Simplifying a scene

Painting, writing and music have a lot in common. Have you ever tried reading a book
that was written with too much trivia and detailed descriptions? After a while it became a chore
to keep going instead of a great read.
In music, if the composition is too complicated with lots of intricate passages, it’s hard to listen
to it. Some Jazz music is like that.
Well, it’s the same with a painting. The artist can get lost in detail and trivia as well. The
camera is already master at recording every single detail. The artist’s job is to take the subject
apart and find the essence. That what gives it life, why it is interesting and why it is worth a
painting and capture that essence.
Every painting has a key component that has stirred the artists soul! It can be the design,
light and dark patterns, the subject itself, for what it is.. The main inspiration.

One of the hardest things to learn is to weed out what’s unnecessary and to develop what makes the scene. If we edit out too much we might end up with a painting that’s somehow not working. If we leave too much clutter we might end up with something that is confusing.

That’s why, once we pick a subject we must have a clear vision of what we want to accomplish. We can’t hope that it will work itself out during the process of painting!

Here are some tips to stay focused:

-Always remember what it was that made you want to paint the scene.
-Unfocus your eyes a lot while painting
-During painting, always step back and check if things are working out
-Never spend too much time on any section of the painting
-Work out a definite focal point
-Keep an eye on the time elapsed, spend too much time on the same piece and you start doing
too much!
-Make every brushstroke count
-Try not to second guess what you just did

You can easily see that my blog is about painting, not limited to the watercolor medium only.
Painting is painting, no matter what choice of medium!

National Watercolor Society Invitational Plein Air Painting Exhibition

http://themuck.org/programing/2016/2/4/national-watercolor-society-invitational-plein-air-painting-exhibition

I am happy to be part of this exhibition which features some well known painters from around the country and Europe! If you find yourself in the area, please stop by and say hello!
I will have six paintings on display, the exhibition runs from February 4 to April 3

http://fallbrookartcenter.org/exhibition/world-watercolor-2016

I was also juried into this year’s exhibition at the Fallbrook Art Center. Fallbrook is close to San Diego, CA.

World of Watercolor – 2016
7th Annual Signature American Watermedia Exhibition
Presented In:
The Janice Griffiths Gallery
Feb 7, 2016 to Mar 20, 2016

Lighting in painting

In the art of painting we decide what quality of light we look for. Sharp and brilliant
or more diffused is one consideration. The color of the light itself, i.e. warm or cool
and the direction where the light comes from will dictate the way we paint the form.

To paint light we must focus our attention on light itself. This means that we will
not be painting the objects before us so much as we will be painting light and the
way it falls on these objects or brings them into our vision.
A painter once said: ‘A head is something you choose for the light to fall upon.’
Contrast determines the quality of light itself, sharp or soft or anything in between.
In dim light conditions the separation may only be one or two value steps. In strong light
in may be separated by three or four value steps.

For me, a painting with subtle, diffused light is very powerful. More so than one
with extreme light and high contrast. It is also much harder to do!

One problem we have as painters is that our brightest light (the white) is never as bright
as nature’s. All we can do is stay true to the relationships from lightest to darkest and
paint them in that order, even if the value cannot match nature perfectly.

If we paint light correctly, it will make the form work out itself. We think about
the light, halftones, and shadows. We make sure we have the correct sequence of value
relationships (lightest to darkest) and getting the color within these values. That’s it.
Now that sounds easy but, of course, is a lifetime endeavor right there.

Light and its effects provide the best means of bringing unity and consistency to a
subject. The light will effect everything in the subject the same way. Everything will
take it’s relative place in the whole scheme and all values and colors will be brought
together into a single effect. This is unity that creates beauty!

By using color and value right, we can create a powerful and elegant painting even with
mundane subject matter!

Thanks to all of you who followed my blog in 2015. I wish every one of you a successful
and prosperous new year! Here’s to 2016!! Let’s pray for a more peaceful world.

