Tag Archives: shadows on buildings

Demo and workshop at the Valley Watercolor Society

       (click on thumbnails for a larger image)

I was invited to do both a demo and a workshop for this big group of watercolor painters! My thanks to Barbara Hope and her amazing organizing talent, making this one-day workshop a big success!

One of the lessons I like to drive home in my classes and workshops is that painting is a visual language of shapes, line, value and color. Notice that I mentioned color last! Ironically, students usually get hung-up on color, thinking there is some kind of secret color combination that brings magic into your paintings.

Far from it! The two most important things in painting are values and shapes.

Let’s start with shapes:

Anything and everything we paint is a shape! Let’s say we paint a building with 50 windows and spires on top (it doesn’t
matter what the building is) It is important to get the shape of the building right, the windows are almost irrelevant! Good drawing skills and a sense of perspective are imperative for this task.
I have never seen a good painter who doesn’t know how to draw!

Then there’s tonal value:

Tonal value means nothing more than the strength of your wash, the amount of pigment or pigment to water ratio.
We are basically faking three dimensions on a two dimensional surface! Value is the key to do it. Think of sepia photography and how beautiful it is, yet there’s no color!
If the values work in your painting, it will be a success. If they don’t work, it doesn’t matter how pretty your color mixes are or detail work is, it won’t rescue the painting!

Horse carriage, Prague 11x15, by frankeber 2012      Horse carriage, detail by frankeber 2012   (click on thumbnails for a larger image)

This painting was done in the studio, after an on-site sketch I brought home from Prague. The horse carriage was not in the original sketch. It came from a few pictures I was able to snap when it went by. Please note that the horse carriage is kept to an absolute minimum and the details are not really there! Your eyes fill them in. It is just a few scraggly lines and …here we go: the correct shape!!

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!

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!