Painting Steps Ahead: A Conversation with Artist Fernando Micheli

“Pearl Reflection” – Fernando Micheli
April 7, 2017

In 2013, Fernando Micheli made a life changing decision to return to pursuing the life of an artist. He has focused on the immediacy of Plein Air Painting–capturing the beauty of Southern California as well as internationally in Italy and Spain.

Fernando is a long time resident of Laguna Beach, California and a member of LPAPA, Laguna Plein Air Painters Association. He was born in Fiano, a small village near Lucca, Italy and immigrated to the U.S. in 1955.

After high school in California, he pursued schooling in Pinerolo (Piedmont), Pietrasanta (Lucca) and Florence, Italy. He eventually longed to return to San Francisco to purse a design oriented profession.

He is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design in Landscape Architecture and practiced Landscape Architect in a long and successful career in Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach, California.

Today, Fernando and I discuss motivation, conquering the fear of failure, and how he manages to produce so many beautiful paintings  (Hint: it comes down to “two words).  Read on.


Hi Fernando!  I will share with you that the first painting I ever did was only about 16 months ago, in the driveway.  I was painting cattails.  As you can guess, it’s not my best work.  But I sure love it because of the door-opening it represented for me.  What can you remember about the very first painting you ever created?
My first Plein Air was done around April of 2015 after having gone to see the fantastic Sorolla Exhibition in San Diego. I was so inspired to get outside after having seen his huge masterpieces, and my little 8″x10″ effort fell woefully short of expectations. I had to literally drag myself out of the house a couple of weeks later! Just thinking of going outside made me depressed.

What do you look for in a scene to paint?  Do you ever throw away your pre-requisites because you find something that is just so darn beautiful?
And how do those “rule breaker” paintings turn out?

Now that I’m aware of certain design cues to look for, like big shapes, light and atmosphere, interesting elements, etc., I can actually free myself of the anxiety of finding the perfect spot and just see the beauty and possibility of so-called less interesting places.

The only times my paintings fail is not because of where I am or what I’m painting, but how I design/compose my painting.

So far, I am only self-taught.  I have found that there were certain painting directives I gave myself early on that proved not to be helpful.  But it took a while to figure out.  Was there anything you told yourself when you were starting out as painter that you thought was useful advice, but turned out not to be?
I really didn’t know what Plein Air painting was just 3 1/2 years ago so everything I did was wrong or coming from some conception of what I thought I should do, including but not limited to the use of materials, mixing paint, where to set up, how to stand, etc, etc!

"Golden Lantern Light" - Fernando Micheli. 8 x 10 April 17, 2017
“Golden Lantern Light” – Fernando Micheli
April 17, 2017

You post new work to Facebook often.  What’s the secret to your painting pace?
Two words.. No Fear! I find the quote from the book, Dune says it all. “Fear is the mind killer.”

I try not to think about what could go wrong in the act of Plein Air painting, but I’ve accustomed myself to go outside on a regular basis and “Just Do It!!” …To use another often used quote.

What is a bad habit you’ve had (or still have) a hard time breaking?
… Getting too detailed and fussy with my designs.

"Abalone Point" - Fernando Micheli. 9x12 March 28, 2017
“Abalone Point” – Fernando Micheli
March 28, 2017

You’ve mentioned to me that you are relatively new to the plein air world.  Would you tell me that story?  Do you ever feel in a race against time to “catch up” on what you might have learned years earlier?
I came from the design field. I’m a Landscape Architect, so I’ve had a lot of practical knowledge of design, value, color perspective, etc. The learning curve was certainly shortened, but I had the heightened anxiety of starting this adventure at 62, so I knew that 10,000 paintings wasn’t in me. That said, I learned some valuable advice from two painters which helped me relieve my anxiety.
1. John Burton’s mantra…. “You may be wrong, but you are certain.”
2. Hui Lai Chong… “Don’t paint just to paint, but paint with intent.”

Do you keep notes about your work so you don’t forget what you did from one session to the next?
Not really. I probably should but I can tell you that every time I look at an old painting, I can relive the experience of the place, the weather, the smells, the people I painted with or met, even how I painted it.

I am addicted to the rich color of Burnt Umber.  Even if I don’t intend to use it, I’ll always squeeze some onto my palette.  Do you have any colors that you love to work with, or include when you don’t need to, or just have around because its name delights you?
Everyone always warns me not to use Pthalo Blue, which is a very strong warm blue and can overwhelm a painting if used irresponsibly. They are right, but I’m sensitive to thís, and use it to my advantage.  I love the color!

I’m with you on Pthalo Blue.  I love playing with it.  What are your techniques for motivating, or getting past a discouraging painting session?
Go do another one! See answer above… No Fear!

Which great painter would you like to have coffee with?
If I could get on a plane:
Jim McVicker, Loleta, CA

If I could time travel:
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida!!
or John Singer Sargent!
or Claude Monet!

What do you get from painting that nothing else in the world gives you?
It’s really a three-sided experience, physical, mental and spiritual, isn’t it? I find myself totally immersed in the act of Plein Air that satisfies me to my core and uplifts my body, mind and soul. I usually come home from painting totally relaxed regardless of the success or failure of what I have accomplished.

Thanks to Fernando Micheli for being a terrific first interview. I hope you’ll check out more of his work and recommended links below. And if you or someone you know would like to be interviewed, please contact me at

Fernando Micheli
Laguna Plein Air Painters Association (LPAPA)
Fernando Micheli’s page at LPAPA
Forest and Ocean Gallery – Fernando has been juried in to many of the LPAPA shows at Forest and Ocean Gallery
Laguna North Gallery (where Fernando is a member and maintains a presence)

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