Plein Air vs. Studio

There is definitely a resurgence in plein air painting going on right now. Especially watercolor painters understand their medium is the best for painting finished paintings on site. But plein air does have it’s limitations and that’s what this blogpost is about.
First the part that makes plein air so important: there is a wide variety in color nuances in Nature that cameras ‘don’t see’. Same goes for the values, the human eye is so much better understanding different qualities of values (in shadows, for instance).

What’s not working so well is painting a more accomplished piece, especially in a bigger size. By that I don’t necessarily mean more detailed, but more elaborated and more thought out.
Plein air is always rushed and for obvious reasons: light’s changing, you can’t spend all day thinking about what to do next.
Once you have a painting you did outside and combine it with photo references you’ll be able to paint a more accomplished version. The wonderful thing is, it will still have the same spontaneity to it, almost like the on-location work.
To illustrate what I mean have a look at the two images here. The first one was done on location. I am tempted to call it the Violin player since I had to endure his playing the same three pieces over and over (let’s just say he wasn’t a virtuoso)
The second one, done in the studio, is larger (14×20 inches) and I have made a bigger effort working out the shadows and ‘controlled chaos’ in the areas where the focal point is.
Something I would not have had time for outside.

Other problems with plein air painting is often the subject itself: 90% of the scenes you encounter are not paintable as they are.
So you end up changing it, making stuff up. While that works most of the time, it’s easy to get suckered into painting a scene that is just not suitable for painting.
Some plein air painters change the scene so much, it almost looks like something from another place. I don’t believe in that. If I paint plein air, my goal is to catch the mood of the scene before me. Otherwise, I might as well make up a painting from a photograph. No need to go outside if you don’t paint what’s there!

Without having painted outside, I would’ve not ‘understood’ the colors in these buildings. Only by painting while looking right at the real thing is this possible. A big thing for me is to be actually there and taking it in with all the senses. Seeing, smelling, walking through it… some of that will go into the painting! Sometimes, the better painting is the one done on-site. Other times it’s the one done in the studio! You just never know!

Yes, different colors do have different values. Or: how to make the whole thing more confusing

In my workshops I always have students paint a simple color scale. Yes, you can buy those but that is just pathetic, isn’t it?  You’re a painter, you should be able to paint one.
Inevitable, someone will pick a color like yellow ochre, or worse, a yellow to paint a value scale. Why is it not working?
The short answer is: because the color yellow is too light to paint a scale from 1-10 with.
The strongest yellow is still only a light value..makes sense?
Black, blues, violets, warm and cool greys work.

To determine a color’s own value in it’s strongest application, it helps to make a value/color comparison chart.
Ideally you should know the value of the colors on your palette.
Take a look at the image. The chart is a neutral grey value scale on top (numbered 0=white to 9=strongest), where all the different colors underneath are placed to match the value above. (as good as possible) Every color is applied in it’s strongest value, out of the tube.

Values

From left to right(second row):
perm alizarin, Ultramarine blue,
Quin Rose, Ultramarine violet
Quin red, cobalt blue
Cad red, burnt sienna
Cad orange, raw sienna
Indian yellow (interchangeable with Yellow ochre?)
yellow ochre
cad yellow light
cad yellow medium

It helps to know that, while red is certainly strong, it’s strongest value is maybe a five, if the white of the paper is a 0. Worse with yellow, that’s really only a 1, no matter what you do.

When introducing new colors to your palette, place them in the right spot so you know what value strength it has!
Some painters even make a value scale in neutral on the side of their palette! That way it’s easy to compare your color mix to the scale next to it.

Please take the time and have a look at next year’s workshop schedule for a workshop near you: https://frankeber.wordpress.com/workshops-demos-lectures/

Happy Thanksgiving!

Workshop at Abbondanza in Tuscany!

Every good thing comes to an end and that also goes for the long anticipated 2015 workshop in Tuscany, Italy. We were guests at Abbondanza Toscana

This was an exceptional workshop for several reasons: The location will no longer be available in the future as they are moving it into a bigger place nearby. There will still be workshops, but not where we were. We were the last group, and what a group it was!
It is not often in a workshop that people click during a 10 day period the way this group did!
I was happy to do my part!
We were super spoiled with excellent food by the in-house chef Karolina Novak and the organizer Paula Sullivan was open to changing the schedule around to accommodate our painting needs.

