“There are infinite scenes to be painted everywhere you look,” says this week’s cover artist, Denise Franzino. The Huntington-based artist loves working with nature, at specific times of day. “I always paint in the early morning light or late afternoon.”
What was the inspiration for this piece?
My inspiration for this painting was the beautiful, natural pose this little girl took. I was in the throws of a photo shoot, taking pictures of her with her two older sisters at a beach on the north shore of Long Island. I knew as soon as I clicked the shutter, this picture was going to make for a beautiful painting. I loved the way the afternoon light was illuminating her beautiful face and white dress. The reflection in the water created an interesting, abstract pattern and her expression of wonderment is timeless. When I take pictures for my Informal portraits, I focus on each individual as well as getting them in a group, interacting. I take over 250 pictures, which the client gets to keep, as well. I never worry about getting that one perfect shot because I can take a child from one picture and a child from another, thus creating a composite painting so to speak.
I also drew inspiration from one of my favorite painters from the turn of the 20th century, Frank Benson. His beautiful paintings of his daughters in their white dresses against the cerulean blue, sunlit sky have stood the test of time. In my portraits I endeavor to try and capture that moment in time. The fleeting innocence of childhood to be captured forever on canvas.
How did you get started in art?
I’ve always been interested in art from a very early age. From the time I was a little girl, I can remember always having a crayon or pencil in my hand. Mickey Mouse and his friends were my constant companions. I practiced drawing them so much I eventually could create them from memory. I continued with my love for art through junior high and high school. I graduated with honors from The Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Illustration. After graduating from RISD, I was an illustrator for the New York Times, Doubleday Books, Harlequin Books, Avon Books and many other publishing companies. It was a very unfulfilling time in my life. I didn’t enjoy illustrating, plus I didn’t get the necessary background at school in painting and color theory so I was limited to black and white work.
I tried reading books and copying artists I admired but frustration with my lack of skill set was a huge roadblock. Around 3 years after graduating college, I saw an ad that a teacher was running in the paper and decided to give him a call. I remember walking into his studio and felt as though I was transported back in time to the Renaissance Era. The drawings and paintings that lined the walls of his studio were magnificent. Only in museums had I seen such work. At that moment I said to myself, I don’t care how long it takes, this is what I aspire to create.
I took classes with John Frederick Murray for several years. I can honestly say, Mr. Murray changed the course of my life. Under Mr. Murray’s tutelage, I had extensive training in the classical and traditional style of drawing and painting from the model. We also painted and drew from casts and focused on how clothing drapes over the human form. Design and Composition were also diligently studied. I owe the success I’ve achieved in my 20 plus years of being a professional portrait artist to the love and support of my parents and to Mr. Murray’s unsurpassed knowledge, patience and guidance.
How does your process differ between formal portraits and informal portraits?
My Informal portraits differ greatly from my formal portraits. I describe my Informal portraits as impressionistic; capturing figures in a landscape setting. I want the viewer to feel as though they were walking along and came across these children playing in the sand or strolling along a garden path. These paintings have more of a spontaneous, candid feeling. I don’t want the children posing for me. I want them getting immersed playing with the props I bring and then capturing their delight as they just have fun.
With both types of portraits I show my client detailed color studies before I start the final painting. These 8×10 original oil paintings give my client a visual as to what the the larger, final painting is going to look like. They show composition, expression, color and value arrangement. Once the client approves the study I can proceed with the final portrait. These studies ensure that my client and I are on the same page so there will be no surprises when I deliver the final painting. They also serve as my guide when I start the final portrait. I’ve painted over 200 commissions in this genre of painting.
In terms of my formal portraits, which are sometimes painted from life, similar care is taken to explore every detail. I meet with the client to discuss the pose, clothing and lighting. After the photo shoot, I like to do several color studies before starting the painting to resolve composition, color and value arrangement. I truly enjoy painting these types of portraits as well. I can really delve into the personality and essence of the sitter. A portrait to me is not just capturing a good likeness, it’s also about speaking to the viewer and conveying whom this person is and what they are like. Those are the portraits I am drawn towards the most. When they stop me in my tracks and make me wonder, who is this person?
What was it like studying with John Frederick Murray?
Long Island has been an integral part of the paintings I create, as well as many fond memories I cherish from growing up here. Frequenting the beautiful beaches and gardens Long Island has to offer as well as spending a few summers out in the Hamptons, Long Island will always hold a special place in my heart. A lot of my clients feel the same way. Whether it is a specific beach they grew up going to or they were married at one of the lush gardens on Long Island. Sentimentality is a big determining factor as to where the photo shoot will take place. I travel from Long Beach to Montauk and everywhere in between so that my clients have their specific desires fulfilled.
How has living on Long Island informed your work?
When I want to take a break from my portrait commissions I really enjoy taking my plein air easel out and painting the beautiful surroundings I am so fortunate to live by, here on Long Island. There are infinite scenes to be painted everywhere you look. I always paint in the early morning light or late afternoon. I love to paint on the spot and not rely on photographs as my reference. I can’t hear the birds singing or feel the breeze blowing while I’m in my studio working. I love the connection I feel with nature while painting on location. In addition to landscape painting, I also enjoy painting florals, still lifes and figurative paintings.
For more on Denise Franzino, visit denisefranzino.com.