Tag Archives: northern California

The pleasure of painting plein air

moss landing, by frankeber 2012    wilder ranch, by frankeber 2012   north harbor santa cruz, by frankeber 2012   at Davenport cliffs, by frankeber 2012

Just coming back from a fabulous painting trip in and around Santa Cruz, California. Brilliant weather, great company and excellent food…what more can one possibly ask for?
It is one of the unwritten rules of plein air painting that as soon as you have finished your drawing and the first washes, the weather will completely change! When I started the painting at Wilder Ranch, it was foggy and sort of dull but a great atmosphere nonetheless. Just as I was getting ready to paint the hills, the fog disappeared and it got sunny within five minutes…
There must be a lesson in this somewhere…It is a great self-test if you can actually retain the memory of what the place was like a little while ago. That’s why I always snap pictures before I start and really take it all in. Very important. Light conditions will always change, there’s nothing we can do. I prefer to finish a painting in one go, as oppose to coming back at the same time the next day. You never know what you’ll get tomorrow! That’s also one of the reasons I prefer to work smaller outside, mostly quarter sheets.
Watercolor is the perfect medium to work with outside. It dries quickly and you don’t have to lug around heavy stuff.
Don’t make the mistake of walking around for an hour, searching for the perfect subject matter and/ or painting spot. It will never come! It’s better to just paint something you spot and like, even though it might not be perfect.  With a bit of re arranging (mostly omitting) you might just walk home with a nice painting.  A lot of time it is the most inconspicuous scenes that make the best painting. Do not look for the most photogenic or spectacular scene! Quite often, what works as a photograph never does as a painting!

Beautiful California, Part II

Them golden hills, California by frankeber 2012    Them golden hills, California, detail by frankeber 2012

I can’t stop painting the rolling hills! There is a special light; even on sunny days, there is this atmospheric haze which is quite hard to capture in a pathetic watercolor painting! I am getting close with this one, but didn’t quite nail it…maybe it is not possible! Who are we painters to think we can actually imitate nature? Preposterous!
The best we can accomplish is a likeness. I should be happy with this effort and move on, but that’s not who I am. I want to do better. Plus, it’s such a great subject matter!

There’s a nice color by Daniel Smith, called German Green umber that really helped me out on the distant hills. It is almost like a raw umber, but has more green in it. It works really well when mixed into the cobalt blue. The most important part, however, is the gradation into the stronger and much warmer foreground. It is easy to over compensate!
Sometimes I start to strong and have to go back and wash it down a bit before it dries. The key is to notice it before it’s too late. Sure, you can always glaze over it later, but it’s just not the same!

A maximum of  three washes. Two is better. Anything over three and you run the risk of getting mud. There are very skilled painters out there who can do more than three, I am not one of them! Anything to preserve the luminosity of the work! Thanks for looking