Painting Chicago (The City, Not The Band) | Artist Nancie King Mertz

Oil and pastel artist Nancie King Mertz loves Chicago. How do I know? It’s expressed in the landscapes featured on her website, which includes painting after painting of the Windy City, from iconic landmarks such as the Art Institute of Chicago to the urban underpasses, and not to mention various gardens that speak of simple and natural beauty. I’ve asked Nancie to tell us a little bit about her painting experiences with us.


A Day at the Art Institute (pastel, 26×20) by Nancie King Mertz (

“Fortunately, I’ve always been able to travel the world to do plein air painting, and I answer, ‘Chicago,’ when asked which city is my favorite to paint. It offers colorful neighborhoods, massive architecture, lovely green space, a vibrant lake and river, and an accessible underbelly of lower Wacker (a high-traffic underground street) and the El (Chicago’s upper-level rapid transit system). In addition to this, the folks are friendly and proud of their city; more than willing to open their space for an artist to capture a spectacular view of their unique setting.

“Approximately half of my work is plein air in both oil and pastel, but I love the simplicity of heading out for a short painting session with pastels. I keep my easel on a rolling cart, toss in a small bottle of denatured alcohol and a brush, slip in the trim Sennelier plein air set, homemade Gator board or Wallis panels, and hit the streets. The setup is compact enough that I can take public transportation, however if I know parking will be available, I’ll use that convenience to carry along larger panels (16×20, 18×24) which I find to be more enjoyable to paint on, compared to the small.


“My husband, Ron, bought me a 30-minute helicopter ride for my birthday,” says Nancie. “We flew over the city in the tiny thing, snapping photos like crazy while the pilot circled views that inspired me.” The result? Over Drive (above; pastel, 16×20).

“To begin, I lay out all the darks in loose strokes, then wash them down with the alcohol to thin the pastel and establish deep tonal values. This dries very quickly to enable the application of midtones in the composition, followed by the lights. On average, my time limit is usually about two hours to completion, no matter the size, due to constantly shifting shadows. It’s fun to hear comments early on, when the panel is a dark drippy mess and viewers can’t understand what I’m seeing, and then to hear ‘Wow!’ when I’m close to the finish!”~Nancie King Mertz

Thank you, Nancie, for sharing your work and your experience of painting en plein air in this wonderful city. Visit Nancie’s website to view her Chicago series, and more paintings of beloved cities around the globe.

And, if you’re inspired to paint with pastel, experiment with our pastel kit-of-the-month. The Maggie Price: Essential Pastel Painting Techniques Collection includes a variety of instruction on how to create art using pastel.

Best regards,

Cherie Haas, online editor**Click here to subscribe to the Artists Network newsletter for inspiration, instruction, and more!



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