Kaye Franklin tries to convey in her paintings the beauty of this world. She hopes that is evident to the viewer. When she’s painting, especially en plein air, the world seems quiet. “I love the sounds of nature, the birds and all the animals,” she says. “God created this world for us to enjoy with peace.”
About 40% of her landscape and garden work is done en plein air. She feels that the best plein air paintings are done totally on site. “When you bring a painting inside to work on it, you will loose the freshness, spontaneity, and truth of the painting. Making a painting work is not about recording facts,” Franklin says. “You can always add a shape from outside the line of vision. You can bring in a tree, a rock, or anything that works. I find the best compositions are not always right in front of you; for me, I have to design the scene in a way that makes the best painting.”
On the days she’s not teaching, she’ll spend three hours painting in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. She grows her own flowers and tries to paint in the garden as often as possible. In addition to her weekly classes she also teaches an occasional workshop. If she could hang out with three artists of the past for just one day, her choices would be Joaquin Sorolla, Edgar Payne, and Sergei Bongart. Her three favorite books are: Brushwork, Emile Gruppe; The Scenic Journey, Edgar Payne; Everything I Know About Painting by Richard Schmid.
Kaye Franklin is a terrific painter. She quietly gives, quietly serves…no fanfare, no beating her own drum…but so deserving of the many accolades she’s received. Recognized as a Signature Member of the Oil Painters of America and the American Impressionist Society, she also has attained Master status in the Pastel Society of America, American Women Artists, and most recently, the Outdoor Painters Society. What an honor it is to have her agree to this interview.
Why are you an artist? This is a difficult question. It had never occurred to me as I was growing up that this was a learned skill . When we moved to Colorado, I had a friend who was taking art classes and she invited me to go with her to the class; I was hooked after that.
What’s your definition of art? Art is a skill that can be taught in a visual form such as painting, and it can be viewed for its beauty.
You studied exclusively with Connecticut artist Bill Earle for several years; what were the most important lessons learned from him? Practice, and have patience; enjoy the learning process. He was a Master of color, values, and prismatic progression. He worked Alla Prima with large juicy strokes that were luscious. He studied with Frank Vincent Dumond at the Art Students League in New York. Earle would quote Dumond quite often in class. When we would paint en plein air with him, we would take a sketch pad, sketch our scene and make abbreviations for the color of objects. We would then go back to his studio in Maine, or wherever we might be, and paint from our sketches without any photo references.
“Paint what inspires you, not what sells. I paint subject matter that inspires me. Without inspiration I cannot make it work. Painting this way, for me, has a freedom that I cannot find any other way.”
Would you recommend that approach for students today, or do you think studying with many different teachers in workshop situations is better? Yes, everything I learned from him I teach today. Studying with different teachers is OK as long as they are similar in their approach. I would recommend studying with only the best teachers.
As a highly respected art teacher yourself, what do you hope to impart to your students? Thank you for that comment! I hope they will enjoy the process and as time passes they will notice improvements in their work and have confidence. I encourage them to use the best art supplies they can afford and not to be stingy with their paint; it is about the painting and not about wasting paint. I encourage them to enter shows and contests when they are ready. When the weather permits, I take the class outside in the area where I live. I also take a group on a plein air trip each Spring, this year we went to Olympic National Park. We’ve also gone to Europe a number of times.
From your experience, what gives your students the most difficulty, and how do you help them through it? Value and color temperature are at the top of the list; paint application, viscosity of the paint, pleasing shapes, and composition are at the top as well. It is different for each student and not all applies to everyone. I help them by giving examples of how to proceed; I also demonstrate often. I have students who are professionals, while some are teachers that work with beginners. This makes my job quite nice and easy!
How important is drawing to a painter and how do you go about teaching it? Very important. If the drawing is not good then the painting is not good. If the drawing is off, you will fight it through the whole process and will never be satisfied until you correct the whole drawing, When teaching, I help students with plumb lines, placement, size, shapes, and the golden mean.
