A week in Provence

I had the privilege to teach a class in the beautiful south of France last week. There were an interesting mix of painters from Alaska, Texas and California as well as Israel and Norway!
The trip was organized by Jackie Grandchamps of French Escapade.  Jackie knows her stuff, she was a pleasure to deal with and did everything she could to accommodate us painters! I highly recommend French Escapade!

We lived and painted in Venasque, which lies in the mountains just east of Avignon, Provence.
We also did excursions to different painting locations like Isle-sur-la-Sorge, Gordes, and St.-Remy-de-Provence, where we painted in the garden of a famous hospital: the same one where Vincent van Gogh checked himself in so long ago. Remarkably, it is still a hospital today! Only the section where van Gogh lived is a museum.

Painting en plein air is hard work when it’s hot and we had very warm weather. Better than rain, that’s for sure, so nobody was complaining. There was always a nice and shady spot where we could hide from the heat! How does one deal with the heat when painting outside? Arguably, it might be better to switch to another medium but when painting watercolors, it is essential to bring a spray bottle to keep the washes wet. In dry conditions, every brushstroke dries in seconds! The sprayer helps to extend the drying time. I also make sure my painting and palette is never in full sun. Before I start my drawing I always spray my wells and close the palette so the pigments are ready when it’s painting time!

In other news: Yours truly will be featured in the October/November edition of Plein Air magazine! I was interviewed by Steve Doherty, the editor, and I am very grateful for being included! Here’s my painting philosophy as the magazine printed it:

“Painting should go deeper than copying nature as it is,” says watercolorist Frank Eber. “I want to find an interpretation of the thing that’s underneath — what gives it life. In essence, I am trying to paint what cannot be painted.”

Maybe I overdid it a bit, eh? …But seriously, wouldn’t that be something!!

Painting Vineyards!

We live in wine country and get lots of tourists over the weekends who do wine tasting tours and visit one of our numerous great restaurants in Paso Robles, Central California.

Many people tell me I should do workshops here, locally. They do have a point. Our area is beautiful with rolling hills, littered with nice barns, cows and horses. It is also extremely varied when it comes to landscape painting: I can do a barn painting early and be on the coast in Cambria in less than 30 minutes and paint the magnificent coastline, Torrey pines and rocky cliffs!

Painting vineyards is not easy. They do sell quite a bit in galleries around here but they are tricky to paint, I think. They are usually just rows and rows of sameness therefore it’s easy to produce something that looks all green, contrived and boring. Remember, there’s nothing more boring in painting than symmetry!

I didn’t like much how I painted them when I first moved here, (see sentence before LOL) but I think I am getting the hang of it. Slowly. The key is to somehow brake up the all the directional lines that the rows of vines naturally create. So it’s important how to position yourself to the vineyard, in other words, picking the right viewpoint! The vines can never be the focal point. Well, maybe not never but often it’s good to have a structure or some other point of interest in it. Rows of vines could look interesting with vineyard workers in them, but I haven’t encountered any so far. Maybe in the fall. Once the colors are changing it will look even more spectacular! I can’t wait…

A week in beautiful Maine

I was very fortunate to teach a workshop in Belfast, ME with Coastal Maine last week. Having been busy with workshops in Wisconsin and Norway lately, I was not thrilled on boarding another long distance flight but when I got there I immediately forgot about it and couldn’t wait to start painting!

Belfast is a seaside town about two hours northeast of Portland. It boasts a busy downtown area with some great restaurants, sparkling bays with iconic lighthouses and a great harbor to paint. Maine is not named “Vacationland” for nothing! Even while teaching I felt like I am on permanent vacation! People are friendly but not overly so (which I like!) and everything seems slower paced. Nobody’s rushing…

Places to see are Belfast, Camden and Rockland. I am sure there’s a lot more but that’s all I had time to see. It will just take another trip!

One of the highlights for me was to see the Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center in Rockland. The museum offers an opportunity to enjoy a comprehensive collection of American art related to Maine and above all, a big collection of works by the late Andrew Wyeth! I really like his art so I couldn’t wait to go! The Wyeth Center houses a collection related to three generations of Wyeths in Maine: N.C, Andrew and Jamie. The entrance fee is waived on Wednesdays!

Value range in painting!


A big problem in painting is that we can’t achieve absolute true values. The actual bright light is much brighter than we can ever achieve with white paint or white of paper! After all, it’s just pigment on paper or canvas! The best we can do is paint the correct values from lightest to darkest to achieve a realistic feel. Once that is done the painting will ‘read’ right. It doesn’t matter if it is not the ‘true range’. Working against the light produces strong contrast and highlights on tops of objects. Working with the light produces close values within the object but contrast against the background. Watercolor lends itself better to the former, simply because we do not have to paint around so many objects to preserve light.

Values can only be analyzed by comparison. Any brushstroke will look dark on white paper because there’s nothing else there. Quality comes from correct value relationships which in turn express the true feeling of light!

Some painters paint with a b&w value scale next to their color palette to help determine what the values of various colors are in b&w. Color can be very deceptive as to value. Sometimes, when it’s vivid like a bright red, it can seem lighter in value than what it really is! During the impressionist era painters tried to paint true values by applying super thick paint on the theory that the natural light would catch and therefore raise it’s value. When this was first done, critics called it a trick. Does it actually work? You be the judge…

Artists can, through color and value, attach elegance to common subjects.

