PleinAir Podcast Francesco Fontana artist
Francesco Fontana, featured in the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads, Episode 193

Welcome to the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads. In this episode Eric interviews Francesco Fontana, who creates studio and plein air works of contemporary life in watercolor and oil in Italy. Fontana moved to Paris at the age of 20 to “be an artist” and live the dream he always had.

In this interview, listen to Fontana tell us about what it was like to continue living as an artist in Italy during the initial Covid outbreak; his approach to painting watercolor and his advice for painting cities and for finding the right colors to use; and more.

Bonus! In this week’s Art Marketing Minute, Eric Rhoads, author of Make More Money Selling Your Art, shares if it’s best to stick to one style or to mix it up, and how to handle inventory and overstock issues.

Listen to the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads and Francesco Fontana here:

Landscape by Francesco Fontana
Landscape by Francesco Fontana

Related Links:
– Francesco Fontana online:
– Watercolor Live:
– Eric Rhoads on Instagram:
– Eric Rhoads on Facebook:
– Sunday Coffee:
– Plein Air Salon:

FULL TRANSCRIPT of this PleinAir Podcast
DISCLAIMER: The following is the output of a transcription from an audio recording of the PleinAir Podcast. Although the transcription is mostly correct, in some cases it is slightly inaccurate due to the recording and/or software transcription.

Eric Rhoads 0:00
This is episode number 193. Today we’re an featuring artist from Italy, Francesco Fontana. You don’t want to miss this one.

Announcer 0:21
This is the Plein Air Podcast with Eric Rhoads, publisher and founder of Plein Air Magazine. In the Plein Air Podcast we cover the world of outdoor painting called plein air. The French coined the term which means open air or outdoors. The French pronounce it plenn air. Others say plein air. No matter how you say it. There is a huge movement of artists around the world who are going outdoors to paint and this show is about that movement. Now, here’s your host, author, publisher and painter, Eric Rhoads.

Eric Rhoads 1:00
Thank you Jim Kipping and welcome everybody to the Plein Air Podcast. Happy November. Hard to believe November’s here. If you’re listening to this right on time, tomorrow is Election Day. Lots of tension in the air, big day. Everybody’s wondering what’s happening. Anyway, I recently wrote in my Sunday coffee blog about how to cope with all the drama of all the elections in COVID, and the civil unrest and everything. You might want to check it out at I write every week, I’ve got a quarter million listeners now, which is pretty cool. And it’s called Sunday Coffee, go to You know, I never ever get political. But none of us have the right to gripe about outcomes if we don’t vote; voting is a privilege. We should not ignore it. And so if you haven’t voted, please consider it. I did early voting a week or so ago. And I was thinking, wouldn’t it be nice I’ve been watching television and seeing social media and I thought I don’t want to see these political ads anymore. Everybody voted. You can’t change my mind now. So I was thinking wouldn’t it be nice to have an app that eliminates all the political ads once we voted so we didn’t have to continue to listen to at all? I guess that’s kind of a pipe dream. Anyway, a couple of things coming up to remind you about the Plein Air Convention, early bird deadline, which is the best price is Black Friday, right before Thanksgiving right after Thanksgiving. Grab your seat now and book it because once everybody’s allowed out, this is going to be the biggest Plein Air Convention ever. As a matter of fact, it already was before we had to cancel, so it’s going to be in Denver in may grab your seat now. And of course, if COVID gets in the way, it’s 100% refundable. Go to and get your seat you won’t regret it. And at every convention, we’ve always done a watercolor stage and had watercolor on there as well. Lately we’ve done a lot of virtual conferences, and we weren’t able to fit watercolor in really because we didn’t have multiple stages we did plein air live. And we did Realism Live in both cases, we had instructors from all over the world and attendees from 30 countries or so was the world’s largest plein air event world’s largest realism event. And we’re going to be doing now Watercolor Live in late January kind of towards the end of the month. And it’s we’ve already got the top watercolors in the world including Joseph Zbukvic. So you don’t want to miss that grab a ticket while the price is the lowest ever. But it goes up after Thanksgiving. And please keep in mind you know I’m doing more watercolor than ever because I like to have watercolor with me or glass or water media with me when I’m traveling sometimes because sometimes I just can’t bear taking all the paint with me and this is just easy. So learning watercolor for me is a priority and it might be something you want to consider. So go to check it out get your seat again, there’s a there’s a price increase coming up right after Thanksgiving. In the October/November issue of Plein Air Magazine, which I hope you subscribe to but if you don’t, maybe you should you can pick it up at Barnes and Noble. It’s the number one selling art magazine nationally number one selling art and photography magazine nationally at Barnes and Noble. We also are now in 238 Michael’s stores. We have a feature on rising stars spotlighting 11 artists who are getting the attention of gallery owners event organizers and competition jurors. And also in this week’s newsletter Plein Air Today which comes out weekly which you also should get it’s free features Joshua Cunningham’s painting Abandoned to Sunset won best plein air work of the June 2020 Plein Air Salon. Coming up after the interview I’m going to be answering your marketing questions in the Art Marketing Minute but let’s first get right to our interview with Francesco Fontana, who creates studio and plein air works of contemporary life in watercolor and oil in Italy. Francesco Fontana, welcome to the Plein Air Podcast.

Francesco Fontana 4:57
Oh, thank you. Hi, Eric. Thank you for inviting me.

Eric Rhoads 5:01
Well, it’s the miracle of technology. You’re in Italy. And it’s really great to talk to you.

Francesco Fontana 5:08
Yes. Great talk to you, too. Sure.

Eric Rhoads 5:12
I was trying to think about where you and I first met, and I think it was at the plein air convention. Is that sound, right?

