Tag Archives: plein air magazine

Watercolor vs. Oil

This is a scene I have painted many times. It is near where I live and to me, represents our area to the dot. Rolling hills, pastures and a barn setting. Since I started more oil painting again I thought I’d give it a shot in that medium. The watercolor was painted two years ago.

The oil is from a slightly different vantage point and it is also a different time of the year. The watercolor was painted in mid winter, when it is ‘greenest’ around here. That’s right, in California, it gets green in the winter because most of our rainfall happens then!

The oil was just recently painted in the spring. The green on the hills has already changed, turning a red-ish brown. That happens pretty much as soon as the rains stop. This is, however, my favorite time to paint them. In the winter, it is sort of a carpet of intense green (think New Zealand) and is quite difficult to do in a painting. The painting can become overloaded with sameness. To me the watercolor was harder to do for that reason.

Both mediums convey their own mood and feel. This will be one of those places that I’ll paint
over and over. Different times of the day and in different seasons.

Painting plein air, I believe the goal should be to capture something of the scene and not ‘make up’ something different. It is true that sometimes we have to change things around a bit, because mother nature just put too much information there. However, to me there is no point in painting plein air if I don’t really paint what’s there. In this case, it was the study of the hills and sky that make the painting. The interaction of it all. How it’s all one! If I change everything, why go out at all? I can take a picture and do all that in the studio.

To get the color and value right it is essential to observe right. The hills have colors of the sky in it and if the clouds are low enough, they will have some of the hill color in it! Notice how the greens change. The shadows, the sunlit parts, the foreground field. All different! I am so blown away by little things like that! It really excites me, such a miracle…well, not really but I find it endlessly fascinating! I can almost feel the scene…

To say it in the simplest most straight forward way: to paint well, all you have to do is observe right, mix the right color with the right value and put it in the right place. Done!

Small on-site sketches…or….little paintings!

I know that Jeremy Lipking and Scott Christensen teach the importance of making small on-site sketches whenever possible. I even heard that in Scott’s plein air workshops, students only get 45 minutes to finish a painting on each location visited! When some of the best painters have great advice, it certainly is a good idea to consider it!

The advantages are obvious and multi-fold:

  • It may be less intimidating to start a small sketch than a bigger painting.
  • Despite the relatively small size (only 5″x6″ or so), the painting process is the same. You still  need to work out values, color, drawing and edge just like in a bigger piece!
  • You’re going home with 3–6 paintings instead of just one (that you may or may not like).
  • Last but not least, you have multiple on-site sketches from which you can do a bigger studio piece from!

Oh, and here’s another one: often there isn’t enough time to finish before the light changes too much, but it’s almost always possible to finish a 5″x6″ piece. These sketches should really take no longer than 30–45 minutes each, no matter what medium you’re painting in.

I don’t even bother with an underpainting when doing these in oils. Since I am a watercolor guy, I just jot down a few lines with pencil and paint ‘alla prima’ (direct painting). The basic principle for Alla Prima painting is to observe, mix and put down the right amount of paint in the right place with the right value. If possible with little or no adjusting, changing etc.

Easier said than done! Practice, practice, practice!

Plein Air Magazine Dec/Jan 2017

I am very pleased to be one of the featured artists in this month’ Plein Air Magazine! It is a four page article featuring an interview (done by phone) where I talk about my painting process and philosophy as well as some of my paintings. I want to thank the editor Steve Doherty, for including my work! The magazine is available at Barnes and Nobles book stores.

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!!

Value range in painting!


A big problem in painting is that we can’t achieve absolute true values. The actual bright light is much brighter than we can ever achieve with white paint or white of paper! After all, it’s just pigment on paper or canvas! The best we can do is paint the correct values from lightest to darkest to achieve a realistic feel. Once that is done the painting will ‘read’ right. It doesn’t matter if it is not the ‘true range’. Working against the light produces strong contrast and highlights on tops of objects. Working with the light produces close values within the object but contrast against the background. Watercolor lends itself better to the former, simply because we do not have to paint around so many objects to preserve light.

Values can only be analyzed by comparison. Any brushstroke will look dark on white paper because there’s nothing else there. Quality comes from correct value relationships which in turn express the true feeling of light!

Some painters paint with a b&w value scale next to their color palette to help determine what the values of various colors are in b&w. Color can be very deceptive as to value. Sometimes, when it’s vivid like a bright red, it can seem lighter in value than what it really is! During the impressionist era painters tried to paint true values by applying super thick paint on the theory that the natural light would catch and therefore raise it’s value. When this was first done, critics called it a trick. Does it actually work? You be the judge…

Artists can, through color and value, attach elegance to common subjects.

An artist once said: in painting, value does all the work, color gets all the credit! So true!

Value studies help when there’s a gunfight!

The unexpected always happens when you’re painting on location. I have had anything from flies, annoying onlookers, bank trucks blocking the view to complete weather changes! I never had a ‘gunfight’ until a few days ago, that is!

While painting at Old Tucson as a faculty member of this year’s plein air convention, I was suddenly approached by a cowboy with a Winchester rifle. He told me I had to leave my painting spot because there was going to be a gunfight at noon (actually it was 5:30pm, small detail).

He had a fierce look, kept spitting and carried a gun. I thought it better not to argue. Luckily, I had done my value sketch and could finish my painting in the studio later. So, there you go! That’s why we do the value sketch, because you just never know for how long you can paint at a certain spot!

This is what I should have said in return: “Stranger, this town is not big enough for the two of us…”, but I wasn’t that quick witted, plus I was unarmed!!

Old Tucson was the set of many well-known Western movies and shows, i.e. ‘Gunsmoke’, ‘Bonanza’, ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and others.

Monterey Plein Air convention Recap

I was definitely impressed by how well organized it was. Despite the amount of participants (over 700) there was never a problem.
Initially, I was a bit skeptical about the size of the event first, but the organizers tried hard to accommodate everybody. The catering company did a tremendous job, there was always food and drinks, so nobody had to go hungry.
The best part were all the great demonstrations by internationally known artists! If anything I come away inspired after seeing the presentations of Quang Ho, Antonio Masi or George Carlson, just to name a few.

Another highlight for me was meeting and spending time with fellow watermedia painters. Many painters whom I admired greatly when I first started out, like Eric Wiegardt! I also met Jean Haines, Michael Reardon, Robin Purcell, Andy Evanson, Georgia Mansur, Stewart White, Francesco Fontana and many others. We all hung out together at night to present a united front against all the oilies! Just kidding! We all got along and a few oil painters even took the time to complement us and admitted their admiration: ‘watercolor is just too hard’, was what I heard more than once!

Painting outside was great fun and there was room for everybody. My job was to also help out, if anybody needed guidance or had a question about how to approach a subject. We carried around flags and wore faculty hats to be of assistance if needed. Overall, I never felt pressured and many participants were experienced outdoor painters who really didn’t need much help.

Next year this event will be held in Tuscon, AZ, a very different environment. I am happy to say that I will be invited again as a faculty member. My presentation on the watermedia stage was well received and my painting in the Atrium exhibition sold!