The winner of the October-November contest in the PleinAir Salon, sponsored by PleinAir magazine, is an interventional radiologist who chose his field because he considers himself a visual person. And his careful scrutiny of images over the years has made him a good artist. Meet Carl Bretzke.

“Vintage Truck, Carmel, California,” by Carl Bretzke, oil, 12 x 16 in. First Place in the October-November contest of the PleinAir Salon

“As you train for medicine, you look at all the specialties,” explains Bretzke. “I was drawn to radiology because it is so visual. In my work I am constantly looking at images to determine if something is right or wrong or if the shape of something is unusual. My job is looking at shapes and paying attention. It’s a lot of hand-eye kind of work, looking at a screen and altering what I’m doing with my hands based on what I see on a screen. Plus, standing for several hours and having to persevere is similar to painting. I think I have fairly good stamina as a painter for just that reason.”

Carl Bretzke at his easel

Bretzke, who lives in Minnesota, earned a minor in fine art from the University of Colorado, but put aside his interest in painting for years to concentrate on medicine. “I didn’t do art for many years and always wanted to get back to it,” says the artist. “My wife, who is an artist, said about 10 years ago that I should start painting, and she said she knew just the guy that I should see. That was Joe Paquet. We’re friends to this day, and he’s still my coach and mentor. We’ve traveled together and painted together.”

“Another Airstream,” by Carl Bretzke, 2013, oil on linen, 12 x 16 in.

Bretzke is open about the influence of Paquet on his painting approach, although the two men end up in different places through their processes. “Joe is probably one of the bigger sticklers for drawing,” says Bretzke, “and says you can paint only as well as you can draw. I really think that’s true.

“Laguna Beach Lemans,” by Carl Bretzke, oil on linen, 12 x 16 in.

“But what we paint is pretty different. For me, a painting is really all about the scene — the composition. I like to put things in my painting and have a focus in my painting. I think that comes from being in Minnesota. The color shifts are so subtle here, and value shifts are slight. Without a focal point, it would be a little bit bland compared to maybe a California scene. So in a predominantly grayish-colored painting, I will pop a car in there to add some color. Minnesota has long winters without foliage on trees, and lots of gray days. Joe can make a serene landscape look great — I tend to want to put things in my landscapes to help them.”

“Stall 36,” by Carl Bretzke, oil on linen, 9 x 12 in.

Like his mentor, Bretzke concentrates on getting a strong drawing before adding color. He then zeroes in on the darkest values. Next come the light values, then finally midtones. For landscapes, Bretzke likes to paint in a nearly monochromatic grayscale with a touch of blue to create depth in the scene, then add color as he comes forward. “If I’m not seeing any gray or blue, like if it is a closeup, I’ll skip that step,” he notes. In general, less is more when this artist dips his brush into his prismatic palette. “I try to keep my color a little bit subdued because I feel like too much color puts the eye asleep,” says Bretzke. “If you use less, the color you do use will stand out, and the painting will be a little bit more harmonious. I’m probably at fault for not using more color, particularly in shadows. In the end, I will look at shadows, even in the distance, to see where color is needed.”

“Blue Mustang,” by Carl Bretzke, 30 x 40 in.

The piece that caught juror Nancy Tankersley’s eye in the PleinAir Salon contest was “Vintage Truck, Carmel, California,” which depicts an iconic truck in Carmel on a typically overcast and peaceful day. “People in Carmel know that truck pretty well,” says Bretzke. “The Carmel River is just over the hill. The view at that place captures so much of what Carmel was — cypress trees, mountains in the background, lowland in between, with subtle greens and golds, and a bit of the urban element.” Bretzke used a combination of plein air studies of the truck and Carmel landscape and photographic references to execute “Vintage Truck, Carmel, California.”

“Venetian Alley,” by Carl Bretzke, 2010, oil on linen, 12 x 9 in.

Bretzke says he looks forward to painting more and participating in events and competitions. “Starting in January I am going to go half-time so I can paint more,” he says. “I don’t want to give my job up yet; I love it. But I want a balance of both.”

“Laguna Beach Off-Season,” by Carl Bretzke, oil on linen, 11 x 14 in.

The next deadline for the PleinAir Salon is January 31. For more information, visit the Salon’s website.


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