Q&A – Questions & Artists – Richard (Rick) Brawner

“Sturgeon Bay Tugs” by Richard (Rick) Brawner.

I first met Richard (Rick) Brawner last year when he attended a Tom Nachreiner workshop I coordinated. At the workshop Rick seemed very comfortable painting different subjects and I watched how easily he did his work. Impressed, I stopped by to watch him paint several times during the class and appreciated his sense of color and compositional skill.

I got to know Rick and painted with him several times last summer, always enjoying seeing how he looked at his subject. Rick won the “Peoples Choice Award” in last year’s Door County Plein Air Festival dockside competition. This year he will be an invited artist in the festival.

Randy Rasmussen (RR): Rick, congratulations on winning the “People’s Choice” award in last year dockside competition at the Plein Air Festival in Fish Creek.

Ric Brawner (RB): Thank you. I thought the competition was top notch. I was second in 2010 and 2011 so maybe I was lucky enough to finally win.

RR: I know you went to Layton School of Art in Milwaukee. Where were you born and raised?

RB: I was born and raised in Green Bay. After high school my interest in art and specifically industrial design led me to Layton School of Art in Milwaukee. They had the degree I was looking for.

RR: Did you have an early interest in art?

“Cana Island Light” by Richard (Rick) Brawner.

RB: As early as I can remember I loved drawing. I was always fascinated by art and would draw for hours and hours. I liked anything creative and along my educational path have even learned sign painting.

RR: I have done almost 50 interviews with artists and all have said they had supportive parents, teachers, relatives and others who gave them encouragement. Who helped you?

RB: Initially my parents. They got me started painting and along the way teachers and then my wife. My sketching continued always with supportive people.

RR: After graduating from Layton, what career path did you take?

RB: Before Layton I was working for Brooks Stevens, a design firm and it seemed everything was coming together. In Layton I won a design competition which made finances easier.

Immediately following Layton graduation I went to Vietnam as an infantry officer, was injured, came back and looked for a job. All this time I never stopped drawing and painting but Brooks Stevens had slowed down and I went into commercial truck sales. I ended up owning a dealership and always continued my art.

RR: Did you always draw and use oils or have you tried other mediums?

“Painting outdoors is one of the most satisfying things I do,” says Brawner. “Your emotions, all of them are heightened, you see all the colors and feel the air. It is amazing. “

RB: I think I have tried almost every medium. Acrylics, watercolor and more, but I like the rich deep look of oils.

RR: I describe your work as ‘contemporary realism.’ How do you describe your work?

RB: That might be the best description of my work that I have ever heard.

RR: It’s yours. Feel free to use it. Has there been a painter or painters that have influenced your work?

RB: I enjoy the work of many artists but two artists come to mind: Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell. I think their composition, values and colors are always superb. These two artists, I think, are the best.

RR: What changes have you seen in the art world in the last 40 years?

RB: Unbelievable changes with trends and fads coming and going. Big eyes, soup cans, shocking colors, it goes on and on. I still think it comes down to drawing and composition. I firmly believe drawing is the foundation you must have before you can paint.

RR: If you could paint with one artist living or dead for one day who would it be?

RB: Norman Rockwell.

“Tad’s Ice Cream Run” by Richard (Rick) Brawner.

RR: Which do you enjoy most, studio painting or plein air painting?

RB: It is no contest. Painting outdoors is one of the most satisfying things I do. Your emotions, all of them are heightened, you see all the colors and feel the air. It is amazing. To me, painting from photographs leads to a creative dead end.

RR: I have watched you work and it seems once you look at the scene, mentally plan the painting it is ‘go time’ – you know what you want to do and use confident brushstrokes. What is your first thought with that blank canvas in front of you?

RB: I really can’t look at a white canvas. I always tone the canvas and see the scene before I start.

RR: I urge all our readers to attend the Door County Plein Air Festival, presented by Peninsula School of Art, this year and look for Rick. Watch him paint and you will be looking at a master of his craft. He is truly one of Door County’s finest.

For more information about Brawner, visit

Brawner’s work can be seen at the Bay Gallery in Sister Bay Trading Company on Highway 42 in Sister Bay. Marilyn Jensen, owner of the Trading Company, is opening a complete gallery in late spring.