Thursday, January 12, 2012

Biddeford Pool...shared by Leslie Frontz

You can't read much about Edgar Whitney without getting a taste of the Maine coastline; the visual rhythms created by boats, docks, sheds and water all creating a sort of colorful chaos for the plein air painter to decode with watercolor on paper. Blog reader (and now contributor) Leslie Frontz shares some images from her time with Ed Whitney in 1978 at the Biddeford Pool, and what she describes as a turning point that led to her painting career.... more about Leslie at http://www.frontzstudio.com/

Biddeford Pool....

Early one August morning, my husband and I loaded our car with my painting gear and headed east on a pilgrimage to Kennebunk. Like most rites of passage, this one inspired both hope and fear. I’d heard first-, second- and third-hand stories about Edgar Whitney’s “summer tours” from other artists. His workshops were legendary, as were his commentaries.

Edgar Whitney 1978 photo by Leslie Frontz
Once out on the highway, a sense of excitement held sway. Whitney’s book, Complete Guide to Watercolor Painting, provided the hope. I had struggled to learn how to pull together a watercolor painting with very limited success. Worse yet, it was already apparent that technical mastery was not going to be enough. An even bigger piece of the puzzle would be learning how to organize the painting. Although there were any number of instructors who could define the elements and principles of design, there were frustratingly few artists who could actually explain how to put design to work for any subject in any style. The Complete Guide had been a revelation, and I wanted to see for myself how Whitney applied his strategies.

photo by Leslie Frontz
Our first day at the workshop promised to be outstanding. A clear, sunny morning dawned, and Whitney’s first demonstration was scheduled for Biddeford Pool. Paintings of this site had been reproduced in his book, and I was eager not only to see him paint, but also to have a chance to paint the scene myself. We nosed the car down a rough track and pulled up when we spotted a few people congregating. I remember being unimpressed by the setting and wondering how Whitney had translated this subject in his paintings.

Leslie's painting from this 1978 workshop 


I soon found out. Whitney built shapes, established color and value dominance, and accented the center of interest with line and texture. He did nothing by “halves.” There was only more or less, greater or lesser. It was the relationships that counted.

That afternoon, I started to paint instead of just applying paint on paper.    submitted by Leslie Frontz 12/14/2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Watercolor Road Warriors...

In addition to my fascination with the medium of watercolor, I have always found the social dynamics of watercolorists unique and interesting. Especially, the origins of the watercolor workshop, plein air expeditions, and the energetic and creative atmosphere found in many of the workshops I have participated in and taught. I don't mean to imply that the creative and social energy in these settings is the sole property of watercolorists, but since that is where my personal experiences lie, it is all I have as a frame of reference. I sometimes read and think about what it might be like to study painting formally at a reknowned atelier with a master instructor, but following the thought eventually makes my throat tighten up and my legs jittery.

In the watercolor workshops I have been involved with, the participants seem to vacillate between moments of intense focus on the instruction, round-robin vocalizations regarding their struggles with the medium, and fortunately, numerous episodes of humorous asides. Of course, there have been exceptions, but over the years, the majority of my experiences have been fun and fulfilling.

Ed Whitney never discounted the social aspect of what he did. He was admittedly an entertainer in addition to doling out solid information and challenging his students, often in a dramatic manner. Personally, I feel that instructors who do offer a bit of the entertainer flair and are also willing to support the growth of a light-hearted group dynamic, often succeed in reducing many of the tensions and inhibitions that impede the creative process. Anyone who has taught a week-long workshop understands the challenges present amidst the fun.



In a class of twenty participants, there are twenty individual agendas and accompanying levels of anxiety. At one end we have the very serious student who expects to make every minute count, up to the point of their final critique. At the other, we have the socialite who attends primarily to have fun, and if a painting results, so be it. I find it interesting that our modern watercolor workshops accommodate both extremes with relative success most of the time (just ensure that their work stations are as far apart as possible). Advertising preferred skill levels can certainly help, but rarely have I had a homogenous group with regards to experience. I have noticed that my teacher and friend, Cheng Khee Chee, apologizes in advance to participants during the opening session should they feel short-changed from receiving the expected amount of individualized attention they hope for. Something tells me he knows that is bound to occur with at least a few persons.

