Spotlight on an Artist- Endre Penovac

This week I'm sharing some videos and paintings from Endre Penovac.  He's probably best known for his wet-in-wet cat paintings, which are fantastic, but he actually also does a lot of other beautiful stuff.  Looking at the paintings above, part of what I find so striking is how little the subject matters at times- he paints cats, watermelons, and people all in a similar way.  All the subjects have some of his masterfully soft wet-in-wet washes matched with minimalist, tightly controlled brushstrokes.   I also love how each painting features some small amount of imperfection.  "EXPERIENCE," he says, "THIS IS THE BEST RECIPE FOR SUCCESS. And with all my experience I can never predict what happens."  But he always leaves it alone. Very few brush strokes!  He drops it in and lets it be.  No overworking!

You can find his work at his Facebook page-

or at his website-


The Basics

Lets dig into his process, and see what we can see.  Here is a promotional video I found for a workshop he was teaching.  I could do without the closeups of Endre staring at us, though I admit I love the various closeups of paint blooming and spreading through the water.  It's like the opposite of watching paint dry!  :DIt shifts to interviews of students around the 5:00 mark, but there's a lot to learn even from those first five minutes!

First things first, you see that he wets the whole paper in a tub around the :50 mark, and lets surface tension hold it in place against the backing.  The marks he makes are few and confident.  No reworking.  It is what it is.  He lifts the paper as need be, to move the water and pigment around.  The water is a key tool.  For example, at right around 1:30, you can see that he proactively daubs and removes the water with a tissue from areas he doesn't want the color to travel to.  A simple, elegant method.  But note how it's not "perfect"- there are little blooms and residual bits of color here and there, which, to me, is part of the charm of his method.  The goal is to use blooms and back-bleeds, rather than to hide or erase them.

As things dry, where the brush goes becomes essential.  It leaves a "fingerprint" behind when used, and sometimes that's not desired.  At the 2:30 mark, you can see him squeeze what is perhaps a sponge to insert more pigment without having to use the brush.  Essentially, he's pouring and then tilting the board as needed to move things in the right direction.  Just before 3:00, you can see him add water to the top area, to push the pigment around.  Everything is done with the most minimal amount of brushwork possible.  Later, only at the end, comes the controlled drybrush work to provide those essential bits of abstracted detail- an ear, a rind's edge, a whisker or paw- that make the subject read correctly.


Tools and Setup-

From the photos I've found, he tends to paint flat, with no tape.  A lot of that should be clear from the earlier video, but the photos below reiterate it.

What else is there to see?  His paints, scattered about, are in pans.  His brushes come in a variety of sizes, and some of his flats (2"+??) are really quite big, particularly for the quarter sheet sizes this demo paintings seem to be.  I don't see any mops, though perhaps they're elsewhere.  Perhaps syntheics and sables, but I'm not sure.   He keeps a little sheet nearby to test some of his colors before putting brush to active canvas.


About that Black

All the cats are done in black, without any colored background, but in the quotes I found, Endre is very definitive, over and over again, that he's not one to be using black-


"Black color does not exist - my position. I do not use it."

"I mix one, two, three colors together - and leaves what looks like black. And white - when working with watercolor there is no need: transparent watercolor, and white paper itself. There is no black and no white. All - a mixture of colors "-

You can actually see this in some of his paintings, where blues and purples and whatnot come "to the surface" as the paint dilutes around the edges of his washes.

Still, I have to admit that there are a variety of his paintings have a black that seems so perfectly modulated it feels like it has to be a black pigment of some sort.  Is it?  Is it ink?  I don't know. But they are dark dark dark, and as the blossom out they're sometimes perfectly grey.  Maybe he's just damn good at mixing it. 

By the way, notice below how he preserves his edges for the blanket draping over the woman, as well as the bird.  So it's not all done exactly like with the cats above.  For some of these, he's probably waiting for the surface water to dry off, and then going back in while the paper is still damp (but not on the surface!) and dropping in new water only in certain areas, to contain his washes.

As for those perfect blacks, who knows?  He's not against using resist or salt or other tools to get the results he wants.  I'm not sure I really care anyways.  LOL.  I'm curious not because I want to judge, but because I want to learn.  Here you can see the resist on the cherries, and the salt on the chicken feathers.

What's very interesting is to look at a painting like this figure study below, and see so many different techniques in action at once.  The highlights in the hair are done with masking fluid, and perhaps even the highlight on the bottom of the breast and right butt cheek.  At the armpit, we have a ragged edge where a highlight is preserved, but it has a hint of fleshtone anyways.  My guess is he daubed it with a tissue.  The dry minimalist dots come in at the end, when everything is basically dry- though not totally!  Look how they merge just a bit with the woman's form, at her feet and hip.


A Minimalists Approach

What we do end up knowing, however, is that the process takes a lot of patience. I found this Fabriano video of a painting demo of his, and the remarkable part of it is that, of the 40 minutes we get to watch, very little happens for it's total duration. 

At the 4:00 mark, he submerges his paper for a minute and then waits eight minutes before he starts painting.  He does a big stroke at the 11:00 mark, pours some paint at 12:30 and moves it around by bending the paper over the course of a minute.  He makes a stroke or two at 15:00, makes another big stroke at 18:30 and pours a bit more paint, then makes a few very small brushstrokes for ears at 21:00 and daubs their edges.  And that's pretty much it.  It's a simple painting, and I'm sure more sophisticated paintings (like the figure above) take longer and require more strokes, but this video gives you an idea of the minimalist, sure-handed nature of his painting style.

So, a good lesson to learn.  You can do a lot by removing unessential elements, and using the ways in which water and pigment naturally express themselves to really make a painting sing!