John Farnsworth (b. 1941) is a mature artist and a painter’s painter with a contemporary eye and a traditional hand.
From travel landscapes to still lifes, from animal portraits to Kachinas, he paints his unique response to whatever catches his eye.
Self-taught, he works from life, sketches, photographs, and video.
Using only the primary colors of red, yellow and blue, he captures all the nuance and subtlety of tone in even the most complex subjects.
He has painted professionally since 1968 and his works range from small pencil drawings to the twenty-by-thirty foot mural “Stage” at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, originally painted for the Wells Fargo Bank in Los Angeles, California.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you paint these (daily paintings) from life or photos?
I almost always paint from photographs. I only paint from my own photos. I take photos every day.
When I was a young man painting on the Navajo Reservation, I spurned the use of a camera.
I did a lot of paintings and made a lot of sketches. But I soon realized how much more I could have had to work from, later, if only I had used a camera. Now, it saddens me to think of the historic record they could have become.
When I finally decided to use a camera, I couldn’t afford a 35mm camera, much less the film at the time. Instead, I bought a used Super 8mm movie camera with a single frame cable release. This allowed me to take thousands of tiny still images . They didn’t have much information, but were like small thumbnail sketches, and served the purpose well.
Over the years I’ve used many kinds of cameras, and now have drawers full of both slides and prints. Since digital came along, I’ve been using my computer for storage (with external hard drives and the cloud for backup) and now have a very large collection of photographs that I browse through each day, until something catches my eye; something compelling, or that stirs old memories, or that presents a special challenge.
I then crop the image. Maybe I will alter the lighting a bit. Then I bring it up on either my iPhone or my iPad, next to my easel, and paint from it. I now have a couple of pretty fine digital cameras. But the camera that is always with me is my iPhone 6s Plus.
While browsing through my archives, I also keep an eye out for those shots that can best stand on their own as photographs, and every day post one of them on my other blog When a Painter Snaps. (WAPS is on hold for now, but the archives are still available.)
Do you use your same 3-color limited palette for plain air?
I have used the same three pigments and white, my (Un)limited Palette, exclusively since the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, whether painting in oil, acrylic or watercolor (minus the white in watercolor).
I don’t do much plein-air painting, anymore, although I have in the past. I find that I can get the same excitement, and the same feeling for the scene, the atmosphere, and the ambiance from my photograph, minus the interruptions, discomfort and inconvenience of painting on location.
Also, I find my memory contains the most lucid part of the experience, without the distractions, allowing me to better extract the essence of the scene. That said, I do occasionally enjoy painting on location when traveling alone. Usually in watercolor.
I am currently using Ampersand Gessobord Museum Series panels for most of my daily paintings. However, my wife, Thea, just reminded me that only the use of photographs and the (Un)Limited Palette are constants with me. I am always searching for a better way.
For more information on the materials I use, please visit the Workshops page on my main website, firstname.lastname@example.org
Farnsworth is represented by:
David Anthony Fine Art, Taos, New Mexico
Pierson Gallery, American Fine Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Bishop Gallery, West Main, Scottsdale, Arizona
Sorrel Sky Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico