Tag Archives: France

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!!

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Lighting in painting

In the art of painting we decide what quality of light we look for. Sharp and brilliant or more diffused is one consideration. The color of the light itself, i.e. warm or cool and the direction where the light comes from will dictate the way we paint the form.

To paint light we must focus our attention on light itself. This means that we will not be painting the objects before us so much as we will be painting light and the way it falls on these objects or brings them into our vision. A painter once said: ‘A head is something you choose for the light to fall upon.’ Contrast determines the quality of light itself, sharp or soft or anything in between. In dim light conditions the separation may only be one or two value steps. In strong light in may be separated by three or four value steps.

For me, a painting with subtle, diffused light is very powerful. More so than one with extreme light and high contrast. It is also much harder to do!

One problem we have as painters is that our brightest light (the white) is never as bright as nature’s. All we can do is stay true to the relationships from lightest to darkest and paint them in that order, even if the value cannot match nature perfectly.

If we paint light correctly, it will make the form work out itself. We think about the light, halftones, and shadows. We make sure we have the correct sequence of value relationships (lightest to darkest) and getting the color within these values. That’s it. Now that sounds easy but, of course, is a lifetime endeavor right there.

Light and its effects provide the best means of bringing unity and consistency to a subject. The light will effect everything in the subject the same way. Everything will take it’s relative place in the whole scheme and all values and colors will be brought together into a single effect. This is unity that creates beauty!

By using color and value right, we can create a powerful and elegant painting even with mundane subject matter!

Thanks to all of you who followed my blog in 2015. I wish every one of you a successful and prosperous new year! Here’s to 2016!! Let’s pray for a more peaceful world.

Opacity – Transparency

One of the greatest strength of the watercolor medium is it’s transparency. It is also it’s greatest weakness, I think. Some things look great painted in a transparent manner, floral arrangements or the surface of water comes to mind. However, I find certain things hard to paint staying all transparent. Foggy backdrops, small sheep or cows in a landscape or a bright flower field in a dark meadow.

This post is purely about the practical side of painting. I don’t want to get into the whole ‘transparency = watercolor’ school of thought. It’s tiresome and a bit like discussing certain tastes in music: it cannot be done.

The longer I work in the medium, and keep in mind that I came from oils and gouache, the more I paint watercolor like I used to paint with oil and gouache.
Sure, I still try to preserve my whites but I noticed that I do a lot more layering also. Transparency first, opacity later. In certain places.

Am I concerned that I’m no longer a pure transparent watercolor painter? I shouldn’t be, when my path takes me away from it, right? Any rules in art should be questioned. That doesn’t mean I am painting gouache paintings now, transparency certainly has it’s place. As with many things in life, I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

I also have to confess that I am a huge Andrew Wyeth fan and experimenting with some of his techniques. A student of mine sent me a description of his use of egg tempera that was made available during an exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. Fascinating stuff!

As an artist I believe we should always grow and never be static. Many artists out there are ‘stuck’, because they became known for something or a certain way of painting. It’s hard to change that because there are people following your art and you might loose them if you change too much. Personally, I am not concerned. I am not creating art to have ‘followers’. I am painting because that’s what I do. Even if I never sold anything, I’d still paint. Gotta keep the priorities straight!

References/ subject matter

Sometimes students show me their photographs and ask which one would be best for a painting. I am always surprised when I look at them. Often it’s a picture that’s completely useless as painting material. Beautiful sunsets with people silhouetted on the beach or the picture of about a hundred boats sitting in a harbor in bright sunlight with no background.

I think the choice of subject can predetermine the outcome of a painting. Bad choices yield bad paintings, good choices and chances are your painting will be better. How do you pick subject matter? Arguably one of the hardest things, especially when painting outside. Even if you found your painting subject, you still have to find a spot with good or at least decent views. The world is full of information, too much information!! Sometimes, I walk around and can’t find anything that works.. it happens. Time of day is certainly an important factor. There’s a
reason artists talk about the ‘Golden hour’ and how it’s everyone’s favorite time to paint.

I always consider foreground middle ground and background. I look for patterns, how the light plays against the darks and vise versa. If there are buildings with bright roofs, I place myself in ways that the darker background is behind them. If the roofs are dark and silhouetted, I’ll have the lighter sky behind etc etc.
Patterns are spotted first, they make the painting. Light and patterns go hand in hand. Where there’s light there must be darks next to it. Where there’s darks, there must be light also. One can’t be without the other!

When is a painting finished.. and other musings

As I come to the end of a painting, this question always rears it’s ugly head: what else does it need?
The one after that I hate even more: couldn’t I have done a better job with this or that section? Is it a good painting? how good? My philosophy here is that I did the best I could do with what I have and who I am right now. I move on to another painting. This becomes very apparent to me when I look at work I did a few years back. It was the best I could do at the time. End of story.
You cannot ‘make’ a masterpiece. One day it may happen or it may never happen. It is a waste of time to think ‘this is it, this time I’ll do it’.
Doesn’t work.

Lack of decision and endless fiddling with the current painting is a harmful thing. You have to learn from the mistakes you can spot at the end and make amends, but the energy must go into a fresh effort! Learn to use your time wisely.

A word about talent: to any artist who has slaved over years to acquire his skills in painting, it is the most irritating thing to hear that your ability is just a ‘gift’. Talent is the first step, you have to have it. Absolutely. But nobody who paints amazing paintings has done so from day one. They put thousands of hours into it. There is no formula in art that will not break down as soon as the effort behind it ceases.
A good analogy is athletics: do you know how many hours pro figure skaters or tennis players practice every day? No need to answer that. Talent may help get you to the elite, I don’t dispute that. Even if I practiced tennis 8 hours a day from now on, I would never play like Roger Federer. I know that, I just don’t have enough talent.
But to say as artists we just have ‘this gift’ is ignoring how much work we’ve put into it.

Of course nowadays there are many who put more effort into their social media page instead of their art, but that’s another blog post. Or not.

Beautiful silence

peaceweb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In the ultimate stillness
Light penetrates the whole realm;
In the still illumination,
There pervades pure emptiness.
When I look back on the
Phenomenal world,
Everything is just
Like a dream.”

Han-shan Te-Ch’ing

Peace (2013)
Original watercolor on paper
Approx. 14″x 20″
Unframed/ matted
Exhibited at the 2nd Int’l Watercolour Biennial, Belgium August 17 – September 7, 2014.

I dream of sheep..

I Dream of Sheep by Frank Eber

I Dream of Sheep by Frank Eber

This was a scene I came upon one early morning on the way to Domme in France. I drove around a corner and couldn’t believe what I saw: this lovely farm, the meadow with the sheep and to top it all off, a perfect painting spot slightly above with excellent views! Oh, and did I mention nice, soft, diffused light, no car traffic and perfect silence? It only happened once on this trip! In fact I don’t even recall if I ever encountered a scene so serene. I hardly had to make up or change anything. The only thing I have changed is the background. In reality, it was just too strong in value.

The mood of a painting is achieved by playing with both color and value. This painting may have a subdued quality to it, but it compliments the mood and feel I wanted to convey.

“I dream of sheep”
Media: original watercolor on paper
Image size: approx. 14″x20″
Unframed/ matted
SOLD