Bill Farnsworth interview

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Bill Farnsworth has been a professional artist for a long time. You’ll find his experience and shared insights valuable and helpful. How did it all begin? He remembers drawing on the walls of his bedroom at a very young age. He chose to draw birds, but his parents eventually wallpapered over the graffiti and obtained a roll of paper for him from his grandfather, who was a lace designer. The grandfather commuted into New York City every day from Norwalk CT. and stayed gainfully employed right through the depression. Bill remembers standing in his house when he was given the roll of graph paper. It was white on one side, so, he rolled it out on the living room floor and resumed drawing birds.

He loved Disney stuff and was able to draw Donald Duck so well that he sold the drawings to his 3rd grade classmates for a nickel a piece, however the teacher made him return the money. He must have seen there was money to be made in art. So why is he an artist? He feels art chose him and he just ran with it.

He is a seriously dedicated plein air painter. In fact, his plein air work informs most all of his work. He believes that through intense observation one can begin to feel empathy for the subject, and from that comes understanding.

Farnsworth was the awarding juror for the recent National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society “2021 Fall International Online Exhibition”, I was honored that Bill awarded my painting, “Fly Fishing on the Guadalupe River”, Third Place. This prompted me to want to learn more about him and what he looks for when judging art competitions. I’m very thankful he agreed to this interview. I believe you will be also. (Click images to enlarge)


How long have you been a professional fine artist?  About 42 years. It took me 10 years to go full time as an illustrator.

So, what is your definition of fine art?  First and foremost, Fine Art is something you created without the influence of an editor or art director. It is something that comes from the heart and engages the viewer. You start the story, and the viewer can finish it. I like to leave a window open for them to imagine or recall a memory. Fine Art should not need a lengthy explanation.

How do you define your role as an artist?  I look back at the icons of art and how they documented their life and times. I travel a lot for events because it affords me the opportunity to see different places of the world. I paint my experiences and with filed studies, photos and memory, I can relive those moments. The scene will never be the same but from that I have documented my life and times. What an opportunity!

“Elba Time” – 12″ x 16″ – Oil


How does one find their individuality as an artist?  I think artists should first know their intent so they can set their course. Don’t copy styles, just do what comes from your heart and from that point of view your  individuality will emerge.

Why is art important?  I believe more than ever art is common ground among all people. It is respite from the daily bombardment of daily living. It shows a path to how wonderful life really is.

“January Light” – 16″ x 20″ – Oil


I think you began your professional career as an illustrator, how did that prepare you for a fine art career?  I was very lucky to find a 15-20 year niche in Children’s Books. Most of the titles were historic in nature because I love history. The best stories really happened and it shows us where we have been and where we are going. Painting lots of figures and carrying a character through the pages consistently taught me how to draw everything. It also taught me discipline and the business side of art.

How did you make the transition from illustration to fine art?  I knew the illustration field was going downhill fast so I started getting into galleries while still illustrating. Then it all ended like someone turned off a faucet. That was a scary time, but like my whole career I managed to survive and adapt.

How did your first gallery representation come about?  I was approached by a gallery in Santa Fe because they saw my work at the Society of Illustrators in New York where I was a member. I really didn’t have a body of work yet and was still illustrating. so that didn’t go anywhere. One day I stopped into the Hughes gallery in Boca Grande, Florida and the owners took me on. By that time, I finally had a body of work.

How do you determine the prices for your work?  In the beginning I kept my prices low and eventually looked at what everyone else was charging for comparable size and quality. The illustration field had a set price structure, but with fine art I learned to price mostly on size. You have to be careful to slowly raise your prices as demand creeps up. If you go too high you can never come down because you hurt the collectors who bought at the high end.

“Sand in Your Toes” – 14″ x 18″ – Oil


You live in Florida and have created many paintings from that part of the United States; what appeals to you about the Florida landscape?  Every morning I go for a walk at first light and get to witness Florida waking up. The skies are different every day and eventually find their way into my paintings. Living on the coast of Southwest Florida gives me a chance to paint the ever-changing coastline. There are still some “Old Florida” pockets around to paint. Also, it’s an outdoor lifestyle that I can paint in 9 months of the year. The other 3 hot months I travel to cooler locations.

“Patch and Mend” – 18″ x 24″ – Oil

“Beach Fairy” – 20″ x 16″ – Oil


Plein air painting is a large part of what you do; why is it important, and what specific advice do you have for those wanting to give it a try?  Painting outdoors for me is part of the process of creating believable paintings. I may finish them in the field in one or two sessions. These studies are valuable to understanding how light behaves. It will sharpen your drawing and editing skills. In the two-hour time frame the scene opens up to you in ways a snapshot can’t. If you take a photo without the study then your memory is valuable to capture the reason why you stopped and took the picture.