Francesco Fontana 5:19
Yeah, that’s right. I don’t know if it was in 2014 or 15. I think 14 anyway. Yeah, a few years ago.

Eric Rhoads 5:29
Yeah. Well, and we met and we ended up becoming friends. We ended up doing a video together. So a lot has happened since then.

Francesco Fontana 5:41
Sure, sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got more and more involved in the plein air circuit. And the plein air work and … while I was in the faculty in the following years, and the faculty of the convention, we made a DVD, made a lot of things.

Eric Rhoads 6:05
Did this idea of you getting involved in the plein air circuit, so to speak, which means for those listening who might not know what that means, it means, going, and being an artist in many of the shows, the plein air shows around the country. Did that happen as a result of you going to the plein air convention, and learning about that? Or had you been already doing that?

Unknown Speaker 6:26
No, I had just gotten to know the plein air festival network, just the Plein Air Conventions, so that helped a lot to get me into this well, exciting, wonderful network of festivals that gather artists, to paint together for usually for five by five days or a week long, and just then the, the painting Sunday in the gallery, and it’s very exciting. It’s very, also typical, we don’t have that in Europe. So it’s very American, and very well organized as you got a lot of words sales a little bit forwards by the local promoters to, you know, to reach for collectors, and invite art lovers, and help the local community to raise money for the, for the arts.

Eric Rhoads 7:25
So well, I’m curious about that. You said you don’t have that in Europe? I have been talking to some people in Ireland and Scotland and England, who say that they’re kind of it’s kind of starting to happen. And I’m curious about, the whether or not you’re seeing any, any activity whatsoever in terms of people starting to do some plein air events in Europe?

Unknown Speaker 7:55
Well, I know there’s one in Ireland. Yes, it’s pretty big. But it’s not so popular as it is in the States. I mean, no, no comparation at all. So I’m afraid, the problem. It might be, but hopefully, we’re going to solve that somebody’s gonna solve it, it’s that there might not be an audience willing to, I mean, mature, ready to do to an audience ready to go to attend plein air festivals in by the result of the afford to the artist on the field. This, exists, but it’s very kind of the Sunday kind of local, a local opening, which is very kind of amateurish, you know what I mean?

Eric Rhoads 8:48
Yeah, well, there’s nothing wrong with that, either. I mean, thankfully, they’re doing that and getting outdoors and, and painting is as hobbyist and and that’s kind of how it all begins for a lot of us anyway. But, you say that the whether or not there’s going to be an audience that’s kind of prepared for that, that I think that, most of the plein air events that started around America, when I when I started Plein Air Magazine, there were no more than two or three plein air events nationally. And, since the magazine began, and since the movement kind of really blossomed I’m not sure that we had anything to do with it. We may or may not have, but, they’re now probably 2, 3, 4 hundred events. You know, every town has got one. Some of them do really good jobs and big events, others do smaller, smaller events. Some of them are, well run, some of them are not but, at least they’re doing them. And I think that the audiences are not necessarily people who have primed themselves with you know, gee, I’m gonna go buy a painting. I think it’s more like, well, I wonder what this is. I’m curious and then so they just show up and then, they find themselves falling in love with the painting. So you may find that the same thing happens in Europe.

Francesco Fontana 10:08
Yeah, definitely in the sense that he needs a little time to get a little more mature. And in the sense, though, of course, there’s nothing wrong if you’re an amateur Sunday painter. From my point of view of a professional that sometimes can be a little bit tricky, because, you might understand why, but however people enjoy watching watching artists painting outdoors, and on the other end that there are a lot of painters now devoted to plein air. So you will get events, but it’s more like meetups or stuff like that, just the festivals where people gather to paint. And that’s cool. That’s okay. That’s, interesting.

Eric Rhoads 11:02
Absolutely. I think that in every case, it’s going to take a catalyst, there’s usually one person in a community who has experienced it elsewhere and says, I think we can bring it here. They usually get in touch with us, and they say, how do we do it? We have people who kind of walk them through how to use started, how did you start an event, what makes a successful event, what, what not to do what to do? As a matter of fact, we have some sub dialogue, we usually have something at the convention where we get the show organizers together, and I we had that planned for Denver before. So I’m sure we’ll have it planned for Denver again, when we do it in in May. Obviously, we had to cancel because of the coronavirus, but I think that, the key is just finding the right people somebody listening might be that person might say, I think I’ll start one in Italy. And another one says, I’ll start one in my part of Italy and, next thing you know, it starts small. Next thing, you know, you got three, 400 events.

Unknown Speaker 12:10
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But absolutely, I don’t want to give you an idea that I’m sort of pessimistic, I am ready to help out for my alcohol. So my, our too many, too, a bunch of people. So definitely the might be people. I’m sure there’s people there are people are willing to, to set up an event to promote it to make it make it, live in the in Europe as well.

Eric Rhoads 12:37
Well, sure. By the way, I don’t think there’s a pessimistic bone in your body from knowing you all these years. I know that you’re an optimist. So I appreciate that. So how did this all begin for you, Francesco, you are a professional painter, you’re excellent. You tend to focus mostly on watercolor from what I can tell. But this all started somewhere. How did this passion begin?

Unknown Speaker 13:03
Well, I was the typical kid with the pencil in the hand all the time. You know, that’s the that’s the thing. That was long time ago. So I just I was born with this kind of goal, I will say, and then I moved to Paris when I was 21. I think, you know the story. I had that kind of bohemian dream in my head. So I moved to Paris, Francis from Palermo, Sicily. I moved to Paris. At the time, I didn’t even know French or to speak French. So that was an adventure. And then I started actually my career just as a portrait artist in the down the street or basically up in the march down in … and the …, you know, the the … district where others gather in pairs.

