30 October 2011

Frank Eber - Workshop

I decided to take a half day workshop with Frank Eber at the Art expo in Pasadena. I am quite wary of these types of workshops because they usually are just means to push some brands unto the participants. Moreover, this particular Art Expo doesn't have enough vendors and sponsors to really grant a visit and purchase art materials at a discount.
However, the name of Frank caught my eye because I had seen some of his watercolors in San Clemente Plein Air and I thought his art reminded me a bit of Alvaro Castagnet and Joseph Zbukvic. There was more of a method to his paintings though so I figure it would be interesting to check his workshop out.

Here are some examples of his artwork:

Frank Eber is sponsored by Daniel Smith watercolors. Here is the palette he was sponsored with. 

Frank Eber watercolors are moody and crisp. 

So here is his setup. A simple table easel. A metal palette with his colors distributed between a warm zone and a cold zone. He uses Arches paper , 140 lbs. Usually half sheets.

Franks principles are few but solid. Mostly he emphasizes that TONE is the most important element by far. He quoted another artist (whose name I forget): "Colors get all the credit but tone does all the work."
In essence, color mixes do not matter as much as keeping warm and cold color temperature and thinking in terms of tone and temperature. The colors used in a painting are very few most times and Frank uses a "dominant" color throughout. 

As far as layering the watercolor, "it's about the right amount of water, the right amount of pigment, at the right moment, with the right brush." Of course that takes ages to master. The main goal is to create a mood. To that end, after creating an outline of the drawing, Frank creates a wash layer, a very simple wash with some paper white reserved for things like rooftops, windshields or people. 

Initial wash. Notice the deeper pigment in the foreground. 

 He also emphasized that, in watercolor, shapes have to be connected, literally. So as he started creating the main shapes, the color didn't stop at "things", buildings, people, cars, but created their shapes as he painted schematic shapes and textures as connected shapes.

This workshop in particular was about painting an urban landscape so he distributed his big blocks of building masses first , using thicker pigment for the closest structures, being mindful of the areas and edges we had reserved. 

My attempt at a wash.

Connected shapes and big shape washes. Observe the density of pigment at the base of the buildings and the connected shapes of the cars and buildings.

The watercolor process was really quick in itself . Frank let the car, tree and people details for the very end, carefully delineating their shapes sometimes, "messing them up"   a bit others by creating water splatters or dragging the brush to generate interesting designs. . It is easy to see in his watercolor that the roughly textured paper leaves some sparkle and allows for interesting dry brush work. He also taught us some tricks regarding car , people and building rendering. 

Frank Eber's finalized demo piece. 

24 October 2011

A quote I was left with.

No, not "Eat the Rich."

I spent the weekend sketching the "Occupy L.A" people at City Hall. Among the hemp whiffs and other kinds of whiffs,  the deep/obtuse/erratic discussions and the general lovely/disappointing/energizing  mess of it all  I read some of the scribbled quotes and bumper-sticker demands/prayers/statements. Some of them in flyers or scribbled on cardboard, some of them had to do with art and they boil down to one thing:  Fear versus being and loving. I found this quote by Ira Glass especially true:

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have "good taste". But there is this gap. For the first couple of years we make stuff, uit is just -not that good-. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it is not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I now who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it is normal and that the most important thing you can do is DO A LOT OF WORK. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece. It's only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take awhile. You just gotta fight your way through. "   -Ira Glass

I would add, we are all beginners anyway so while the deadline is a great idea, I don't see the closing of the gap as a final stage but an aspirational one.

And I would also add that "fighting" involves doing a LOT of work but also  being SMART about it so as not to repeat failure too often. In the case of painting, same habits will produce same results and delay our ambitions further. Someone  said it is unwise to expect different results with the same thinking that led to errors.  So capitalizing on partial successes is important but so is seeking out instruction and challenge.

Art 's function is to give shape to life experience. It is no wonder then that fear (of failure) shapes our art as well. I find it comforting  that this is  normal even if it is frustrating.

16 October 2011

Laguna Plein Air 2011

I had the chance to go see the Laguna Plein Air Festival. I am always amazed at the quality. Here is a selection of the paintings I liked. I know for a fact I didn't see more than 40% of what these artists did but there was enough to feast the yes anyway...So less talk and more pictures.

Jill Carver,  very interesting compositions.

Mark Bryan Taylor. Pictures really don't make justice to his atmospheric prowess.

Calvin Liang, his paintings have a beautiful luminous quality and wonderful color gradations that seem to cover the whole canvas.

Michael Alten, most improved, this guy has been just improving and improving without loosing the muted and subtle qualities.

Michael Obermeyer, always insanely accurate even in complex subjects.

A painter with East Coast sensibilities, Mrs Gavin Brooks.

Carolyn Hesse-Low, a sharp and luminous master.

Ken Auster. Bold strokes.

Debra Huse. Very nice silvery light.

Rolando Macedo, a discovery , very tonal.

Ray Roberts. Breathtakingly beautiful.

Ray Roberts, I think people will think twice before attempting this often painted corner of Laguna Beach , I don't think it can be done any better. 

Ray Roberts, wow. My favorite painting of the show, just the right balance of  color, design, compositional mastery and brushwork. 

Thomas Kitts, abstraction without obstruction. Fantastic painting.

Jeff Horn, simplicity and beauty.

Jeff Horn, the importance of a statement well made.

  I was really impressed, again, by Ray Roberts artwork. It is no wonder he won Best of Show. I probably really need to find a workshop with him. I wish I could create such clean and well managed artwork.

