Tag Archives: watercolor workshop

My new Sienna set-up

I used this custom-made easel for years and years but it started to fall apart, so it was time to get something new! I wanted a set-up that I can use for both watercolor and oil painting.

There are many choices out there, most of them prohibitively expensive and with someone’s name attached to it. I don’t like that so much, that’s why I went for this simple and reasonably priced Sienna Plein Air Artist Pochade Box Easel, size Medium. It is quite easy to set up. More importantly, it holds painting sizes up to 14″ x 18″, which is as big as I would ever paint outside. The angle is adjustable and I can still use my sunshade. (Another big plus for me!)

While you can use any tripod, I ended up buying the coordinating Sienna Tripod Easel as well. If you have a good tripod already, you don’t need to. I tried my old one for a while but the whole thing was just too wobbly. A stable and light tripod is, unfortunately, quiet expensive but it is money well spent: the easel has to be rigid enough for drawing and withstand some wind.

I also like that my Holbein Metal Palette 500 fits exactly into the box opening! I definitely lucked out there… It comes with a tray to store a water container or painting medium and brushes. I don’t like having to hold a palette in my hands while painting, so this is one of its best features.

A note about the weight: The Pochade was advertised as 3.5 lbs, but I weighed it and it is definitely more than 4 lbs. I can’t say I like that, but it’s still acceptable as that weight includes the tempered glass. So no complaints here. I bought the medium, which is really a small size. Overall, I good product that I would recommend to a painting friend.

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!

American Impressionist Society and New Brushes!!


While I was teaching in Albuquerque I got word that my painting won the ‘Award of Excellence for Watermedia’ at the 17th Annual National Juried Exhibition, held at the Howard Mandville Gallery in Kirkland Washington. This exhibition runs until October 30, 2016. If you’re in the area, please check it out! Some of the best painters in the country are part of it. It is 90% oil paintings, so I am very happy to have won an award with a watercolor.

Watercolors are generally ignored in the wider world of art. Especially galleries don’t like them, because they are mostly framed behind glass and they claim that they can’t sell them. The medium is arguably much harder to master and more expensive to frame, yet watercolors fetch only a fraction of the money an oil painting would. It has been like this historically and is unlikely changing any time soon. That’s why it is so important to get this recognition. Maybe it will help all of us watercolor artists.

I am happy to announce that I officially have my own brush line! I am very proud to work with DaVinci, one of the oldest brush manufacturer in the world. Today, almost all brushes are made in China, India and Sri Lanka. In the western world there are only a few original and small companies left that actually make brushes on-site. They are hand made by artisans who do three and five year apprenticeships! Nuremberg, Germany was always known as a brushmaker city and DaVinci is continuing this tradition despite all the cheap and low quality competition out there. These brushes come in three sizes (2, 4 and 6). They have newly developed, fully synthetic hair that holds the same amount of water a natural hairbrush would. Bristles never break and no animals were harmed in the process. Please check my website for more information!

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…

A week in beautiful Maine

I was very fortunate to teach a workshop in Belfast, ME with Coastal Maine last week. Having been busy with workshops in Wisconsin and Norway lately, I was not thrilled on boarding another long distance flight but when I got there I immediately forgot about it and couldn’t wait to start painting!

Belfast is a seaside town about two hours northeast of Portland. It boasts a busy downtown area with some great restaurants, sparkling bays with iconic lighthouses and a great harbor to paint. Maine is not named “Vacationland” for nothing! Even while teaching I felt like I am on permanent vacation! People are friendly but not overly so (which I like!) and everything seems slower paced. Nobody’s rushing…

Places to see are Belfast, Camden and Rockland. I am sure there’s a lot more but that’s all I had time to see. It will just take another trip!

One of the highlights for me was to see the Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center in Rockland. The museum offers an opportunity to enjoy a comprehensive collection of American art related to Maine and above all, a big collection of works by the late Andrew Wyeth! I really like his art so I couldn’t wait to go! The Wyeth Center houses a collection related to three generations of Wyeths in Maine: N.C, Andrew and Jamie. The entrance fee is waived on Wednesdays!