Workshop Review- Herman Pekel, pt. 3


After we got back from Capilano Gorge, Herman seemed to let loose.  The final day of the workshop he painted up a storm, with something like 4 paintings completed.  He seemed sort of manic.  LOL!  But the pieces were beautiful and simple, and we followed along to the best of our abilities.

By this point in most workshops, you understand mentally what the teacher is doing.  From here on out its about practice, nuances of technique, and most importantly- paying attention to how the teacher thinks!


Demo 1-

For this first piece, he spritzed the paper, a lot, until the speckles were everywhere and began to create random patterns of connected "dots" of water.  Into this he charged his watercolor mix, flipping his brush around and generating a certain bit of limited randomness, where the paint would creep around into the nooks and crevices he had created.  It's a lovely effect and a great example of teaming up with water, to let it "do the hard work for you."


The darks were layered on thickly, which is not much of a surprise, with cool dark greens for the trees.  Herman wasn't afraid to go almost black if need be.  In fact, he noted more than once that, when in doubt, we should go bolder- bolder color in the first wash, bolder darks in the second, bolder brushwork towards the end, etc.  As before- when you find what you want to focus on, exaggerate it.  “If your painting isn't working, you've just got to make one powerful stroke, and then use it, for it to work. You’ve got to be aggressive. You've got to get a little angry with your painting, and then let it out on the painting.  Don't get angry at your wife or husband, or Donald. Get angry at your painting and take it out on it. Don’t be too careful. Don't try too hard."

What was funny was he said the colors we used for the first wash really didn't matter, so... I looked at my palette and saw a bunch of the Cadmium Orange (M Graham variety) that had run all over the place.  I figured, "Why not?" and went for it.


Herman came over, and essentially asked me what happened.  :P  I said, "Well... you did say 'any color'.  I figured I'd see if it were true!"  LOL. He seemed sort of perturbed by that, but I thought it was fun.  :D


Demo 2-

This next one he whipped out in under an hour as well.  The pale sky up top and the darker haze along the bottom, just above the horizon, really helped to trap the light on the water.


Of course, the boats and the jetty (?) are just whipped in there.  It's the roughest of suggestions, and yet it reads.  This is partly because he chose one or two boats and he spent a little more time on them, to act like a key and unlock the rest of the rest of the symbology.  “You can be really rough everywhere in your painting, nothing matters, but not here,” he said, while pointing at the focal point.  “That has to have some sophistication.” 

It's worth saying that these clouds he's doing aren't as easy as he makes them seem.  I do a lot of clouds, and thought these would be a cinch, but it clearly takes some practice, as my clouds kept dispersing more than I wanted.  My presumption is that either a) my paper was too wet or b) my brush had too much water on it.  It's interesting to note, on a technical level, how that little fan brush Herman uses affects how little additional water he deposits into his washes when doing wet-into-wet work.  That allows for a lot more control and an easier application of richer darks.



Demo 3-

My memory is that the subject for this last one was spur of the moment.  It was the last one he did for the day, and I didn't get a chance to work on a version, as I was heading out as he was wrapping it up.  They took a screen shot of a local spot, and used it as the starting point for the work.  It's fun to see how the finished painting has some of the basic geographic information of the screen shot, but that it really just uses it as a starting point.  The two images are really pretty different- the light is different, the warmth in the sky, the focal point, etc.  “I don’t copy what’s there," he noted.  "I feel what’s there.”



The first wash is very simple, as usual.  He didn't overplay this stage.  He traps the light at the focal point again, but you can also see that he's playing cools against darks more in this one than the previous painting- particularly in the beach, but also in the sky, where the clouds are cool and the "white" of the sky is a pale muted brown.


On top, after everything has dried, go the darker spits of land and the figure.  Note how thick and dark the darks are.  You can see that he went in once with his blue-black, and then actually went back into it in the foreground and dropped in even dark shades, carving the shape out and separating it from the background.



I particularly liked these last two paintings of his, and was struck by how relentlessly simple they were.  Of course, they were quick and simplified because these were demos that Herman did in a flurry.  There are various ways to paint, and even he noted that bigger, more sophisticated paintings took longer and required more technique.  Still, the focus was that watercolors come out right if you have the right philosophy.

“The more you put in, the less powerful it is.  It's not like oils," he said.  "If you put something in the background it'll pull it forward. Everything in watercolors is approximate, a suggestion.  We are always looking for an excuse to put more stuff in, but it's like telling a story and putting more and more shit into it that has nothing to do with the story. It doesn't make it any better.” 

"If you want to put something in, ask 'What’s the point of it?' first.  Do you need to include it or not?  Don’t tell people too much in the painting.  Suggest, and only include what you need to include.  The best part of the painting is the part I don’t paint."

Sage advice!