Ask the Expert…Nancy Franke, OPA

Question: Do you have a mindset before starting a painting? Any techniques to center yourself and allow the painting to take shape without wrestling it to the ground?


EASE and FLOW, Find and Express Your Joy in Painting

Possibilities, 40x30
Possibilities, 40×30

One of the things that fascinates me about painting is that the time spent on a painting has little or nothing to do with the success of the result.  In fact, very often, my most soulful work is done in the least amount of time.

So, should we set a timer to limit the painting session?  Rush through the subject to keep it loose and free?  

Alas, those techniques have not been a path to success, at least for me.  No, it isn’t limiting time, or even increasing time that seems to make the work resonate and be strong.

It is, in fact, time spent BEFORE beginning to paint that is most important. Relaxing into happy thoughts and centering the mind will enrich the painting process in so many ways.

At the easel

Being impulsive and energetic, of course I want to just dive in! Alas, I have learned — through much experience and lots of wasted effort — that prior to diving right in, if I take a bit of time to do one or two of the things outlined below, my work will come closer to flowing with ease.  Make a career of happiness and all else will follow.

Londolozi, 12x12
Londolozi, 12×12
  • Take a Walk Outside!   (or run, swim, stroll or sit in a chair and listen to the birds)… open the door and go.  Happiness and peace are there, always.
  • See the light, feel the air, and clear the mind by listening to music, all kinds and varieties!

“To find the best ideas you have to go deep within yourself. To do this I practice meditation every day. I believe it keeps the ideas coming,” artist Olivia Loche

Holding Tight, 16x8
Holding Tight, 16×8
  • Meditate and Breathe!  If you do these exercises for just even 3 or 5 minutes…no more is necessary — such moments have an amazing capacity to center the mind and keep performance jitters at bay.
  • Some Chinese painting teachers recommend meditating in front of the actual subject to be painted for two minutes: just two minutes, worth a try.
  • Before painting, look at beautiful work that inspires you!  We live in a time when just a click of the mouse can bring us images of the most amazing historical and current painters…what a resource and inspiration. Take one painter a day, and see how he or she resolved simplification of shape, value and color to capture the magic!
Anders Zorn
  • Travel near or far, but get out of your immediate surroundings, if only for an afternoon stroll through some galleries… and breathe new air.
Five O'Clock, Paris
Five O’Clock, Paris
  • OK now, let’s paint — squeeze out the colors, crank up the music, and …don’t try too hard!  Oh this is so true – we as painters want to wrestle that subject matter to the ground.  Instead, squint and dance with your painting, trying spots of clear color and moving back and forth.
  • I call it the Dance between Joy and Skill – retain the underpinnings, but let the energy show and flow!  As is often heard in my workshops, use BIGGER brushes, inexpensive chip brushes, palette knives, silicone tools, or anything to keep out of the rendering mode and into the large shapes; seek the strong, confident look.
  • And maybe, before actually painting the “real” one, do a small oil sketch from life, something simple like a pear or a cup – light it up, and paint this study in 20 minutes.  Get the colors going on the palette and loosen your hand, all while tuning your eye.
Outlier, 8×16
  • Always, read anything on creativity or painting or whatever inspires.  The wisdom in Robert Henri’s “The Art Spirit” continues to amaze; try Stephen King’s book “On Writing” – it’s very much applicable to painting too.  


nancy franke book collage
The Art Spirit, Robert Henri & Stephen King, On Writing

Most importantly, take several moments each day to appreciate and embrace the gift of this special painting life we share… and the quest for “Ease and Flow!”

Nancy Franke, OPA is an artist and teacher. Please visit her website to view more of her beautiful works.

We are honored to announce that Nancy will be our November Judge for Art Muse Contest.




Art Cafe…Cartoons to Tapestries, A Tale of Two Raphaels

Did you know that Raphael did cartoons? Well, not in the sense of cartoons today. The cartoons were commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515 and were the initial designs for tapestries to be hung in the Sistine Chapel. Here is a short film from the Victoria and Albert Museum documenting the 2010 reuniting of the Raphael Cartoons and Tapestries in the Sistine Chapel.

