Tag Archives: California

Plein air in cold weather!

cropped nature takes over

I thought I speak about that a little bit, since it is that time of the year! Painting outside when it’s cold has it’s challenges, just like painting in real hot weather does. The biggest problem with watercolor painting is drying time. That means, if we do big washes (which I usually do) they won’t dry for a long time resulting in periods of unwanted waiting around, twittling my thumbs!

What’s the solution? There’s no real good one I am afraid. But there are things you can do that definitely help: If you’re near your car, you can use the car’s heater and fan. It works perfectly and only takes seconds if you crank it up on high!

If the sun’s out, it goes without saying to put it down and it dries very quickly.

If the sun is not out and you’re not near your car, try using less water and a bit of chinese white in your big background washes. It makes the paint flow slower and dry more quickly. A word of caution: it takes practice to gauge how much to use, if you use too much you’ll get opaque ugly soup, if you use too little it won’t do anything at all!

Lastly, you can break up your washes more. If you know your middle ground is darker than your sky (it almost always is), just don’t paint there at all in the first wash. Stop the sky halfway and leave the white of the paper. That way, you can immediately start painting without waiting since you never touched that part!

If it is colder than 0 degrees celsius, or 30 degrees F, I don’t recommend watercolor painting outside. I have had my washes freeze before and it’s just plain awful! Better wait for warmer weather!

Plein air in Newport Beach, California

Pavillion board walk Balboa pierII Balboa pier

The two images on the right show the same subject matter in very different light. The method of painting them is also very different. When the subject is backlit, we hardly have to paint around shapes.  When we paint with the sun behind us, it’s a different story! The building on top of the pier happens to be white, so if it’s sun-lit we mustn’t touch the shape with the sky wash!
Many artists use masking fluid for this. For me, it does not work. Especially in a plein air setting, there’s no time to apply it. In order to catch the mood and feel of the scene, it is imperative to get to the painting as quickly as possible, without rushing of course. Therefore, the preliminary drawing shouldn’t take more than 10 to 15 minutes.
It is remarkable how two scenes of the same subject, painted in the same afternoon, can have such a different feel to it! If we didn’t recognize the shape of the building on the pier, it almost feels like a different scene altogether!
For that reason, it really pays off to stay in the same area when painting outside. You never know how many versions you’ll get at the end of the day! You also get more familiar with the subject if you paint it more than once. The first one might be a bit frantic, by the second painting you have settled into a nice routine. One of the things to always remember is to never, ever worry about how they turn out! Even if things go great halfway through, try to avoid thinking ‘oh, this looks great’ — as they say in this country: It’s never over until the fat lady sings!

Thumbnail sketches – why do them?

P1030576 P1030577 P1030578 P1030579

This is one of my favorite things to do before a painting: A small 2″by 3″ graphite sketch.

There are many advantages to this: It’s low risk, it’s quick and dirty. Above all, it gives me almost instant feedback if the masses, shapes and values work. Do they relate to each other? What about lines? Since it is a very small sketch, it can easily be altered, erased and redone without major time invested.

I find that if my little sketch looks good, the final painting will have a better success rate. Maybe it’s because it boosts my confidence in a subtle way.

The sketch can also have another nice effect: it can tell you if it just isn’t worth painting! At least you have found out in the early stages..time to move on change your approach!

Yosemite valley

rangers horse stables, Yosemite valley P1030241

Last week I was teaching at Yosemite valley’s Art Center, operated by the Yosemite conservancy. This is a non-profit organization which means I didn’t get paid, but i think it is important to give back to the general community that helped me get where I am today. It wasn’t easy to tear myself away and not make any money for a whole week, but staying in Yosemite for free is a treat and I am happy I did it!

I want to thank Aline Allen at the Art Center for welcoming me and her efforts to fill up my classes. The only adverse conditions during the past week was the ongoing heat and extreme dryness that makes watercolor painting oh-so difficult!

Next year I will have to pick an earlier or later date!

Above paintings are sold at the Yosemite Art Center in the Yosemite village, California

The horse handlers

horse handler near Los Olivos, by frankeber 2012 horse handler, detail, by frankeber 2012

When painting near Los Olivos, we came upon this horse farm tucked in a hidden valley far off the beaten path. I was so psyched to paint there, I just drove right in. My painting buddy went ‘you sure you want to just go on their property?’ Of course, you can’t do that so we asked if we could paint near the horses. Unfortunately, the owners were nowhere to be found and the horse handlers felt they couldn’t make that decision.
Plus, there was a bit of a language barrier, because the modern day cowboy is, not surprisingly, a Mexican man! The only person who spoke perfect English was someone’s 15 year old kid who helped out!

Horse farms are definitely a subject matter that I want to explore more. I did this piece from a value study of the horse shoe barn (if that’s what they call it) and a plethora of pictures.

Notice how there is a unifying color to the work. In reality, the sky was a solid ‘Walt Disney blue’ and there were patches of super green, artificially looking English meadow here and there. However, I went with the colors of California hillsides which are a wonderful golden hue that is very unique to our area.
I think it’s important to remember not to copy the place as it is, but paint it in ways that makes for a good painting. Even outside, it’s all too tempting to copy what’s there and end up with an area of bright blue, and a squeaky green foreground with little or no color harmony. That’s not to say that color is bad, but just like everything else in a good painting, it should play a supportive role and not create sections of different colors, completely unrelated. Cartoons look like that!
For my color mixes, I use quite a bit of cadmiums (or the new equivalent of cadmiums, without the toxins). Cadmiums (yellow pale, med yellow, orange and red) are very strong, but when mixed with earthtones will give the punch that is necessary to make a statement. I try to avoid painting too wishy-washy.