Acclaimed Tempe watercolor artist Raleigh
Kinney says he couldn’t have made a living
through art for the last 34 years without his
business partner and wife, Darlene Kinney.
And, as the couple looks ahead to their 50th
wedding anniversary in September, they will
celebrate this Valentine’s Day together in typical
fashion—working in their booth at the Third Annual
Waterfront Art & Wine Festival in Scottsdale.
The secret to the longevity of their marriage?
“Just being in love,” Darlene Kinney said last
week in the art studio custom-built onto their Mesa
home, to which they moved after years in Tempe.
“I always tell him when I’m sitting and watching
his demos, and he’s sitting here teaching, I’m so glad
I get to go home with him.
“I think, ‘Ah-ha, he’s mine.’”
“I’ll tell you what, in this business
you need a partner,” said Raleigh, 75.
“And one of the things that Darlene has
always been is a great backer and also
the person who does the stuff behind
Darlene, 71, smiled widely when
describing her role in their work: “I’m
the creative financier. I know a million
ways how to stretch one dollar bill.”
She makes the mats for framing
and handles correspondence and
workshop registrations. “I say, ‘He just
paints; I do the rest.’ ”
“For good or for worse, she is a
real critic of my work,” Raleigh said.
“She’s not afraid to say, ‘I don’t like
that painting. There’s something about
it that bothers me.’
“So I’ll go back and sometimes
make adjustments in it and sometimes
I’ll say, ‘You’re right, it’s got two focal
points; it’s not working. I’ll have to
make some major changes in it.’ Or I’ll
just junk it and do another one.”
After 30 years in Tempe, the
couple moved in 2009 to a home in
Mesa with enough property to add a
30-by-35-foot studio where Raleigh
paints and leads workshops for up to
But the story of Raleigh Kinney
and Darlene Fox began 53 years ago
back in Deerwood, Minn., where they
met on New Year’s Eve.
The start of a partnership
“My girlfriend didn’t have a
date and I didn’t either,” Darlene
remembered, so they decided to take
their chances on going stag to the
White Pine dance hall. “It was almost
midnight, and no one had come to even
ask us to dance.”
Then she saw a good-looking
young college man nearby, and she
admits she was surprised when he
approached her. “We danced, and he
took me home.”
“I thought she was great,” Raleigh
said. “We had a lot of fun that night.”
“We just kind of clicked,” Darlene
agreed. “The rest is history.”
Eighteen years later, Raleigh
Kinney was an art teacher at St. Cloud
(Minn.) Apollo High School when
he proposed taking a year’s leave of
absence and heading for Arizona with
Darlene and their two boys. He had
been steadily developing a passion
for watercolor painting and, at the
suggestion of his mentor, Canadian
artist Zoltan Szabo, he wanted to try
working full-time as a painter.
“My girlfriends told me to just keep calm, it
would pass over because it was his age,” Darlene
said, prompting a laugh from her husband. “And it
didn’t. But we had a family discussion with our boys.
They were (in) fourth grade and seventh grade.”
With the family in agreement, they sold their
“Darlene’s folks were down in St. Cloud when
we were loading the van, loading the U-Haul, and
they did not help us,” Raleigh said.
“They sat and watched us load the van, thinking,
‘This guy’s got to be an idiot.’ I’m sure as we drove
away they thought: ‘What is he thinking?’”
“It was kind of scary,” Darlene recalled. But, she
added, “I kind of liked getting out of the winters. We
had been down here visiting good friends and I knew
they were here. I guess I was nervous about it but I
was looking forward to it.”
After growing up in Tempe, their sons thanked
them for making the move.
“They just said that it widened them,” Darlene
“They said that they grew. They really enjoyed
coming to Arizona and having a swimming pool. No
Gaining a foothold
From teaching painting in a downtown Phoenix
gallery for $5 a lesson to holding classes in his
garage, Raleigh Kinney gradually developed a
A chance meeting with the advertising director
for the Diamond’s stores, now Dillards, led to a
gig that he called “a great impetus as far as being
recognized as a good painter.”
“He said, ‘Would you be interested in coming
and demonstrating in the Diamond’s stores during
the holidays? We’ll set you up at the top of the
escalator. We’ll put a mirror up there. You can
demonstrate and we’ll sell a display of your artwork.
I did that for about three or four months.
“That’s really how I got acquainted with a lot of
the artists in the Valley and gained a lot of notoriety,”
“Any painter who happened to walk through
the Diamond’s store at that time, I got a chance to
meet him, so I became associated with a group of
As the 1980s went on, “things started taking off
economically,” he said.
