Q&A – Questions & Artists – Tom Nachreiner

“Young Doe” by Tom Nachreiner

Tom Nachreiner grew up in Wisconsin and graduated from Verona High School. He spent one year studying art at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and then transferred to Milwaukee’s Layton School of Art where he received his Bachelor of Arts in fine arts, achieving highest honors. After graduating, Nachreiner started his own successful illustration company and, among other honors, had his paintings accepted three times into the New York Society of Illustrators Show. Tom has won illustration awards locally, regionally and nationally.

Nachreiner leads three-day and weeklong workshops at his studio/gallery, Maple Avenue Studio, in Waukesha County, and he is represented in Door County at Edgewood Galleries. He has also participated in the Door County Plein Air Festival, as well as taught workshops at the Peninsula School of Art. Nachreiner’s next show at Edgewood Orchard Galleries will be June 16 through July 18, 2012.

Randy Rasmussen (RR): Tom you have had an outstanding career as both an illustrator and a fine artist winning many awards. Is there one award or prize you remember as being most important?

“Sunrise-Sunset” by Tom Nachreiner

Tom Nachreiner (TN): While I was in Layton School of Art – rated number five art school at the time – I received the highest merit award scholarship given each year to a senior student. The Miriam Frink & Charlotte Partridge Scholarship consisted of full tuition, art supplies and books for the senior year, (along with bragging rights for being the best of the class). That award started my art career out on a winning note.

RR: I have interviewed many artists, and it seems they always enjoyed drawing at an early age. Do you remember when you started to draw and create?

TN: I didn’t have any formal training in grade school or high school, but I started drawing in pencil only with a stump for blending, doing portraits at home and in study hall at school. I purchased several books about drawing and was inspired.

RR: Did you have any teachers who gave you encouragement to follow a career in art? Did you know even before high school that this is what you wanted to do with your life?

TN: I had no encouragement other than my parents and friends until college. I wanted to become an engineer or architect because of my strong math and science background in high school. I also excelled at sports. I knew when I got into the engineering department at UW Madison and then saw the art department that I wanted to switch majors. I did receive encouragement from several distinguished college instructors.

RR: Was it difficult making the transition from illustrator to fine artist?

TN: It wasn’t too difficult to switch from commercial illustration to fine art because my style from my freshman year in Madison, my natural style, remained painterly from the beginning. I did both fine art and national illustration in a similar style since 1989 and exclusively fine art since 2000.

RR: Your website, which I encourage readers to visit, has many paintings of Door County. Do you have a favorite place to paint in Door County?

TN: My favorite place to paint in Door County, actually, are two places – Fish Creek and Ephraim. I consider that area to be the heart of Door County. There is the art school, a wide variety of subject and lots of traffic. I really don’t think there is a bad spot to paint in Door County.

RR: I was fortunate to watch you paint this year in Baileys Harbor for the Peninsula School of Art’s Plein Air Festival. When you start a painting, what size and type of brush do you use to block the initial work in? How many colors are on the standard “Nachreiner” palette?

TN: I start blocking in each painting with a large “bright” brush [which has a flat ferrule and short hairs that are usually as wide as they are long] after first establishing the composition and center of interest in a rough drawing with a small brush. Outdoors, my palette has changed recently to yellow, red, blue and white. I can get every color using just those four colors. Sometimes I do use alizarin or black if I am doing figures or still lifes in the studio.

“Ice Cream & Shade” by Tom Nachreiner

RR: In your years of teaching is there one common mistake you see students making?

TN: Virtually all students squeeze out too little paint. I abide by the saying, “Squeeze out paint like you are rich.” Also most students use brushes that are too small. Other issues are: painting too smooth, too much fussy detail, and raw colors. I address these issues along with creating a dynamic composition in my workshops along with stressing good drawing and correct values.

RR: How many plein air events do you paint in every year?

TN: I paint in three plein air events each year – New Harmony, Indiana, First Brush of Spring; Cedarburg Plein Air Competition; and the Door County Plein Air Festival. This will be my sixth year invited to the Door County festival.

For more information on Tom Nachreiner, visit