I sit myself down quietly in a second row seat as Frank Eber continues his demonstration during the Transparent Society of America's annual "Celebrate Watercolor Dinner." A corrugated plastic flap dangles loosely from foam core backing and props on his wooden storage box at 45 degrees. To his right and left are storage tubs labeled "Plein Air" that contain his tube paints. Initially coming across as tackle boxes when compared to his outdoorsman style of dress, they allude to his style of painting to which he is suitably “hooked.”
Familiar with the medium for 15 years, materials displayed on the table are typical of a plein air watercolorist: lightweight, sealed, and compact. His scale is also smaller, about a quarter sheet, depicting an abundance of seascapes, mountain ranges, prairies, and a few portraits. Usually traveling with rough press paper, the spring green cover of an Archés 140 pound cold press block provides his surface for today. The choice between the two depends on subject matter, by which he may mean type of terrain, for his subject matter is bested by landscapes. However, if this demonstration is anything like his private practice, with the convenience of painting inside and referencing from a Toshiba laptop, it is questionable whether the diminutive size of his final works must all be of the same size or if most of his pieces could enlarge, emphasizing the profound and sublime qualities of the vastness he portrays.
Mirrored above his hatted head floats an occupied shoreline of fishing boats. They are the expressive combination of 3 images taken while on tour. In charcoal on a spiraled sketchpad he compiles a shore, boating storage facility, and watertower into the final composition. Around my head, lining the walls of the art room, are completed watercolors of the same size showing the same attraction: foregrounds of large empty textured or gradiated spaces taking the place of figures in the background that are instead undetailed, subdued, and objectifying in their reticence. The underpainting emphasizes additive value, to which he applies the term “negative value,” wherein wet-in-wet washes sweep downward from the top using only his eye for mapping out the composition’s elements. “It’s good for your brain,” notes an old lady in front of me as she prods her neighbor’s head. To which Eber may have responded, as quoted from his artist statement, “Painting should go deeper than copying nature as it is…The interpretation of the thing that’s underneath – what gives it life – I’d like to find.”
Attributing to his loose brush style, expansive mixes of gray allude to a realistic sense of depth and character that is only too far away. In his white plastic palette (foldable, for plein air journeys) are 22 colors that, much like myself, Eber never uses straight from the packaging, but are mixed in minute parts of at least 2 paints. This beach scene starts out pallid and foggy, utilizing what he describes of his color selection: “I’m very much into subtle colors and values - [it’s] not so dramatic.” The mixture gains pigmentation and opacity until it is wiped clean and begun anew. As the painting progresses, Eber is more occupied with mark-making and makes more exacting marks. He is sponsored in part by DaVinci and wields a large series of their natural hair rounds, with only a singular flat for blocking the second layer in a quicker descent of the page. From time to time he will spritz the paper as he layers in drier and more concentrated marks. Fleet scratches of a razor blade in wettish washes spout tree trunks. A synthetic brush makes the last marks at the conclusion of a short presentation.
Although he professes a command of the newfound medium, based on the utility of his talents, I am left quite unmoved. Unfortunately, when I asked about his paint colors there were a few pauses as he stumbled through naming the wells. He appears more of a hobbyist and not particularly one whom I would rely upon for instruction. Those advents aside, Eber is very confident in what he does, “You have to do it [practice]. You can talk about it [concept] all day long - It’s one of those things [you have to do].” In that respect, there is a strong chance that with a little more devotion to the craft, that his landscapes will make himself a name, although perhaps only through very privatized channels of art.
- DaVinci mops, rounds
- 1 flat (medium sized)
- Arches rough, cold-press block (140 lb.)
- Reds: Cadmium red?, Scarlet?
- Yellows: Cadmium yellow, Nickel titanate yellow
- Blues: Ultramarine, Cobalt, “Moonglow"
- Oranges: Cadmium orange
- Greens: Turquoise light, Green apatite genuine?, Viridian
- Violets: Quinacridone magenta, “Lunar violet light?,” “Lunar violet”
- Earths: Greenish raw umber (Rare green earth?), Burnt umber, Burnt sienna, Raw sienna, Yellow ochre (Yellow iron oxide?)
- Black: Neutral gray, Zinc white, Titanium white
- Other: Red home mix, Blue home mix
Preferred paint brands :
- Daniel Smith