Eric Rhoads 13:55
So I’m curious about that. I want to ask you a couple of questions about that before you move on to the rest of that story. Because, I’ve seen the artist around the square and Walmart and so on. And I wonder is that something that happens randomly? Or is that controlled? Does an artist have to have a license to be there? Do they have to pay a fee to be there? Because the last time I was there, I got the impression that they were controlling it very carefully. I was curious if when you were doing it if that was the case?

Francesco Fontana 14:27
Yeah, that was the aid is in Yeah, at the time, it was pretty busy, because the squares been small, so you fill up very easily. And so there was a, there was a license to be able to paint in there and to to work in there. But, some people would just get into just around the square, and just to get to try to grab some tourists anyway. So I was losing away. But basically, that’s pretty controlled, there are rules to be there. I mean, there were rules at the time. There were also some kind of guy and trying to control their, you know, the situation like no really legal there were two, two sides, there was the legal side, where you are supposed to have a card, a license, and the other end, you might get just sneak in, find a little spot if some guy would protect you. It was pretty fun. You know what I mean?

Eric Rhoads 15:39
Yeah, kind of like a mafia situation. Not that that really exists.

Unknown Speaker 15:44
And I didn’t want to say that. But anyway, no, you know what, a little story that might interest to the audience. But, just the sort of two, three months ago, I finally could find through Facebook, and you know, through YouTube or whatever. A friend, fellow artists, they used to been down in Paris that that was almost 40 years ago, and I’d lost track of them for decades. And then find him out. And he is still there.

Eric Rhoads 16:17
When there was no one that was there when you were there. Still there? He turned out to make a pretty decent living because otherwise it wouldn’t have been worth it.

Unknown Speaker 16:29
Sure, yeah. I’m sure he was. He was at the time already, in a way, although the competition was pretty big. But the guys was a is a British, Malaysian, the British passport guy, anyway, he was kind of a saver not like me. So I think he bought a house with that business.

Eric Rhoads 16:53
So that had to be a pretty tough life, though. You were young, you said you were What? 16 or 17.

Francesco Fontana 16:59
Now I was about 20.

Eric Rhoads 17:01
And how long did you do it?

Unknown Speaker 17:04
Oh, four … a couple of years. Yeah.

Eric Rhoads 17:08
And you showed up every day rain or shine?

Francesco Fontana 17:12
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Rhoads 17:14
And what was that process like? Did you wait till somebody came up and ask you questions? Or did you try to flag them down and pull them in? What was that whole thing like?

Unknown Speaker 17:26
Oh, well, that does slow fast. Yeah. Well, in the first place, is it? I will tell you. We would sit there and just wait for people to come to us questions. Basically, people will ask how much it costs. I can remember by the was what that wasn’t so expensive. And, but there were some some of us were pretty aggressive. I would say. Others were pretty nice. I can say you always was the winner. Because some, sometimes even the, the more the most aggressive artists would just maybe get the customer, but then the customer would reject the … Right? So that was one of the risks of that kind of business.

Eric Rhoads 18:28
Oh, so you were an obligated to buy it if you if you ask somebody to paint it. And then if you didn’t like it, you could say no.

Francesco Fontana 18:37
Yeah, there was other there was no way any way you could get an obliger so and if you were nicer you would you just apologize. Maybe you thought it was a great job. But anyway, you would apologize and Okay, that’s it. Some of the people were more aggressive. So the street life as you as you said, rain or shine but also, try to cope with the street life. It’s actually a street life no street struggle sort of mean you can be fun, it was fun, but also a lot of, sometimes there were fights. Sometimes there were nasty things happening. I don’t want to ruin romanticizes. You say that although that was probably the most, the time that I was mostly growing up fast now was was an amazing period of my life. So foresight. You know, it was great. But it wasn’t easy. Anyway, it was tough.

Eric Rhoads 19:49
Yeah, well, it doesn’t sound, very romantic to me. I mean, I think it’s fascinating, but, it sounds like a tough way to make a living, because your last time I was there, there probably were 50 or 100 artists in the square around there. And, they’re all kind of barking at you trying to get them to get you to sit down and sit at their easel or, of course some of them are selling paintings not just portraits and so but but what a great experience and to go through it at 20 years old. I don’t think I’d want to do it today, but it probably was kind of fun at 20.

Francesco Fontana 20:22
Yeah, 20 was That was great. And all my friends Stan and Paloma, were jealous that I was living in Paris, you know what I mean? It was exciting, because I met a lot of very, very, very wonderful artists and friends are made friends, I’m friends with some of them. Two or three years, they said, still, we still in touch. It was a very intense time very growing, making me learning, a lot about life and people. Maybe I mentioned sometimes that there was a war Iran, Iraq at the time and it but the, the two fellas, Iraqi Iranian artists, wonderful artists, they were friends. So that was an example of, something beautiful happening. And, we were talking about art all night. It was very, very exciting, very, something…you treasure for your lifetime anyway.

Eric Rhoads 21:33
Well, and that’s something we do romanticize, I oftentimes think back to the Impressionists in Paris. And, there’s them sitting around in the bars having having glasses of wine and having arguments or discussions about art. And that sounds, to me, that sounds like a lot of fun. Because, that’s what we do at the Plein Air Convention, or we do at the Fall Color Week or the Adirondacks or any of these events is, we sit up and, we always end up talking about our lives a little bit, but mostly, we start talking about art and other artists and the things that they were doing, and that’s a great way to pass an evening.

Francesco Fontana 22:14
Yeah, I remember that time that was very much like that, now you have this maybe through a little bit through the media, or when, you get the chance to together like in the pub there Plein Air Convention or other events. But most of the times, that was kind of on a daily basis. Yeah, today is more like, just chatting or posting stuff on social media. And that’s the way we connect most of the times later, I will say.

