Tribute to a Beauty!

This is a small oil painting of ‘Beholder’, a famous American race horse. She is retired now, but during her career she earned more than $6 Million.
The picture was taken at Santa Anita race track. She was warming up for her last race before retirement in 2016. Usually, I am not a big fan of horse racing but I am a big fan of horses! Over the years I visited Santa Anita race track multiple times to sketch, take the tour of the stables and just look at the magnificent horses. They are athletes and just amazing to look at.
Beholder had initially quite the reputation: she was known to be very temperamental and hard to control. That changed as she aged thanks to her trainer with whom she developed a bond and depth of communication that made all the difference.
Before races, her trainer would use ear plugs and a hood with ear coverings to help her calm down. She also didn’t like travel therefore she raced most of her career in home state of California.
When asked what it’s like to ride Beholder, her jockey Gary Stevens said: It’s like I’m driving a Mack truck with the speed of a Porsche and the brain of a rocket scientist.”
Definitely a horse that deserves to be painted!

As for process, I don’t do any sort of underpainting in oil. As I do with watercolor I do a pencil sketch and work ‘alla prima’, as far as I am able to. What that means is, I try to judge value and color, mix the appropriate paints and put it on. Done. No going back (if at all possible, doesn’t work all the time). While this may be a harder approach it is also more gratifying because the energy of the brush strokes is completely preserved. No fiddling, over blending etc. etc. Unlike in watercolor, the brush strokes in oil painting is everything… actually, it’s the same in watercolor..never mind!

Advertisements

A ten day extravaganza in Tuscany, Italy

It was a pleasure to be back at Abbondanza, once again working with the wonderful Paula and Karolina.
We had a great group, total of 19 people with several non-painters, or ‘civilians’ as they liked to call themselves!
Paula’s is one of the best workshop venues when it comes to European painting trips. It is hard to top this experience. There is a chef on location and a driver for the daily excursions, done in a luxurious bus that can hold up to 20 people.
Some of my students who took the workshop two years ago are still raving about the culinary experience they had at Abbondanza!

One of the highlights this year was painting in the Villa Reale gardens near Lucca where John
Singer Sargent painted a long time ago. We found the exact locations he picked. Out of respect and reverence, we decided to paint a different view, from the opposite site Sargent had picked.
Unfortunately, it was a rainy day and we ended up working with umbrellas in one hand, paint brush in the other. That didn’t stop us, however. It may be a once in a lifetime opportunity so nobody was deterred from trying. Nice light would’ve been a treat but the weather is what it is!

Villa Fiori, our accommodations, were located about a 20 minute drive from the city center of Lucca, high up in the hills. The location couldn’t have been better! There was an olive garden and medieval church right outside, which we painted multiple times in different light.
My workshop was well received and I got many positive reviews. Students really like my teaching style and emphasis on sound painting principles.

As a fun side-note: the week we were there, the Rolling Stones were also scheduled to play a concert in the moat next to the city walls of Lucca. So the town of only 10000 grew to more than 60000 on the day of the concert. We made sure we stayed far away from Lucca that day!

Sunrise plein air!

Lately, I have been going out to paint super early. Getting up at five in the morning is painful but once I am out there painting in the hills and it starts getting light…there’s just nothing like it! Forgotten is the battle to get out of bed.

The main reason I am doing it is because I am trying to get better painting a scene that is changing literally in minutes. It is kind of a self test. So, I get small canvas papers taped up on my board, no larger than 5by6 and give myself 10 to 15 minutes to paint the scene. Usually, I have time to do one before sunrise and then one more of the same scene once the sun is up.

 

These last two came out alright. I am not too concerned with exactly what I am painting, it’s more about the process itself. I also enjoy being out in nature, so witnessing a sunrise is a privilege that most of us miss every morning. Anything to improve my painting skills!

This is just the latest wacky idea I had so I thought I share it here.

On another note: Check out my newly updated website: http://www.frankeber.com
I am slowly starting to put up oil paintings and drawings, so check back frequently! Website is updated on a regular basis.

 

The editing process: a pain in the…

I had the chance to visit Ellicott City on my trip to Maryland last June. While there was no time to actually paint en plein air, I was able to take pictures in this remarkable town.
(the name is a bit misleading, it is definitely a small town)

Ellicott City was founded in 1772, so it is quite old by American standards. It is nestled in a narrow valley and unfortunately, that contributed to a devastating flash flood a few years ago. But the people are resilient, have battled their way back and rebuild their dreams!

I was immediately attracted to all the odd views of old Architecture, hilly terrain, beautiful craftsmen and Victorian style buildings. Busy streets and storefronts and some nice galleries as well.

In fact, finding a paint-able scene was quite a challenge, because there seems to always be too much in the viewfinder. Too much and all stacked up! Arguably one of the hardest things to find is a scene that can actually be good painting material. I did find a few eventually but not without doing some pretty drastic editing first.
Side note:
On the day I was there it was actually cloudy. Fortunately, my painter friend Thomas Bucci was able to take pictures the day before when it was sunny. This picture was taken by him and he was kind enough to let me use it.

