Frances Nichols
Art of Light & Color

Biography & Artist’s Statement

Fran NicholsI have always felt that I was born in the wrong half of the century, and that I should have been a California Impressionist in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, during my college years “realism” or “figurative” were “out”, and abstraction and conceptual were “in”. I majored in Art at Mills College, Oakland, CA, graduating Cum Laude in 1964. My graduate work for a teaching credential was at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA. I then taught art at University High School in West Los Angeles for 34 years, teaching Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Life Drawing, and Advanced Placement Studio Art. I received many awards for my teaching, including Otis Art Institute’s Teacher of the Year Award, was a Bravo Award Finalist for the Los Angeles Music Center Arts Award, and was a developer of the College Board’s Advanced Placement Studio Art curriculum and was also a presentor for the College Board Advanced Placement workshops.

During my years of teaching I pursued my own art, taking UCLA courses in figure and landscape painting with Eliot Elgart and David Glines, and watercolor workshops with Tony Couch, Tom Lynch, and Tom Fong. I have also worked with Mario Mirkovich and Lynne Goodin. In retirement I m pursuing my own painting while exploring the high desert around Ridgecrest, CA, and the Eastern Sierras.

Visual experiences begin with light, and my intention is to portray the effects of light on the landscape. The California Impressionists, in whose tradition I follow, were determined to capture the true effects of light and its fleeting changes. Like them, I paint an “impression”, rather than fine detail, resulting in unfocused color and form creating the image.

I like color and color contrasts, and I feel that colors can be changed and the image pushed from naturalistic “realism” to work with the abstract elements of the painting…the arrangement of shapes and the contrast of colors and textures. My palette is based on the primary colors, and their corresponding complementaries. In the oils these are mixed with white, while in the watercolors the transparency of the paint allows the white of the paper to shine through. Rather than use black, my darks are created by color combinations, such as phthalo blue and alizarin crimson. The strong contrasts in light and dark, or sun and shade, are created by placing the color next to its complement. For example, a strong yellow sunlight would cast a shadow of purple. I try to create the effect of light by creating movement on the picture plane by juxtaposing color, attempting to create the fluidity of light through both bright colors and loose brushwork.

The clear, intense California light is seen in my desert, mountain, and sea paintings. I also try to impart a sense of the solitude, spirituality, and lyrical creative beauty in the places I paint. With the advent of the digital camera, I do less “plein air” painting, and rely more on my personal photos and experience of a location to create studio works. I might use two or three photographs to make one image, or just part of a photo combined with on-site sketches. I like to explore the quiet, contemplative moods of nature, often using the long shadows and diminished light of early morning or late afternoon to express this.

My interest in the desert and the Sierras began with my trips with my husband, starting with tracing Manly and Rodgers’ route out of Death Valley, and continuing to old mining camps and early explorers’ routes, such as the Mojave Road and Joseph Walker’s travels. Exploring the high desert and its environs has given me an appreciation of the history, hardships, and contrasts of the desert and the Sierras. Within the loneliness, and the solitude, there is beauty in an arid creosote bush, a desert wash, or the remnants of an abandoned corral, cabin, and life.