While I have done my share of instruction over the years, I consider myself unqualified as a road warrior. Being an academic and somewhat of a homebody, the majority of my experiences have taken place within the luxurious confines of the Cheap Joe's teaching facility, with every painting supply imaginable ten feet away in the adjoining retail space. Most of us are very familiar with the first generation of Whitney followers and the instructors that followed in his footsteps: Webb, Nechis, Rudman, Lawrence, Van Hasselt, and many others, all paving further pathways for us to travel down with their workshops, books, and demos. I do vicariously enjoy the stories of travel via friends like Sterling Edwards, whose continental drifts into Canada and workshopping schedule has at times made my head spin. No one has more successfully chronicled the life of the traveling instructor like Don Andrews, in his enjoyable and humorous book, Rough Sketches. I also enjoy following the travels of Facebook friends like Nicholas Simmons and Mark Mehaffy as they gain recognition globally, push the boundaries of watercolor, and build relationships and followings in places like Nanjing, China, and beyond.

I think about all of these current dynamics in contrast to the early years of O'Hara's Goose Rocks school on the incredible coast of Maine. Based on O'Hara's books, instruction was clearly more formalized then and included numerous time-consuming color drills and brush handling practice sessions (64 of them actually!). I cringe to think of the reaction of most participants today should such instructional methods infringe upon their workshops. Yet, in the thoughtful, methodical, and technical approach to teaching watercolor that was Elliot O'Hara, nothing at that time could seem more valid or helpful to a budding artist's development. What if we could return to that point, slow down, lower our expectations and actually do several days of color and brush drills? We would all likely need to be medicated, but some small part of that approach is still appealing to me.

I also imagine the intensity with which Ed Whitney studied the work of O'Hara and countless others during his own artistic development. A few years back, Whitney's personal O'Hara book was on the rare book market, complete with scribbled side-notes on almost all of the pages. I am interested but clueless as to where it may have ended up. Then, there proceeded the long string of years where Ed Whitney taught at Pratt, followed by hundreds of workshops and thousands of miles all over the country. He traveled and taught through declining health well into his eighties. In Ron Ranson's book Watercolor the Ed Whitney Way, we clearly see the impact he had upon the great watercolorists and instructors of the following era. But, think also of the countless others over a fifty-year career that participated in some form of the Ed Whitney watercolor energy, focusing on "the most beautiful thing that exists, light."

I don't think it is a major stretch to think that his efforts (and their domino effect) provided significant fuel to a movement that has resulted in a global community of passionate watercolor painters. Of course, there were many other instructors out there crusading in the Whitney era, and he would likely be the first to call them out as equal contributors. However, I do think that his laser-focused passion for watercolor and teaching his design tools and rules during this period would be hard to trump. An interesting question now that we are all globally connected might be: "Who were the Ukrainian, Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, South American, Indian, (and other) Ed Whitneys?" Clearly, from the excellent watercolors posted on a daily basis all over the world, others like Whitney were hard at work proselytizing the medium in other countries. It would be great to someday read about them as well.

We focus on making art, capturing the essence of the subject, learning techniques, demonstrating and teaching. Open to the back of any one of your art magazines and for a few minutes, focus only on the workshops offered. Think of the countless hosts, the travel, the facilities, the logistics, the seasoned instructors and the thousands of diverse participants. One of my favorite professors in graduate school, Dr. Jack Mulgrew, taught Gestalt therapy and reminded our class: "Every group that comes together for a distinct period of time has a beginning and an end, a life and a death. Upon departure, that specific and unique energy will never exist again." I always think of that every time I do a final critique, and folks begin to pack up their ArtBin Totes for the Friday afternoon journey back from whence they came. It is quite a legacy to be a tiny part of.

(1966 Whitney Station-wagon photo and 1969 Newspaper Ad courtesy of Naomi Brotherton)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tribute to Dr. Faber McMullen, an Ed Whitney student and watercolor benefactor...

It came to my attention today that Dr. Faber McMullen, a past contributor to this blog and Baylor University benefactor had passed away in a tragic farm accident not long after the dedication of the Faculty Center and Art Museum that bears his name. I corresponded with Dr. McMullen, a former Ed Whitney student, regarding his experiences with Whitney and the dedication of the Baylor University McMullen-Connelly Faculty Center which housed Dr. McMullen's extensive collection of original watercolors including many Ed Whitney pieces.

(Dr. Faber McMullen and his wife Roxanna Connally McMullen, 2008)

A memorial article about Dr. McMullen can be found here.


The previous blog post on this site regarding Dr. McMullen can be found here.

Though highly successful in the medical field and in many other endeavors, Dr. McMullen held his experience as a student of Ed Whitney in the highest regard. His contribution to watercolorists via the Baylor University Faculty Center / Art Museum is one of grand scale, and one by which he will long be remembered.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Still alive and well...

