Tag Archives: Provence

The Aquitaine region of France

Alliac, impressions Alliac, impressions 2

I am currently painting along the Dordogne river in the beautiful Aquitaine region of France. Life is good! This trip was full of adventures for me! The worst was probably the weather this time around. Europe is experiencing floodings and overall one of the wettest spring times in 25 years! Very fitting that I had to pick this exact time to come for painting! What can you do?

I made the best of it and produced about 25 plein air pieces so far. I am sure glad I brought my umbrella! There were a few times when I had to finish a painting in the rain! The umbrella I use is by Best Brella. It cost a bit more than others but it is well worth the money!

Next stop: Provence! Stay tuned..

I’d like to mention a few of my upcoming workshops this summer: San Clemente and Yosemite Valley, California. Please consider joining me at either or both! View my 2013-2014 schedule here.

June 22-23 Workshop at San Clemente Art Supply, San Clemente, CA.

August 18-24 Workshop: How to paint loose and atmospheric watercolor, Yosemite Art Center, Yosemite, CA.

A picture tells a story …not!

Meubles Florent, by frankeber 2012                     

Not until you do some ‘visioneering’. I have adapted this term from the great watercolor painter Robert Wade, who is in his eighties now but still going strong!

What he means is basically what I preach in my classes as well: do not just copy the photograph! Being able to paint something as it is, or copy what’s on the reference is irrelevant! Treat the reference as exactly that, a reference!
The goal should always be to capture the character, a feeling, a mood etc. Only then do we rise to the next level. Not an easy thing to do, but no-one said that painting well is easy, right?

The reason I wanted to paint this was the lovely shadow on the building in the late afternoon light. I took this picture in the south of France, a place called Isle-sur-la-sorge. As you can see, I changed the angles a bit to make it more interesting. On the photograph, the shadow seems to cut the building in half.  Also, there’s not a whole lot going on in this picture, is there? We need to do some visioneering! Add a few figures, some lights and a vehicle and, voilá, we might just have a painting! Please note that I didn’t try to copy the building too closely, yet ironically, it looks a lot like what’s on the photograph, doesn’t it?

I didn’t use any chinese white. Not in any of the lights, nor in any of the dark washes. Texture was achieved by spattering water or pure pigment. The lighter shutters in the dark areas where lifted while the wash was still damp, i.e. wet. I try to avoid lifting when the washes are dry. To me, it feels too much like ‘fixing’ things..but that’s just me, if you’re happy to lift and use chinese white: go for it. I just prefer not to!

Thank you for looking!

From sketch to finished paintings

This is a sketch I did onsite a few years ago in Avignon, France. I was quite taken by the tiny streets and alleyways and I found this car parked in a spot that seemed impossible to drive to. Somebody did though, and it made for a perfect subject matter!
The cat was not in the picture, I made that up to give it a little more life. Also, the umbrella on top of the roof was actually folded up.

sketch Avignon, 2011 by frankeber
This sketch was largely responsible for the success of this painting. Without it, I don’t think I would have been able to remember this scene very well. It was over two years ago. I did snap pictures, but that’s just not the same as having this precious ‘note’ of what this corner felt like when I was there! Taking pictures of scenes like this is tricky, they usually come out too dark or too light and a camera can never capture the mood of a place very well!

A sketch like this (it’s less than 6″ long and maybe 3″ wide) can be done quickly, if you have a
small palette and some water on hand. I use an old W&N travel palette, it even has a tiny tray for water and you can put it on top of your sketch pad, painting standing up. Literally anywhere, anytime. A true lifesaver when you just don’t have enough time to do a bigger piece!

I also do this method when I am not sure if a scene is actually worth painting. Doing a little painting like this takes all of 10 minutes and you immediately feel if it’s worth an attempt in a bigger size. The painting process is pretty much ‘alla prima’, meaning in one go. The upper left side is the white of the paper and the umbrella and the yellow building with the windows and some highlights is the first wash. I started the second wash on the upper left side and connected everything with the yellow background wash and the right side, all in one wash. You can actually see that I barely caught the pigment before it started to dry, it left furry edges!

The details like the car, the cat, the streetlamp and shutters are last

sunny corner, Avignon, 2011 by frankeber
Sunny corner, Avignon 7″x 18″

Revisiting France

No, I haven’t been able to go back this year. I am still working from my library of pictures that I took while living there from 2007 to 2009. A friend of mine likes to call the south of France “God’s Country”, and I tend to agree with him. I really miss the closeness of nature and the peace there. Not to mention the charming French villages where you can just walk around and plop down your easel anywhere and find subject matter within minutes. A bit more complicated here in the US, where it always involves major driving, no parking and 24 hour traffic. Maybe I am a bit jaded; not everything can be compared to a place like Los Angeles and there are certainly quiet and charming places in the US as well.


The Dordogne River Valley (2011)
Watercolor on paper
NFS ::: Visit my France gallery

Anyway, this is one of my favorite views in the Dordogne. This painting worked out so well, I don’t think I’ll ever sell it! (Sorry!) The sky was done in one go and I purposely didn’t add any blue; just greyish clouds. The sky wash was converted into a blueish green at the horizon line and then quite green and strong in the foreground. The silvery blue of the river is simply a wash of cobalt blue and burnt umber (very little) and the reflections of the trees are added while still wet. It helps to tilt the board vertical to help let the pigment flow downwards.


Notice that I didn’t finish all the trees close to the viewer. I don’t think it’s necessary! This scene looks so simple but is actually not that simple to paint. Green is a difficult color to work with; many of my students tend to use too much of it in a scene like this and it ends up looking garish. It happens easily! I am very careful and I always try to tone down my greens by adding a bit of orange or red, basically neutralizing it a bit. Generally it’s better to stay away from scenes that are “overly green”. It’s a bit like trying to paint a sunset—it’s very difficult, the results are often not so great and it always looks much better when captured with a good camera!

Rain shower, Provence

Rain shower, Provence 2010 by frankeber

Rain Shower, Provence, 2011 ::: 17″ tall x 12″ wide :  43cm tall x 32cm wide
Posted in the France gallery
Availability : purchase : pricing ::: Contact me

A typical French scene in this Provençal town, especially intriguing since there is a sunny background with a rain-soaked street as a foreground. There is a wide range of tonal values in this painting. Also interesting to notice is that the soft, receding background is composed of warm tones whereas the closer areas are all cool blues and grays. Quite the opposite of what supposedly works in painting: Cool colors recede and warm colors come forward.

I think this scene still works, even though I have broken the rules…

It’s all about braking rules!

Rain shower, Provence, Detail2 by frankeber

Rainy scenes with wet roads are probably where watercolor is at its best. The effect is easily accomplished by pre-wetting the area and dropping in pigment with the easel at the high angle—almost vertical—wet-on-wet.
There is just a suggestion of distant buildings and the tower with a fairly strong tonal foreground. Although the focal point is undoubtedly the person with the umbrella, I tried to keep him or her diffuse with no harsh edges, therefore blending into the scene.
Rain shower, Provence, Detail1 by frankeber

There is no Chinese white or gouache here; all the highlights are the white of the paper. The only body color I used was for the reflection of the car’s taillights; everything else is transparent, which gives it that glow that can only be achieved with the watercolor medium. There is nothing wrong with using opaque color, I just prefer to keep it transparent as much as I can. In my work I always strive to catch the way a place felt at the time I was there.
Details are not so important; shape and tone is.

Happy New Year!