Tag Archives: Avignon

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!!

From sketch to finished paintings

This is a sketch I did onsite a few years ago in Avignon, France. I was quite taken by the tiny streets and alleyways and I found this car parked in a spot that seemed impossible to drive to. Somebody did though, and it made for a perfect subject matter!
The cat was not in the picture, I made that up to give it a little more life. Also, the umbrella on top of the roof was actually folded up.

sketch Avignon, 2011 by frankeber
This sketch was largely responsible for the success of this painting. Without it, I don’t think I would have been able to remember this scene very well. It was over two years ago. I did snap pictures, but that’s just not the same as having this precious ‘note’ of what this corner felt like when I was there! Taking pictures of scenes like this is tricky, they usually come out too dark or too light and a camera can never capture the mood of a place very well!

A sketch like this (it’s less than 6″ long and maybe 3″ wide) can be done quickly, if you have a
small palette and some water on hand. I use an old W&N travel palette, it even has a tiny tray for water and you can put it on top of your sketch pad, painting standing up. Literally anywhere, anytime. A true lifesaver when you just don’t have enough time to do a bigger piece!

I also do this method when I am not sure if a scene is actually worth painting. Doing a little painting like this takes all of 10 minutes and you immediately feel if it’s worth an attempt in a bigger size. The painting process is pretty much ‘alla prima’, meaning in one go. The upper left side is the white of the paper and the umbrella and the yellow building with the windows and some highlights is the first wash. I started the second wash on the upper left side and connected everything with the yellow background wash and the right side, all in one wash. You can actually see that I barely caught the pigment before it started to dry, it left furry edges!

The details like the car, the cat, the streetlamp and shutters are last

sunny corner, Avignon, 2011 by frankeber
Sunny corner, Avignon 7″x 18″

Rain shower, Provence

Rain shower, Provence 2010 by frankeber

Rain Shower, Provence, 2011 ::: 17″ tall x 12″ wide :  43cm tall x 32cm wide
Posted in the France gallery
Availability : purchase : pricing ::: Contact me

A typical French scene in this Provençal town, especially intriguing since there is a sunny background with a rain-soaked street as a foreground. There is a wide range of tonal values in this painting. Also interesting to notice is that the soft, receding background is composed of warm tones whereas the closer areas are all cool blues and grays. Quite the opposite of what supposedly works in painting: Cool colors recede and warm colors come forward.

I think this scene still works, even though I have broken the rules…

It’s all about braking rules!

Rain shower, Provence, Detail2 by frankeber

Rainy scenes with wet roads are probably where watercolor is at its best. The effect is easily accomplished by pre-wetting the area and dropping in pigment with the easel at the high angle—almost vertical—wet-on-wet.
There is just a suggestion of distant buildings and the tower with a fairly strong tonal foreground. Although the focal point is undoubtedly the person with the umbrella, I tried to keep him or her diffuse with no harsh edges, therefore blending into the scene.
Rain shower, Provence, Detail1 by frankeber

There is no Chinese white or gouache here; all the highlights are the white of the paper. The only body color I used was for the reflection of the car’s taillights; everything else is transparent, which gives it that glow that can only be achieved with the watercolor medium. There is nothing wrong with using opaque color, I just prefer to keep it transparent as much as I can. In my work I always strive to catch the way a place felt at the time I was there.
Details are not so important; shape and tone is.

Happy New Year!

Mediterranean Haze

Mediterranean Haze by Frank Eber { go to website }

Inspired by the beautiful Mediterranean haze, painted at Rocher des Doms gardens, Avignon. The challenge here wasn’t so much to paint the barges or the rooftops, but to capture the soft glow hovering over the scene.


I hope so.

We were approached by a French guy, asking us where we were from. Upon telling him, he replied, “The weather in Provence, just like California…” It was a very balmy winter day, so no argument there!