(above: Booming Surf, Edgar A. Whitney) This blog title stems from a song by veteran blues-rocker Johnny Winter. Johnny performed recently in Asheville, NC, but after many hard years on the road does so sitting down now. Though Johnny has gone through some hard times and many changes, he still maintains an intense passion for his art, playing blues and rock and roll. Several folks have inquired about the status of the Whitney blog which has been inactive for too long. In relation to the blog, I suppose a better title could be Still Alive...But Changing. I have allowed the effort to falter due to number of personal demands over the past year that I won't go in to, but also felt the need to re-evaluate the current and future approach to the site.

(Ed's Palette 1966) While I disagree that the blog role in social media is dead as some claim these days, it has a different role than it did a few years back. From my Facebook window I can view and comment on fresh off the board watercolors posted by friends in Malaysia, India, China, Macedonia and Seattle. Facebook has certainly confirmed for me that watercolor as a medium has never been more alive and vibrant. Social media then is primary, but filters participants (who want more on a topic) down to a blog. So, in a sense, the blog has become the root folder in technological terms. When combined with the conduits of Facebook and Twitter, a blog still offers great possibilities to expose watermedia painters worldwide to the importance of Whitney as a teacher and watercolor icon.

But, in my view, it is now time for this blog to go beyond collecting memorabilia from the Whitney era and reflections on his colorful teaching career. We must also move toward developing the site as an Ed Whitney focused instructional resource for watercolorists of all levels. Allowing those new to Whitney teachings the ability to see his many quotes and maxims in action and demonstrated via wonderful watercolors from around the world is one of the ways I envision this occurring.

We also shouldn't forget that there are still many former Whitney students, now instructors, out there in action still turning watercolor newcomers on to Whitney philosophy and design principles. A good friend taking up watercolor recently sat in on a Frank Webb workshop and afterwards came up to me gushing over this amazing painter and watercolor teacher that he was just exposed to. Thanks to Frank for helping me get this effort to this point, and for continuing to promote Ed's teachings as vividly as ever!

I don't plan for instructional posts to completely replace the original purposes stated for this blog. With help from others, I will continue to track down and post as much information about Whitney the artist, the character, and one of the founding fathers of the watercolor workshop as possible. I also don't perceive that this will evolve in to a major w/c teaching site. There are hundreds of great demos and teaching clips posted daily. In fact, there is so much instruction at our disposal that I sometimes fear it eclipses the very act of simply painting, and, painting simply.

My vision for moving to an instructional realm will also be simple and I have recruited a few new friends to help out on this front. This is likely to be a slow evolution, as I find that I have no more hours to work with today than I have had over the past year. All I can say is that with a little help, I am excited about getting the blog re-established and continuing to promote Ed Whitney's ideas and principles. His message and specific teachings are as relevant today as during his era, perhaps more so. I'm not sure how you feel, but I find it increasingly challenging to cut through the chaff to find wheat in almost every respect these days. In my view, there is still no better resource than The Complete Guide To Watercolor Painting. I find it to be all wheat. Cheers!


Thanks once again to our wonderful Naomi Brotherton (Texan Ed Whitney student and historian) for the photos of Ed's dirty water palette, and him at the punchbowl, circa1966

Monday, February 1, 2010

Time for a Spring Revival?...Courtesy of Watercolorist Ward Hooper

As an outdoorsman and Appalachian Mountaineer I have always held no small amount of pride in my ability to weather a good winter. However, with two full months now of serious snow shoveling I find cause to scream "Uncle" and, to think more and more about those wonderful green pigments of spring that await.

This winter may find most of us a bit more in survival mode for a variety of reasons. As I returned from a meeting across campus today, I came across this young man fund-raising for Haiti amidst a rather cool backdrop. While the powerful color and value contrasts of this landscape didn't escape my notice, my main thought was of how a life making art is a wonderful luxury; a luxury not to be taken for granted. There is no shortage of starving artist references. We also know that Van Gogh certainly produced fine work under extreme duress. However, I think most of us would agree that we focus most enjoyably on our art efforts when well fed, warm and sheltered.

I was reminded of the slump in painting I experienced following September 11th, 2001. Painting during that time seemed accompanied by a certain degree of guilt. Guilt for pursuing what felt a bit like a frivolous luxury while so many suffered. Yet, if we are so fortunate to dodge the bullet; we do what we can to help and (to paraphrase Ed Whitney) we re-energize ourselves for the task ahead and get busy. I am not entirely sure why our contribution of creative energy and making art is important to the world during times like these, but, I strongly believe that it is.

There must be a reason it has taken me far too many months to post a wonderful contribution from Ward Hooper on this site. When we feel debased, we best return to our base and renew our commitments. A very competent portraiture watercolorist recently emailed me asking for some advice concerning painting landscapes. I once again found myself referring her to Ed's book: "Read the Complete Guide to Watercolor Painting slowly and methodically until you fully understand every design concept Whitney discusses. Then, read it again. Everything you need to know to become the strongest painter possible lies in these pages". I heard back from her today, and evidently the aha experience is underway. Spring is still a few months away, but its not too early for me to do the same.

