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Frank Webb

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Pennsylvania artist Frank Webb, the veteran watercolor artist and teacher, continues to wow those who attend his workshops. Now 82, he has been running his workshops for 29 years, displaying his mastery of composition and firm grasp of design concepts as interpreted through an expressively luminous color sense. He loves to paint and draw, and students and seasoned artists worldwide still love to see what he has to say. He has taught and painted in all 50 states and in 23 countries around the globe.

Frank has acrued over 100 major awards including a Dolphin Fellowship from the American Watercolor Society, and is a member of the National Watercolor Society, Audubon Artists, Pennsylvania Watercolor Society, Pittsburgh Watercolor Society (life member) and too many more to list here. He has been a fulltime artist for over 60 years and his works hang in numerous collections including the Butler Institute of American Art, Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Alcoa, PPG Foundation, Palmer Art Museum of Penn State, and The Taiwan Art Education Institute.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1927, by the time Frank was a teenager World War II was in full swing and he dutifully served his country. After the war, still a teenager, but now a veteran, the 1944 GI Bill of Rights ensured his continued education in appreciation of his military service. As a student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Frank studied fine art, taking drawing, composition and painting classes as well as being instructed in the commercial applications of his skills through the study of composition, design, color theory, layout and typography.

By 1950 he had entered the advertising industry and did ad work as an industrial artist for a multitude of clients, US Steel among them. Although he had found what was to be his career for the next 30 years he never stopped drawing and painting and being a perpetual student of art. When he started seriously exploring watercolor he sought out and studied under the tutelage of the likes of Edgar Whitney and Raymond Simboli. There are tales of Mr. Whitney’s gruff manner, but underneath layed a deep understanding of the design, purpose, and execution of visual art. Frank remembers him: “His critiques were always good theater. He would use any device, a gesture, description or word to drive home a point.” Edgar taught his students composition through the 8 Principles of Design and the 7 Elements of Design. His theories made a huge splash at the time, influencing students of the commercial and fine arts. His influences can be seen in his other students-turned-teachers such as Tony Couch, Mel Stabin, Barbara Nechis, and Tony Van Hasselt.

Frank began teaching evening watercolor classes in 1970 and his popularity as an instructor started to grow. He continued developing his own strategies for artists based on his own ideas and the thoughtful advice of his teachers. He found the best way for artists to work through everyday fear and doubt was to synthesize what they see by applying solid design principles and enhanced compositional techniques before painting. Seeing what the subject really is, feeling the essence of form and shape, and responding to it in a dynamic proactive way leads to more self-expression and less reaction to the confines of the subject.

“Compositional know-how gives us
a weapon to fight aesthetic phantoms of doubt, fear, discouragement and apathy.
It turns all these negatives into yea-saying.”
—Frank Webb

Finding traditional realism boring and fighting the “doodle” factor of pure abstraction, Frank teaches the beautiful middle ground where the artist interacts to his subject with thought and planning. Frank stresses the importance of using a value sketch or drawing to think through what you are going to paint, simplifying, designing, and rearranging until you find all the key elements of your painting, all except color. For although the sketch originates from life, the painting will find its birth through the sketch. When questioned by students about where to turn next in a painting Frank has been known to answer “What does the sketch tell you?”

“Each drawing is edited, fused with design principles,
and used as the model. With large flat brushes and plenty of water I approach the paper in slam-bang initial washes, and end with the caress of a butterfly wing. Fused into the paint is my delight as qualities and relations emerge from the process. Thus, a new reality is re-created which began with observation but goes beyond what is to what ought to be.”
—Frank Webb

In 1980 his popularity as a watercolor instructor led Frank to finally quit the ad biz and dive full time into exploring art and teaching happy art students. In 1983 Frank codified his creative, design, and artistic principles in his first book Watercolor Energies: A No-Nonsense Approach to Watercolor Painting, Design and Esthetics. In the 1990s two more books followed, Webb on Watercolor (1990) and Strengthen Your Paintings With Dynamic Composition (Elements of Painting) (1994), keeping Frank busy between workshops. He also authored multiple articles in International Artist Magazine , Watercolor Magic , and The Artist’s Magazine . His work has appeared in over 28 other publications throught the years and he is listed in Who’s Who in American Art.

In 1987 Frank produced his first instructional film, Watercolor – Frank Webb on Watercolor. The original film is now available in DVD format at Creative Catalyst Productions or on Frank’s website. Frank has made four other popular videos covering different topics every watercolor artist should consider. They are Using Your Head, Heart & Hand (DVD), Painting by Design (DVD), Expression in Painting (DVD), and Painting Enjoyable Color (DVD).

The Transparent Watercolor Society of America awarded him “Master” status in 2004, and in 2006 Frank was declared one of the “20 Great Watercolor Teachers” by American Artist magazine, acknowledging what his students had known for years. Most recently Frank won the Hardie Gramatky Memorial Award at the American Watercolor Society 2008-2009 Awards with his painting “Colores de Taxco.” He has participated in many international invitational exhibitions, with paintings hanging in Canada, England, Australia, Scotland, China, and Mexico. As a juror his expertise is in such high demand that he has been involved in more than 80 national exhibitions.

You can visit Frank at his website on Artshow.com/webb/ where you can buy original art, check his workshop schedule for 2009 (he may be near you!), buy the book Composition for the Painter, select a DVD, or just say “hello.” Frank also contibutes to the The Edgar Whitney Watercolor Site, where friends and students influenced by this great teacher share reminisences.

Frank’s other books are out of print but can be found on Amazon.com or ebay.com if your timing is right, as some are collector’s items. Mr. Webb’s videos are found on his website and are also available at Creative Catalyst Productions and Cheap Joes.