Cape Cod Workshop with Watercolor Artist Frank Eber

"Foster a solid foundation in watercolor basics, “…so that our focus is on creating timeless art. An emotional link is necessary in our work, as well as the connection to the vibrancy of everything we paint.” ~ Frank Eber

We arrived in Cape Cod and stayed in Chatham. Chatham is the southern extension off Cape Cod and is known for its famous Chatham Lighthouse, which was established by resident Thomas Jefferson in 1808 to protect the ships circling the Cape.

Chatham Light House

Today, the keeper’s house is home to a Coast Guard station which patrols the waters of the Atlantic and Nantucket Sound from Wellfleet to West Yarmouth. Chatham is now a quiet fishing community and tourist destination. We stayed right on Main Street where there were quaint shops for daily shopping.

When we arrived, we took a quick trip to the fishing pier, where they were hauling in the local catch (dogfish). It was exciting to see the boats moored in the bay waiting to deliver the catch. Even more interesting, were the large grey seals who circled the boats like dogs waiting to get table scraps.

Everything in Chatham was within walking distance. They have bike rentals for the more adventurous.

The views from Chatham Harbor are breathtaking.

The food in Chatham was great. We dined a few local restaurants including the Impudent Oyster and the Del Mar Bistro to name a few. The Captains Table was our favorite breakfast destination. Classes started promptly at 9am, so we had plenty of time to stroll through town, watch a beautiful sunrise and have breakfast.

The workshop was held at the Creative Arts Center on Crowell Road.

On our first day, we met our instructor, Frank Eber. Frank Eber is a world renowned watercolor artist.

The workshop introduced us to ‘painting luminous watercolors by manipulating tonal values, color and edge.’

The class advertisement read:

“In this class, Frank will share advanced painting techniques to create atmosphere, balance and unity in your work. Topics will include design and composition, color and lighting, positives and negatives, simplification of shape, and atmospheric effects. The techniques you will learn in Frank’s workshop transcend the watercolor medium, as they are applicable to oils, acrylics, tempera, pastels, etc. Separate yourself from the watercolor crowd and experience firsthand why his courses are so popular! Small class settings only. Please sign up early! A painter’s painter, Frank Eber works in a direct, loose style influenced by the Old World masters. Typical in his art are color mixes and light that evoke nostalgia while remaining absolutely in the present. Frank’s watercolor workshops reach beyond technique, encouraging individual expression and observing the elusive balance of forces that create beauty in painting.

All levels are welcome but students should have an understanding of the watercolor medium. He stresses a solid foundation in the basics, “…so that our focus is on creating timeless art. An emotional link is necessary in our work, as well as the connection to the vibrancy of everything we paint.”

I must agree, this workshop did not disappoint. He stayed true to the curriculum advertised and it was a memorable time. This was actually my first workshop in a class setting. It was very structured with a lot of good information.

We started the first day in a class room setting discussing Frank’s three premises to creating a good watercolor painting.

“To paint a watercolor or painting, you must mix the correct color with the correct amount of value and put it in the correct place with the proper brush”.

Of course, it sounds simple, but unfortunately, it is never that easy. He touched on composition, drawing and some aspects of general painting such as looking at everything as a shape with value.

He then led into a proper discussion of painting watercolor which includes control of VALUE, COLOR and EDGE.

What I found interesting is his use of the three primary colors as the basis for any painting. We also discussed the role of secondary and tertiary colors, but it all came back to the three primary colors; red, yellow and blue.

The color of an object looks the way it does because of local color, the light interplay, the influence of surrounding color and the color harmony. He touched on the importance of special values, such as to keep the distant objects cool and simply a shape. Indicating objects and not getting too detailed, which I have a bad habit of doing in my painting.

So we began our first exercise with values and a value sketch and then painted a nice farm scene with hay bales and a barn. It was a good exercise in tonal painting. He stressed the importance in controlling value.

“If something is wrong in your painting, 95% of it is likely value.” This means values from lights to darks have to work in harmony.

I know, from my own critique of work, I have the most trouble with the midtones. The wash starts light, but I do notice that I tend to jump to the darks rather quickly and play ‘catchup trying to match the midtones once the darks are laid in. It’s a noob move.

The best advice I received from Frank on our first day is to not get in a hurry.  Start with a good drawing.  Then take your time with the wash and use glazing to increase the tones.  What can make it tricky is trying to get the right edges as you glaze.

Control of color works the same way. The more pigment tends to increase tone and the more water will lessen it. Probably one of the best pieces of advice I received from Frank was not to worry too much on trying to get all the tones down in one wash. It is much easier to start with a good wash for sky and earth and then use glazes and additional washes to get the correct values. It’s best to start lighter and work your way through the midtones into the darks. In this discussion, he also touched on control of edge. You know, hard edges and soft edges and those in between. These edges are determined by your ratio of water to pigment, the moistness of the paper and your brush stokes.  I also incidentally affects the tone.

It was a good first day.

On our second day, we had weather outside, so our class stayed indoors for another tonal painting that included some boats from a photo Frank took. We also discussed aspects of composition, tones in respect to “warm and cool”.

“99% of the time, your focal point is in the middle ground and as colors recede, such as background colors, these tend to be cooler”. We also discussed composition and how this will improve the quality of painting.

On the third and fourth days, we went outside for open plein air painting. It was a wonderful experience to paint boats in the harbor. We dealt with similar problems on this day mainly from the wind. It tended to dry out our paper rather quickly. We managed to find some hidden spots that shielded us from the wind, so that was helpful in getting a good painting.

On our last day, we got out to paint a few scenes along Bridge road. Here, we had a choice of painting boats that were dry docked, a marsh scene or the bridge. I chose the docked boats. Once we took a break for lunch, we went back into the class setting to put any finishing touches of our works from that mornings painting and the day before.

I think one of the biggest things I took away from his lessons is the importance of tone and values.  I never put that much thought into it before the painting.  I also realized the importance of a good drawing.  So my advice is draw, draw and then draw some more.  His great advice will certainly give me a lot to work on in my future paintings. How light, color and tone interacts on the paper to give my works more of a watercolor look. Again, in my self critique, my trouble is going too dark, getting too opaque too soon.  Darks are the last frontier in the watercolor.

You know you’ve gone too dark and too opaque when the watercolor begins looking like an oil painting!  In this workshop began to appreciate what watercolor really does when you paint.  Looking at Franks work and truly visualizing the tones, the lighter washes, it was certainly an beautiful experience.  Appreciating the real beauty of watercolor.  Letting the medium paint itself.

I began to realize that this workshop was something that I sorely needed to move forward.  This was a great workshop and I really enjoyed the people who attended.

The students attending came from differing backgrounds, but seemed to really enjoy the time with Frank. I was the lone newbie of the group, but nonetheless enjoyable. I realize that people paint for very personal reasons.  I specifically enjoyed painting outdoors and wish we could have done more. This was my first trip to Cape Cod and it will be forever etched into my mind the wonderful week we all had. I’m sure there will be another visit in future plans.


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