Tag Archives: plein air class

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!

Adventures in plein air painting Part III

Jacobsplatz, 2012 by frankeber       painting in Avignon

Last post dealt with comments from passers-by when painting on location. It seemed well received as I got a lot of hits and very nice comments. Thank you, Everyone!

This time around, I’d like to share a bit of the process i.e. equipment, set-up, etc. I use while painting outside. I have changed things over the years and I am still not completely happy with it, but it works well and is very light-weight. It is absolutely imperative to keep the weight down! At the same time, it is the hardest thing to do!

We do need water, we have to bring the whole palette, the paper, the brushes and the painting surface. I built a portfolio out of two pieces of coroplast I bought at the home depot (total price: $10). Not only is it a portfolio to store the paper, it also serves as the painting surface at the same time. No need to bring a third piece, like a gater board or foam board (it’s all bulk you have to lug around) I just duct taped them together and attached a sling for easy carrying. Very light!
Once I am ready to paint, I tape the paper right on top, clip the whole portfolio to the easel and, voilá, it is now a painting surface!

         

My biggest gripe is that you cannot find an easel with a drawer that pulls out on the side as oppose to the front where it prevents you from getting close to your work. I am currently having an easel built to solve this problem once and for all! There is one out there, it’s called the Joe Miller field easel which comes close. But I have heard there are problems with the legs and it still does not completely resolve the second thing that really bugs me about all the field easels out there:

There is no way you can put your water and palette on the side drawers without having access issues once you pull up your painting surface at an angle. I don’t know if I am explaining this well but you basically have to look around ( the corner)/ your work everytime you pick up pigment or water with your brush. The only way to solve this is to have a drawer that not only pulls out to the side (first) but also to the front (second). Kind of like a drawer with a pull-out flat surface at an angle. That way it’s basically next to you as oppose to hidden behind the painting surface!

Like I said, the biggest issue is weight so it has to have aluminum legs! Most prochade painting boxes are way too heavy and cumbersome!

    

While painting in Europe the entire last month, I discovered that the duffel bag has to go as well! After a few kilometers of Euro streets,walking here and there, up and down and around, it started hurting my shoulder quite a bit. And I thought my set-up is light… well, it is but not light enough! I’d say it has to be less than 20 lbs total – meaning paint tubes, water, brushes, everything!
15 lbs would be ideal and like a backpack on your back. That way you have your hands free to snap pictures while looking around.

Painting size for plein air is usually 1/4 sheet or less. Half sheet works, but is tricky since light condition change quickly and drying time can create a lot of problems when working larger sizes. My goal is to finish in an hour, or hour and a half the most. The light won’t change too much during that timeframe and it is possible to capture the atmosphere of the place.

I’ll let you know once my easel is done

Adventures in plein air painting

St. Francis pleinair, by frankeber 2012         St. Francis pleineir_detail, by frankeber 2012

I have recently started teaching a plein air watercolor class. Only six people in our group, among them three accomplished plein air painters in other media. You know, the lesser one’s …hahaha…just kidding!

We met in Palos Verdes, a peninsula that juts out into the pacific and divides the South bay from Long Beach. I had a feeling that we’d see a nice, slanted shadow going across the front of St. Francis church and thought it might be a good lesson for a watercolor class: shadows, light within shadows, reflected light..that sort of thing.

Most artists, especially ones coming from other mediums, always try to do too much. It is one of the hardest things to learn in watercolor painting! You cannot work the same way, not even close!
The second hardest thing to let go off, is that you don’t blend colors, they do it themselves on the paper and if you interfere too much, you’ll get streaky and tired looking washes.

Of course, painting directly from the subject can pose a whole different world of problems. It is a bit scary, being out there, all exposed. You get people who watch you, both nice and less favorable comments and your subject matter changes by the minute. But it is also a great teacher, mother nature is!

Speaking of plein air: I am heading to Europe for the entire month of April, doing nothing but painting outside! Next time I post, it will be from Prague or the south of France! Wish me luck and let’s hope the weather will cooperate!

Local scenes

Happy Labor day!

Last week I was out and about painting locally. Here are some of the best ones..

SanPedroPolice, by frankeber2011

CoupleonEsplanade, by frankeber2011

It’s always an adventure to paint outside. Things never go the way you expect them to. Case in point: I am driving down to San Pedro, unloading my paint stuff and looking around for a good view. The first thing I notice is that my water container spilled water all over my bag…mmmh, ok. No big deal, just put it in the sun while walking around looking for a painting spot.

I usually bring my point and shoot and take lots of pics to help me find  a good composition. So I turn on my camera and it says ‘change battery pack’. Needless to say I forgot to bring extra batteries…Classic! I actually had to wait two minutes every time I wanted to take a picture, so the batteries would just last long enough to let me take one.

Walking around, confused, trying to decide what to paint and from where, I finally get settled and started painting just to notice there’s only about half an hours daylight left! OMG, better get going… You can see, none of this happens in your studio and you’re forced to really deal with all kinds of fun outside. But I highly recommend it. It made me a better painter! It is sooo important and a great confidence builder! Just do it! I know it’s intimidating, go with a buddy or take a plein air course first but I swear to you, it will improve your work significantly!