Eric Rhoads 22:46
And you have you have a family, you have what two daughters? I think right?

Francesco Fontana 22:51
Yeah, yeah.

Eric Rhoads 22:54
And so, life’s a little different. Now we have we have responsibilities.

Francesco Fontana 23:00
Sure. That’s why I was, is pretty weird, because I find pretty natural that of course, I left that kind of life we were talking about in Paris, but at the same time, all the plein air thing that happened in the past few years. Family ready in a way because I knew what has to be out, down the street in a way. On the other end, as you say, I’ve finally got a, club studio to run, this, this pandemic to take care of, I mean, to protect the family. Of course, you change. So, that’s for sure, and different problems.

Eric Rhoads 23:48
So what was pandemic like for you? It kind of started out pretty early in Italy and you obviously have had to try and make out a living throughout all of this. What did you find this this experience to bring you that was both positive and and also difficult or negative?

Francesco Fontana 24:10
Yeah, to be honest, in the spring, like in March, this started in March and we were a little bit, well, of course, we were a little bit scared about at the beginning. We didn’t take it, well we took it seriously, but not scary, just seriously and then the lockdown for me was kind of good because I was in the studio, my life didn’t change very much. Actually, my daily life because I was in the studio just kept painting. I had a couple of commissions to give, to get done in so it was a way to focus, to concentrate in a way to meditate sort of. Think about your life and art and no more silence all around the neighborhood. So in a way, I loved it, I must tell you. But it was scary because the ambulances in the … of course, we the perception of people that were suffering that were dying that were, that was terrible. I’d have student for instance, a long time student that lost his dad. We had the perception that people were dying, but we were safe. So it was a mixed feeling sort of, you know what I mean? And then we went through the summer, and it was pretty nice. I must tell you, I traveled, we traveled as a family, I traveled by myself, within Europe anyway. It was pretty fun. It was it was good. But now, unfortunately, we’re back into the drama, because cases are increasing. Again, this famous second wave is, taking place. And so it’s kind of a more kind of tricky than in the spring, because we know more we know a lot about it. And so, we don’t know, actually, we’re pretty confused. I must tell you, I think everybody’s confused. And, we won’t get into that. I think that, there’s a lot of misinformation and a lot of confusion.

Eric Rhoads 26:37
And data manipulation, etc. So we’ll just avoid that topic, because we can’t make anybody happy no matter what we do on that one. But I’m glad you made it through it. And I’m glad you’re okay. And yeah, I think it’s been nice to have that concentrated time. And it probably, you probably live in a noisy area. So having that silence was probably pretty good. So I’m curious. Are you were you able to get out and do any plein air painting? Or did you pretty much have to stay inside the entire time, when you when you were under the quarantine rules.

Francesco Fontana 27:20
No, I wasn’t able to go out just well. After a while, I realized that there is a park just in my condo, it’s a big condo is this is not a single house, and in the countryside, so, but we have a little park and I realized that as soon as I realized that, I went down three or four times and did some painting, then a few paintings in the gardens in the park. That was let’s call it a yard, a large yard within the condo buildings. And that was an emotion because it was the first time like, after a month or so I was really locked in, in the house. So we didn’t put the nose outside except for the grocery. Right? Right. So that was it. Then in May then I went out in May and that was we live feed to look free to go out there the Florentine was terminated. So we went out and we were able to to paint and do everything.

Eric Rhoads 28:31
One of the things that I found fascinating throughout all of this is the pivot that so many people have made, we’ve I’ve talked to and heard from as you have hundreds of artists and galleries and it’s been interesting to see how people have responded to it. And, we’ve sadly seen some some artists not able to sell anything we’ve seen some galleries go away. And that stuff’s all terrible. And then on the other hand, I’ve heard people telling me things like I’ve never sold so much art in my life. This has been the best year of sales I’ve ever had. I’ve heard that from from some galleries I’ve heard it from some artists were there any positive benefits for you that came from this other than the silence and the the ability to concentrate on your work?

Francesco Fontana 29:22
Well, I’m not an exception. I must say I saw pretty well at myself pretty well online. I can’t say it was the best this year ever. Probably not but I think it was better than last year anyway.

Eric Rhoads 29:38
Oh that’s a good thing. Have you sold through galleries or do you sell exclusively online?

Francesco Fontana 29:44
No I sell online and sold to my client that you know live here they you know they asked me a few commission a couple commissions like a big portrait family portrait and stuff like that, in watercolor because, I’m focusing on figures recently. In addition to plein air, of course. And in some American collectors, I’m lucky enough to have followers, friends in the States, so that were the two things and then we’ll get some gallery now after the lockdown. So but, it’s still too early to say, right? But so far so good that point of view, but I don’t complain.

Eric Rhoads 30:36
So in normal times when you’re not in lockdown, or you’re not having to be worrying about going back into it. How much plein air painting do you do? And how often do you go out?

Francesco Fontana 30:51
Well, I’m gonna say a couple times a week, maybe. Yeah, it’s I don’t know, I don’t wait for events to happen not just … and stuff and just go to the park or some suburbs of Milan and like the Serbs like, the corners, the areas of the city are pretty neglected in a way. I don’t go downtown to paint the Duomo, like the cathedral? Well, I did that for a little while, just to give it a try to give it to experience that but I’m not kind of painting monuments, monumental architecture, iconic architecture. I like the architecture more sort of, the ordinary one, right, like, bridges or I don’t know what. Work in progress.

Eric Rhoads 31:45
More urban scene, funky buildings, brick buildings falling down that kind of a thing?

Francesco Fontana 31:51
Yeah…fetishes of the decaying buildings rather than rather than monument. So yeah.