Ask the Expert…Todd Williams

Question: What do you see are the differences and purposes between a plein air painting and a finished studio painting from the original piece. I so often like the studies better because of the immediacy and reduction of detail. Yet, I know there is greatness in a studio piece as well.


Plein Air Painting vs. Studio Painting

For me each painting should have it’s own goal or vision to be achieved, whether it is plein-air or studio.

This starts with a strong vision and design, along with the chosen subject. (I’m thinking of writing a book, written specifically for new artists to learn how to chose the right subject to paint.)

"Lauritzen Victorian Garden “ oil, 9" X 12"
“Lauritzen Victorian Garden “ oil, 9″ X 12”, plein air

Your personal vision is the heart and foundation for every painting. Without a strong concept they can become another series of what I call, ‘formula paintings’. They have no direction and all look the same.

Out on location (plein air), an artist has but two or three hours to capture the light and shadow. In some ways, what we are doing artistically, is capturing that exact moment in time.  Often the beauty of spontaneous mistakes can sometimes be genius because we don’t overthink it.

"Mitchell Pass - Oregon Trial", oil 20" X 30”, Studio
“Mitchell Pass – Oregon Trial”, oil 20″ X 30”, Studio

On the flip side, a studio painting allows you the time to concentrate on the disciplines of creating a strong painting and even experiment with a different approach or new color palette.

It is said of Nicolai Fechin, that his paintings look spontaneous and quickly done. In actuality, they had been heavily labored over for hours and sometimes days, weeks and even months. Painting areas, scraping them down and then repainting them.

"Niobrara State Park", Oil. 9x12, Plein Air
“Niobrara State Park”, Oil. 9×12, plein air

Plein air painting has a lot of positives. It helps you learn how to see and study light. To see the relationship from life of values, edges and color temperature. The downside with limited time and a smaller canvas is they often lead to the artist producing paintings that are cliché or formula looking. They can sometimes lack distinction or individuality. It’s a catch 22 where there can be the spontaneity and happy mistakes that take place, but at the same time, limit the ability to take the paining beyond a certain desired look.

I truly believe an artist that is still growing and maturing needs to have both disciplines of painting from plein-air and studio. The studio allows you to dissect the different keys that go into creating a great painting. It also gives you extra time for more problem-solving to take place. The danger with studio painting is your piece may look over worked or labored. So, to have some of those happy plein-air mistakes also take place in your studio paintings is a must.

"Prairie Settlers - 1893", Oil, 24" X 30” - Studio
“Prairie Settlers – 1893″, Oil, 24” X 30” , studio

For me personally, my desire is to create a powerful design and subject that will evoke emotion in the viewer. Also, to take the painting to the next level of what I call ‘high art’; which would include the spirit of the paint within the surface texture that creates a work of art both exciting and interesting in it’s abstract passages within representational shapes.

My main goal as an artist, is to not just paint another pretty picture, but to create a “legacy” in every work of art…

Todd is currently working on a 5 year historical project, “Legacy of Nebraska” 2017, Collection and Exhibition. This is one of the key initiatives in celebrating Nebraska’s 150th Statehood Anniversary. The exhibition will open March of 2017.

Visit Todd’s website to learn more about his work.

Art Cafe…New York Public Library

nypl images
New York Public Library Archives

On January 6th, the New York Public Library shared over 180,000 items in it’s Public Domain Archives in a very cool way. It’s a mosiac of images that can be sorted by century, genre, collection or color. Click on a tile and the larger image pops up. It’s like eating a potato chip, you just can’t stop at one. If Art Cafe doesn’t post next Monday…you’ll know where to find me.

Click here and explore.


Ask the Expert…Bev Jozwiak

Question: Mixing skin tones in watercolor is difficult. Do you have any suggestions on how to mix beautiful skin tones and not end up with muddy colors?


There are a multitude of great painting combinations for good skin tones. Most good ones are basically a combination of red, yellow and blue. Make a skin chart of your own by placing each color with very little mixing. Mix slightly (and with a little more water) in the center. This will give you more skin tones to choose from, as each combination will be different depending on the amount of red, yellow, or blue that is used, and by the amount of water. You will learn more by making your own rather than just printing out the one included here.

