Girl with parasol in red poppy field in France

Oil on Belgian Linen

Enchante Par la Provence

By Susan Harrison-Tustain



In Part 1 of this two part series, I discussed how to create glowing red mixes that dance on your page/canvas.

Now I am about to share how a small splash of red can have such a powerful impact on an otherwise neutral painting.

Watercolor painting of Red apple on window sill of peeling paint

Watercolor by Susan Harrison-Tustain

Let’s take a look at my watercolor painting titled ‘Windfall’. I want to demonstrate how a splash of red can bring a painting life! I find the very best way to learn how to use the power that is within in grasp your is to compare ‘before’ and ‘after’ the placement of red. Place your hand over the red apple. Block it out from sight while we conduct an inter-active experiment.

Ask yourself what you are seeing and feeling?

  • Is the painting vibrant and alive?
  • Is it powerful?
  • Does it say anything to you – does it have a message?
  • Do the colors excite you?

I imagine your answer to all of the above is “no”.

Now remove your hand to expose the redness of that apple.

Hopefully you will feel the presence of that over-ripe apple

I would like to think you may even contemplate the warm heady aroma of fermenting strewn apples, that this example was one of.

Can you see this apple has seen better days?

I emphasized this by the luscious and overly-rich warm reds, the aged skin and the indented blemish that hints at the full-bodied fermenting juice within.  If we bit into this apple we would drip with a thick nectar-like-cider of aged apple juice.

Now ask yourself again

  • Is the painting vibrant and alive?
  • Is it powerful?
  • Does it say anything to you – does it have a message?
  • Do you find excitement in any of the colors?

These apples were strewn on the ground – rising above them was the aroma of fermenting juice, the hum of. bees and the slight chill of Fall in the air.

I had the opportunity to evoke these feelings and the notions they conjured up.  We each apply our own history and experiences to the world we see and the paintings that touch us.

Hopefully you can see how strategically placing the right reds in the right place brought this special painting together so evocatively.


The Power of Color. Le Confidente. By Susan Harrison-Tustain. Oil on Belgian linen. How to paint in oil and how to paint in watercolor

La Confidente. By Susan Harrison-Tustain. Oil on Belgian linen.

Now let’s take a look at a strategically placed red within a dark warmly-colored composition.

My oil painting La Confidente lends itself to warmth and glowing rich colors. Once again I have created a statement with the wise use of red in a strategic place:

The red beret and the red plaid skirt

This time the red is set amongst the dark translucent shadows colors.

The red is a dull red – as it is influenced by the shadow – naturally.

I have allowed the red to dominate this area.

Our attention is initially drawn into the area behind the bar as this is the area that dances with warm colors. This is the area I have highlighted with the light. From there our attention goes to the girl wearing the muted-red beret. Had I used a very bright red – she would have competed with the my main focal point – the area behind the bar and the bar attendant.

From the girl with the muted red beret – our attention eventually finds it way around the painting, to the ceiling and chandeliers and then finally, we discover an area with a discrete red flower – the table set and awaiting patrons – the area closest to the viewer. Had I not draped this table in shadow – our attention may have gone there first as it would have been light, warm and glowing.

Another interactive lesson:

Place your fingers over the beret and skirt. Block them out.

  • What do you see?
  • What do you feel?

The question to ask yourself is this:

Why do I feel confused? I don’t know where to look first?

Can you sense that all the similar warm colors are fighting for attention but none dominate?

The path through the painting is less obvious.

Now remove your hand.

  • What do you see? What do you feel?
  • What do you feel?

Our reds need not be the only red in the painting – but when used wisely – it can be the most powerful tool we have to guide the attention of the viewer through the painting.

Takehe. Oil painting of New Zealand endangered bird. Tussock and wilderness

Endangered birds in the New Zealand wilderness. Takehe – once thought to be an extinct bird. Notice the red beaks in the adults and the muted greyed red in the juvenile. It is an excellent lesson as it allows us to see how nature also uses reds wisely!

Once again – let’s block these reds out with our hands. You can see how the relatively neutral palette describes the habitat well. However when you remove your hand – I think you will see why these beautifully colored birds are not too difficult to spot amongst the tussock.

You may notice the juvenile has a much darker beak and leg color. I wonder if this is nature’s way of keeping them safe?

Oil painting portrait of brunette girl. by Susan Harrison-Tustain

Susan Harrison-Tustain with her painting of Georgia

Finally a comment on photography:

I often need to have a profile shot with my paintings. You may notice that more often than not – I either wear red – somewhere – or I have a splash of red close by. This red draws the eye and makes the publicity shot much more eye-catching – which I guess is the point of the shot.

Hopefully you will now appreciate the power you have on your palette. Your paintings don’t have to have red in them – but should you wish to enliven a neutral palette – you can now see how just a dash of red can command our attention and allow us to be story tellers as we help guide the viewers of our work to our message – the reason the painting exists.

Many years ago I realized an invaluable lesson:

A painting that has a story to share – reaches beyond words and languages. It registers with us in a different way. It evokes feeling and emotion.

We each interpret it and associate the captured moment with our own history and experience.

Such a painting is beyond a wall hanging.

These works often stay within the history of the viewer – so much so that the painting lives on in the memory of those who see it – long after they have left its presence.

I often hear of particular paintings that touched visitors to my exhibition. Rather interestingly – they are often a variety of pieces. We each find our special piece – the one we connect with.

Help your viewers to engage with your work. Take control of your palette and placement of our colors. Take the viewers of your work on your journey. Invite them to walk the path with you too.

Keep watching this blog page and my Facebook page for further posts I will write for you to help you on your painting journey.

Please share these posts and my FB page with your artist friends.

It truly is my pleasure to help as many artists as I can to find the exhilaration of creating works that reach out of the frame with a true sense of presence while carrying your message – a painted verse.

Naturally the written word can’t hope to share the depth of learning you will find in my Video Downloads and DVDs, which will extend you so much further. These are for artists of all painting levels. The methods and techniques are those I use to paint all subject matter.

What can you expect to find in each title? Which ones to choose?

Click on each title to discover a sneak video preview and numerous images and vast information outlining each video download/DVD title content:

Happy painting everyone!


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