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.




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.