Category Archives: New York City

About composition

downtown crown morning square

One of the pleasures as a volunteer at the National Watercolor Society is to be exposed to all kinds of watermedia art and to see lots of watercolor paintings in real life. While I have learned a great deal just by studying other artist’s works, there were also pretty sobering moments. For instance, it is disturbing to see how many artist’s ‘enhance’ their artwork with photo-manipulating software on their computer and their piece looks only half as good when you see it in real life! That, however is a topic for another post. Or not.

Composition: One of the most important aspects of a picture. There was a time when I utterly underestimated how important it actually is! Luckily, there were people who helped me along. My past teachers of course, but also a lot of studying on my own. A couple years ago I started collecting the catalogs of all NWS exhibitions since 1950 something and whenever I have spare time, I always sit down and analyse artwork of past shows. Surprising how much one can learn doing this!
I also have very good books on the subject matter. One of them by the late Jan Herring, given to me by her wonderful daughter Helen during a workshop. I think it’s out of print, the book title is ‘The painters composition handbook’. Jan talks about letters of the alphabet that can be used as a composition tool by placing them in your work as guidelines for major shapes. Not every letter works, but A, C, H, L, X, Z for instance all work. Then there are triangles, cruciform and other shapes.
Nowadays, I always try to at least apply some of these helpers to my work. Then I let it sit for a bit and double check if everything works before picking up a paintbrush.

triangle compo

These two paintings are almost identical in composition. The big difference is, of course, the light situation. It can’t be any more different, really! Can you see the triangle that I arranged the shapes in this one? To illustrate my point, I drew it on. It made a big difference in this piece. In fact, all the great techniques and beautiful washes etc. are all worthless if the compo is no good!

One last tip: Study great abstract artists like Elaine Daily Birnbaum and others and you’d be surprised to see how much you can learn from them, even if you’re a ‘representational artist’, like myself! I always say that my representational art is 80% abstract anyway!

New York City during better days

City views, web by frankeber 2012     City views, detail web, by frankeber 2012

My heart goes out to the people of  this amazing city and the hardship they have to go through right now on the East coast. Let’s hope it’ll all be part of the past soon and people can continue with their lives.

Being just an artist, I sometimes feel I am not contributing enough to society like, say, a fire fighter or a police officer. On the other hand, I can paint the beautiful and exciting things that life holds for all of us and make people aware of them, maybe even make them feel better when they look at a painting. Quite a lofty goal, but really the only thing I can try doing, even in light of disaster.

One of my favorite sights in NY is the Chrysler building. I just love the shape of it! It is not the first time I have painted this scene, but I never get sick of painting  it. Every time you go there, it’ll look different, yielding a new version of the same subject matter.

One of the most important things to remember when painting scenes like this, is the fact that we’re really painting a street scene, *not* the Chrysler building as a focal point. The activities on the street are what attracts the eye, the building are just a backdrop. A pretty one, but still, in the end it’s all background noise.
Another important aspect is the fact that in representational painting, at least 60 percent is actually abstract painting! Maybe even more than that! I put the detail view there for that reason. If you look closely, there’s lots of nondescript, nonsensical squiggly lines and such, only making sense once we move back far enough. The secret is to let the eyes do the work,  piecing the scene together, so to speak. Not a big secret, really, but one that’s often overlooked.

Watercolor paintings always look better when painted spontaneous, loose and with no more that three layered washes. If a mistake happens while painting, it is always better to leave it wrong than to correct it. 90 percent of the time, no one will even notice that you made a ‘mistake’. The earlier you let go of that notion, the earlier you’ll paint freely and unencumbered, not caring about the outcome and ironically produce much better work!

Five and nine

Five and nine, 2012 by frankeber

I know this is a strange title, but it’s easy to figure out why I named it that. I am exploring my new idea with urban skate boarders some more. I have had some great comments for some of these works and even sold one in a gallery setting at this year’s Higbee 6 x 6 exhibition.

I also like the long format, I think it’s always good to try and do new things. The format isn’t really all that new, but I think it works really well with an off-beat subject matter like this. I also like that I have found a way to combine my beloved taxis and the skaters!  They do live in the same environment after all, and I am wondering now why didn’t think about this before!

As for the painting process, I started with a grey wash in  the sky, just to take away the white of the paper. After that I painted an “underwash” for all the buildings and into the foreground fairly strong. The goal is to finish the foreground in the first wash, which usually never works out. It is easy to be too light, since it is one of the first things we’re painting and we only have the white of the paper to compare it to…

Colors I used were cobalt blue, cobalt violet, yellow ochre, ultraviolet and cobalt turquoise and, believe it or not, some cad yellow and cad red. I made sure I used the most toxic colors available… Ok, bad joke…. On a serious note, I made sure most of the pigment is mixing itself on the paper and took great care not to create too many hard edges. That’s one of the more challenging  things to do as a watercolorist, in my humble opinion.

Thank you for looking, I sure will do more of these…here’s a detail shot, the guy in the middle is connecting both sides of the street with his pose, I think that works quite well!

fiveandnine_detail, by frankeber

New York City streetscene

silver city, by frankeber 2011

I call this piece ‘silver city’ because of the strange light quality that you sometimes get in NY. It is that late fall or early winter ‘feel’ that only occurs when it is cold out.

I am very attracted to scenes like this, because they tell such a great story; a story of life in a big city. You ponder it’s ups and downs, how tentative everything is…

You look at the people and you know you’ll never see this person again in your life. But you don’t get hung up on it, you just move on…

Is it good, is it bad? I can’t say…it is what it is!

In my work, I am always shooting for an impression. I try to make it look ‘as if’. The buildings, the cars, and the people… are they really there? They are because we think they are. They are because we know they are. A little bit like in real life walking down the we really see the people? Or is it just a blur of things…

silver city detail, by frankeber 2011
Tonal value makes this painting. Good questions to ask yourself are: where is the lightest light? Where is the darkest dark? Observe carefully and keep an eye on your entire painting while you work. Thanks for looking!