Category Archives: Plein air

#WorkshopWednesday

Just a short public service announcement today: Please join me (if you can, barring the weather) next week at Yosemite National Park for my annual workshop! With budget cuts and poor funding being a stark reality for our national parks, I am proud to support this beautiful California landmark and climbers’ paradise in whatever way possible. Proceeds from class fees, materials purchases from the Art Center, and sales from my paintings go to The Yosemite Conservancy. I hope to see you there!

Read my past entries on Yosemite here.

Elsewhere (click to read):

Frank Eber workshop in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Conservancy Blog

Frank Eber workshop in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Conservancy on Facebook

Frank Eber workshop in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Conservancy on Twitter

Frank Eber on Instagram

Plein Air Magazine Dec/Jan 2017

I am very pleased to be one of the featured artists in this month’ Plein Air Magazine! It is a four page article featuring an interview (done by phone) where I talk about my painting process and philosophy as well as some of my paintings. I want to thank the editor Steve Doherty, for including my work! The magazine is available at Barnes and Nobles book stores.

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…

Value studies help when there’s a gunfight!

The unexpected always happens when you’re painting on location. I have had anything from flies, annoying onlookers, bank trucks blocking the view to complete weather changes! I never had a ‘gunfight’ until a few days ago, that is!

While painting at Old Tucson as a faculty member of this year’s plein air convention, I was suddenly approached by a cowboy with a Winchester rifle. He told me I had to leave my painting spot because there was going to be a gunfight at noon (actually it was 5:30pm, small detail).

He had a fierce look, kept spitting and carried a gun. I thought it better not to argue. Luckily, I had done my value sketch and could finish my painting in the studio later. So, there you go! That’s why we do the value sketch, because you just never know for how long you can paint at a certain spot!

This is what I should have said in return: “Stranger, this town is not big enough for the two of us…”, but I wasn’t that quick witted, plus I was unarmed!!

Old Tucson was the set of many well-known Western movies and shows, i.e. ‘Gunsmoke’, ‘Bonanza’, ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and others.

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!

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! 😉

Monterey Plein Air convention Recap

I was definitely impressed by how well organized it was. Despite the amount of participants (over 700) there was never a problem.
Initially, I was a bit skeptical about the size of the event first, but the organizers tried hard to accommodate everybody. The catering company did a tremendous job, there was always food and drinks, so nobody had to go hungry.
The best part were all the great demonstrations by internationally known artists! If anything I come away inspired after seeing the presentations of Quang Ho, Antonio Masi or George Carlson, just to name a few.

Another highlight for me was meeting and spending time with fellow watermedia painters. Many painters whom I admired greatly when I first started out, like Eric Wiegardt! I also met Jean Haines, Michael Reardon, Robin Purcell, Andy Evanson, Georgia Mansur, Stewart White, Francesco Fontana and many others. We all hung out together at night to present a united front against all the oilies! Just kidding! We all got along and a few oil painters even took the time to complement us and admitted their admiration: ‘watercolor is just too hard’, was what I heard more than once!

Painting outside was great fun and there was room for everybody. My job was to also help out, if anybody needed guidance or had a question about how to approach a subject. We carried around flags and wore faculty hats to be of assistance if needed. Overall, I never felt pressured and many participants were experienced outdoor painters who really didn’t need much help.

Next year this event will be held in Tuscon, AZ, a very different environment. I am happy to say that I will be invited again as a faculty member. My presentation on the watermedia stage was well received and my painting in the Atrium exhibition sold!