Since I was not allowed to photograph Ovanes Berberian’s demos, a few artists have asked me to show them the process using one of my own paintings. So here goes!

REFERENCE. (ON LOCATION) First, here’s the reference photo. I have to get a body of work that represents the San Francisco Peninsula for the Peninsula Plein Air Invitational at Filoli, so yesterday I spent the day on location. It’s a plein air event. It was a great, sunny day, although a bit windy. This reference photo shows what I had to work with. For those of you that live in the Bay Area, this is a little canyon Ron Schlorff and I stumbled upon between La Canada college and La Canada Road. It’s a nice spot. This photograph isn’t great, but basically there was a nice collection of greens and warm land colors to capture. The foreground bushes are a blue-green, contrasted with the warm gold-greens of the mid-ground trees, and the far background trees would be pushed back further with a blue, gray color with close intervals between shade and light colors.

DRAWING. I began by sketching in the outline and movement of the big shapes, using a combination of Sap Green and Alizarin Crimson. At this stage, Ovanes stresses the balance between shapes. All great paintings start out as great abstracts. If the painting isn’t interesting in this form, it won’t be painted, no matter what you do. I liked this abstract design (basing on what was before me, but altering as necessary), so I continued.

TONE. Here’s the wash stage. Ovanes would fill the canvas with bright washes, running one into the other. His would be even more loose than this. He does not pay attention to local color, but does vary warm and cool notes. The idea is to leave the wash showing in spots to create vibrations with the thicker paint on top. I could have kept the sky blues cleaner, and in the end that prevented me from getting the sky as luminous as I wanted. When I got back to my studio, I had to pull out the Manganese Blue, a VERY powerful blue that really illuminates.

DARKS. Next I layed in the darks. Ovanes’ variation between warm and cool darks is much more articulated in this stage than I’ve achieved here. He blends a lot, but keeps the colors clear in spots. He looks for opportunities for lost/found edges where shapes of the same value meet. When I say his darks are “articulated”, it means in spots there is great, pure color, yet surrounded by subtle grays.

PALETTE. Here’s a view of my palette, towards the beginning of the painting. I use an 18×24 hardened acrylic palette painted a mid-tone gray beneath. If this size is a bit small, so I’m building a larger one for my studio. The idea here is to use LOTS of paint (“Paint like a millionaire!”), and create interesting strings of colors, beautiful grays. Don’t mix more than two different colors adjacent to each other. I’ll have to take a picture of my pallete on other paintings, or further along, because it gets much more interesting than this. Hope this gives you the idea.

MIDTONES to LIGHTS to ACCENTS (DARKS). Work in mid-tones as long as you can, where the colors are generally at their peak strength. Then work to highlights (lights) and accents (darkest darks) to finish and bring the painting together. When I got the painting back into my studio, I worked the sky on the right a bit more, and I added some “sky holes” to the mid-ground trees, to make them “breath”, and to add some needed ground color to that side. This is the painting I ended up with, “Peninsula Hillside“, 16×20, Oil on Linen. It will be submitted to the upcoming plein air exhibition at Filoli in August.

Update: To get on the email list to attend a Ovanes Berberian workshop, contact Ray Morrison:





14 thoughts on “Ovanes Berberian: My Demo of His Technique.

  1. Bart Westgeest says:

    Thanks fo the demo Ed! Very interesting.
    Especially stage two is somewhat different to me. Adding the darkest dark at the last stage is also something I could add to a “check list”.

    A very nice series of post this way.

  2. Hi Ed, Nice to see your painting process. I have been reading your blog for awhile, came over from Jeff Hayes, and I like your work and respect your plein air skills. I tried to post here yesterday, and then saw that you had left a comment on mine. Small blog world, eh?!

  3. Hey, this painting is great! It’s so much nicer than the photo. I love the color and overall feel. It’s neat to see the process.

  4. Jeff Hayes asked about my use of washes: I did use washes occasionally before studying with Ovanes, but they were monochromatic. I studied with Brigitte Curt, a student of Ovanes herself, and she got the technique from him. Her use of monochromatic washes (usually a blue/violet) was a good way to work out the design, drawing and values. However, I personally find the patches of violet showing here and there a bit of a distraction. I much prefer using the local color as a wash. I’m keeping it up, we’ll see how it develops. We all need to take a bit here and there from each other, and build our own technique and results. That’s what I love about art!

  5. Ed,
    Thanks so much for all the time I know it must have taken you to post this wonderful workshop experience. I’m sure many folks appreciate your generosity in sharing all this! Love those florals!!


  6. Hi Ed,
    I was looking for information on either Sergei Bongart or Ovanes Berberian and stumbled upon your Blog. I’m very pleased to have done that and appreciate you sharing your experience and knowledge. I was curious to know Ovanes method and now realize his methodology is not so diferent than the Group of Seven, a group of Canadian painters who roamed the countryside at the turn of the last century. Thank again.

  7. Rob Mackintosh says:

    Great demo, I especially like how you angled the whole scene, this really give it great drama and dynamics. I never would have done that prior to seeing it here, but I will be trying it now.
    Many thanks.

  8. Flávio Costa says:

    Gostei muito do seu site,sou fã do artita Ovanes Berberian.
    Agora também sou fã do seu trabalho,você pinta muito bem.
    Aqui no Brasil,nos estudantes de pintura, temos pouca informação
    assim recorro a internet.

  9. Hardik: thank you for your interest in my technique. I have one suggestion. I write many posts on this blog, documenting my technique. I think a complete picture would probably require I write a book. For now, the best way to find all this information is to click the “Technique” category in the right-hand navigation, or copy/paste this URL into your browser:

    Hope this helps.
    Best, -Ed

  10. Hi Ed. Thank you very much for sharing your experiences at Ovanes Berberian’s workshop. Your works are fabulous too. I am curious to know if you got chances to see Ovanes demo landscape sketches at the workshop. How much landscape study was involved? Did the workshop structured more time on stilllife than landscape?


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