Tag Archives: times square

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!

Taxis, night light!

city streets, 2011 by frankeber

City Streets, 2011 ::: Watercolor on paper
Posted in the New York USA gallery

I am still in my taxi phase. What I’m trying to paint right now is a view of times square, but I am having a lot of trouble with that! The light in Times Square is so intense, so many different billboards, lots of different colors, people. It is very hard to simplify a scene like that, I must have done at least ten paintings already and I don’t like a single one of them…

Hey, whatever it takes…

I can already hear someone say, “Well, some things just don’t work in watercolor.”

They work if you make it work! That’s what I say…

This scene is complicated as well, but much easier to handle as it can be divided into major shapes that don’t compete with one another. Night scenes are a tricky thing that way. I find that it’s easier to try to paint them almost in a single wash, using lots of pigment. The second wash was really only applied to the background to suggest windows and lights. I let the colors bleed to create many lost and found edges. I was very careful not to overwork the cars, because it’d make this painting look more like an illustration. Not that there’s something wrong with an illustration, it’s just not what I am going for here. I am not interested in painting the cars accurately. In fact, if you look at the closeup there are just shapes that suggest there are taxis there.

The goal is always to capture what a scene is all about and we never paint anything but shapes, we just call them trees, cars, buildings, clouds.

City streets, detail 2011 by frankeber