Three subjects that appear prominently in your work are flowers, still life, and landscapes; you also work in oil and pastel. Does your approach differ with subject and media? My approach is the same for both oil and pastel. The main difference is one is wet and one is dry. I start with dark to light with both mediums. With oil the process is thin to thick; with pastel the process is light pressure to hard pressure. I use sanded pastel paper for pastel and linen canvas boards for oil. With subject matter, I never change my approach.
Do you approach each painting with a concept in mind, and if so, what do you do to maintain it throughout the painting process? Yes, I try to keep the painting in an abstract form as long as possible. I step back after every two or three brush strokes. I work fast and try to keep detail to a minimum. I have a few old frames that I will try on a painting, even before it’s finished, just to see how it is coming together…sometimes even finishing it up in the frame.
What are you looking for when deciding on a subject to paint? What motivates you? There are a number of things I look for in a scene…composition, contrast, design, color, light and dark patterns, and a strong focal point. Subject matter is always the main attraction for me though. Flowers are my number one subject, but I also love scenes with water, waterfalls and rocks.
How do you decide on the focal point of a painting and what techniques do you use to clearly establish and maintain it? Focal points need to contain the main interest, such as most color, highest contrast, most detail and largest shape if possible. Most importantly, it needs to be placed in the golden mean of the canvas. To maintain the focal point, everything else in the painting needs to be subordinate to that area.
Are there compositional principles that you always adhere to? For my landscapes I find myself looking for the S pattern most often, although I do use others like steelyard and circular. Circular is used primarily for my still life paintings.
You don’t work very large. Most all your works are 12”x16” and smaller; is there a reason for that? I do work larger at times, but I paint outside so much it is difficult for me to paint larger outside. Studio work is generally larger.
What colors are typically found on your palette? Yellow Ochre, Cad. Yellow light, medium and dark, Cad. Red Light, Alizarine, Sap Green, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Titanium White, and a new color I have added, Gamblin Brown Pink.
How do you achieve such beautiful color harmony in your paintings? Thank you, I use a basic shadow , usually a violet, if the light is warm. I usually work with warm light. I also tone my canvas and I let some of that tone come through in the finished painting. When I set up my still life props, I try to think about complementary colors, a dominate warm, dominate cool, or dominate value.
There is a freshness about your work; I understand that with plein air pieces, but how do you achieve it in the studio? I think painting fast, as I do, helps me to keep the freshness. I usually leave the large shapes as long as possible and only soften on the shadow side of objects as I progress. I usually have the focal point in mind, and after the large shapes are established, I work in that area. Everything is relative to that as I progress. I am not recommending working fast because everyone has their own way of applying paint to canvas.
Describe your painting process. I work on linen canvas panels and mostly use bristle brushes. I start with a very light in value wash all over the canvas. The color of the wash is determined by the over all scene. I start with a sketch, designing the composition with focal area my first consideration. I work dark to light and thin to thick. If I am painting plein air, I usually paint for 1-1/2 hours because the light changes and the whole scene has changed. With studio painting there is no time limit. Although I paint fast, if I slow down I seem to add to much detail. When painting fast, I really don’t have time to think about it to much.
What’s the most difficult part of painting for you? Finding a new vision or a new way of saying something on canvas; finding something new to say, after painting all these years.
We all come up against creative brick walls at times, what do you do to break through them? I have to go to the old masters books and get inspired again. I am sure they had creative blocks as well, but it doesn’t show in their work.
What three things in your painting career do you consider “ah ha” moments…something when grasped made a significant difference in the quality of your work? When I figured out how to control my paintings using grays. When I entered the Pastel Society of America and was accepted the first time. I never thought my work was good enough for that show and, after that, I started believing in myself. When I won an award at the Salmagundi Club non-members show in N.Y., I went to the show and the President ask me to become a member, that made such a difference in my confidence.
Thank you Kaye Franklin for your beautiful work and a wonderful interview.
For more of Kaye’s work, click HERE
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE