Francesco Fontana’s demo that got out of hand ... in the best possible way

Plein Air Convention & Expo faculty member Francesco Fontana recently had a demo painting of his get out of hand.

Fontana has learned that if he paints a complete demo during a group class, some members may try to duplicate the steps — and that’s not his goal. This watercolorist wants people to develop their own approaches. He is not looking for disciples.

So during a recent workshop, when a student needed help painting a New York City scene, Fontana intended to just get the person started. Then things went awry … in the best possible way.

“I like to show my student a specific step in the process, those parts of the process she is still more insecure about,” says Fontana. “Recently my student Mario planned to paint a New York scene in watercolor. We discussed how to give an overall mood, setting the keynote — and possibly a different arrangement, as the subject of New York City is a classic.

“So I said, ‘Gimme a minute, and I will show you how to start, before you even draw a line.’ I sat at his station in the studio and I made a wash using his paint and paper. I used a warm yellowish color and by moving and inclining the pad, let the water flow and suggest texture. Next I added a bit of complementary and analogue color. I achieved an abstract ground, in spite of a representational subject, then let it dry a few minutes. At this point it was only a sketch, the simplest of drawings, just starting to suggest masses. As passion refuses to stay home when I am teaching, I kept going. Before I knew it, a voice in the group said, ‘Wow, that’s perfect.’ I pretended that I had planned to be finished and stopped there. The whole demo took 25 minutes. The day after, I found that the little piece wasn’t bad, and I signed it.”

Fontana wasn’t completely surprised by this outcome. “Painting demos usually pulls out the best of me,” he says. “You are focused on the process and not under pressure for the result. My old teacher used to say, ‘I don’t care, it is not my art!’ And then it would be a masterpiece.”

Fontana will be teaching at the Plein Air Convention & Expo, which will be held April 24-28 in San Diego, California. The convention is almost filled. Go here to learn more and to register for PACE.


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