Master Craftsman: Kelly Franké Offers a Different Kind of Portrait 

Kelly Franké, Master Craftsman
Kelly Franké
Courtesy of Kelly Franké

Kelly Franké specializes in portraits, but her portraits are a little bit different from what you might be accustomed to seeing. They are portraits of places, not people. 

Franké draws houses and other buildings, from landmarks like lighthouses and windmills to businesses, capturing the artistry inherent in their architecture.

“I have two sides to my business. The first side is large-scale fine art that I sell mostly through galleries,” she said. “The second half is commissioned artwork. These are primarily home portraits for clients and realtors.”Franké does charcoal drawings typically on birch wood, using different grains to create backgrounds.

Kelly Franké, Master Craftsman
Watercolor on paper depicting Raphael Vineyards in Peconic.Courtesy of Kelly Franké

For commissioned work, she offers three media to choose from: charcoal drawings on birch, graphite drawings on paper and watercolors.

“When you’re a young artist, one of the mediums they give you to learn is charcoal,” she said. “It’s a really good way to get students to loosen up and look at composition. People tend not to stick with charcoal, because it’s a tricky medium.”

Kelly Franké, Master Craftsman
Kelly Franké’s 18-by-24-inch watercolor portrait of a home.Courtesy of Kelly Franké

The daughter of a professional illustrator, Franké says she grew up in her father’s studio, “mimicking him.” She got a bachelor of fine arts at Alfred University and a master of fine arts degree from Indiana University. Franké discovered charcoal drawing on wood by mistake.

“I was outside drawing all the time,” she said. “I’d take a drawing board and clip the paper to the wood. One day the wind wasn’t cooperating. I crumpled up the paper and ended up drawing directly on the wood board.” 

Kelly Franké, Master Craftsman
The Montauk Lighthouse, charcoal on birch.Courtesy of Kelly Franké

She liked what she saw and started drawing on wood, picking out wood grains which she worked into her compositions.

“When drawing on wood, the first thing I do is study its grain,” she says on her website. “Each piece tells a story, defines a mood.”

Although her work often includes landscape, she doesn’t usually draw only nature. “I never just do trees and water,” Franké added. “There’s always going to be an architectural element. It may be bridges or a boatyard. That kind of thing.”

Kelly Franké
Kelly Franké in her studio in Center MorichesCourtesy of Kelly Franké

She specializes in architecture, capturing the patterns and personality of places. Some of her work is visible on her website at On Instagram, she can be found at @kellyfrankeart.

Kelly Franké, Master Craftsman
A depiction of New Suffolk on the North Fork set on charcoal on birch, available in a 24-by-48-inch format.Courtesy of Kelly Franké

“I’m attracted to anything with linear, architectural elements,” she said. “My clients are typically homeowners, people gifting to homeowners, or realtors who want great closing gifts.”

In most cases, she works from photos provided to her, although she said she can take photographs herself.

”Every building has unique architectural elements,” Franké added “I like to find personality in a building’s shingles, roofing, and unique details. The surrounding foliage also has a lot of character.”

This article appeared in the June 2022 issue of Behind The Hedges. Read the full digital version of the magazine here. For more Master Craftsman columns, click here

Kelly Franké, Master Craftsman
Watercolor painting of a private residence.Courtesy of Kelly Franké