How Rose Frantzen inspires you to paint at her Alla Prima Workshop – Part I

Rose Frantzen helping a student

Watching Rose Frantzen paint makes me wish I had another lifetime to practice.

Rose Frantzen teaching
Rose Frantzen teaching

She is so inspiring.

Seeing the article on Rose Frantzen in the November/December 2017 issue of Fine Art Connoisseur magazine reminded me of meeting her earlier this year.  I was privileged to see her begin the painting Vaulting the Disproportionate Illusion of a Transparent Wall, depicted on page 106 of the article (“Mistaking Identities? Rose Frantzen Sounds a Warning”).

I discovered Rose Frantzen because I wanted to learn how to paint hair. I had just finished a book called Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin. That’s where I learned that putting in your 10,000 hours of practice is only effective when you focus on improving what you aren’t good at. 

Since I couldn’t afford models, I thought I’d do a project in which I’d get random people to sit for me and paint them so I could practice.

In doing the research for that project, I discovered that Rose had done her fabulous project chronicling the people in her Iowa hometown called, Portrait of Maquoketa, which was later exhibited in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. You can see her talking about this project in the National Portrait Gallery, here.

Even though I decided then that I had to study with her, it was probably 7 years before I managed it. Last year I took a workshop with her at the Scottsdale Artist School in Arizona, where she teaches each February. Her workshops are hard to get into since she’s a popular teacher and they usually fill up shortly after registration opens in the fall.

I’ve written before about being at the Scottsdale Artists School which is a lovely facility, charming and well-appointed, with warm and professional staff. They actually remember you from one visit to the next and are unfailingly helpful. And the faculty are excellent.

Rose did not disappoint!

Rose Frantzen helping a student
Rose Frantzen helping a student

First, Rose is just as engaging as she comes across in photos and videos. She has a mischievous twinkle in her eye, a great smile and wonderful laugh. I admit that I was a bit star struck to be in the same room with her.

She is enthusiastic, serious, generous and willing to help no matter what level you’re at. Never patronizing, never making you feel unworthy of her help. The workshop was meant for intermediate to advanced students. I observed that she was very conscientious about giving equal time to people, something that doesn’t always happen in workshops. She even came in early one morning to give extra help to one woman who seemingly had little experience in painting and was really struggling. I was probably the second worst painter in the group and feel I got plenty of help from her.

I did notice that many of the students (if not most) had studied with her previously which may be one reason her classes fill quickly. One woman had studied with her at least 6 or 8 times before. (So, I guess I’m not the only groupie.)

Also, I was super fortunate to set up in a spot near Rose so I was able to observe her painting in between helping others.

Her materials

She uses a LOT of different paint colors. She continuously experiments with new colors and there were several that were new to me.

Rose Frantzen's palette arrangement on a tilted glass palette
Rose Frantzen’s palette arrangement on a tilted glass palette

For our interest, she listed all the colors she currently uses. The ones with bolded names were the essential colors we needed for the workshop. The others were optional and were the ones she was experimenting with. She recommended Utrecht Professional grade paint (U) except where noted.

  1. Titanium White or Utrecht White (Schminke, Old Holland, or U)
  2. Cadmium Lemon (Rembrandt)
  3. Cadmium Yellow Medium (U)
  4. Still de Grain Yellow (Rembrandt))
  5. Cadmium Orange (U)
  6. Permanent Red Medium (Rembrandt) or
  7. Cadmium Red med (U)
  8. Permanent Alizarin Crimson (Gamblin or Old Holland)
  9. Permanent Red Violet (Rembrandt)
  10. Yellow Ochre (U) and/or Yellow Ochre light (Rembrandt)
  11. Terre Rosa (any brand)
  12. Flesh Ochre (Old Holland)
  13. Venetian Red (Rembrandt)
  14. Transparent Oxide red, yellow, and brown (Rembrandt)
  15. Greenish Umber (Rembrandt)
  16. Mars Ivory Black (U) or Ivory Black (U)
  17. Asphaltum,
  18. Van Dyke Brown (Gamblin)
  19. Transparent Yellow Green (Rembrandt)
  20. Chromium Oxide Green (U or Rembrandt)
  21. Viridian (Gamblin or U)
  22. Cobalt Blue Pure (U),
  23. Radiant Turquoise (Gamblin)
  24. King’s Blue(Rembrandt)
  25. Ultramarine Blue (U)

Rose Frantzen's paletteShe recommended an oil primed Belgian Linen in portrait weave and she uses Artfix Belgian Linen Canvas 64C, which has 4 layers of oil priming.

Her medium is 1 part Stand oil and 5 parts Gamsol which she had conveniently placed in a wide mouth tuna fish can (or perhaps it was cat food). 


How she began her painting

Rose Frantzen painting a portrait
Rose Frantzen. First half hour of painting

In the beginning, she laid down paint in ways that seemed to be guided by her emotional connection and perhaps by trying to get a feel for the subject.

She began with expressive brushwork and loosely finding the location of the head on the picture plane.

She made random marks to cover the white of the background using some rubber texture tools from the hardware store. (I understand she has used oil sticks for this part of the process but she didn’t this time). This gave her an energetic surface to start with and got rid of the white background around the figure.

It also framed the area of the head.

I’ll continue talking about her painting process in next week’s post. Stay tuned.


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