Category Archives: Painting

#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

Same scene – different media – different times of the day

As you can see, I am experimenting with my art a bit right now. The fact is, I am always experimenting. I try to never get complacent, to fall into a rut and do the same thing over and over. Before you know it, as an artist, you are known to paint certain things in a certain way.
You become a ‘one trick pony’.

I avoid that at all cost. I don’t want to be put into such a drawer. I think it is important to never be static and to always change, to evolve, to move on. Artistically speaking, I mean. (Although you could make that argument for life in general as well, but that’s another blogpost… LOL)

On our last plein air outing near Bishop’s Peak, I felt I messed up my painting. At least, I didn’t like how it came out. Being there at the wrong time with the wrong light, I didn’t feel inspired but since my friends all painted I felt compelled to paint as well.

It took another trip to get better references and I feel good about the two I posted here. Both of them are not done plein air. To be honest, I had problems painting this mountain. After a few plein air attempts I figured I needed to move this into the studio to understand what it was I didn’t ‘get’. In the end, I think it was a combination of wrong light and lack of vision. I just didn’t really know how I wanted to see this painted.

The appearance of this peak changes dramatically during the course of the day, so it’s very easy to get lost. Despite all my years of painting outside, I made the cardinal mistake to follow the light. Not so much in the foreground but the light on the peak itself and promptly messed up the painting.

Repainting it in the studio made me realize what had happened. The sunrise piece is done in water-soluble oils. I used to paint lots of oils in the ’80s and ’90s and lately I have been getting back into it more. I apologize for the bad pictures, you can find a better version of the first one here. I need to learn how to take good pictures of oil paintings!

Color harmony

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Today I thought I will post about color. Using color in a painting is a very powerful way to make a statement, but it’s complex nature makes it hard to understand. Color, like value, only makes sense in context. A color by itself has no meaning. Now, there is this concept that all colors are inherently warm or cool but that only makes sense if we compare it to other colors of the color spectrum. Let’s say you’re only looking at cadmium yellow, cadmium orange and cadmium red. Which one is warmer? You see where I am getting at? If we compare it to Cobalt Blue, then those colors are much warmer.

Many painters rely on formulas, mixes they fall back on no matter what is being painted. While I agree that certain colors are used more than others (simply because they do mix well with others), using general formulas for every painting is not going to work if we are truly painting what’s in front of us. (Just to be clear, I am talking about the experience of painting from life here.)
Here’s why: Predetermined color schemes do not produce an authentic version of the harmony in a subject matter. You cannot predict the colors that will be needed in a painting. Your own perception is going to dictate what you will use. How will you know what you will be seeing before you see it?

Understanding the phenomenon of color temperature is key to painting well. Colors do appear either warmer or cooler than their adjacent colors (!) The temperature of any color changes when we lighten or darken it, when the adjacent color changes, or when another color is being mixed into it. As if that’s not enough, colors change when the light on them changes. I remember when I was maybe 10 years old and tried to paint the hair of a blond woman, painting an acrylic portrait. I tried and tried but I just didn’t get it right. What I neglected to see was that she was standing under and next to green palm trees. Her hair picked up the green sheen of the palm trees! Of course it would! It was very subtle, but I didn’t see it because I didn’t look right! Her hair, the way I painted it, looked out of place!
How could you ever paint this correctly if you come into the painting with a predetermined color mix for blond hair?

Only by painting many paintings will we learn about subtleties like this. There just isn’t a good substitute for the real thing. Go out and do it. Paint from life!

Design in painting

A painting starts in our heads. An idea or something we see that ignites our inspiration. Then the design part follows, which means placing shapes and objects in a way that makes sense. We need to consider how to divide the space, how the patterns and lines relate, what to leave in and what to leave out.
The editing process can be quite difficult since nature usually supplies too much information.
For me, the best way is to ask myself whether the object supports what I want to show or not. If I am not sure, I usually leave it out.

Developing a focal point is certainly important but we wary of rules of any kind: there are plenty of ‘don’t do this, do that’ rules out there that were, over the course of painting history, often ignored by successful painters. In fact, the rule breakers were often times trail blazers for something new. Andrew Wyeth’s work (again!) comes to mind. I remember one painting where he put the subject (the girl he painted) on the bottom edge of the painting and cropping her half off. Yet, his painting worked just fine.

