Tag Archives: workshop

Sunrise plein air!

Lately, I have been going out to paint super early. Getting up at five in the morning is painful but once I am out there painting in the hills and it starts getting light…there’s just nothing like it! Forgotten is the battle to get out of bed.

The main reason I am doing it is because I am trying to get better painting a scene that is changing literally in minutes. It is kind of a self test. So, I get small canvas papers taped up on my board, no larger than 5by6 and give myself 10 to 15 minutes to paint the scene. Usually, I have time to do one before sunrise and then one more of the same scene once the sun is up.


These last two came out alright. I am not too concerned with exactly what I am painting, it’s more about the process itself. I also enjoy being out in nature, so witnessing a sunrise is a privilege that most of us miss every morning. Anything to improve my painting skills!

This is just the latest wacky idea I had so I thought I share it here.

On another note: Check out my newly updated website: http://www.frankeber.com
I am slowly starting to put up oil paintings and drawings, so check back frequently! Website is updated on a regular basis.



More vine charcoal drawings

Doing many of these charcoal studies that may or may not develop into a painting! Drawing skills are so important! Watercolor is a drawing medium, so most watercolor painters know how to draw.

Drawing also has another purpose: it lets you get to know the subject and pick up what goes deeper than the surface appearance. Usually it is an emotion, that something that gives it life. Not just in portraits but landscapes or anything else!

If we don’t pick up on this ‘undercurrent’, we end up just painting shapes and pushing pigment around. That, in my opinion, is the real crux of painting or of art in general.

There are so so many artists out there who miss this completely. They are great draftsmen and even have amazing technique but their art lacks life and emotion. Painting is a lifelong pursuit but to have that force of life in your work is a goal that few ever attain. I hope I’ll get there eventually…

Technique, therefore, must be seen as a tool. It must be mastered in order to have the ability to muster this sort of expression in painting. Time spent drawing is time well spent. Understanding form, design, balance, rhythm is essential. Every time I draw I am surprised how much I don’t know and can’t do instantly. Out comes the eraser: start over, change, alter…it’s ok, that’s all part of growing.

These are done with General Pencil Co. Vine Charcoal and Pitt Artist Pastel Pencil in 101 White.

Robert Henri put it this way in his book The Art Spirit: ‘The student must learn to read the state, temperament, action and condition of their subject through the outwards signs, and use the same as a means of expressing and making special what is important to them in the subject.’

How plein air painting helps your studio work

The more we subject ourselves to painting outdoors the more we’ll learn about pitfalls of painting in general.
Working in your studio is great but the biggest problem is always ‘over-planning’ a painting.
Outside, that won’t be an issue. There’s simply no time, but in the studio we have all the time in the world and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Here’s why:

Imagine you have your paper up, the reference ready on the ipad (or by whatever other means) and you begin your drawing. You’ll draw and draw, erase and re-draw. Pretty soon, all that beautiful energy of line work will be diminished, if not completely gone.
Just like when we paint with pigment, it is so important to have that energy in the work. Erasing, second guessing, changing while half way thorough will all interfere with the original graphite line or brush stroke. Sure, sometimeit doesn’t look right and we do have to use an eraser. That’s ok. That’s not what I mean.

I am talking about the over-planning and overworking that happens so easily when painting in the studio. It happens because we have too much time and we want to make it perfect. The problem is, it won’t be. Quite the opposite will most likely happen. We want to be so perfect that the work will look ‘blah’ in the end. It may even look perfect but unfortunately, boring as well. Who wants something perfect? I’d take a photograph..
Sure, it may be a bigger size but that doesn’t mean it’s better.
Quite often the smaller paintings done in very little time do look fresher, more alive and full of energy than the bigger studio versions.

What to do is the question! I think the solution lies in painting indoors as if you’d paint outdoors. Not exactly rushing it, but nonetheless at a brisk pace with little or no corrections. Let it all flow. Let it happen.
During the preliminary drawing, let the pencil flow across the paper, hardly lifting it. Feel the energy going on the paper! Don’t be a drawing/painting robot.
I heard once that one should never erase the wrong lines. The analogy was getting lost in a snow storm. You need the old tracks in the snow to know that you were wrong and to find the right way…doesn’t fit 100% but has a true ring to it!