When selecting a subject to paint, what are you looking for?  My subject matter is all over the place, so I let the light select the subject.  I know if I’m excited about the painting no matter what the subject, collectors will feel that too.

“Arnoldo” – 20″ x 16″ – Oil


Following up on that, when you are asked to judge an art competition, how do you go about selecting the award winners?  Judging shows is a huge honor I don’t take lightly. Artists have spent a lot of time and effort to put themselves out there. On my first of many passes through the show I’ll see what jumps off the wall from a distance. The next pass will be a little slower making mental notes of how the artist is conveying their idea. I continue to make many passes and all the while study the rhythm of the piece, the control of values, and paint quality. If I’m there in person, I try to place the award winners in a separate room if possible. Usually, by then the top three awards are picked. If online, I copy and paste the top pieces and put them together in a file for viewing. The job gets tougher at this point and requires more time to make sure I didn’t miss a quiet jewel. In the end, every judge has a tough time picking award winners with the thinnest of margins. So, my advice to entering shows is don’t get derailed because you didn’t win an award. Keep entering, and once in a while you’ll get a ribbon. Enjoy it for a few days then put it away and get back to work.

“Blinded by the Light” – 24″ x 24″ – Oil


What are the three major weaknesses you see in students’ work; how would you help them overcome those deficiencies?  The first one is drawing, then values, and an understanding of color temperature. Drawing is the foundation and a lifelong pursuit with no depot. I try to get my students to see shape and not the thing. Values in painting are broken down into 9 values. 1/white,  5/mid tone, 9/black, then you have three lights and three darks. If they start with a known value, they can compare all others next to the known value.

Color in painting is basically warm and cool. If the color is muddy it’s just the wrong temperature. Color mixing trips most students up. I tell them to first identify the general color as green, purple etc… then try match the value by making it lighter or darker, finally, is the color higher or lower chroma? But, in the end value is the key. I get my students the first day in a workshop to work just in black and white.

Do you consider it important that artists enter art competitions; what are the pros and cons?  I think it’s important for your brand and ego if you have the right attitude. Some artists get rejected and then boycott the show because they think they should have gotten in and then post their reject on social media for sympathy. If you are lucky enough to get in, it can be very exciting to hang on the same walls with some of your favorite artists…and maybe even be able to go to the show and meet them in person. The downside of entering shows is the rejection, and if you do get in, the shipping is expensive. Only ship ground.

“Cool Shade” – 16″ x 20″ – Oil


Please explain your painting process.  The first step for me is to absorb an experience in the field. Ideally, set up and paint your subject. I’ll also take a few photos for use back in the studio. My study usually has all the info I need so I hardly look at the photo unless there is drawing issue. I do a lot of studio studies before jumping into a big piece to make sure I’ve ironed out the problems. My painting “Oasis” 24×30 was conceived using a color study and many photos of these goats as they moved in the dappled light under an oak tree. What struck me while photographing was how blue their white fur was against the warm West Texas grass. Back in the studio I painted a small study to explore the value patterns and color. So what I had back in the studio were field studies, photos, memory and the studio study.

“Oasis” – 24″ x 30″ – Oi.


What colors are typically on your palette?  I use Williamsburg paint. Starting from left to right: cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, transparent oxide red, titanium white, alizarin crimson, cadmium red light, alizarin orange, and cadmium yellow light. I also supplement my palette with ivory black and sevres blue.

How does your work reflect your personality?  I have a profound empathy for everything around me.

“Solstice” – 16″ x 12″ – Oil


Please tell us about your mentoring program.  I started the mentoring program about four years ago for students who felt uneasy in a classroom setting and for those painters who want to get to the next level. I choose what we will paint together, and I take the student through a step by step process of the how and why. As we paint, I check on them every 10-15 minutes. It starts at 9am and ends at 3pm. We break for lunch and continue the art discussion.

If you could spend the day with any three artists, past or present, whom would they be?  Sorolla, Schmid, and Zorn.

If you were stranded on an island, what three books would you want with you?  Alla Prima by Richard Schmid, A Greater Journey by David McCullough and One Summer by Bill Bryson.

What’s your typical day look like?  I start the day with a 40-minute walk at first light. It wakes me and helps me sort out the day. After coffee/breakfast I try to answer emails, make posts and generally put out the small fires in the morning so I can concentrate in the studio. I’ll paint until about 4pm and get dinner prepped. At five bells I’ll go sit outside and enjoy a drink. I may go back into the studio to study the days efforts.

What goals, if any, do you have for 2022?  Every year I say I’m going to hire a model and paint from life and never do…lol. Maybe this year?


To see more of Bill Farnsworth’s paintings, click HERE.


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