08 October 2011

San Luis Obispo Plein Air 2011

This year I was lucky to be juried again into San Luis Obispo Plein Air. It was my third event of the year after Telluride, Co and Sonoma,Ca. So I was a bit weary. Never mind that some people think nothing of doing 8 to 9 events a year. That's like a full time job, honestly. But fortunately, my hosts this years were out-of-this-world accommodating and gracious. My own room, with studio and workshop, can I just stay forever? Alas. No. But because I've done this event quite a few times, I felt very  comfortable with the area as well. I know where the ATM's and gas stations and tire shops and coffee shops are. Heaven.

"The Long Shadow" 11"x14

As a personal challenge and in order to not stress myself out too much: ALL my work was done in same route.  10 paintings total. From San Luis through  Los Osos Parkway to MontaƱa de Oro and Morro Bay. No running around like a mad man. The weather was amazing with plenty of clouds and some rain so everything was a study in shifting light and fresh cloud upheaval. 

"Passing clouds" 14"x11"

I never planned anything. Not even the Quick Draw day when you have to chose a spot and paint for a determined amount of time in a determined location. I just let things catch my eye. And so they did in abundance. I could paint here fro a year and never tire.  One weapon I have become accustomed to: I brought with me my Isaak Levitan book for inspiration . I would browse it in the morning and the lyrical mood of his landscapes would get my engines revved up. I think it is obvious that it had some influence. Not may buildings or people, just landscapes as lyrical as I could make them.  I think this bringing a book or clipping book with you is such an essential tool when you are ready to go painting. Just looking at what you admire sets your eyes into extra-preceptive mode. 

"Seagull Sunset" 9"x12"

In any case, I am happy that I am actually pleased with most of my work. Sales were dismal, ah, the economy, the economy. Plus I wonder how many more walls are left without paintings in a smallish area like San Luis. May be we have saturated the whole thing with our doodles? Many unhappy painters. 

"Morro Lagoon. Sunset" 8"x10"
I am not sure myself if I want to put myself through the ring again but I just enjoy it so much purely from the painting and company aspect of it. I am not sure if these events are going to be around for long supplying America with millions of square feet of painted canvas. All I know is that I will keep doing it as long as it is feasible.

"Morro Harbor" 12"x16"
Quick Draw "Gradma takes control" 12"x9"

04 October 2011

Just for fun.

"Marco Marco Fashion Shop" oil on canvas. 
A painting of a fashion workshop in Hollywood. There really is a painting anywhere if you look. As an interesting anecdote, I painted it under a dim and warm light. When I pulled the painting out, it almost had a blue cast on it because my eyes had been compensating for the warmth of the light....I heard of this happening to people but now I have the experience.

02 October 2011

Manet unfurled

"Cafe at the Folies Bergere" Manet

I was driving to San Luis Obispo for the Plein Air Festival and half-way there I had some sort of epiphany , I just couldn't get the painting "Cafe at the Folies Bergere" off my head.
Ok, there might be an explanation. Last weekend I went to see Manet's paintings at the Norton Simon Museum  in Pasadena. I also had just finished reading the book I mentioned in my previous post: "The Judgment of Paris"... so I guess Eduard Manet was at  the back of my head "somehow".
By the way, if you live close by, do yourself a favor and go to the Norton Simon where you'll find  a few  choice paintings by Manet,  like  "The Ragpicker", a clear homage to Diego Velazquez in it starkness.
But back to the point,   I'll admit I always considered poor syphilitic Eduard kind of  an over-rated  painter.  Never mind that the Impressionists thought of him as a trailblazer. A case of the tide raising all boats I thought.

The Ragpicker by Manet

"Menipo" by Velazquez
Not today. I like the "Cafe at the Folie Bergere" piece well enough: The orange hair of the maid echoing the fruit bowl, the black  of the silhouette complemented by the lace and colors of the bottles in the bar , the soft almost sad expression  of the figure, the balanced triangular composition...
This is a nice painting.

It is also  Manet's last painting. He died shortly after finishing it. Would Manet have wanted to "leave" something behind, an artistic testament of sorts?
Well, It is unlikely that he would have chosen this painting in particular to do that. As a matter of fact, his "Olympia" was probably more of a statement than this melancholy maid in a bar. But, to me, this one painting  acquires a more transcendental meaning when I realize how much effort Manet devoted to go beyond the beautiful shapes and colors and give us a "truth". It is impressive how much study Manet had devoted to soak up the sources of great art, specially Velazquez and Titian,  to translate them into images for the eyes of his contemporaries. In a way, Manet was more himself by imitating his idols and imitating them at every turn.

The maid looks beautiful but real nevertheless. Her arms are not artificially slender; her pose is not that of a classic goddess, she has weight and could be any waitress in any bar.  Unlike most other paintings by Manet where his subjects have a certain vacant expression,  this red-head  does have a soul: a sad, may be bored, may be slightly amused but direct gaze. The mirror in the back reminds the viewer of Velazquez's mirror use, be it in the Meninas or in his "Reclining Venus", a device to break the space represented. The brush stroke is loose and expressive, also a Velazquez trademark. It's obvious application is  unable to conceal it's material nature, its truth. It's almost almost sloppy.

Detail of "las Meninas" (mirror) by Velazquez.
I am touched by this life-long effort. Here is a painter who made his mission to paint the truthful world using the best masters he could find as a guide. That some of his paintings are beautiful is almost besides the point as the canvas surface is just the entry point to what boils beneath. His work was undoubtedly triggered by beauty, wherever it might reside, not fetched but found,  much in the same way what we call the "divine" is inherent to what's human.  I am happy I took a second look at Manet. Whether I imagine some of these things or not,  I think his intentions were clear, Manet painted the world he lived in very much like Velazquez or Titian did. To use art as truth, it has to hurt a bit but what's the point otherwise?

"Infanta Margarita" Velazquez