Skin Tone Chart
Click on chart to enlarge

One of my favorite dark skin tone combinations is a mixture of burnt sienna, cadmium red, and French Ultramarine Blue. Just remember though, that even when the figure has dark skin, on the light side of the face, you can move into a light skin tone mixture, and still leave areas that are the untouched white paper.

It's A Wrap, 15x22
It’s a Wrap

I generally cool down the face with blues, but here in “Feathers and Flowers” I used a Sap Green, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine combo, along with Cadmium Red. I had used green in the leaves around the flowers, so it felt appropriate to use it in her skin too. I let it run into her hair, to tie the whole painting together. Even though I list all the colors I use, in some places two may be used, in others three and even one as a stand-alone color.

Feathers and Flowers
Feathers and Flowers

For lighter skin tones, I tend to use Cadmium Red and Yellow Ochre for the first wash and Manganese Blue Hue as a wash over the top after the initial skin tone has slightly dried. Blues help areas to recede so they work well at the temple, under the lip, and to connect the eyebrow to the corner of the eye. The Reds make things come forward, so they work well on the tip of the nose, cheeks, and ears.

Guy in Hat, Sketch
Guy in Hat, Sketch

Just remember that the amount of water used will make a huge difference in the appearance of your skin tone. It can go very light or quite dark. Although Cadmium Red is a very strong color don’t be afraid to use it at almost full strength in certain areas. A good example is this detail of “Heritage and Bangles”. You can see where I put the blues and where I added the reds. I simply added a little purple under her chin for the purpose of repeating a color, a reflection and tie-in to her clothes.

Heritage and Bangles, close up
Heritage and Bangles, detail

I tend to be a direct painter. I work on hotpress 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico, which lends itself to this way of painting. In the example below, I decided to paint in layers instead. It is still red, yellow and blue, but in numerous layers. I probably should have used cold press for this piece (because it is easier to layer on), but I was still happy with the results. I used thin layers of Yellow Ochre (Raw Sienna works well too) and both Manganese Blue Hue, and Cobalt Blue (it is more transparent) and I also varied back and forth between Cadmium Red and Rose Madder Genuine. Rose Madder is more transparent than Cadmium Red, so it works well when layering.

In the Hood
In the Hood

Remember that one of the keys to making skin tones work, is to leave whites of the paper. Use the paint thick in areas and other areas use lots of water. Be careful when mixing on the palette to not over homogenize. Look down at your palette, if it is not over stirred, you will be able to see each color shine. One of my favorite adages is: “If it’s not pretty on the palette, it’s not pretty on the paper.”  Try some small simple faces, just have fun with color, and see what you can dream up.

Hoops, detail
Hoops, detail



Materials used in all of the above paintings:
All paints are Winsor and Newton’s finest, except Sap Green which is Holbein.
Paper: Fabriano Artistico Hotpress 140 lb.
Brushes: Cheap Joe’s Golden Fleece #10. Most of my paintings are painted with this one brush, but on occasion I use a mop brush, or a sable, when I want a wetter look. I don’t usually use a detail brush, but if I do I use a #6 golden fleece.


Bev Jozwiak


To learn more about Bev Jozwiak and her artwork, please visit her website.
Bev’s book and DVD (both titled “Painting Life with Life” ) are available through  Chris Unwin.

Art Cafe…Painting Was a Verb, not a Noun

Harold Rosenberg, Art Critic
Harold Rosenberg, Art Critic

Elaine De Kooning: Recently came across her and probably the last time I heard her name was during my college years. I conjured up a vague image and then of course, I had to google her. I saw her portraits that I didn’t remember but found wonderfully engaging. During my search, I discovered this NPR Morning Edition where her portraits are the topic. Click HERE to listen.

To find out more about her portraits, click here.


Ask the Expert…John Lasater IV

Question: How do you approach painting nocturnes and not arrive home with a bad painting?

There are a lot of subjects I’m interested in, but not all of them are easy when it gets down to it, like posing a model, or waking up early for a sunrise. Plein air nocturnes are difficult to get motivated for because it’s at a time of day I’d much rather be sinking into the couch. All of my nocturnes have come with some element of struggle, so that has to be part of the experience for me. It might explain some of the “bad paintings” as you put it.

