Tag Archives: plein air class

A week in La Crosse, WI

Thanks again to Bob Witte (http://wittesendstudio.blogspot.com/)
for inviting me to teach a workshop in La Crosse!

On the short flight from Chicago to La Crosse I flew over the most scenic, rolling hills you can imagine, littered with working dairy farms. I knew I was in for a treat!
La Crosse did not disappoint and I can genuinely say that I loved the area! It reminded me so much of Bavaria Germany, minus the buildings, of course.

If you’re not familiar with LC, I highly recommend a visit. Expecting midwestern flatness, I was quite surprised to encounter the most beautiful landscape with endless subject matter to paint!
More paintings in the next blogpost!

The workshop went really well and we all created some interesting paintings. Credit for the photos I posted goes to Dave Bass, photographer and proprietor of the SG1311 Gallery in La Crosse (http://www.sg1311.blogspot.com/)

Have a look at his excellent work here http://www.dbassphoto.com/
Thank you, Dave!


Color temperature!

While my paintings are mostly value based they also depend a great deal on color temperature. Color change does not necessarily mean value change, although a lot of times it is the case. So color change can therefore mean a change in value (intensity) or a change in temperature, or both!
This is important stuff because temperature affects our perception of form just as much as light. The change of value and temperature of a three dimensional object depends on how low or how intense the light source is. In low light conditions, the temperature changes are more obvious since there is no significant change in value!
Just take a look at some impressionists like Van Gogh or Cezanne who often painted work that is completely devoid of light and purely based on change of color temperature!

Great painting very much depends on subtle color (temperature) changes. It is at least as important as understanding your values.
When I first started painting this whole point was completely lost on me. Many artists are not aware of this, instead assuming that transitions in three dimensional objects are achieved with value change only! Often we see work that is completely based on overly dramatic, highly graphic and intense value changes and not much else!

Studying the old masters like JSS or Zorn will quickly show how the success of their work not only depends on values but ever so subtle transitions in color temperature. A humbling lesson on how to achieve lively, beautiful and timeless art!

The sentinel

The sentinel

The Sentinel
Media: original watercolor on paper
Image size:  approx. 14″x 20″
Unframed/ matted
Please email me for purchase information

As a plein air artist I feel fortunate to always visit such beautiful areas in the world. I conducted a workshop in one of those areas last week: the Santa Ynez valley in California.

Plein air painting is tricky business. You are dealing with a lot of adversity: weather conditions, (i.e. heat, cold, winds etc.) pestering insects and/ or pestering people! Selection of subject matter is even more challenging! What do you paint and how do you make it work? Is there room to set up?

According to Murphy’s law some absolutely crucial fact about the scene you’re painting will change one hundred percent halfway through your painting! Like the horses you’re painting will be moved out of the pen before you can finish them. A bank truck collecting money from an ATM will block your view down the street scene you’re painting and a uniformed guy with heavy artillery is glaring at you. Ahh, what fun…NOT!

P1030480 P1030530
While I admit that these things can be disconcerting, there is no better teacher than nature herself! In your studio, you’ll never get a real interaction with the subject matter and staring at a photograph is just not the same thing! I can promise you, if you start painting plein air, your work will improve dramatically! The painting may not be a success every time, but the paintings that do have a beautiful spontaneity and directness about them that you can’t get in the studio. Even if the painting is no good, the studio version you do with the help of your ‘failed attempt’ will come out a lot better, simply because you were actually there! You walked through the place, you were taking everything in with your senses and you painted there and that makes all the difference!

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

Cape Cod: The Beauty of Light, Sept. 19 to 22, 2013


Please consider joining me and other great painters for this wonderful event this fall! It is taking place in one of the most beautiful places in this country. For more information, please visit:


Plein air bliss – just for a while…

plein air bliss

plein air bliss

by frankeber

by frankeber

Yesterday afternoon, I caught some magic light. This location was about a two minute walk from the house we’re staying at. A quiet spot in the countryside, no audience, no distractions, nothing… plein air bliss, is what I call it. Even the weather cooperated, if only for a little while.

This trip has taught me many things, but most importantly, how to deal with all kinds of adverse conditions and still paint, no matter what! Terrible light, winds, rain, cold… I think I had it all in the last two weeks! While it is a bit frustrating to come so far and be subjected to the worst, weather wise, it is also a great learning experience.

The worst I have to deal with in California is that my pigment dries too quickly. It is simply always a sunny and mild day. In Germany, I was lucky to be able to save my painting during an unexpected downpour, half-way through, with temperatures dropping about 15 degrees within five minutes. Truly a different world!

When picking a plein air spot, I make sure I am in close proximity of some shelter. It could be an awning, a roof or even a tree in the countryside. You can’t start looking when the weather turns, it’d be too late! Another important thing is access to a rest room and lastly, to position myself out of the way. People can be very rude and you want to make sure no one keeps bumping against your easel while you’re painting.

Oh, and another thing: absolutely wear headphones! It is a must. Otherwise, you’ll get someone asking you for directions or any other inane thing…. As painters we are constantly mistaken for tour guides. I don’t know what it is that would make somebody ask an artist questions like that, but it is very annoying!

However, we shall not be deterred!

The preliminary drawing

Close-ups Drawing 1      Drawing 2 Close-ups2 close-ups

For me, the drawing is very much part of the watercolor painting! I don’t try to hide my lines. In fact, I find it quite nice to see them through most washes (except the dark ones) It gives my work more movement and life.
Some artists are obsessed with getting rid of pencil lines. I don’t understand it, but, as I always say: to each their own!

Drawing skills are the foundation for good painting. It’s a bit like building a house. If your foundation is faulty, your house probably won’t be great in the end, no matter how well some of it is done!
Most students greatly underestimate drawing skills and many a drawing looks stiff, contrived and has perspective problems. That’s because they only draw when they paint. Never for the sake of drawing!

I keep a sketch book with me most times, so when there’s no opportunity to paint I can at least do a quick pencil sketch. I use 2B and 3B leads in a mechanical pencil and a simple eraser. Not much to lug around at all. Good times to sketch are while watching TV, when waiting for someone or in a café while enjoying a cup of coffee.
It is so hard to capture moving shapes! Nobody poses for you and even if they did, it wouldn’t be the same! It would feel staged, because that’s what it is. Simply no better teacher than real life!

You can see that my lines are pretty loose, just squiggles here and there. These are close-ups of a bigger street scene and I took the time to snap a few pics before painting. Once an accomplished artist with lots of hours of drawing under your belt, you will develop what we call a ‘strich’ in German. I think the English equivalent is ‘your own hand’. A very distinctive way of drawing which translates right into your painting work. The better you draw, the better you paint. End of story!