Car Camping in the Combat Zone
Who in his right mind would go camping solo in the Bootheel?

Net Positive
New sustainability director Nick Sussillo

The Great Wasp War
The call went out to the lads of Silver City: This means war!

Pay to Play
The fledgling Las Cruces Vaqueros' field of dreams

Kiss of the Prairie Dog
Black-tailed prairie dogs once numbered in the billions

Columns and Departments
Editor's Note
Desert Diary

Business Beat
Noble Steeds
Holy Vortex, Batman!
Tumbleweeds Top 10

The Starry Dome
Ramblin' Outdoors
40 Days & 40 Nights
The To-Do List
Guides to Go
Henry Lightcap's Journal
Southwest Gardener
Continental Divide

Special Section
Arts Exposure

An Artistic Apprenticeship
Arts News
Gallery Guide

Body, Mind & Spirit
Here, Have a Placebo
Growing a Healing Tradition

Red or Green
Curious Kumquat
Dining Guide
Table Talk

About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   July 2010

Carl Faber

Page: 2


One morning I found Carl had done a self-portrait to demonstrate the use of white charcoal on tinted paper. I saw that Carl's sharp technique is the result of deft, single strokes with either pencil or brush, which creates a freshness and clarity in his work. I tend to go back and forth with lines until I get them right, producing a more muddy effect. He agreed with my self-assessment and thought up the next exercise for me to do.

As a sign painter, he learned calligraphy and the importance of accurate and deft brushstrokes. He set out an exercise with a lettering brush using tempura on newsprint. He showed me how to roll the brush to paint a thinner line, and left me for an hour to practice capital letters.

Feeling like a change from being inside the studio, I picked out a sycamore tree in their yard to do a study of. Carl stretched a good quality cotton duck canvas and I transferred my drawing of the tree to it. It is quite a logistical operation to get set up to paint outside, and Carl does not scorn the finer details of equipment; he treats finding the right palette and maulstick as just as important as what paint and brushes to use. He is certainly an expert at painting in the field. In his studio I came across a photo of him sitting on a stool in the middle of a river, painting the roots of an alder tree on the riverbank, with his equipment laid out in an archipelago around him. Carl still owns that painting, which I think is one of his most appealing.

"Painting these squares is going to become like water torture for you" he'd told me gleefully when he set me the task of completing a large color chart. As I sat in front of the wintry sycamore tree, its branches naked and mottled with complex pastel hues, I was grateful for the time-saving knowledge that allowed me to mix the right color faster, especially when every minute outside is metered out by how long I can stand the cold.

After about an hour of painting, I began to feel a dualistic tension building between me as the painter and the tree as the object of my painting. I sat still and tried to drop the unconscious barriers. My hands were almost numb and had lost much of their fine motor skill. I allowed my brain to slow down to accept the cold, and put up my hood. After a few minutes, I saw a new color in the bark of the tree, and by painting it in where I saw it, the tree on the canvas looked a little bit closer to being life-like.

After a couple of weeks of working on the tree, I was becoming slightly less enthusiastic and somewhat stuck, so Carl offered to help me put in some of the background, in order to illuminate the next priorities for the foreground. He is quite unusual as a painter for painting the foreground first, then doing the background, and then returning to the foreground; his main enthusiasm lies in the detail of the foreground.



tree   tree

"Sycamore Tree" by Esther Jamison, 2010 — before and after Carl Faber's comments, and her purchase of the size 0 round.

He showed me a technique where he paints a branch across another branch (the paint from the first branch already having dried), then uses thinner to take away the paint that crosses the original branch. This leaves a clear and well-executed crossover of two branches, when normally an artist would be struggling to take the edge of the second branch accurately and convincingly up to the edge of the original branch.

My main desire in learning to paint in oils is to do portraits. I had in mind to paint our neighbor, a beautiful Native American woman with piercing gray eyes and straight gray and black hair. I told Carl that she was willing to sit for me, and his eyes twinkled in approval. He said, "You'll want to do a good likeness, a real portrait of Susan. But when you first start, you're going to get frustrated and you don't want to get frustrated in front of your model, because she will get discouraged. You'll also feel under quite a lot of pressure — so perhaps you should practice on someone else first."

I saw the sense in his words, so I enlisted my husband as model. He has fair skin, lively auburn hair, kind green eyes and, most important, much patience.

Carl fussed around getting us set up in his studio, making us coffee and bringing out cookies. I was a bit nervous about starting, but Carl encouraged me to jump right in with oils, since I have done several sketches of my husband in the past. The painting went through many stages of development, and since I went straight into oils without doing a preliminary sketch, my husband's features morphed alarmingly from day to day.

I became stuck at the impasse of not wanting to put too much paint down when I wasn't entirely satisfied with the structure, but equally not being able to get the structural lines right. Carl showed me how to use color to help find and define the correct form of the subject. He used the maulstick to point out specific parts of my husband's face, indicating areas of cool and warm shades, highlights and value changes. As I put the paint down more thickly and used richer colors with greater boldness, the structure of his face began to fall into place.

After finishing my husband's portrait and starting Susan's, I decided to return to the unfinished sycamore tree before its leaves came out. After painting for a couple of hours, I asked Carl, "What would you do next?" — a question I almost regretted, as he launched into a morale-dissipating list of things that he would change, and ways in which I hadn't done justice to the detail and mood of the tree. I thought to myself: That's the last question you should ask a perfectionist.

"The tree doesn't look like a map. What you've done is kind of like this — " He pointed to his camouflage jacket. "Look at how crisp the delineation is between this patch of bark and this one." He pointed to two closely colored patches of green with the maulstick. "And how this patch gradually shades from this to this color. And make sure you don't make these branches look like the limbs of some sea creature."

He spoke for several minutes in a similar vein. After a moment's silence I said, "I'm just not sure I could paint that kind of detail with a brush."

Carl must have detected some disheartenment in my voice. His eyes lit up as he chided me humorously, "Shame on you!" He proceeded to remind me of all the ways in which I could paint finer lines and manipulate them to get the desired effect.

Despite Carl dismissing the idea that my tools were inadequate for the task, I bought three of the smallest oil brushes I could find the next day in town. When I returned to paint the sycamore, my size 0 round gave me a renewed enthusiasm for the process, allowing me to put in the fine lines that Carl expected of me. The frustration I had experienced previously was forgotten.

After a couple of hours it started to rain, and I took the painting in to show Carl. I could tell that he was happy with my progress by the light in his eyes as he put it carefully on his workbench to dry.

Originally from England, Esther Jamison is an artist living in Gila Hot Springs;
contact her at esther_jamison@yahoo.co.uk. Visit her website at

You're on page 2

1 | 2 | ALL

Return to Top of Page