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Style El Dorado County Foothills

Spotlight on Placerville's Own Bruce Gruenzel

03/01/2019 03:10PM

Born and raised in Wisconsin, painter and current Placerville resident Bruce Gruenzel has been enthralled by the ocean ever since he first laid eyes upon it. His affinity for it runs so deep, in fact, that seascapes—and their varying colors and moods—are often the main themes of his work. “My respect for the ocean’s movements and force was further instilled during the 15 years I spent as a lifeguard [in] Southern California,” shares Gruenzel. “I hope to bring the excitement of those experiences to the canvas.” Both self-taught and professionally instructed at the New Renaissance Academy School of Living Oils on Whidbey Island in Washington—where he dove deep into color theory and composition, developing the foundation for his current technique of painting in multiple layers to create greater depth—Gruenzel’s work can be viewed at Gold Country Artists’ Gallery (379 Main Street) in Placerville.

Bruce Gruenzel


HLB: When did you discover your talent and passion for art? 

BG: I became interested in art as a child [and would draw] whatever came into my head. Encouraged by my grandfather and parents, I learned how to accept suggestions and critiques early on. I never really lost this passion, but school and sports kept me busy during my teenage years, so I was only able to occasionally create pencil and charcoal drawings.

HLB: How did seeing the ocean for the first time influence your work?

BG: When I came to California in the mid-’50s and saw the ocean, it was a great visual inspiration. Even though there were waves on Lake Michigan where I was raised, the ocean was certainly on a grander scale with the rock formations, the crashing waves, and the ever-changing array of colors in the ebb and flow of the water. [Around that time], I received a Grumbacher oil painting set as a gift. Not having any experience with the medium, I purchased several Walter Foster books and was immediately hooked.

HLB: Why are you drawn to oil and what are its challenges? 

BG: I love painting in oils because the fluidity of the medium allows me to blend and feather the colors with little separation, especially clouds and water. One of the major challenges is color. I have to ask myself, “What are the actual colors of the sea at this particular time?” 

HLB: Do you have a favorite amongst your paintings? 

BG: Of all my works, three stand out as my favorites: The Last of the Wanderer, which was repainted several times until I was satisfied; View from Kirby Beach, because I achieved 98 percent of what I imagined; and Gaff Rigged Dory, which flowed from my brush as if it had a mind of its own.

HLB: Do you have any advice for artists just starting out?  

BG: I recommend seeking out qualified instructors who will teach you the basics without derailing your creativity. Also, learn color. There are countless colors available, [but] start by practicing with the primary ones. Lastly, learn to accept criticism with an open mind. But above all: paint, paint, paint. 

By Heather L. Becker

Photo by Dante Fontana.

Artwork photos courtesy of Bruce Gruenzel.

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