Eric Rhoads 32:05
Watercolor is a unique animal. It’s not something that I have mastered yet I tinker with it. I’m using it more and more as I travel, because it’s just so much easier to travel with. I always have watercolor in my bag when I’m on business trips. Of course, this year, I haven’t been on any business trip since March. But what is the key? When you’re painting something like urban scenes or buildings and things like that? How do you make it read right? How do you make it feel? Dare I say realistic? Are you trying to do more impressionistic views? What tell us a little bit about what you do in a case like that?

Francesco Fontana 32:48
Well, yeah, the fights between realism and Impressionism or of an abstraction is always there, it’s always that kind of a conflict, it makes me have a mixed feeling. Basically, I start drawing, I do my sketches, it’s something I can do with that. So just sometimes I go out just with a sketchbook, and throw stuff around, as I said, in the city. And so it all starts from from drawing, sketching. The challenge, the first challenge is just to simplify and to reduce the, the amount of information that you have in a city or even in the landscape as to see, it’s too much information. So, simplify the scene try to find a focus try to find an element could be a sign or could be anything at fresh trashcan or whatever, to start from into focus on lean start the journey into the scene to the kind of you know, the picture. And in then I do two to three layers of watercolor with a limited palette, I don’t use many colors at any given painting and in that said I tried to stick to I have my little scheme in a way like try to stick with five values with three colors with seven main shapes, I do try to sort of to find a formula which is of course not a formula, of a magic formula is kind of trying to find it. You say that the stone, the key to a process because process is what makes you stand in a way the choices that you do the material use the statue doing a process is that what at the end of the day.

Eric Rhoads 35:08
Let’s talk about that because I find it fascinating. You said seven shapes. What was it? five colors? Five values, five values, seven shapes,

Francesco Fontana 35:22
Three colors.

Eric Rhoads 35:23
Three colors. So you’re using it, you’re using the three primary colors red, blue, and yellow.

Francesco Fontana 35:31
No, not necessarily. No, that’s all actually I do a little the what I teach my students, especially beginners, of course, is just to focus on one color, the one you can do without, you say, Okay, in this scene, this picture I can do without that orange. Because, there’s a lot of orange in the building, whatever. And then I say, Okay, then find the the complimentary color. So that will be blue. And so then you have two colors are very, sort of useful to modify each other to get darks to get neutral, neutral shades, etc. And then you decide the third color, that would just stop, make the other sort of ink ink. Increase what the temperature like the warmer or cooler, you know. So in this case, for instance, if you choose to, to add red to your couple of complimentary orange and blue, I would that would mean you’re going to have also purple and you’re going to have a warmer, warmer compensation, warmer temperature in compensation, if you decide to use our green, just just saying, it’s going to speak a little bit to cooler, you know. So that’s that’s the way that’s, of course, they’re not strict. It’s strict when you do an exercise. But it’s a good I think it’s a bit good guidelines, especially for not only beginners, I would say even some intermediate students who, you know, would just have some indications to follow a roadmap that would that helps.

Eric Rhoads 37:22
Now, talk to me about the seven shapes. How did you arrive at that number?

Francesco Fontana 37:32
Oh, yeah, okay. Well, of course, it’s a convention, it’s a concept, like, in the first place, I like to do odd numbers, if you notice, it’s just 3, 5, 7. And, I found that is pretty readable. You know what I mean? It’s not too much, not too many shapes. Of course, I’m talking main shapes. And it’s not too little, it’s not too simplistic. If you’re trying, you may find that when you reach seven shapes in a second. But if you try to stick to that to limit, give yourself a limit, you may find that you benefit from that, especially in landscapes, of course, portrait or floral or architecture, or architecture could could apply. But sometimes you have a lot of details. Because in any case, well my theory is you can then split each of this many shapes in, say, sort of 2, 3, 4, 5 fractions, ideally, and still get the details that way. I don’t know if I make myself understood.

Eric Rhoads 38:56
Well, I get the big shapes. And then you’re saying you can take each of the big shapes and kind of do sub shapes within?

Francesco Fontana 39:03
That’s it. Yeah, you’ve got it. It’s a map of I like to invent little methods for myself, my students, there are many others but it’s fun also to you could even dance your run, give yourself rules that you follow for a while and just see if they work, and then in another while you you might change him and the side that, you need to have. I don’t know – nine shapes. Or, of course you can increase that the more the more skilled you get, that’s for sure. But not necessarily because simplicity is really really, really hard to achieve actually.

Eric Rhoads 39:59
Yeah, I think it is too. I think it’s one of the hardest things that I’ve had to learn because you, get seduced by detail. And I was coaching, there was a lady at Fall Color Week who painted beside me. And, she was she was putting in all the detail before she was putting in any shapes. And I had to try and help her through that with her permission to try to break her of that habit. But I used to do the same thing too. And, it really, even though I heard it over and over and over again, I didn’t do it. And then it was finally somebody kind of beat me over the head and said, Look, you got it, you’re this isn’t gonna read well, unless you’ve got big shapes. And that just totally changed everything.

Francesco Fontana 40:46
Yeah. I think the toughest challenge for a painter was growing, the trying to do a little more than just, if you’re just grow up as a painter, as an artist, is to make things look simple, look, easy look, readable at a glance declines in but actually, there’s little work like a little planning load of awareness, I would say more possible awareness of what you’re doing. Then, of course, beside that, you can have an open mode, you can have a creative mode in the sense that she experiments you play, you go by instinct, and do whatever, happens in in limb, learn from that, and then apply that to your more structured work.

Eric Rhoads 41:48
I think that’s also a very important point, Francesco, because it’s the play; well, there are two things that create growth: play and struggle.

