DVD Review- Zbuckvic's "Watercolor Impressions"

This DVD has a nice mix of locations and subjects- trees and boats, water and bridges, buildings and intersections.  Some work is in Melbourne, but most of it is plein air in Paris.  There's also a studio piece at the end, which is a novelty that's interesting.

As with the previous DVDs, there are certain mantras Zbukvic repeats here- simplify the background, make it flat; don't over work it—something that’s so easy to do, as you work on it first. Choosing the right subject is the beginning of painting.  You need to simplify the shapes, and see the painting as a relationship of shapes first (sky, water, land, etc) and not really as "objects".  Just because something is beautiful doesn't make it good subject matter for paintings.  As before, he often breaks the  composition into 1/3s, picking subjects that have an open foreground, to pull you in.  He mentions again the idea that you need to persevere, that you need to finish and then view it later, on its own, rather than judging your painting too harshly in the moment.  All in all, these things are nothing new if you've watched his other DVDs, but it's well worth hearing them again.  And if you've done any plein air composition on your own, you know how valuable this advice is.  It's easy to screw a painting up before you even really begin.

On the note of plein air painting, I was intrigued to see, once again, how much he changes the view before him, even as he sticks to certain details, such as chimney tops, windows, and what not.  It's very liberating to see that his paintings are really interpretations of reality.  He never holds too tightly to that. I also noted that, repeatedly, he sort of "zooms in" for his subject.  He never seems to paint what is directly in front of him, but instead searches outwards for the best composition.  I've had a tended to feel the need to include those foreground details that litter the space in front of me, but he really lets that go, and move a bit into the distance, even for the foreground-- almost like he's deliberately letting go of unessential details through the act.  

In the Paris Bridge painting (#2), there's a sunlit bridge in the distance that he almost completely ignores. There's also a bit of light on some of the distant buildings, but he keeps them as silhouettes, or, as he says, he "deliberately flattens them".  The water is distinctly bright in the distance of the painting, presumably to allow the darker foreground to read closer, by contrast.  Here's a pic, for you to compare-

In the Backlit Umbrella scene, the buildings and the foreground actually have a bit of warmth to them, but he cools them off and focuses on values instead.  It's also interesting to note that the tree is moved slightly to the right of the umbrella, presumably not to conflict with the center of interest.  He also removes what seems to be a pole of some sort in the middle of the street. 

In the Backlit Tunnels scene, he barely makes reference to the tunnels, which surprised me, as the tonal contrast of the well-lit tunnels to the dark building seemed particularly striking to me.  Instead, things are casts in silhouette, as he pushes for the bare essentials of the scene.  He also decides to make it a rainy day.  "It rained the night before," he said- so it's as if he's painting possibilities of actual events, rather than the specific details. 

As an aside, an interesting plein air technique he does more than once is to lay in a very weak sky with a very dry brush, which allows him to go back in and cut his buildings or midground shapes very rapidly afterwards.  He does it for the Paris Bridge scene, whereupon he moves to the water in the foreground (while waiting for it to dry), and he does it for the Backlit Paris Umbrella scene, and the scene after it, as well.  For that scene, he even "scrubs" the paint all around with a light weight paper towel, effectively painting and drying at the same time. It only takes a few minutes of working on the foreground for it to dry enough for him to head back into the  buildings.  It's an interesting technique that allows him to rapidly lay in some value, without slowing down the painting process in general.

One of the other things he talks about is "economy of brush strokes," much as Alvaro might.  "Quick confident strokes" is the goal, he says.  He never goes exactly into why, but I can only say, having recently done a lot of plein air work myself (with which I was generally dissatisfied! Ha!), that the hardest thing to do, once you've got some basic technique down, is to appropriately simplify a subject.  It is very easy to lose the feel of a place, of the time of day and the light, and yet really get down lots of unimportant "little fiddly bits" quite accurately.  Perhaps this push of his to paint briskly and confidently, "without going back over it" is meant to help with that.