An Artist, an Influence

Upon reading Kay McKinley Arneson’s article about me being her mentor (“An Artist, an Influence,” Peninsula Pulse, October 2, 2009), I decided that I, too, must write about my mentor. My first class at the Peninsula Art School was Portraiture, and the instructor was Emmett Johns. His exuberant love for painting was catching, because it translated into a lifelong passion that still wakes me up at 3 am to tiptoe into my studio and stand barefoot before my easel for hours without even noticing the cold.

I remember how Emmett began every portrait demonstration. He would reverently move a flat hand across the blank paper to find the right placement as he contemplated his subject. Suddenly the rapid and sure lines of his sketch appeared, accompanied by his shouted mantra: “Attack and orchestrate!” Often he would boldly follow his sketches with a green and purple underpainting – my procedure to this day as well. Also, his use of a mirror is a “must” for me!

“Franne Dickinson” by Emmett Johns.

I have taken at least ten of Emmett’s classes. One night early on, we painted each other’s portraits. I must admit that to be painting in my teacher’s studio seemed a little intimidating. However, with a little music and the breezy manner of this (then scruffy-bearded) artist, I relaxed enough to say, “Now, it’s my turn.” Can you imagine how encouraging it was for the novice to paint with the master?

Recently, an early classmate reminded me of a memorable day in Emmett’s plein air class, one that was held at the home of Jeannette Leahy, notable actress with the Peninsula Players. Apparently drama and music were in the air, because our “maestro,” with his customary towel flung across one shoulder, strode across the lawn from student to student – singing with high good humor and full voice, an ersatz grand opera!

Franne Dickinson is a post-impressionist artist based in Ephraim. Her work can be seen at her personal studio and gallery, the Toe Path Studio, which is located at 3014 Anderson Lane in Ephraim. For more information about Franne and her work, please visit or call 920.854.5390.

The Peninsula Pulse has partnered with the Hardy Gallery to present the series, “An Artist, an Influence.” For more information about the Hardy, please call 920.854.2210, email [email protected], or visit