Tag Archives: watercolor instructions

Watercolor portraits

Almost like formal portraiture? Not really. While painted somewhat formally, I am mainly experimenting with expressions.

These come from photos I have taken of people on the street. Some look lost in thought, sad, haunted, sometimes expressionless. Commuter robots (comm u-bots). When walking around downtown or places like NY you’ll see them everywhere…

I don’t like photographs of people posing. Especially in portraits you see people pose a lot. They are too aware of the camera. It looks staged. I like the candid photos, where people look more natural, unaware that someone is taking a picture. These portraits are not very big. The face of the girl with the long blond hair is only 3 inches long. The other one is bigger.

As for technique, these take multiple glazes to get the right color and value. Direct painting (alla prima) is, unfortunately, not really possible in watercolor so I normally prefer to do work like this in oil. As in oil painting I only used black, white, cad red, raw sienna and ultramarine blue. That’s it.

It is a nice challenge and these can certainly be improved. Always something to learn! As artists I think it is very important to keep evolving, keep pushing. I am considered a landscape painter in watercolor but I refuse to be put in some drawer. Never be static and predictable. Or known for one thing. It’s too easy to burn out!

The art world is becoming increasingly homogenized. The only way to stand out is to do your own thing, not copy other painters’ styles and subjects. Workshops can help only if you get the guidance to find yourself (your own voice) or at least be helped in that direction. Pick workshops carefully! Ask the venue about the instructor and their teaching style. Don’t fall for reputation. There are some with big names out there but they don’t know how to teach you a thing!

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A Most Songful Stream!

The first picture was the reference photo used to paint ‘A Most Songful Stream’. The location is one of the most visited places in Yosemite National Park, so painting en plein air was out of the question at this spot. Too many people and to make matters worse, this view is from a busy bridge. I thought it would be interesting to see how it was edited and simplified to become more manageable and paint-able!

Notice how the (point-and-shoot) camera always overexposes whites. The water certainly has some whites especially where it cascades down, but it wasn’t nearly as bleached out as in the picture.

I have added mist from the main falls which are located behind the dark trees on the right. I have also added a few bigger boulders as a foreground. The trees on the left side were given less attention as they don’t add much to the painting. I simplified the rocks so as not to over-model them and lastly, I added some dappled lights in the darker sections.

By painting sections this seemingly complicated scene can be painted effectively. Still, it is not an easy painting. I always look for the light and dark patterns and exaggerate them, that way I maintain a clear light path and order in my paintings. With flowing water, I try to pick up on its energy and make use of that as well.

This painting will be part of the first Annual Waterworks Exhibition at Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, May 1 to June 5. Please visit if you’re in the area! Click for more information.

Click to see this as an animation and more of my work on Instagram.

Now that winter’s over, it’s time for all-day plein air! My students have asked what equipment I use, so here it is for you: I use Daniel Smith pigments and Arches watercolor blocks. I paint with DaVinci Casaneo brushes using a Holbein Metal Palette 500. My portable/travel set-up includes the Sienna Plein Air Artist Pochade Box Easel, size Medium and the Sienna Tripod Easel. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

Color harmony

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Today I thought I will post about color. Using color in a painting is a very powerful way to make a statement, but it’s complex nature makes it hard to understand. Color, like value, only makes sense in context. A color by itself has no meaning. Now, there is this concept that all colors are inherently warm or cool but that only makes sense if we compare it to other colors of the color spectrum. Let’s say you’re only looking at cadmium yellow, cadmium orange and cadmium red. Which one is warmer? You see where I am getting at? If we compare it to Cobalt Blue, then those colors are much warmer.

Many painters rely on formulas, mixes they fall back on no matter what is being painted. While I agree that certain colors are used more than others (simply because they do mix well with others), using general formulas for every painting is not going to work if we are truly painting what’s in front of us. (Just to be clear, I am talking about the experience of painting from life here.)
Here’s why: Predetermined color schemes do not produce an authentic version of the harmony in a subject matter. You cannot predict the colors that will be needed in a painting. Your own perception is going to dictate what you will use. How will you know what you will be seeing before you see it?

Understanding the phenomenon of color temperature is key to painting well. Colors do appear either warmer or cooler than their adjacent colors (!) The temperature of any color changes when we lighten or darken it, when the adjacent color changes, or when another color is being mixed into it. As if that’s not enough, colors change when the light on them changes. I remember when I was maybe 10 years old and tried to paint the hair of a blond woman, painting an acrylic portrait. I tried and tried but I just didn’t get it right. What I neglected to see was that she was standing under and next to green palm trees. Her hair picked up the green sheen of the palm trees! Of course it would! It was very subtle, but I didn’t see it because I didn’t look right! Her hair, the way I painted it, looked out of place!
How could you ever paint this correctly if you come into the painting with a predetermined color mix for blond hair?

Only by painting many paintings will we learn about subtleties like this. There just isn’t a good substitute for the real thing. Go out and do it. Paint from life!

