‘Glimpse of the Desert’; Oil painting from start to finish

It started with a square canvas which I built from wood. One of the first panels I ever made. It was the summer vacation in my Art school in Seattle and some of the students hired a model to pose for us for a long pose. 6 hours a day for 4 days.

I brought the canvas with me not knowing what the pose will be. When I finished the painting, working from life, it had an abstract background. I placed the figure in the center and I had no idea of what environment she might belong to.


I was really inspired by the pose but I felt that an abstract background did not fit it at all. A few months later, I realized what the right background for this figure is: It needed to be the inside of a tent, overlooking the desert at sunset, because the woman reminded me of some kind of Arabian royalty. The pose was very organic, and communicated confidence and relaxation at the same time. I imagined her being on a journey of some kind, and being royalty, the tent would naturally be luxurious and private.

So I decided to take the pose from the 4 walls of an art studio into a setting closer to a fancy bedouin tent. Having been in those a few times in Israel in the Negev desert, and getting a glimpse of that very simple, slow lifestyle, I wanted to paint something with that warm, slow atmosphere, something that adjusts itself to the pace of the desert where life moves slowly at the end of the day.

That new aspiration presented a challenge, because I had to invent the background and have it match the studio light – the light under which the model was standing.  At that point I started searching for references for different bedouin tent elements online. I tried to get an idea of how a fancy Bedouin tent might look like and what kind of items would be in it. I used photoshop to try to arrange them together to get an idea of an environment. After a while of doing that I realized the complexity of the scene requires a much more realistic model to paint from, if I wanted the background to match the degree of detail of the figure.
I went to a craft store, where I shopped around for a few hours, gathering items and getting ideas. When I left the store I had almost everything I needed and I sat down to build the tent.

I made a tiny little sculpture of the women to “calibrate” the light. Used a clamp-on book light to replace the studio light and used a candle for a lantern. Overall there were 3 light sources in the painting.

Tent Setup

I sewed the little pillows from various fabrics I bought wrapped around tiny pieces of sponge. I made the tent by sticking some wooden sticks into a corkscrew board. It was like building a tiny dollhouse.

I did a small value study to try to figure out the composition.

Once I had the tent, I was ready to paint. The first step was to do a perspective drawing. The strange thing is that here, I had to decide what the eye level is rather than it being decided for me, because I had to identify the original eye level according to the rendering of the figure.

Fast forward, I finished the background.

Lastly, I decided I had to change the direction of her head because to me, the meaning of the painting and the moment was in having this woman look outside, to the last remnant of light on the desert sand. So I drew a little diagram of the new angle:

Then, because I couldn’t have the original model posing for me again with the original light (though believe me, I have dreamt of it!!), I recreated the new angle based on the colors and values of the painting combined with this drawing (which was drawn with the aid of pictures). A note to myself was to always take notes of what colors I used in my paintings so that I can easily go back to them if needed.
Here is the study for the head. It involved a lot of interpolation since I did not have a model to paint from.
Head Study

Lastly I needed to seam the edges of the figure with the new background and to add hints of light to match the new environment. Add little objects, like the teapot and the carpet, a little thorn to decorate the table.

It was a difficult painting but I gave this lady the environment she belongs to, as I saw it and now the painting is complete. 🙂
‘Glimpse of the Desert’, 23”x24”, oil painting on board.