Fernando Micheli and Cydette Vikander fill their canvases with picturesque landscapes.
By Ashley Ryan
From Architect to Artist
While it has been less than a decade since Fernando Micheli shifted his focus to painting plein air landscapes, he has spent plenty of time observing and designing outdoor spaces. For nearly 40 years, the Laguna Beach resident worked as a landscape architect and urban designer, creating the blueprint for outdoor spaces at universities, hospitals, corporate buildings, museums, parks and beyond.
Originally from Italy, Micheli immigrated to San Francisco as a child with his family. Studying abroad during college allowed him to return to his home country for a time before he came back to the Bay Area and earned a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of California, Berkeley.
But it was 2014 when he decided to leave his professional life behind and turn, instead, to art. “I’ve always considered myself an artistic person, doodling or sketching as a young kid, but had never thought of pursuing a fine arts career until very recently,” Micheli explains. Inspired by members of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, he took the leap and hasn’t looked back since.
His plein air landscapes are completed in the style of California impressionist painters, who were instrumental in the establishment of Laguna as an art colony. “I was attracted to representational art as a means to capturing the beauty of California as well as travel abroad,” he adds.
While there are stunning scenes to be captured all over the region, Micheli chooses destinations that speak to him personally. “I … try to mix it up and paint a variety of subjects, but the beauty of our local beaches, canyons and other vistas really beg to be painted,” he explains. “… I believe people naturally gravitate to art that uplifts the spirit and calms our mind and spirit. We are all drawn to nature and those objects that represent it.”
Although he sometimes works with watercolor, gouache and graphite pencil, his primary medium is oil paint, which he says is easier for him to control. “I love the vibrancy and workability of oil paints as I tend to be a colorist and often utilize painting wet … [on] wet,” he says.
Planning and preparation are important to Micheli, who thinks about his destinations ahead of time and often sketches vignettes the night before setting out. Then, once nestled in the great outdoors, he either completes more sketches or begins to compose his paintings directly on the canvas. “I’ll paint using a method of ‘thin to thick’ and ‘dark to light’—that is, starting with my diluted dark value shapes and quickly composing, placing my color and value notes throughout my composition in order to capture a moment and not lose the light,” Micheli notes. Afterward, he adds thicker paint and lighter colors as he makes his way through the design.
“The need and desire to capture the world around me is very strong. To me, it’s a lifelong journey of learning,” he says, adding that the immediacy of painting en plein air is extremely satisfying. The way he expresses light in his artwork is part of what makes the field so appealing. “Light is everything to me. Light is energy and the magic that sustains us and inspires us. It’s what gives us form and beauty,” he adds.
As a regular exhibitor at Sawdust Art Festival and a member of LPAPA, Micheli is very active in the local art community. He also takes part in The Plein Air Project, a LPAPA program that gives him the chance to mentor artistic youth, and teaches both indoor and outdoor classes at his north Laguna studio as well.
Through it all, Micheli says that he has but one wish for those who view his pieces. “My only hope is that my paintings reflect their lives [and] shared experiences of the world around them … [so] they can see the world on a deeper level, be in awe of it and respect it, so that they will take care of our home.”
A Spiritual Effect
Artistic talent could very well be in Cydette Vikander’s blood. She first tried her hand at oil painting with her grandmother, who studied under California artist Dedrick Brandes Stuber, but her father, a makeup artist for feature films, also helped introduce her to the world of impressionism thanks to his collection of fine art books.
After traveling around Europe in her youth, she attended the Paris American Academy then ventured to Los Angeles to study at Otis College of Art and Design (formerly called Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design), where she started out learning about illustration before later changing her focus to fine art painting. In the years that followed, Vikander also studied drawing and watercolor painting, selling her artwork to a wholesale company while also working as a watercolorist on antique prints.
Now, the artist typically paints landscapes. Whether working on plein air sketches or stylized studio paintings, Vikander finds both inspiration and contentment in the natural world. “Being a painter has afforded me a sense of great and simple happiness,” she says. “To feel productive in a relationship with passion has a spiritual effect on who I am.”
This shift started when Vikander moved to Montana with her husband and three children. “I was so inspired by the textures, forms, colors and light of the Rocky Mountains [that] landscape took precedence over all else,” she notes. Although she dabbled in pastels initially, she switched to oil over a decade ago when she moved to Laguna Beach.
After becoming a member of the Southern California Plein Air Painters Association (and, later, LPAPA here in Laguna), she began to paint in the field. “This style of painting tends to teach the value of atmosphere, perspective and color comparison,” Vikander says. “It is a challenging opportunity to learn realistic impressionism. … I use the paintings [that I create] en plein air as studies for my studio work, which is highly stylized.”