This is the reason why I wanted to write this blog post: How do we edit scenes with way too much information in them? As with everything else in art, there is no easy answer.

A good way to think is like this: First, what is essential to the scene, what elevates the painting? What has to go in so you can ‘say’ what you have to say?

Second, what does not help the scene? What can I change and still say the same thing?
In this case, the building on the left has a very long extension to the right that does not all have to be there. So I shortened it. Needless to say I didn’t want to paint the trash cans.

The right side is also too complicated: the truck takes up too much space. I added people instead which, in street scenes, always seems to help develop a focal point. I changed the format to vertical and made the scene more mysterious by adding clouds and the background hill which is really not visible from my viewpoint.
Color harmony was created by the repetition of the red and by playing with shadow angles throughout I think I was able to paint an interesting, engaging scene.

As a final thought: these design problems have to all be worked out in advance. As should be pretty obvious, once we start putting pigment and water on the page it would be too late to try to resolve all of this. Time well spent before painting!

More vine charcoal drawings

Doing many of these charcoal studies that may or may not develop into a painting! Drawing skills are so important! Watercolor is a drawing medium, so most watercolor painters know how to draw.

Drawing also has another purpose: it lets you get to know the subject and pick up what goes deeper than the surface appearance. Usually it is an emotion, that something that gives it life. Not just in portraits but landscapes or anything else!

If we don’t pick up on this ‘undercurrent’, we end up just painting shapes and pushing pigment around. That, in my opinion, is the real crux of painting or of art in general.

There are so so many artists out there who miss this completely. They are great draftsmen and even have amazing technique but their art lacks life and emotion. Painting is a lifelong pursuit but to have that force of life in your work is a goal that few ever attain. I hope I’ll get there eventually…

Technique, therefore, must be seen as a tool. It must be mastered in order to have the ability to muster this sort of expression in painting. Time spent drawing is time well spent. Understanding form, design, balance, rhythm is essential. Every time I draw I am surprised how much I don’t know and can’t do instantly. Out comes the eraser: start over, change, alter…it’s ok, that’s all part of growing.

These are done with General Pencil Co. Vine Charcoal and Pitt Artist Pastel Pencil in 101 White.

Robert Henri put it this way in his book The Art Spirit: ‘The student must learn to read the state, temperament, action and condition of their subject through the outwards signs, and use the same as a means of expressing and making special what is important to them in the subject.’

Horses!

Drawing and painting horses is a challenge. Horse anatomy is quite difficult. One of the mistakes I always did was to make the neck too short and the body, or the flank, too long. Most important is to get the curves of the rear, the back and the belly right. Often, in landscape painting, the horses we paint are quite small so as long as it looks right, we’re good. It does not actually have to be right. There is a difference! I should trademark that..

As Richard Schmid rightly says, you don’t actually have to know anything about the thing you’re painting. But it is imperative to spend time observing and drawing it! In the end, the only way to fully understand an object, whether it be a horse or a car, is to draw it many, many times.
Only then will we ‘get it’ and I am not talking about intellectually getting what a horse is all about, just referring to drawing skills here. Horses are more challenging to draw than cows, don’t you think?

I recommend charcoal drawing for the simple reason that you can take it anywhere you go. It doesn’t weigh much and it’s a great way to improve drawing skills. I use Faber-Castell Charcoal Pencils and General Pencil Co. Vine Charcoal. These come in different hardnesses, from the super hard to super soft.

Here are a few good links:
~ Think Like A Horse is a great website covering horse anatomy
~ A Horse for Elinor has good pictures of dressage training
~ Equitherapy has horses galore

Watercolor portraits

Almost like formal portraiture? Not really. While painted somewhat formally, I am mainly experimenting with expressions.

These come from photos I have taken of people on the street. Some look lost in thought, sad, haunted, sometimes expressionless. Commuter robots (comm u-bots). When walking around downtown or places like NY you’ll see them everywhere…

I don’t like photographs of people posing. Especially in portraits you see people pose a lot. They are too aware of the camera. It looks staged. I like the candid photos, where people look more natural, unaware that someone is taking a picture. These portraits are not very big. The face of the girl with the long blond hair is only 3 inches long. The other one is bigger.

As for technique, these take multiple glazes to get the right color and value. Direct painting (alla prima) is, unfortunately, not really possible in watercolor so I normally prefer to do work like this in oil. As in oil painting I only used black, white, cad red, raw sienna and ultramarine blue. That’s it.

It is a nice challenge and these can certainly be improved. Always something to learn! As artists I think it is very important to keep evolving, keep pushing. I am considered a landscape painter in watercolor but I refuse to be put in some drawer. Never be static and predictable. Or known for one thing. It’s too easy to burn out!

The art world is becoming increasingly homogenized. The only way to stand out is to do your own thing, not copy other painters’ styles and subjects. Workshops can help only if you get the guidance to find yourself (your own voice) or at least be helped in that direction. Pick workshops carefully! Ask the venue about the instructor and their teaching style. Don’t fall for reputation. There are some with big names out there but they don’t know how to teach you a thing!