Following painting rules too closely can inhibit one’s creativity. Am I saying there are no rules? Not really. When we look at a painting we certainly know whether the design works or not. It’s easy to see when it doesn’t work. However, sometimes paintings don’t have large simple patterns, strong and connecting lines or the lightest and darkest values right where the focal point is. Yet they look amazing!

The only right place to put a focal point is where ‘you’ like to see it, not where a teacher told you because some lines intersect. Again, that may work but if you find another solution I would recommend going with that. It’s your painting, not theirs..

Having ‘a path through the painting’ is another tricky thing that may or may not work. There’s absolutely no guarantee that a person looking at the work will see it the way you see it.
I think educating ourselves about design is important. We need to know what has been done and what works. It’s a good idea to analyze paintings you really like and try to figure out ‘why’ you like them.
Once you know you can add those aspects to your own painting!

Breaking the rules!

We’ve all learned painting rules during our Academic training or in workshops when we started out.
I always remember Kevin McPherson’s famous line: ‘Black in sunlight is lighter than white in shadows’. The other famous one which I can’t remember right now who said it: ‘the darkest light in the light has to be lighter than the lightest dark in the shadow. Keep the light and dark tonal ranges separate to show realistic form.’

How come there are so many paintings out there where those rules are seemingly disregarded?

That’s what Andrew Wyeth called ‘going beyond the facts’. Looking at the images below it’s easy to see that the value range in these pictures must’ve been at least partly invented. The tall foreground grass is too dark even though it’s obviously in the sun and the back hill is way dark for a more dramatic effect.

wyeth

wyeth2

 

It’s even more obvious in the second image: why are the blanket and the flower patch on the lower right so dark even though they are obviously in the sunlight?

The best answer is simply that art should be about expression and that fact is often completely forgotten or missed by many painters. I think it has to do with the fact that the general public judges art by how realistic it is painted. You often hear the phrase: oh wow, that looks just like a photograph. Like that’s the best thing ever! To some that is more of an insult than a compliment (harshly spoken of course) because what is the ARTISTIC point of copying something verbatim, even if you achieve photo realism? What message is the painting carrying? Where’s your personality in it?

Having said that, most artists start out that way. We are obsessed with copying it the way it is and that’s ok. It is a process and we develop and grow as artists. Further along in our art endeavor we might ask ourselves ‘what am I trying to say’, ‘why do I paint this scene’ and ‘what would my message be’?

I continue to go through phases like that. Sometimes a painting I paint looks overly realistic to me and then I don’t really like it. Sometimes it has a painterly quality or feel to it and still looks real (but only if you step back) and I like that best!

Check out this image I found of Wyeth painting on top of his jeep. Super cool! I love how the watercolors drip down the hood and of course the puppy patiently waiting in the car! My dog would try to climb onto my lap making painting impossible!

andrew-wyeth-plein-air2

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!

Composition: a path through the painting

 

We’ve all heard of the rule of thirds, but there is also another good way to create a focal point:

A path through the painting. That refers to the way line work creates a dynamic path that leads the eye around the painting. I often use it as it makes for a very interesting composition. When out in nature we have to look for these things. I think they are almost more important that the subject itself! A good painter can create a great painting out of the most drab and boring subject, i.e. a junk yard or an intersection with nothing much there but ugly buildings, just by making use of this!

That brings me to another point: it’s easy to get lost in the subject and neglect the composition. In this instance, dry docked boats with men working on them is great subject matter in itself. However, if we just show a boat on stilts and nothing else that can be a bit underwhelming to look at. After all, we just have our pathetic, two dimensional piece of paper or canvas to capture it all! So I tried to create a path to make it more interesting. I also created big areas with, what I call abstract painting. The entire hillside behind the boat and the entire foreground has an abstract quality to it. I always say, in representational painting, 80% of every painting is non-representational!

Finally, ‘pardon the dust’, so to speak: my website is currently down because it gets a much needed revamp. Hopefully it won’t take too long. Stay tuned!!