Francesco Fontana 41:59
Yeah. But, the play is like up, the problem is, when you play and you just do, just go free, completely free. At the end of the day, after a while, you get tired of this, because you’re kind of tired of this, because you don’t know, you’re not sure where you’re going to. So I think that’s good for us a learning process where you, you find some new, new way to do things, like, for instance, like, a few there’s, maybe there was yesterday, I tried to simulate the rain in watercolor. And, but I was experiment in just just out to, to render the rain, I wasn’t working on my piece, that was kind of the 5th or 6th study that I was doing that I’m still going for a project that I have a painting that I’m working on. And, so I tried to find a way to run the rain, which is not …, and it’s not, granted, and in a pile of brush that wasn’t supposed to be for that purpose, just the was there neglect, in the studio, in maybe I’m close to that. So once I get that, if that works, I may apply to my structure, painting where I want something to happen, and I have a plan and I want to convey a certain sort of, say a message or communication anyway. So I have to make a little plan. But using what I’ve found what I’ve discovered, just by playing, you know what I mean?

Eric Rhoads 43:55
Yeah, how much storytelling do you try to put into your artwork?

Francesco Fontana 44:01
Well, more and more recently, in the past year of working on figures, and the figures are most of the times to listen to it, each painting and then I try to tell the story between these two figures that may be maternal and the daughter or the teacher and the pupil. It’s kind of really in their eyes, they relationship. So if you can call that storytelling, you know, I think we can call a storytelling. So I’m developing that concept and I’m reflecting to put more storytelling and more narrative to my painting, right? Spatial forces to do things and I’m also reflecting back to the the experience that we have this year with the pandemic and the quarantine and so on. That I think I feel the need to, say something about what’s going on in the world, of course, in the artistic way, from an angle, not just my angle. I feel like I have to sort of offer something that may be thoughtful or something a little more, a little deeper than just, first impressions. The simple beauty more just, which is great, of painting just for entertain myself. I think that what I mean, so I’m reflecting out how to tell more stories related to the time to living. Let’s put it this way.

Eric Rhoads 46:19
Yeah, I like that. Excellent.

Francesco Fontana 46:23
So there are many years. So you need to it’s kind of getting older. You know what I mean? When you get older you, think you… I don’t know.

Eric Rhoads 46:36
No, I think it’s, each each has their own individual purpose, and meaning. So why do you paint?

Francesco Fontana 46:45
Oh, big question. I guess there’s something wrong with me.

Eric Rhoads 46:59
There’s something wrong with all of us.

Francesco Fontana 47:02
That’s for sure. I think, it’s pretty simple. Any incompetent sense…I think sensitive people need to put that sensitivity into something just to express that resolve than that sensitivity and to, in convey to something. So I wouldn’t say it’s the kind of a therapy, but I say there’s a need that I have anyway, to be creative. To make my own world in a way, although everything seems to be taken, inspired by the surveillance, and of course, it’s something I need to do. I need to do to relate to the world, I think to myself, ultimately, I think so I don’t know if that’s true.

Eric Rhoads 48:27
There’s not a right or wrong answer. I just was kind of curious about that. Because I think you seem to be a pretty deep thinker when it comes down to that kind of thing.

Francesco Fontana 48:38
Yeah, of course, I am. Of course, I have fun. I do it because I enjoy doing it. Because I love colors. I love drawing I love using this media. But, I used to be a musician when I was younger also, and to write songs and to write quite, quite a lot. So, the need to express myself to say, to write to make music to paint. I don’t know what else. So, in my case, is must be something and for the past 20, 30 years, it’s been painting. Yeah.

Eric Rhoads 49:23
So, when somebody walks up to you, and you’re outdoors painting, this happens to me all the time. And they say, Oh, I wish I could do that. I don’t have any talent. I can’t draw a stick figure. My aunt did this. What do you do? Well, how do you help encourage people to understand that maybe they can do it. You’ve dealt with a lot of students. You’ve taught lots of people.

Francesco Fontana 49:57
Yeah, it’s an issue because a lot of people have so little, self confidence. So I just say, if you love to do it, you do it. Talent is not our problem. So that yeah, that happened just sort of last week and the lady brought his, son about 16 years old. Son, there are lots to draw, of course, and at the end of the class, the first, an individual class and given more simple one on one classes. She said, Okay, I asked the boy, do you enjoyed it? That was fun. That was interesting. That was, inspiring you. Yes, it was so happy. And she said, If you say he can paint, I bring him back. If you say, he is got a gift for that, or otherwise, we won’t show up again. I said, No, don’t tell me that and ask me that. He must be happy. If he’s happy, everything’s going to be easier for him to learn. This, guy is good. And he’s got the I can feel is, is driven to that, but in any case, is his own desire. So as soon as you decide that you really deeply desire to do it, that’s it. You don’t need any other thing.

Eric Rhoads 51:46
I think that’s a great observation. Because, you always run into these people and you think they had natural talent. And I think what they had is, even as kids, they had this desire to just be drawing all the time. When I was a kid, I was drawing portraits all the time when I was when I was a little bitty kid. I was always drawing faces in high school, I was drawing faces. And even though I never had any training, and my drawings were terrible, it was something I enjoyed doing and I love doing and so I think, you are talented. Passion overcomes talent. It, absolutely there are definitely people who have natural talent, but not very many of them really, I think and, but it’s people who have this passion, they love doing it. I think you’ve really identified it.

Francesco Fontana 52:40
That’s for sure. There’s learning if you can tell because when learning is easy, that means not necessarily that you’re talented, but that you have passion that you like it is when you do something you like you overcome any difficulties so you know, so that’s the answer.

Eric Rhoads 53:02
What is that fine line though between between being a a tough teacher keeping them interested and engaged but also helping them get beyond their problems and get into growth? I studied with a guy he was very encouraging, but he would say look, in this particular class, this is what we’re doing. And if you don’t do it, I’m going to come over and I’m going to scrape your painting down and make you redo it and I was fine with it because it was tough, but I was fine with it but I watched other people react very badly to it. What what’s the right balance on that?