The start is always the hardest part, but there’s a meditative mood to the night. Once I have a piece going, nocturne painting becomes one of my favorite experiences.

Here are a few of the basics when it comes to setting up and painting a nocturne.


Good equipment is obviously important, especially the lighting. I used to clip flexible book lights to my canvas and palette, which was simple and cheap. Recently I’ve upgraded to a Revelite, which distributes the light more evenly. The Revelite also allows you to dim the lights to your pleasure. One warning though: I’ve found you can easily over-illuminate your canvas. A dim light is better, because you can see the value separation more truthfully.

This is Revelite


Color Control
This is the Revelite
Color Control

Because there is typically one main light source in a nocturne scene, you will observe a tonal, or monotone, key. One of the biggest hangups I’ve noticed with beginning nocturne painters is they color their piece as if they were painting a daytime scene. The alternating light sources of sun and blue sky makes a myriad of color vibrations in the daytime that are significantly missing from most nocturne scenes. For this reason, I practice color control, which means, I keep a limited color palette for the scene. Below are some examples.

The first scene, entitled “South and Carroll,” was under complete influence of two or three incandescent streetlights. This gave a very warm, or orange, tone to the whole painting. Instead of pushing any of the cool colors in the sky and shadows, I made sure they were strongly influenced by the warm colors I was mixing into everything else, because the shadows had no significant light source.

"South and Carroll"
South and Carroll

The second scene, called “Elkhorn Avenue,” was strongly influenced by the dusky cool sky light. The colors I chose for the shapes influenced by that light were limited to give it a more monotone effect. Also, knowing that I wanted to emphasize the warm points of light given off by the city, I made sure to grey the cool colors surrounding them.

"Elkhorn Avenue"
Elkhorn Avenue

The third scene, called “Corridor,” has a more divided concept. I was struck by how the brilliant, warm section of town was framed in by its surroundings. To accomplish this piece I literally divided the composition and divided the light sources as well. The diagram shows how you can see a similar temperature and color brought about by the two distinct types of light sources.


Because of the various isolated points of light in a nocturne, composing is trickier. In the daytime, it’s easier to see compositional shapes connecting with one another, but at night they appear more isolated. Finding a scene with midtone shapes that can connect the lit areas helps.

In the scene below, called “Cellar Door,” I demonstrate the movement of the eye, and how the midtones play a role in directing the eye to the brighter shapes. This is a large painting (24×30) created on location in a basement at a local resort. No photo of the scene would do it justice.

Cellar Door
Cellar Door
Going the extra mile

Beyond the unique considerations that a nocturne requires, I like to take my paintings a step further. One of the exciting things to study at night is the effect of glow around a light source and the colors that vibrate around it.

Oakes Street
Oakes Street

In this painting, “Oakes Street,” I looked carefully into and around the street light and the neon sign. It would be easy to be formulaic as often as I’ve painted things like this, but for this one I took my time. It was my hope that the painting would look like it had an internal light source. I’ve included details of those areas, so you can see the color treatment around the lights.


Get on out there and give it a try. Don’t worry about the failures. Simplify your colors, get a good composition going and go the extra mile!

We usually do a nocturne a day in my workshops, so check out the schedule.

John lasaterJohn P. Lasater IV developed a love for art working as a designer and illustrator for a division of Hallmark Cards.

John now paints full time, both from his studio in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, and on the road painting “en plein air.” He also teaches national workshops. John’s honors include many Best of Show or First Place awards in national outdoor painting events, an Award of Excellence from the Oil Painters of America national exhibition, Artist in Residency’s, dozens of mentions in art magazines and feature articles in Southwest Art and Plein Air Magazine. He also served as a faculty member for the 2015 Plein Air Convention put on by Plein Air Magazine.

Art Cafe…The Colourists, The Four Scots

I’ve spent some of my recent down time watching some art documentaries and I have a few to share. If you’ve never heard of  four Scottish artists known as The Colourists, Michael Palin has a delightful four part series about this group. Here’s the first of the Michael Palin 4 part series.

If you enjoyed the first part, here are the links for the remaining series.

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Hop over to Art Muse Contest for a free way to win Rosemary Brushes. Happy New Year.