Voices of Experience - Fernando Micheli
Voices of Experience
“One not only needs to capture the feeling of the subject, but also the essence of light and color as it bounces, reflects and scatters on the physical world. Painting is truly seeing more intensely than you can possibly hope to see. Painting is a life-long pursuit, one that requires always honing and learning new skills in order to build a vocabulary that just doesn’t reproduce reality, but can capture the emotional essence of nature.”
Fernando Micheli is an artist who is on his second career, after spending the early part of his life as a landscape architect, not a painter. We frequently discover artists who are like Micheli—taking up painting after decades of other kinds of work. We are happy to find those who work hard at learning to paint, especially outside, and who, like Micheli, improve steadily and even dramatically because of that effort. We think he is an inspiration to anyone on this challenging, but rewarding path. He participates in many organized paint-outs and painting events and has received much recognition and multiple rewards from them. We asked him to tell us a little bit about his background and family from Italy.
I was born into a rural household in Fiano (Lucca), Italy, who lived off the land and were hard pressed to find the essential necessities of life. By immigrating to the U.S. and leaving everything behind, they created a life for us that my parents had never dreamed of. I'd say that my creative careers of landscape architecture and art were encouraged by the courage, sacrifices and opportunity afforded me by my parents.
After immigrating to the U.S. in 1956 and growing up in San Francisco, my family finally did make a wonderful trip back to reunite and reconnect with family in Italy in 1970. I feel in love with the country, its people, and ended up returning shortly thereafter, staying for close to two years. Living there was the first exposure I had to art and architecture—living in Lucca and Florence, visiting Venice, Rome as well as many more places of artistic significance which greatly influenced me. I've been back to visit Italy and family many more times in subsequent years as recently as last fall, staying for five weeks. I continue to plan trips back.
I remained in Italy after high school and attended Salesian Novitiate in Pinerolo, Italy, studying to become a Catholic priest. I decided not to follow the Salesian vocation, but it led me on a road which formed my perception of art and architecture within Italy. I was obviously connecting with my cultural past and patrimony and learning the language more fluently, which allowed me to study at and tutor Italian students at a Salesian school in Pietrasanta, Italy. It then led to obtaining my Liceo degree, the equivalent of a U.S. high school diploma in Italy. I had then applied to go to the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence to study architecture, but torn between my Italian and American identity, I opted to return to San Francisco and took the path towards a career in Landscape Architecture at UC Berkeley. Fine Arts would have to wait 36 years after I retired from landscape architecture.
During your career as a landscape architect, did you keep a sketchbook or have any sense that you would eventually pursue fine art?
Many of our members were either not supported in or diverted away from their passion for art when they were young and pursued other careers, finally to return to their love of art years later. Would you tell us about your journey?
The landscape has always been a strong part of your artistic focus, both as a landscape architect and now, as a painter. Does your former career in landscape architecture influence your painting now?
I'll then paint using the basic method of "thin to thick" and "dark to light"—starting with my diluted dark value shapes and quickly composing, placing my color and value notes throughout my composition in order to capture the feeling of the moment and not losing the light. This happens within the first 45 minutes to an hour. I will then proceed to add thicker paint and lighter colors adjusting my painting design as I go, slowing down as I proceed until completing my painting.
For me, the immediacy of painting plein air is so much more satisfying than painting from a monitor screen or photograph which often times misrepresents reality. The very act of painting outdoors requires using a triad of physical, mental/technical and inspirational abilities that allow me to experience the emotional feeling of the subject and ethereal qualities of our natural world. I also learn about how light and shadow inform objects in nature. That said, my studio paintings are the culmination of observation outdoors using my visual memory, outdoor sketches and photos that I've manipulated to create an image close to what I remember observing.
I've used predominantly Gamblin paints, solvents and medium, but I try to occasionally switch it up. My palette is the following: Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Pthalo Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Siena, and also my vanity colors—Radiant Green, Pthalo Turquoise and Quinacridone Magenta.
Can you tell us about your palette and the experience of painting at night? What appeals to you about night painting?
I have small groups of painters that I occasionally go out with called "Padawan Plein Air" and "Usual Suspects South" group. It's important to push each other to get better.
Any words of wisdom you might give to beginning artists?
And, just for fun, if you could sit down and have a long conversation over dinner with an artist from the past, who would you choose, and why?
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Filled with inspirational examples by the masters of nightime painting, this little book is sure to fire up your creative energies. Never tried painting at night? We show you how it's done with a step-by-step-oil demo and a tale of night painting in the wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes is a 7 x 7" PDF download with 40 pages of text and images. It includes a gallery of paintings by masters of the nocturne, information to inspire and encourage you in your plein air nocturne painting, an illustrated step-by-step demo and tips for working in pastel and oil. Also available in a softcover edition. Check out the tools and other products that we use in our own art and travels in The Artist's Road Store. We only offer things for sale that we enthusiastically believe in.