Ward Hooper of Northport, N.Y. studied with Ed Whitney among others, and still teaches at the National Art League of Queens. You may find out more about Ward and view his colorful and expressive watercolors at WardHooper.net.

Ward writes:
The National Art League in Queens where Ed held his famous Saturday workshops is still a large group of artists. I was asked to do a demo for the opening of their fall season a few years back. Just being there brought back many fond memories that I related to them as I painted. It was a lot of laughs (back then) as almost anything Ed Whitney said was a memorable quote. His critiques showed no mercy. Of the usual Saturday group of 25-30 people, if you were among the 3 or 4 students who received his famous "whose is it" it made your week until the next Saturday!
In regard to a previous blog on this site regarding the influence of the California School, Ed was an admirer of Rex Brandt and Robert E. Wood. In May of 1975, I got Robert E. Wood to come to my hometown of Northport on the East coast of Long Island to give a workshop. In addition, he had a showing of his watercolors at our local gallery. Ed and the Saturday Workshop group caravaned to Northport to see the show. Ed purchased one of Bob's paintings titled Monterey Signs and a photo of the painting appears in Bob's book Watercolor Workshop. I have enclosed some photos of Ed's Saturday workshop demos on Long Island plus a signed print of one of his forest interior scenes. Keep up the good work, wonderful tribute, Regards, Ward Hooper



Thanks Ward for your contributions to the site. Now, lets all go and paint our way in to the Spring of 2010! P.S. If anyone wants to contribute to Appalachian State Hope for Haiti please contact me and I will provide info on how to do so.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Interesting article..The California School


In the midst of doing a bit of research on the Eliot O'Hara and Ed Whitney relationship and the early era of the east coast watercolor scene, I came across this interesting 1988 publication by Susan M. Anderson on Regionalism: The California View, Watercolors 1923-1945

LINK TO ARTICLE

The article is a bit heavy reading at first but eventually gets to the birth of what is commonly referred to as the California School of Watercolor due to the efforts of painters such as Phil Dike, Millard Sheets, Barse Miller, Paul Sample, Lee Blair, Phil Paradise and Hardie Gramatky...and many others. It also mentions the influence of Walt Disney Studios on Phil Dike (an employee). This era of colorful interpretive watercolor landscape seemed to take hold in the early 1930's, a bit prior to the heyday of O'Hara's Goose Rocks Maine School and well before Edgar Whitney's primary watercolor years. One could infer that some of the California School watercolor energy & design focus made its way east to influence both of these fellows to some degree in their east coast painting and teaching? Any thoughts or comments Mr. Webb?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ed Whitney...reflections from Barbara Nechis...



A while back Barbara Nechis (who needs no introduction to most watercolorists!) sent me the info and images below. My sincere apologies to Barbara for taking so long to get it on the blog. Her work has always been inspirational in clearly demonstrating one of Ed Whitney's favorite adages:
Substances obeying their own laws do beautiful things!
To view her beautiful work and find out more about Barbara, visit her website at
BarbaraNechis.com

Hi Wes,
Frank Webb just told me about the blog. Here are some photos I took in
Whitney workshops in Kennebunkport between 1969 and the mid-70's and also a
painting I bought from Ed. I scanned them some time ago and would have
difficulty finding the originals. I was monitor of his Round Hill CT class
for several years.

Most of my memories of that time (along with those of my colleagues) are in
Ron Ranson's book Learn Watercolor the Edgar Whitney Way

In the one with Doug Walton, I think that is Webb in the upper left.

In the Whitney Lecture, that is me in the lt. blue jeans, long dark hair. I
had taken Ed and some of the class members to the Mamaroneck Artists Guild
juried exhibition at a gorgeous contemporary church in White Plains. This
was a multi-media show and some of the exhibitors were Carl Molno and Mike
Rossi. I was president of the guild at the time. Ed said it was the best
presented exhibition he had ever seen. It truly was - we dragged in pebbles
for a sculpture garden and probably hung each piece at least 3 times in
order to best present it. I lead a caravan of cars from our class in CT to
the exhibition with Ed directly behind me. As we approached the toll booth
on the Hutchinson River Pkwy, Ed speeded up and passed me. As I went through
the toll, the collector told me that the gentleman preceding me had paid my
toll.

Feel free to use this info as you wish.

Best regards,
Barbara Nechis



Whitney Demo on the Rocks, Kennebunkport 1979

Whitney Demo on the Rocks, Kennebunkport 1979
photo courtesy Shirley Langraf