Sunday, November 7, 2010

Frank Webb Workshop Day 1: Using a Mother Color

"Sunflowers in the Dordogne"
15 x 22

Frank Webb discusses design
(His painting is visible in the overhead mirror)

One of the best things about being a volunteer on the workshop committee of Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society is meeting some of the best and most well known watermedia artists. When I first started doing watercolors in the 90s, I was especially taken by the artists who had studied with Ed Whitney. I took books out of the library and especially enjoyed one by Frank Webb.

Yesterday I hosted the open demo, free to anyone who wishes to attend. You need not be a member of the society. Frank proved to be charming, witty, and very clear in conveying his thoughts on design. The airlines had mis-tagged his luggage containing paints and other supplies, and sent them to a remote Texas town, so we were into improvising. I provided a board and full sheet of Arches paper. What to do about a palette? Frank likes one without a barrier between the well and the mixing area and I had the more common design. I suggested my turkey platter and that's what he chose to use from several options I presented. I brought my paints and took him to the art store before the demo to buy a tube of Quinacidone Gold. We all had a good chuckle when I explained the unusual palette to demo attendees. His supplies were waiting at the hotel when he returned after the demo.

Today we began a 5-day workshop and I was very busy opening the facility at 8, getting hospitality food and coffee ready, and starting the workshop on time. I was flattered when Frank said that we were the most efficient and organized leaders he had had. I suppose he says that to "all the girls (or boys)," but it warmed my heart. Those 30 years of IBM project management pays off, and I have equally skilled managers working with me.

Here is the workshop synopsis in Frank's own words, "The single, most important focus will be pictorial design, which includes planning, color, tonal values, expression and visual theme." Frank told us he would demonstrate different approaches to creating a successful painting. Today he used a very wet wash to lay down a "Mother Color" (Quinacridone Gold) over all of the paper except where he wanted to preserve the white. This painting focused on shapes, and did not have a great deal of modeling. Frank is not interested in exact reproduction, but rather in creating a pleasing design. He built the structure in layers. Putting in the darkest darks and some calligraphy last.

Frank first gave a demo, all the while discussing overlapping shapes, variation, harmony, repetition and most of all value. He says you can use any color, but the values must read correctly. Frank always works from small sketches he's done on location or from memory using a 6B graphite pencil. He divides the picture in 4 values - white, plus light, medium, and dark. The mid-tone values are what holds the pictures together, so there will be more of them. He grids his sketch and his support, then he does freehand drawing from the sketch. While painting, he frequently refers to the sketch for value choices.

The rest of the day, we designed and painted. During the final hour, we had critique. Frank has a wonderful approach to providing individual instruction. He has people sign up to review their designs with him. I chose to paint a farm in the south of France amidst sunflower fields. My references were a painting done while on an art vacation and two photos. He liked the design, but made a few suggestions, including adding the vertical tree in front of the smaller building and a path into the farm area. He liked where I was saving whites and suggested I do the same along the top of the sunflowers. Along the way, I failed to keep the whites of the sunflower tops, duly noted in the critique. Frank says to leave mostly white and introduce touches of yellow to suggest the flowers. The other criticism was the shape of my mountain. Rarely do mountains have a concave section like I drew on the left, they are usually convex. Mental notes to self on both items. Frank was quite complimentary as a whole on this painting.

I felt that I was working so hard to use non-standard color and correct value that I lost the sense of place. This scene conjures up memories of lots of yellow, bright sunshine, hazy hills, and lovely French architecture. I believe it's a fairly strong painting, but it's not true to my memories. Perhaps I will redo it sometime in higher key colors and I will keep that white along the tops of the sunflowers.

I also reviewed with him a small watercolor sketch done from our room on the Sognefjord in Norway. The link takes you to it. Frank really liked the painting and made a few small suggestions to strengthen the design. I want to do this one during the workshop on a half sheet.

The third painting we discussed was one I did in Tuscany on an art vacation.
"Mazzola, Italy"
11 x 14

Frank liked this painting just as it is, so I will repaint only if I decide to do it on a larger sheet of paper.

Tomorrow I hope to do a Southwestern scene recalling our visit to New Mexico.


Margaret Bednar said...

I love the whimsy of that last Italian painting. I would call it a finished piece and frame it.

Barbra Joan said...

I am following you Mary, every step of the way.

AutumnLeaves said...

What a wonderful and informative post, Mary. I love both the paintings you've shown, though I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite. Love the turkey platter palette. Now that is something I would do!

Anonymous said...

Another fabulous post Mary! I'm not at all surprised that Mr. Webb found your group to be so well organized, because you, my friend, are.
Your paintings are wonderful and it sounds as if the critiques were informative and helpful. And how wonderful that he felt your last one posted was perfect as is. That had to feel good.
Thanks Mary for another great read and visual delight.

Mary Paquet said...

Margaret, thanks for checking in. The Italian one has hung in my family room for a few years, and I thought it might be a candidate to paint larger. I will leave as is.

Thanks, Barbra Joan.

Sherri, so nice to hear from you! I hope this might mean things are looking up for your and your hubby.

Pam, you are always so supportive. Thanks!

hwfarber said...

Your Tuscany painting is delightful. And I wish I could borrow some of your organizational skill. Do participants attend all five days of the workshop?

Mary Paquet said...

Hi, Hallie. Workshop participants attend all five days. We also provide a demo to the public at no fee. No need to be a member of the society. Five days is fairly strenuous, especially when I coordinate or assist. We are very busy. Tom Fong's worksop was three days and that was really nice.

Yesterday, I had to politely tell a woman that we were there to hear Frank speak when she took over during his demo talking about a Charlie Rose show. I had at least 5 people thank me after. She does it every time. I hope I have that under control for the rest of the workshop.

hwfarber said...

Thanks, Mary. Five full days is strenuous. I probably saw that Charlie Rose show--Chuck Close & Frank Stella--part of the brain series, but workshop participants are there to learn from the instructor.

Rockie said...

Hi Mary, It's been a while since you took the Frank Webb workshop but I'm going to take one with him next week and am wondering about how he instructs. I know he demos and critiques but can you tell me if he gives any kind of structured exercises during the participant painting time or if participants were just expected to bring their own references, sketches and paint from them? There is no specific direction to bring our own references to the workshop so I'm wondering what to bring and generally what to expect.

Mary Paquet said...

Rockie, I hope you return to the blog and see my response. I have to admit that my memory of his approach has faded. Our workshop coordinators always ask for supply lists and a synopsis of the workshop, so I am sure I had some direction prior to the workshop. We worked from our own references and/or sketches. As I recall, he instructs and demos, and emphasized design.

If there is a contact for the workshop, I encourage you to email them with your questions. I have even mailed the artist when taking workshops in other areas, and they have been great about responding.

Have fun with the workshop. Frank is a supportive instructor.