A Painting Technique That’s Outside the Box…Er, Brush


Landscape painting by Francis Di Fronzo, oil on canvas.
Di Fronzo painted the grassy fields in his landscape paintings with a
nontraditional “comb” made with sixty or so individual hairs.
All works by Francis Di Fronzo.

Breaking out of a painting rut sometimes requires a little more oomph than just adding another color to your palette or going from a still life to a figure painting. Sometimes your whole process needs an overhaul. A few years ago, artist Francis Di Fronzo took a fairly drastic measure to take his work to a new level. He set aside the traditional painting brush for a tool of his own invention–a “comb” with individual hairs seated along a length of wood.

In 1998, Di Fronzo was facing what he describes as an artistic dead end. He’d been working on non-traditional trompe l’oeil paintings of unusual objects like mechanical tools that were no longer satisfying to him. He wanted to create large scale landscape paintings with the same attention to detail as his earlier trompe l’oeil paintings.

“I figured the only way to do that was to paint every single blade of grass,” he says.  He started by using a brush with only one bristle, but found that this process was too time consuming, so he created a brush with fifty or sixty individual hairs on it, lined up in a row. This “comb” allowed Di Fronzo to paint texture convincingly and capture the illusion of fields of grass as he built up the surface. 


The comb Di Fronzo created to use in his landscape paintings.
Di Fronzo’s “comb.”

The invention and learning how to paint with it gave Di Fronzo a major boost of confidence. “I’ve always felt a need to do things differently, and I’ve never really felt comfortable using the tools that exist and simply accepting that traditional brushes are the best tools for the job,” he says. “So when I came up with the idea for the comb and it worked, I felt much more confident in approaching art with an open mind-both in subject and technique.”

The comb allowed Di Fronzo to paint individual blades of grass precisely and quickly. The comb was only used for the grassy expanses in his work; all the other parts of the paintings were made with traditional brushes. And although Di Fronzo has transitioned out of landscape painting to other subject matters, leaving the comb behind, he marks it as a creative peak for him, mostly because of the high value he puts on process. “Making any artwork is not just a matter of creating an interesting and powerful image. There’s always the question of how the painting will be made,” he says.


Landscape painting by Francis Di Fronzo, oil on canvas.
The comb Di Fronzo create, top, allowed him to create the illusion
of individual blades of grass without having to paint individual blades.


I couldn’t agree more. Art can and should stand on its own, but that doesn’t disvalue the importance and interest we have in the details of the creative process. Di Fronzo created a new technique for himself that opened doors for him at a time when his creative sensibility needed a boost. My studio bookshelves–lined with artist monographs, technique manuals, and more–give me that same kind of boos, and have given me a lot of food for thought about painting techniques and methods.

From grisaille and tonal painting art processes to prismatic palettes and palette knife painting, the approaches we can explore really can keep us inspired and the creative juices flowing. And right now there is a whole new collection of art books available at the North Light Shop, so it is the perfect time to get your next great resource that might just reveal the “next step” you are waiting for. Enjoy!


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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

7 thoughts on “A Painting Technique That’s Outside the Box…Er, Brush

  1. I’d really like to know why you do not offer these images to allow for viewing them a bit larger. To better appreciate the images you share I’m left feeling short changed.

    This is done in just about every blog that shares the work of others so it can’t be a copyright issue.

    Once again I’m making this request… could you please share these images so that they can be enlarged to a better viewable size? Like the original view is as a thumbnail so that image is then reopened in a larger size?

  2. MichaelJ57A — you can get bigger images of Di Fronzo’s work by clicking his name in the first partagraph above, it’ll take you to his site. lots of the thumbs there can be expanded full screen.

  3. MichaelJ57A — you can get bigger images of Di Fronzo’s work by clicking his name in the first partagraph above, it’ll take you to his site. lots of the thumbs there can be expanded full screen.. if you ever see them in person, they’re REALLY amazing.

  4. There’s a common misconception that art is all about the idea and the inspiration but those who are doing it know that you need the techniques to put it into practice.
    Thank you for this fascinating post. Another tool in the tool box.