Francesco Fontana 53:48
Well, I was taught that way too in a way; one my one of my teachers was really pretty tough that way. So I didn’t mind if they … scrape my painting and no problem. But I don’t do that to my students. I try to establish a trusting relationship where I do try to drive they they energy they passionate they have it if then ever that’s probably didn’t really ever, to embrace the difficulties the obstacles with a positive attitude. … Just to drive the the the energy and I ask them a lot of questions like, do you find this is imbalanced? Do you find this as resolved this painting? That’s, the most efficient way to hold the brush. In most times they find the answer themselves. So I don’t need to be tough, but I never needed to.

Eric Rhoads 55:17
Well, it’s like our kids, our kids are gonna develop much better if we ask them questions rather than tell them everything.

Francesco Fontana 55:26
Yeah. I give them my most given tasks, so even if it’s just okay, this week, just do this exercise, try to do sketches like in three values, just saying, right? So the question is, do you think these are three values? And, they sort of think, they put in motion, the brain, the mind, and then they find the answer themselves? I don’t need to say, Yeah, well, you’re there. You did four or five… I don’t need to scream like that.

Eric Rhoads 56:09
So, Francesco, what is your best pitch to get people to try watercolor? Because there’s a lot of us out there who are using other mediums. And of course, everybody’s got to do what they love. I don’t want to change anybody’s mind enough, necessarily. But do you have a particular reason that you particularly favor watercolor that maybe would open eyes to to that idea?

Francesco Fontana 56:42
Well, it’s a light medium, it’s not as well. And I love Bob but I love him for different reasons in watercolors, just the light side of it, the watery side, of the painting. And that makes transparency that makes more something very natural. In all those other much harder to control. It’s a challenge. That’s exciting, that excitement as well, then it’s more a little more practical. On the practical side, it’s easy to travel with, use water as a solvent. So, it dries fast. So it’s more practical, although material use, I suggest of good material, not to spend a fortune, but just a nice few … good paper, a couple of nice brushes. And then you start in you try what watercolor is something you can try by yourself in just get the feeling of it and see if you like it, if you resonate with you, other media, maybe, you might need a teacher a little, earlier than, that watercolor, you can start tomorrow.

Eric Rhoads 58:23
lLike anything, if you’re using student grade paints, you’re going to have a tougher experience. And if you just step up and get a little better paint, you’re going to find it’s a better experience. I’m sure the same is probably true for watercolor. I know I’ve had my frustrating moments and then I thought, I’m just using some cheap paint maybe I need to get some good paint. So what do you use? What kind of paper do you use, what kind of brushes do you use?

Francesco Fontana 58:50
Well, I use paper now um, I think I’m turning to Canson Heritage. It’s very nice. Great standard, been trying several through the years now. I think I will stick for a while. We’ll stick with this. And then paints, the American brands. Our most famous that you have nowadays is Daniel Smith watercolor finding paint and brushes ever mixed, but most of them are Princeton. Princeton Sable, and squirrel. So I suggest beginners to have just a couple of them just not too many. I mean five or six color of good quality and much better than just the old case they’ll box of like a 24 tubes are, you know, gonna have four or five six. Good grade Daniel Smith.

Eric Rhoads 1:00:00
Pure watercolor. And do you use watercolor that’s out of the tube? Or do you use the ones in the cakes? Or does it matter?

Francesco Fontana 1:00:09
I use the tubes. They’re way more convenient to me than pans, so you have to torn inside the brush and tie. I don’t like that to just dig into it. And just one the the tip of the the brushes, which are pretty dedicated.

Eric Rhoads 1:00:37
Well, Francesco, this has been fun having a chat and getting to know you a little bit better. And I really appreciate you being on the Plein Air Podcast.

Francesco Fontana 1:00:46
Oh, thank you, Eric. Thank you. It’s always a pleasure talking to you. And talking to you know, to the audience. I imagine there’s so many people listen to what you do. You do so many events and initiatives, we artists all have to thank you. For sure.

Eric Rhoads 1:01:05
You’re very welcome. How can people find out more about you have a website or something you want to tell them about?

Francesco Fontana 1:01:10
Yeah. And you find everything you find the classes, I do a lot of zoom classes now. So for people, overseas, that’s great. We can connect. And when we look, I can offer just a chat, we can chat for sort of 15 minutes, just the people can send me just show me the, the efforts. So and we’ll just talk about them what they may need to focus on. And then we can start classes if they wish, or, if we do what they want, but we don’t need to be we can do it online, anywhere. So that’s one of the options.

Eric Rhoads 1:01:56
Thank you for that Francesco. And thanks again for being on the podcast. Well, thanks again to Francesco Fontana is a good friend, a great guy, a wonderful painter. Love this guy. Thank you for Francesco. Are you guys ready for some art marketing ideas?

Announcer 1:02:13
This is the marketing minute with Eric Rhoads, author of the number one Amazon bestseller “Make More Money Selling Your Art: Proven Techniques to Turn Your Passion Into Profit.”