To use my painting above as an example: This watercolor is 18by24 inches, done in the studio. I have painted this with the help of my many sketches I did on location and with the aid of a few photographs I took of the scene. It was painted quickly, in less than two hours total. Without having actually painted there, it would have never come out like this!

Workshop: Venus Art Supply, Palm Desert

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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!


More thoughts on values..

losthillsdesolation_B&W      losthillsdesolation (click to enlarge)

The most misunderstood topic in painting. Value is not color, Color is not value although all colors have value. Think of value in terms of contrast on your tv or computer monitor. You ever take all the contrast out? It turns into a milky soup of nothingness. Then put all the contrast in and it becomes a supernova of darkness! I guess too much and too little is never a good thing, kind of like in real life!

Values only work when they interact with each other. They are mutually dependend. A dark is only dark because there’s something light there. A light section only appears very light because there’s very dark stuff around. If it all had the same intensity..well, refer to the first paragraph.

A good exercise is to do a value study with only three or four different values. The painting I posted has more nuances, but really only two more! The ability to express yourself in a limited value pattern is the most important key to learning to paint well. Check out the b&w version above and count the values!

What you see in front of you when painting outside (or on the photograph) is just the basis for a good composition. Don’t paint what IS there, but what SHOULD BE there or in other words, paint the idea of what’s there!
Combine similar values, avoid having too many darks in the light area, and too many light values in the shade. Limit details to the area in and around the focal point.

Turning a scene into a strong painting requires some thought.
The painter’s job is to manipulate reality to suit his or her purpose by letting values melt together to form a unity. After all, a good painting should be the goal, not an accurate rendering. Read this last one again!
When we merge shapes by unifying values, we achieve an increased abstraction of the overall composition. This makes for a stronger painting that transcends the “pretty, or cute picture”.

You learn only by doing. Someone who only reads cookbooks will never be a good cook. You actually have to cook. A LOT! All this talking about painting is, in the grand scheme of things, baloney – a waste of time – i.e. you and me could be painting right now! But of course, we all have to start somewhere and good guidance is essential and can actually speed up the process of becoming a better painter! It is a tough road to make all the mistakes and work your way through it without any help. I recommend attending the workshop of a professional artist you like. After that, you just paint!
Watercolor technique is not that difficult. It is made difficult by bad teachers.

Thumbnail sketches – why do them?

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This is one of my favorite things to do before a painting: A small 2″by 3″ graphite sketch.

There are many advantages to this: It’s low risk, it’s quick and dirty. Above all, it gives me almost instant feedback if the masses, shapes and values work. Do they relate to each other? What about lines? Since it is a very small sketch, it can easily be altered, erased and redone without major time invested.

I find that if my little sketch looks good, the final painting will have a better success rate. Maybe it’s because it boosts my confidence in a subtle way.

The sketch can also have another nice effect: it can tell you if it just isn’t worth painting! At least you have found out in the early stages..time to move on change your approach!

The Aquitaine region of France

Alliac, impressions Alliac, impressions 2

I am currently painting along the Dordogne river in the beautiful Aquitaine region of France. Life is good! This trip was full of adventures for me! The worst was probably the weather this time around. Europe is experiencing floodings and overall one of the wettest spring times in 25 years! Very fitting that I had to pick this exact time to come for painting! What can you do?

I made the best of it and produced about 25 plein air pieces so far. I am sure glad I brought my umbrella! There were a few times when I had to finish a painting in the rain! The umbrella I use is by Best Brella. It cost a bit more than others but it is well worth the money!

Next stop: Provence! Stay tuned..

I’d like to mention a few of my upcoming workshops this summer: San Clemente and Yosemite Valley, California. Please consider joining me at either or both! View my 2013-2014 schedule here.

June 22-23 Workshop at San Clemente Art Supply, San Clemente, CA.

August 18-24 Workshop: How to paint loose and atmospheric watercolor, Yosemite Art Center, Yosemite, CA.