in the scene, every element has to work especially hard.

 

Sketch for Delilah
Sketch for Delilah

This really helped me to see some areas that needed to be adjusted, much easier to push a sketch around than a painting. I could see what needed to be done to her hands, the subtle reshaping which would help the movement, making a comfortable eye path around the painting.

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Why not start with a red underpainting to get the mystery started. Keeping a cool light, I washed in some Cadmium Red Medium plus Viridian green and white. The shadows were made from a mixture of Cadmium Red Medium, Cadmium Yellow Medium and Viridian Green. The dark accents were Cadmium Red Medium and Cobalt Blue.

Delilah by Diane Eugster
Delilah by Diane Eugster

Working back and forth between the shadows and light struck areas I continued around the painting, scrapping off and building up, until there wasn’t anything else I wanted to say, and it was finished.