Tag Archives: taxi cabs

From onsite sketch to studio painting

P1050202 Brooklyn impressionsII, web

On my recent trip to New York I took the time to paint as much as possible, but focusing only on quick sketches that capture the mood.
Once I had the essence of the scene in front of me, I would stop and move on. If I am there for painting alone with nothing else planned, I will attempt a ‘real’ painting, not just sketches. If I am pressed for time and can’t spend an hour or more on location, sketches are the way to go.

This decision is best made before the trip. For instance, if traveling with non painters or for other reasons than painting alone, I would pack differently than for a painting trip. For the trip to NY I would squeeze paints and just bring the palette, no paints! That would yield approx 3 to 4 small paintings/ sketches, no more. I knew I wouldn’t have time to do more anyways, so no need to bring all this extra weight!

As I said before, weight is a huge issue when painting plein air. It sounds really good when a manufacturers tells you their easel weighs less than 4 pounds. Those four pounds feel like lead after walking around a city center for two kilometers.
Just like in watercolor painting itself, when it comes to weight, less is more!

Workshop: Venus Art Supply, Palm Desert

    P1040765   20140212_121541

My big Thanks to Venus Art Supply for hosting a very successful workshop in Palm Desert last week. We had the perfect class size and managed to do a lot of painting! Thank you Shayla and Deb for taking care of me!

I posted one of my half finished demo pieces above. The subject matter ‘street scene’ posed lots of different painting challenges, i.e. composition, lights and darks, gradations etc etc. Congratulations to all my students for doing such a great job! We just have to do it again sometime!

As if I didn’t have enough work already, I also did a demo for the Desert Art Center in Palm Springs last week! Thank you Susan for inviting me and big thanks to everyone who attended!

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How to paint an atmospheric watercolor

Progrees pic1 Progrees pic2 Progrees pic3 Progrees pic4 Progrees pic5 Progrees pic6 Progrees pic7

Today’s post is a bit of an insight about my painting process. For some reason, it is quite hard to remember to take pictures while painting! There should’ve been one more between the second and third shot. Oh, well..

As you can see in pic1, my initial drawing is pretty loose and all over the place. The only thing I am interested in at this stage, is putting the shapes and objects in the right place. I am paying close attention to perspective, design, the actually shape of the things (in this case cars and buildings). It is not about how accurate you can draw something.

In pic2 I am doing what I call the underpainting. Initial washes that determine the colors and what sort of a painting I want to see in the end. High-key, low-key, that kind of thing..

After all this is dry, I start in the background with the most distant buildings and work my way to the areas up close. It is one enormous wash that is not allowed to dry until I got the entire thing done! Yes, it’s quite  unnerving and you have to work quickly and decisively.

Once all the buildings are done I go into the details of the cars, pedestrians, wet street effects. The key word here is ‘vague’! I try to suggest these things and the only car I put more effort in is the taxi in the focal point and one other one. That’s it. (pic5)

I am very conscious of my edges and never say ‘too much’. I think it’s important to leave some mystery, room for imagination. When you look at the finished piece, it is remarkable what you think you see that’s not really there! For me, one of the most beautiful things about painting in watercolor!

About composition

downtown crown morning square

One of the pleasures as a volunteer at the National Watercolor Society is to be exposed to all kinds of watermedia art and to see lots of watercolor paintings in real life. While I have learned a great deal just by studying other artist’s works, there were also pretty sobering moments. For instance, it is disturbing to see how many artist’s ‘enhance’ their artwork with photo-manipulating software on their computer and their piece looks only half as good when you see it in real life! That, however is a topic for another post. Or not.

Composition: One of the most important aspects of a picture. There was a time when I utterly underestimated how important it actually is! Luckily, there were people who helped me along. My past teachers of course, but also a lot of studying on my own. A couple years ago I started collecting the catalogs of all NWS exhibitions since 1950 something and whenever I have spare time, I always sit down and analyse artwork of past shows. Surprising how much one can learn doing this!
I also have very good books on the subject matter. One of them by the late Jan Herring, given to me by her wonderful daughter Helen during a workshop. I think it’s out of print, the book title is ‘The painters composition handbook’. Jan talks about letters of the alphabet that can be used as a composition tool by placing them in your work as guidelines for major shapes. Not every letter works, but A, C, H, L, X, Z for instance all work. Then there are triangles, cruciform and other shapes.
Nowadays, I always try to at least apply some of these helpers to my work. Then I let it sit for a bit and double check if everything works before picking up a paintbrush.

triangle compo

These two paintings are almost identical in composition. The big difference is, of course, the light situation. It can’t be any more different, really! Can you see the triangle that I arranged the shapes in this one? To illustrate my point, I drew it on. It made a big difference in this piece. In fact, all the great techniques and beautiful washes etc. are all worthless if the compo is no good!

One last tip: Study great abstract artists like Elaine Daily Birnbaum and others and you’d be surprised to see how much you can learn from them, even if you’re a ‘representational artist’, like myself! I always say that my representational art is 80% abstract anyway!

New York City during better days

City views, web by frankeber 2012     City views, detail web, by frankeber 2012

My heart goes out to the people of  this amazing city and the hardship they have to go through right now on the East coast. Let’s hope it’ll all be part of the past soon and people can continue with their lives.

Being just an artist, I sometimes feel I am not contributing enough to society like, say, a fire fighter or a police officer. On the other hand, I can paint the beautiful and exciting things that life holds for all of us and make people aware of them, maybe even make them feel better when they look at a painting. Quite a lofty goal, but really the only thing I can try doing, even in light of disaster.

One of my favorite sights in NY is the Chrysler building. I just love the shape of it! It is not the first time I have painted this scene, but I never get sick of painting  it. Every time you go there, it’ll look different, yielding a new version of the same subject matter.

One of the most important things to remember when painting scenes like this, is the fact that we’re really painting a street scene, *not* the Chrysler building as a focal point. The activities on the street are what attracts the eye, the building are just a backdrop. A pretty one, but still, in the end it’s all background noise.
Another important aspect is the fact that in representational painting, at least 60 percent is actually abstract painting! Maybe even more than that! I put the detail view there for that reason. If you look closely, there’s lots of nondescript, nonsensical squiggly lines and such, only making sense once we move back far enough. The secret is to let the eyes do the work,  piecing the scene together, so to speak. Not a big secret, really, but one that’s often overlooked.

Watercolor paintings always look better when painted spontaneous, loose and with no more that three layered washes. If a mistake happens while painting, it is always better to leave it wrong than to correct it. 90 percent of the time, no one will even notice that you made a ‘mistake’. The earlier you let go of that notion, the earlier you’ll paint freely and unencumbered, not caring about the outcome and ironically produce much better work!