After designing some sketches that offer a visual for her to work off of, Vikander says she then works on her plein air paintings using both brushes and palette knives, combining complementary colors to craft a vivid contrast between light and dark shades. “I normally work fast, laying down an underpaint of a correct value that will help guide my composition,” she explains. “Sometimes, I intentionally use loud colors or a high key that I tone down, which gives a different result than the first. In a lot of ways, I am guided by color. It takes me on an intuitive journey.”
Vikander’s work has been shown across Orange County, from the local Forest & Ocean Gallery to art spaces in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. She has also donated paintings to numerous charity events and galas and, in 2019, became an exhibitor at the Sawdust Art Festival summer show in Laguna Canyon.
As she continues on her artistic journey, Vikander says that painting the natural world is a “wealth beyond possession.” She continues, “Landscape painting gives me the freedom to feel the innate sensibility of creation, as nature is an abstraction in itself. … We all feel connected to nature and its powerful calling … [of] majestic beauty.”
Each spring, the “Fresh Faces” exhibit offers a glimpse at artwork crafted by those who were recently juried into the Festival of Arts’ show. This year, visitors can get a sneak peak at pieces by artists such as Leslee Turnbull, David Kizziar, Judith Haron, Dawn Buckingham and Terry Houseworth ahead of the summer Fine Art Show. (949-497-6582; foapom.com)
During the pandemic, many grew closer to animals, spending time at home with pets or exploring nature with local wildlife. Gallery Q at the Laguna Beach Community & Susi Q Senior Center is hosting “Animals—Wild and Not So Wild” beginning May 19, inviting organizations such as the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and Blue Bell Foundation for Cats to search for pet portraits, safari photos and more. (949-715-8106; thesusiq.org)
JoAnne Artman Gallery
Opening May 15, “The Back Room” celebrates the act of inviting art patrons into private gallery rooms to showcase exclusive pieces. Abstract and figurative art combine with pop culture in this group show from Anna Kincaide, Ellen Von Wiegand, Jane Booth and Mary Finlayson. (949-510-5481; joanneartmangallery.com)
Kelsey Michaels Fine Art
This summer, from June 1 through July 15, a group exhibit will hang at this north Laguna gallery. View artwork from Southern California artists such as Kristina Grace and gallery owner Kelsey Irvin plus those from outside the area like contemporary collage artist Cecil Touchon from New Mexico and abstract painter Meredith Pardue from Texas. (949-922-5250; kelseymichaelsfineart.com)
Las Laguna Art Gallery
Every artist has pieces that he or she deems favorites, and “The Best of the Best” exhibit at Las Laguna celebrates that form of self-love. With an open theme, creative types are invited to showcase their best work for this show. It will hang in the gallery, but can also be viewed online through May 28. (949-505-0950; laslagunaartgallery.com)
Student artwork takes center stage at two upcoming LCAD exhibitions. First up, through May 22, is the BFA Fine Art Exhibition, where undergraduate students display paintings, drawings and sculptures crafted as part of their senior thesis project. Then, from June 2-26, graduate students take their turn with the MFA Fine Art Exhibition. (949-376-6000; lcad.edu)
Enjoy a plethora of events surrounding Kathleen Dunphy’s “Outside Insights” exhibit, which will feature an art show from June 2 through July 4 as well as a three-day plein air workshop from June 3-5 and a discussion with the artist on June 4. Dunphy will exhibit up to five large studio paintings plus small pieces of field work, including sketches and photographs created on location, while touching on how to find inspiring locations and what goes into forming the final pieces. (949-376-3635; lpapa.org)
Pacific Edge Gallery
In celebration of 35 years in Laguna, Pacific Edge will present an anniversary show featuring its resident artists: Jacobus Baas, Maria Bertrán, Nancy Eckels, Pil Ho Lee, Sandra Jones Campbell, Bryan Mark Taylor, Tom Swimm and Linda Whittemore, with a special reception on May 14-15; the show runs through the end of June. Keep an eye out for more exhibits and events, as festivities are being planned throughout the next year in honor of the occasion. (949-494-0491; pacificedgegallery.com)
Through May 30, view two exhibits including “Continuous,” a solo show by Aimee Bonham in which each painting, crafted on birch wood panels, is tied to the one before it. The second showcase, “Dreamscapes,” features oil pieces that are part of an ongoing series by Ann Kim inspired by the textures of nature. Then, from June 1 to July 4, enjoy abstract works from Sunny Kim’s “Cosmic Dream” series as well as Lynn Welker’s abstract mixed media on paper. (949-497-6775; sandstonegallery.com)
Vanessa Rothe Fine Art
A new spring collection is now on view at this downtown gallery space, featuring 30 new contemporary paintings from realist and impressionist artists. Available to view both online and in person, the seasonal showcase includes seascapes from Ray Roberts, New York cityscapes from Derek Penix, floral still lifes from Ukrainian artist Sergey Kovalenko, Tuscan landscapes from gallery owner Vanessa Rothe and more. (949-280-1555; vanessarothefineart.com)