Dan’s Cover Artist Denise Franzino Talks Technique and More

September 17, 2021 Dan's Papers cover art (detail) by Denise Franzino
September 17, 2021 Dan’s Papers cover art (detail) by Denise Franzino

This week’s lovely September 17, 2021 cover art comes to Dan’s Papers from Denise Franzino, a portrait and fine artist who has honed her ability to capture the spirit and life in whatever she paints. She speaks to us about this week’s cover, her technique, and fall on the East End.

Denise Franzino
Denise Franzino

What is the name of this beautiful, tranquil piece, and what location inspired its creation?

The piece that is featured is titled “Sunflower Farm Sunset.” It was one of those beautiful September days where the air was crisp and the sky was clear. The sun was setting on this beautiful sunflower farm out in Mattituck. It seemed as though each sunflower was reaching for the last rays of light as the sun was going down. Every flower looked as though it had its own personality as they stretched towards the sky. The location of this farm is the North Fork Sunflower Maze in Mattituck.

How was this piece created? Walk us through your process.

This piece was created from a cellphone picture. Today, the pictures from cellphones are unbelievable. If I don’t have my 35mm camera on me, I always have my cellphone. I never know when a scene is going to strike a chord within and I just have to capture it. Once I record the scene I have enlargements made. Most times, I use a combination of photographs to create my paintings. This particular painting was created from just one. Very rarely does that happen.

Once the enlargements are made, I paint at least one very detailed oil color study before I start the final painting — usually 1/4 the size of the final painting. In this study I figure out my value arrangements, color and composition. Color studies are so helpful because I’m not trying to make all these critical decisions on the final painting. I have the study on another easel and use it as my guide while I paint the final painting. Of course, when you paint larger, there are always some adjustments to be made but as long as I capture the essence of the study, I’m satisfied.

What makes this artwork such an ideal fit for a Dan’s Papers cover?

I think this painting is such an ideal fit for Dan’s Papers mainly because of the subject matter. The sunflower farms are so magnificent on Long Island. They are around from mid summer and then usher in the fall. They always bring a smile to my face and provide food for the gold finches and other birds that love their seeds. I also felt the composition lent itself nicely to the Dan’s Papers format. The sunflowers in shadow contrasting against the brilliant colors of the sky was such a powerful image. Dark against light is very eye-catching and dramatic.

An informal portrait by Denise Franzino
An informal portrait by Denise Franzino

Your ability to capture the life and essence of people, animals and nature is impressive. How do you manage to make your paintings so full of life, and how does your technique and/or mindset differ when capturing the spirit of these subjects?

Thank you so much for such a beautiful compliment. I think the highest praise you can pay an artist is that their work touches you in some way and that they bring life to their subject matter. The artist’s job is to move the viewer through their visual interpretation, whether it’s a painting, sculpture, drawing or any other art form. With portraiture, I know getting the accuracy of the features and likeness is not enough. You must convey the essence and spirit of your sitter in some way. It could be the way the sitter carries his or herself, a certain expression they make, a look in their eyes. It is the artist’s ability to detect these subtleties and record them on the canvas in such a way that brings life to the painting.

Having passion for what you are painting, also, is key to evoking mood in a painting. I love animals and flowers. With my pet portraits, each one has an individual personality, as well. The sheer joy I get in portraying people’s pets, I feel, comes through in my paintings. When I paint flowers, I usually work from life. I spend a lot of time setting up the still-life and then try to record my first impression as quickly as possible. Painting from life is very challenging especially painting flowers. They are forever changing right in front of your eyes. The spontaneity that comes from working from life is what can bring a painting to life, as well. The quick decision making has to be on point. You can’t dilly dally like you can when working from photographs. Photographs are essential, but years and years of painting from life is the best teacher.

I also love to paint plein air landscapes. Taking my easel outside and painting a scene that sparks something inside me is so rewarding. Here again, quick decision making is paramount. The sun is always moving and you only have around three hours to get your idea down. Sometimes if I don’t finish, I’ll go back to that site again the next day, as long as the weather is consistent, and continue. If I can’t, I’ll take some pictures and finish the painting in my studio all the while keeping in mind that first impression — what drew me to this particular scene in the first place.

When I look at a painting I did on-site as opposed to one that I worked on from a photograph, I will be transported back to that particular day and remember the kind of day it was, the sounds of the birds singing and the feel of the breeze against my face.

A pet portrait by Denise Franzino
A pet portrait by Denise Franzino

What artistic accomplishment or achievement are you most proud of?

This past year I was a semi finalist in the Art Renewal Center International Salon. ARC’s annual competition is the most far-reaching competition for contemporary realism in the world. This year’s salon received close to 5,000 entries from 83 countries. That achievement was probably one of the biggest highlights of my career. Also, I am so honored to have been on the cover of Dan’s Papers for the second time. I appreciate the paper’s dedication and support for artists and for giving our vision exposure to so many people.

What do you find most personally rewarding about your artistic life and career?

I think what I find most personally rewarding about my artistic life and career is that I built a successful business on my own. I never had representation from a portrait company that repped artists. My career has spanned over 25 years which I’m very proud of. I knew I had a high-end item and figured out a way to market myself to a certain clientele. This was before social media and the internet were readily available.

I found private schools, country clubs and charities that held fundraising events where I could display my work with other vendors. (I try to participate in around 15 shows a year.) The people interested in my work would come up to my table and I would discuss pricing and procedure. I would get their names, phone numbers and email addresses. I would do all the follow-up phone calls, schedule photo shoots, do the photo shoots and paint the commissioned portrait.

All this work can be daunting at times, trying to juggle different hats, but the rewards have been tenfold. When I deliver a painting and see the happiness I have brought to my clients through my work, it fills my heart with joy. How blessed am I! A portrait, to me, is capturing a moment in time forever on canvas. It is an heirloom to treasure today and for generations to come.

What inspirations do you hope to bring to life through your art this fall?

This fall I hope to paint outdoors more. The weather is cooler and the beautiful colors of autumn will be on full display. I love to go to Old Westbury Gardens and paint the beauty that surrounds me there. Everywhere you turn there is a painting just waiting to be captured. I also look forward to painting more florals and figurative work.

Denise Franzino's "White Bride of Edinburgh"
Denise Franzino’s “White Bride of Edinburgh”

Where can your art be seen in the coming weeks?

I have a painting on display at the historic Salmagundi Club in Manhattan now through September 19. It is titled “The White Bride of Edinburgh” and was accepted into the 108th annual Allied Artists of America national competition. I was thrilled to be accepted into this prestigious show. 

Would you like to share any closing thoughts?

In closing, I would like to say that I feel COVID has made us all reassess our lives. What we once took for granted was taken away from us. What we once put so much emphasis on maybe brought us back down to reality and to what truly is important in life. This virus has impacted our lives in one way or another. For me, one aspect it affected is that I looked at my art in a different way. I wanted to take more time to explore paintings that I’ve had on the back burner because I was just so focused on my portrait career. Time flies by so quickly and before you know it, you have more years behind you than in front of you. I decided to start creating those paintings that were speaking to me and bursting to come out. In doing so, I feel recharged and my work has taken on a rebirth, so to speak. It’s easy to fall into a rut but I try to stay positive and always, always paint from the heart.

To learn more about Denise Franzino, her available artworks and her portrait commission services, visit denisefranzino.com.

September 17, 2021 Dan's Papers cover art by Denise Franzino Larger
September 17, 2021 Dan’s Papers cover art by Denise Franzino