An artist once said: in painting, value does all the work, color gets all the credit! So true!

Yosemite in October!

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”   – John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912.

I feel privileged to be invited to teach for the Yosemite conservancy. Once a year I donate my time and take people to places around the park where we all paint together. The dates this year will be October 23 to 29 which is the height of the Autumn season, so expect spectacular colors all around the park! To pre-register go here and scroll all the way down to the bottom of the list to find my name!

I know many Americans and even Californians, who have never been to this amazing place. Words can barely describe what you’re missing out on! Every time I drive down into the valley it truly feels like arriving at some magical, mysterious location and all my worries and everyday concerns seem to vanish instantly!
Hope to see you there!

Why paint…

To continue with the musings about growing and evolving as an artist, I happen to come across a website about poetry that posted a letter by one of my favorite poets Rainer Maria Rilke. It is one of a collection of 10 letters written by the famous poet RMR (1875-1926) to a young officer cadet at the Military Academy in Vienna, who wanted Rilke to critique the quality of his poetry so he could decide whether a literary career made sense for him. The correspondence lasted from 1902 to 1908

I decided to include this because in his first letter, Rilke’s comments really hit home with me and it can be directly applied to the art of painting. It is as if he wrote this yesterday where in fact the letter dates back to 17 February 1903 in Paris!!

Read this excerpt and replace the word ‘poem’ with ‘painting’ and ‘writer’ with ‘painter’. The interesting thing to me is to compare it to social media today where so many artists post their paintings in hopes to get ‘likes’, in other words, looking outwards for recognition and approval. Nothing has changed! We just don’t send physical letters anymore. (Emphasis in italics is mine.)

“You ask whether your poems are good. You send them to publishers; you compare them with other poems; you are disturbed when certain publishers reject your attempts. Well now, since you have given me permission to advise you, I suggest that you give all that up. You are looking outward and, above all else, that you must not do now. No one can advise and help you, no one.

There is only one way: Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must,” then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity. Your life, in even the most mundane and least significant hour, must become a sign, a testimony to this urge.

Then draw near to nature. Pretend you are the very first man and then write what you see and experience, what you love and lose.

If your everyday life appears to be unworthy subject matter, do not complain to life. Complain to yourself. Lament that you are not poet enough to call up its wealth. For the creative artist there is no poverty—nothing is insignificant or unimportant.
If, as a result of this turning inward, of this sinking into your own world, poetry should emerge, you will not think to ask someone whether it is good poetry. And you will not try to interest publishers of magazines in these works. For you will hear in them your own voice; you will see in them a piece of your life, a natural possession of yours. A piece of art is good if it is born of necessity. This, its source, is its criterion; there is no other.

Therefore, my dear friend, I know of no other advice than this: Go within and scale the depths of your being from which your very life springs forth. At its source you will find the answer to the question, whether you must write. Accept it, however it sounds to you, without analyzing. Perhaps it will become apparent to you that you are indeed called to be a writer. Then accept that fate; bear its burden, and its grandeur, without asking for the reward, which might possibly come from without. For the creative artist must be a world of his own and must find everything within himself and in nature, to which he has betrothed himself.
It is possible that, even after your descent into your inner self and into your secret place of solitude, you might find that you must give up becoming a poet. As I have said, to feel that one could live without writing is enough indication that, in fact, one should not.”

Interesting stuff, isn’t it! I encourage you to read the whole letter here.

Aspirations of an artist

‘Nowhere in the world of art education has technique been so foolishly substituted for true meaning, self expression, and knowledge as in the field of watercolor’
Edward Reep, 1983 (from the book ‘Content of watercolor’)

Harsh words from Mr. Reep, but he has a point. Students often don’t seem to move on from materials and technique. Part of the problem is that people seem to think they learn how to paint by attending workshops. I don’t mean to downplay that a workshop can help. Some just take so many or even worse, some actually only paint in workshop settings, never anywhere else! The art of painting is learned by painting!

Well, it all depends on what goals we have, doesn’t it? I guess it’s ok to just paint as a pastime. However, I think that someone who paints three times a year should not have the right to call themselves an artist, any more so than someone who thinks they’re a musician when they only play their instrument every leap year and otherwise just listen to music.
To think and talk about painting doesn’t count. To look at painting images on facebook doesn’t either. We actually have to do it.

The more we paint, the closer we get to the real reason of why we paint. We no longer focus on the ‘how’ but more on the ‘why’.

When we start it’s quite normal that we’re preoccupied with technique and materials. We inhale ‘how to paint this and that’-books and attend workshops. We have to start somewhere. After a while, the focus starts shifting. At least in theory.

As the years go by I started thinking more and more about why I paint. In the beginning I even had problems articulating it, or finding a good reason at all! Sure, I used to be a professional illustrator. Sure, I painted since I was a child on and off. Sure, I studied painting with an Italian master painter, etc. etc. But are those real reasons? Motivation enough to keep at it today, after all these years? Do I love it that much?

Everyone should ask themselves the question why they paint, I think. Painting ultimately should be about expression. A painter, even a representational painter, needs to have a vision that goes beyond copying shapes that we encounter in nature or take pictures of. We need to have something to say with our art. It’s a different path for each and everyone of us. It’s a different life for each and every one of us. Therefore our art and what we express should be highly personal and intimate. Despite social media, painting will remain a solitary pursuit where only the end product is shared with others and even that is not for certain.

Keep it that way.