"Bowsprit Singing" by Frank M. Costantino

“Bowsprit Singing” – Essex Shipbuilding Museum, Massachusetts

Watercolor on Lana Hot Press Paper

15 x 22 in.

Available from the Artist at [email protected] or 617.486.4766


Plein air paintings are one of the most challenging art forms for an artist. Much of the creative work really happens before brushes are taken to canvas or paper. Inventive viewing comes into play with the artist’s selective choice of subject matter from an environment that is literally all-encompassing–a reality across all senses. The artist uses an instinctive visual ability to narrow the focus of view to a particular subject.

Robert Henri’s invaluable work, “The Art Spirit”, describes not only painting’s practical mechanics, but more importantly the thought process that infuses a work with the artist’s energies – “If one knows what to paint, one could paint it easily”. But that basic and difficult decision impels all artists for finding a work worthy of their efforts.

Gifted with innate sensibilities, the artist’s very personal vision is further narrowed from the view field to fashion a compositional framework that fits the surface format and size. However, describing the composition entail the structural choices of pictorial proportion, an arrangement of shapes, and a primary focus that are all pleasing to the artist’s eye, if not any viewer’s. Because the artist is so deeply engaged in capturing a vision, the compositional decisions are second nature. The composition may likely be of very familiar subjects; and the artist’s highly developed facility in painting such subjects (landscapes, boats, figures, night scenes, etc.) influence the execution of work, which perhaps results in a fluid, masterful painting.

Eric Rhoads, Peter Trippi, and Stephen Doherty have written about this in their editorials, but so have many artists and teachers, like Robert Henri, to convey these essential intangibles. My own friends and contemporaries like Charles Movalli, James Gurney, Charles Reid, and Stapleton Kearns have also, in their books, blogs and videos. Recognizing the difficulties for producing an effective work, Charles Movalli states that “It can’t look like you’ve worked hard and long, even if you have. A painting should be done quickly with both your intellect and your nerves. When they give out, stop.”

Movalli’s valid approach to congealing one’s intangible impulses into a tangible record of personal experience is the objective facing all artists. And it seems more concentrated in the plein air process, just by its very nature of being out-of-doors, influenced by the changeable environment, one’s own skills with a chosen medium and perhaps, during an event, time constraints as well. Given my forty plus years in architectural illustration, representing unbuilt buildings for architects, I always seem to be attracted to complex plein air perspective views that present a challenge for drawing, let alone the painting process. Preferring the slick surface of hot press papers for my watercolors, I choose a scale of painting that requires efficient techniques for completing the works.

The aesthetic results may or may not come close to my artist’s intent, but the work will take on a life of its own – driving me through techniques, palette choices, comfort in the environment, changing light, and a host of other factors that become imbued in the work (perhaps not evident to a viewer) – and are vividly remembered not only as an artistic experience, but a life experience of that particular time and place.

This dynamic is energizing, at times almost euphoric, and is also what becomes captured in the painted image. It’s a zen sensibility, when being so intent on the work, the artist becomes one with the subject, allowing for their own energies to trace onto the painted surface. The mastery of an artist derives from the ten thousand repetitive steps and the continued doing of the work. This is how I find the process when I’m engaged in painting plein air, and is shared in varying degrees by all artists who choose this experience. It’s compelling, energizing, fulfilling, and limitless. “It’s Wonderful To Create” Akira Kurosawa.

Artist Bio

An award-winning architectural illustrator for over forty years in his hometown of Winthrop MA, Frank is the founder of an international illustration group, the American Society of Architectural Illustrators. In addition to providing his national clientele of architects with striking illustrations of projects around the world, he is also an accomplished watercolor painter of urban scenes, seascapes, wildlife, and portraits in a direct, alla prima or plein air colorist style.

Frank is a signature member of the New England Watercolor Society (N.E.W.S.) Boston, and the North East Watercolor Society, NY, and elected member of the Salmagundi Club of New York. He is also long-standing member and supporter of local Art Associations, where he exhibits annually. Frank is also represented in numerous galleries, and many collectors have acquired his distinctive watercolors.

Frank helped found and participated in the Plein Air Vermont (PAVT) competition. He has been selected and won awards in Plein Air Easton in MD; the Cranford, NJ Plein Air Festival; the Castine Plein Air Festival, ME; and Glynn Arts Association Plein Air Affair, GA. Invited by PleinAir magazine, Frank was a demo artist and field instructor for the Plein Air Conference & Expo in Monterey, CA. He was also the Juror of Selection for the Ocean Park Plein Air Event in ME; Juror for the Art Association of Nantucket Plein Air Festival; and has served as Juror for many local art associations over the years.

Invited by Boston’s National Park Service in 2016, Frank participated in its 100th Anniversary, by painting Boston Light, which celebrated its own 300th Anniversary. He is also an invited artist and exhibitor at the Mayor’s Rose Garden annual fundraiser for the City of Boston, and is regularly invited by many groups for his lively, informative demos. He has received commissions from The Esplanade Association to depict Boston’s scenic parklands, the Bostonian Society for the historic Old State House, and Boston University, among others. He has an ongoing association with Boston’s Charles River Conservancy, and paints river scenes to help promote their conservation programs. He has also been commissioned for portraits, homes, weddings, and other special projects for his expanding clientele.

For over 25 years, he has conducted intensive watercolor workshops at all levels of skill. Articles on his work have been published in Fine Art Connoisseur, PleinAir, and Boston magazines, among others.

As Co-Founder of the international American Society of Architectural Illustrators (ASAI), and Founding member and Vice President of the American Society of Illustrators Partnership (ASIP), Frank advises professional artists from around the world on copyright and business issues.

He is continually inspired by the effortless, masterful works of watercolorists from many eras and cultures, particularly Sargent, Homer, Turner, Prendergast, Wyeth, Hiroshi, Zorn and fellow Winthrop native John Whorf. His versatile painting style was developed from seminars with notable artists, authors and friends Charles Reid, Jeanne Dobie, Don Andrews, and Carleton Plummer. Frank enjoys the fluid challenge of the watercolor medium and the rich, luminous qualities that can be achieved in a successful piece.

“My paintings capture an unusual view of the everyday, those flash moments that transforms the ordinary into impressions that emerge almost on their own. The clarity of that vision helps isolate my subjects and allow me to focus on a beautiful glimpse of light and life. In attempting to capture light’s fleeting effects with various color palettes, I always experiment with ways to achieve spontaneity, freshness and vibrancy. Watercolor is a most responsive medium for the gestural, expressive style of painting that I prefer for exploring these color effects.”

Frank M. Costantino   FMC Watercolor Arts


13- B Pauline Street Winthrop, MA 02152      617.846.4766

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