I will definitely come back to teach there again! If you always wanted to go to the beautiful Tuscan area of Italy, the Abbondanza venue is your best bet. Watch out for the 2017 calender when I will return!

As for painting locations: we went to Volterra, a hilltop town with breathtaking views over rooftops
and narrow streets, with buildings hundreds of years old. Also on the schedule was a seaside resort town ‘a la Cinque terre’ (actually not too far from it). Our host keeps this place pretty secret as it has all the charm of cinque terre without being overrun by tourism. The only tourists you find there are other Italians! Go to Vernazza or Monterosso, you’re lucky to find room to stand as it is marketed as a destination in the United States, China and other countries!

Lucca itself served as a painting destination and we haven’t even scratched the surface!
It will just take a few more visits in the near future!

I thought I finish this blogpost listing some unspoken facts while painting outdoors on this trip.
(All tongue in cheek!)

Aside from the obvious distractions when painting city scenes, here are the scenarios you’ll
have to be ready for:

While painting, some guy with a violin sets up next to you and starts playing the same three hideous pieces over and over! Worst thing is, people actually drop money in his hat!
Remedy: wear earphone with your own music!

Remember, you always get the village idiot! Sure enough, it’s the one that lingers and holes you with questions and comments while you’re trying to paint, all in the language of the country
you’re painting in. (mostly colloquial, on top of it)

If you didn’t bring warm clothes, it will be super chilly! Yes, you have gloves and a hat but they
are in the hotel because it was sunny and warm when you left. There was no way of knowing that we’d be painting in a windswept alley in 42 degree weather. The sun is out, yes, but it’s behind the buildings we’re painting and it’s late October!

If you’re setting up next to a building entrance (you’re happy you’re off the road) the probability of someone showing up and wanting to get inside is: 100%

If you’re a watercolor instructor and found the perfect spot for the class to easily paint three pieces, someone in your group will take 1 1/2 hours just to do a drawing

And lastly, don’t count on the fact that you’re in Europe and people love art and admire you. You’re still just a lowly painter, mostly in everybody’s way and nobody is interested in you or your art. I actually like that! It’s watercolor painting we’re doing, we’re not creating world peace. Get off your high horse! ;)

Vermont in October

I was really looking forward to this one and Vermont did not disappoint! Everything
was wonderful: the location, the Landgrove Inn, the people and the weather!
Only one rainy day out of four glorious days of sunshine and cool, crisp temperatures.

Staying at the Landgrove Inn was great. It is truly a place to get away from everything.
Tucked between two mountains in southern Vermont, you won’t find a better place to
recharge your batteries from your day to day hectic life! Everything was taken care of:
breakfast, lunch and dinner! All we had to do was show up. Tom even catered our lunch
when we were painting in a nearby town. How does it sound to just paint for a whole week
with nothing else to worry about?? The Landgrove Inn is the place to do it, second to none!
Thanks so much, Maureen and Tom!

Painting en plein air is the greatest teacher ever! One of the biggest issues students have is editing the scene in front of us, last week was no exception. That goes both for shapes and objects as well as color. Just as a scene is overloaded with lots of information, it is also overloaded with lots of color. Especially in Vermont in the fall! Both must be simplified.

In my workshops, I teach a way to look at a scene with the eyes of a painter!
While we try to capture what’s in front of us, we must not get tempted to put in
everything we see. First of all, it can’t be done anyways. Second, it won’t even
look appealing. Third, why paint it at all? Why not just take a photograph and leave it
at that?

I teach painting. I don’t care about watercolor. Painting is painting and in order
to do it successfully, we must learn how to see right.
Before adding anything to a scene I always ask myself whether it adds positively
to the picture. Will it support the message of the painting? Will it add to the
design and composition? Or is it just another repetition of what’s already there?

The thing to understand is the light and dark pattern first and foremost. What colors you
end up using is completely secondary. If the pattern and design is good, the painting will be good!