Eric Rhoads 1:02:24
In the marketing minute I answer your art marketing questions or at least I try and sometimes I never see them before I answer them. I don’t script them. So here we go. email your questions to me [email protected]. Here’s a question from Kate Emery in Farmington, Connecticut. My wife, our grandmother grew up in Farmington, Connecticut, Historical Society there has an old building and it’s, matter of fact, that’s a family farm. Anyway, Kate says Eric, my question is in regards to art shows I paint in a few different styles and different subjects landscape portrait abstract, do you think it makes more sense to stick to one style and subject or to mix it up? On the one hand, it feels like variety will give me more chances to win. But I do. I do think when it comes across it comes across as less professional somehow. Well, I’ll tell you a story, Kate. I had an artist who who did some advertising with me. And she called and she said, You know, my ads didn’t work. I said, Well, they’re working for some people, because I hear I’m hearing from them too. Let’s find out why. So I said, let’s look at your ad and we looked at her and she was advertising portraiture. And so I went to her website with her on the phone and I said, Okay, let’s look at your website. And on the front of the website was a landscape painting. And I said, Well, if you’re advertising portraiture, they modified portraiture there. She said, Well, I do lots of different kinds of painting. I said, Yes, but your advertising, you want to capture what you’re advertising for it because you’re going to drive more people from that than anything else. So I went and I said, Okay, let’s find the portraiture. And so I just kind of did what anybody else would do. And I kind of poked around, I couldn’t find it. couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally, you know, after 10 steps, I found it and I said, Look, you’ve got to bring it to light. I have had this conversation with many artists over many, many, many years. You want to get branded as something because if you brand you get branded as all things you could come branded as nothing. And, I know a lot of artists who do a lot of styles and they might use a synonym, they might use another name. And, let’s say they do abstract they use a better name for their abstract and they have a separate website for their abstract. There’s nothing wrong with lots of subject matter but you want to kind of get known for something and you want to kind of push something I think that’s the answer in terms of art shows. I don’t know if you’re talking about competitions because you said chances to win. I suppose it gives you more chances to win the reality is in in art competitions like the Plein Air Salon, the more things you enter, the more chance as to when you know gallery owners who are our judges might see one thing they like and another thing they don’t like. So you’ve got up, enter two things, you might have a chance to three things you might have a better chance for things might have a different chance. But you know, it’s it boils down to quality, and people are going to pick the best quality, I have found that most artists are not really good at all things, what are you best at, put your best foot forward? And think about that. And it’s not less professional somehow. But it will confuse the marketplace. if let’s say you want in two categories in your, you know, one was an abstract and one was a landscape and your name came up, and both of them you’re going to confuse the marketplace when they see that. So just keep that in mind. Branding is something that we all need to learn and understand. I talked a lot about it in my book. And it is something that is really worth understanding. Because if you get branded incorrectly, it’s really hard to overcome.

Eric Rhoads 1:05:56
Here’s a question from Thomas in Dallas. Again, I’ve not read this one, it says, I have a card line for my art. And the gift store market seems to have fallen through the number say I shouldn’t make any new cards at this time. And that means I don’t have a catalog to use for marketing. I have some loyal customers who are still buying my designs. But many of the stores I sell to still have product from earlier in the year. My question then is about supply and demand for artists. Well, I’m not sure what the question is exactly, Thomas. But I think let me let me see if I can figure this out. What I think you’re saying is, you know, they have inventory, they’re not going to buy new cards because they have inventory. Well, that may or may not be true. First off, a lot of people have inventory because they had their stores closed during COVID. Right. And so, our assumption is that they’re going to have a lot leftover. But, now that people are getting out, they’re spending a lot of money, they’re buying a lot of things, holidays are coming up, I think, if they’re used to seeing you coming out with a new catalog every year and new new stuff every year, I think you need to do it and you want to put your new work out there. And their chances are, they’re gonna order some new work, you just never know what they’re facing. And you said you need a catalog to use for marketing, well use it for marketing, it may or may not be the best year, you may not want to print as many or you might want to take a take a shot, you’re gonna eventually sell them. And you said you have some loyal customers buying your design, so those people will probably buy them. I think I’d go for it, and and also ask yourself this, is there a specialty product that I could put in there that might sell especially well? Right now, for instance, could you do something that is very related to COVID times, that, that people might find fun? It’s for a gift card like pictures of people in masks or whatever, you never know I mean, look for something that will be relevant relevance tends to sell better than non relevance. Well, anyway, I hope that helps you and gives you some direction on some art marketing.

Announcer 1:08:07
This has been the marketing minute with Eric Rhoads. You can learn more at

Eric Rhoads 1:08:14
Remember to sign up for watercolor live at watercolorlivecom. and to book your seat for the Plein Air Convention at also get out there and vote. If you’ve not seen my blog where I talk about life and art and other things. Check it out. It’s called Sunday coffee. You can find it at It’s especially relevant. And last. I’m on Facebook and YouTube every weekday at 12 noon. I’ve done it now for I don’t know 220 days in a row. And check it out. Just go to Facebook or YouTube and search Streamline Art Video, you’ll find it there. It’s also on my personal page. You can go there and you can follow me there. But unfortunately, I can’t follow you back because they only give me 5000. So anyway, but I’d love to have you and I’m putting artists on every day and we’re doing demos and then every day at three o’clock I’m doing samples of art instruction videos. We’re meeting a lot of new people and so if you’re somewhere from anywhere in the world, check it out. Come and join us it’s a lot of fun. Well, this is always fun. Let’s do it again sometime like next week. I will see you then. My name is Eric Rhoads, publisher and founder of Plein Air Magazine. You can find us online at or you can get a subscription at Remember, it’s a big world out there and you need to go paint it especially if your weather’s holding up but I painted in the snow during fall color week recently and and I’ve had a lot of fun. I had to paint faster because I got a little cold. But anyway, big world go paint it. We’ll see you. Bye bye.

This has been the plein air podcast with Plein Air Magazine’s Eric Rhoads. You can help spread the word about plein air painting by sharing this podcast with your friends. And you can leave a review or subscribe on iTunes. So it comes to you every week. And you can even reach Eric by email [email protected]. Be sure to pick up our free ebook 240 plein air painting tips by some of America’s top painters. It’s free at Tune in next week for more great interviews. Thanks for listening.


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