Design in painting

A painting starts in our heads. An idea or something we see that ignites our inspiration. Then the design part follows, which means placing shapes and objects in a way that makes sense. We need to consider how to divide the space, how the patterns and lines relate, what to leave in and what to leave out.
The editing process can be quite difficult since nature usually supplies too much information.
For me, the best way is to ask myself whether the object supports what I want to show or not. If I am not sure, I usually leave it out.

Developing a focal point is certainly important but we wary of rules of any kind: there are plenty of ‘don’t do this, do that’ rules out there that were, over the course of painting history, often ignored by successful painters. In fact, the rule breakers were often times trail blazers for something new. Andrew Wyeth’s work (again!) comes to mind. I remember one painting where he put the subject (the girl he painted) on the bottom edge of the painting and cropping her half off. Yet, his painting worked just fine.

Following painting rules too closely can inhibit one’s creativity. Am I saying there are no rules? Not really. When we look at a painting we certainly know whether the design works or not. It’s easy to see when it doesn’t work. However, sometimes paintings don’t have large simple patterns, strong and connecting lines or the lightest and darkest values right where the focal point is. Yet they look amazing!

The only right place to put a focal point is where ‘you’ like to see it, not where a teacher told you because some lines intersect. Again, that may work but if you find another solution I would recommend going with that. It’s your painting, not theirs..

Having ‘a path through the painting’ is another tricky thing that may or may not work. There’s absolutely no guarantee that a person looking at the work will see it the way you see it.
I think educating ourselves about design is important. We need to know what has been done and what works. It’s a good idea to analyze paintings you really like and try to figure out ‘why’ you like them.
Once you know you can add those aspects to your own painting!

Breaking the rules!

We’ve all learned painting rules during our Academic training or in workshops when we started out.
I always remember Kevin McPherson’s famous line: ‘Black in sunlight is lighter than white in shadows’. The other famous one which I can’t remember right now who said it: ‘the darkest light in the light has to be lighter than the lightest dark in the shadow. Keep the light and dark tonal ranges separate to show realistic form.’

How come there are so many paintings out there where those rules are seemingly disregarded?

That’s what Andrew Wyeth called ‘going beyond the facts’. Looking at the images below it’s easy to see that the value range in these pictures must’ve been at least partly invented. The tall foreground grass is too dark even though it’s obviously in the sun and the back hill is way dark for a more dramatic effect.

wyeth

wyeth2

 

It’s even more obvious in the second image: why are the blanket and the flower patch on the lower right so dark even though they are obviously in the sunlight?

The best answer is simply that art should be about expression and that fact is often completely forgotten or missed by many painters. I think it has to do with the fact that the general public judges art by how realistic it is painted. You often hear the phrase: oh wow, that looks just like a photograph. Like that’s the best thing ever! To some that is more of an insult than a compliment (harshly spoken of course) because what is the ARTISTIC point of copying something verbatim, even if you achieve photo realism? What message is the painting carrying? Where’s your personality in it?

Having said that, most artists start out that way. We are obsessed with copying it the way it is and that’s ok. It is a process and we develop and grow as artists. Further along in our art endeavor we might ask ourselves ‘what am I trying to say’, ‘why do I paint this scene’ and ‘what would my message be’?

I continue to go through phases like that. Sometimes a painting I paint looks overly realistic to me and then I don’t really like it. Sometimes it has a painterly quality or feel to it and still looks real (but only if you step back) and I like that best!

Check out this image I found of Wyeth painting on top of his jeep. Super cool! I love how the watercolors drip down the hood and of course the puppy patiently waiting in the car! My dog would try to climb onto my lap making painting impossible!

andrew-wyeth-plein-air2

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!!

Painting Vineyards!

We live in wine country and get lots of tourists over the weekends who do wine tasting tours and visit one of our numerous great restaurants in Paso Robles, Central California.

Many people tell me I should do workshops here, locally. They do have a point. Our area is beautiful with rolling hills, littered with nice barns, cows and horses. It is also extremely varied when it comes to landscape painting: I can do a barn painting early and be on the coast in Cambria in less than 30 minutes and paint the magnificent coastline, Torrey pines and rocky cliffs!

Painting vineyards is not easy. They do sell quite a bit in galleries around here but they are tricky to paint, I think. They are usually just rows and rows of sameness therefore it’s easy to produce something that looks all green, contrived and boring. Remember, there’s nothing more boring in painting than symmetry!

I didn’t like much how I painted them when I first moved here, (see sentence before LOL) but I think I am getting the hang of it. Slowly. The key is to somehow brake up the all the directional lines that the rows of vines naturally create. So it’s important how to position yourself to the vineyard, in other words, picking the right viewpoint! The vines can never be the focal point. Well, maybe not never but often it’s good to have a structure or some other point of interest in it. Rows of vines could look interesting with vineyard workers in them, but I haven’t encountered any so far. Maybe in the fall. Once the colors are changing it will look even more spectacular! I can’t wait…