“So we were lucky. We started doing some art
festivals, and my name really got around.”
At their peak, Raleigh and Darlene were showing
and selling his art at 35 to 40 festivals a year.
He spent time each October for 16 years
painting on Catalina Island off the coast of Southern
California, has taught workshops around the country,
and has had his paintings published on calendars and
in such magazines as Arizona Highways.
His work is featured in three books about
watercolor painting, one of them about the history
of plein air painting – a French term for painting
outdoors – on Catalina Island.
Sharing the passion
Plein air painting is Raleigh Kinney’s specialty.
“There’s not very many watercolor plein air
painters because watercolor is harder to handle on
location,” he said.
“Plein air is a great excitement-builder. You
can go out and spend a day plein air painting and
you come back to the studio with a head of steam,”
Raleigh said. “You see the colors more vividly and
you see subtlety in the shadows that you didn’t see
from a photograph…and you remember that, and
you bring that back to the studio, and you’re excited
about painting again.”
Although it’s tough for novice painters to learn
to use watercolors outdoors, he loves to take groups
out into the desert.
“The joy of that is they get to see what real
shadows look like on location and how it reflects
the sky, or how it reflects a neighboring subject,” he
said. “So, shadows aren’t just black, shadows aren’t
just gray. They’re color. So you point that out, and it
makes their picture better and more entertaining.
“You bring a sketch back, and it may not be
a perfect sketch, but it was done in the moment.
And sometimes those pieces that were done in the
moment are the most exciting pieces that you do.”
He describes his style as “somewhat
impressionistic but realistic. I like a loose kind of
painting. I really like to see brush marks and how I
work when I’m done, so the viewer can see how I’ve
used my brush. I don’t want it to be photographic.
But I like subject matter. I’m still what you’d call a
His favorite subject these days is landscape, but
it has changed over the years with his experiences.
After a plein air event at a dude ranch, “I had
a stretch there when I was doing a lot of horse
paintings and riders and things like that.”
One of his favorite paintings is of his two young
sons exploring an old truck. Called “Pilot to Copilot,”
the work hangs in Raleigh and Darlene Kinney’s
His smaller paintings, framed, sell for $650
to $750. Medium-sized works sell in the range of
$1,600 to $2,000. The largest painting in his studio,
30 inches by 40 inches, has a price tag of $4,800.
Though original paintings often have investment
value, he advises people against buying art for
“But I tell people when they buy an original that
they should not be buying it for investment. They
should be buying it because they love it, and that way
they’ll never be disappointed,” he said.
‘Say one thing’
Being an artist affects the way he sees the world.
“We’ll be driving and I’ll say to Darlene, ‘Wow,
there’s a painting. That old fence post right there
with that old wheel leaning against it and with all
the weeds growing up around it.’ She sees the whole
thing, she sees the farm in the background and the
field, and I see the fence post with an old wheel
leaning against it.”
He tries to teach that way of seeing a painting to
his beginning students.
“When you go out on location, they’ll try to paint
the whole world. You have to try to teach them to
limit what they see and try to pick a focal point. Don’t
say too many things in this painting. Say one thing.”
He calls the pattern of his three-day workshops
The first day is spent in the home studio, where
he demonstrates painting beneath a large mirror,
discusses his philosophy of painting, and takes
questions from participants. Weather permitting, the
second day is spent outside, “on location.”
“It’s good experience for them to go out and do
a sketch,” he said. “Primarily, when you go out on
a location, what you’re looking for is value: lights
against darks, where your focal point is. What are
you going to do with the background?”
On the third day, workshop participants return
to the studio to paint, often using their plein air
sketch. Raleigh and Darlene consider themselves
“semi-retired,” having scaled back the number of
festivals, shows and workshops they take part in.
“You reach a time in your life when it’s like a
tidal wave,” he said of his career. “That wave comes
in and at its peak there’s wonderful things going on
and a lot of demand, and that recedes. New people
arrive and they fill a new position, and that’s kind of
“There’s still a lot of interest in my work and in
my teaching. But you have to stay out there and you
have to keep working. Out of sight, out of mind, so to
Through all the ups and downs, though, Darlene
has been an important partner at his side.
“She goes with me to a lot of functions and she
becomes a part of the people that we meet, and she
gets to know them,” Raleigh said. “She comments
later on those associations and makes suggestions.
That particular thing helps an awful lot in a business
like we have.”
The Kinneys said they are not among the 1 to 2
percent of artists who become wealthy.
“When you do an art show, you don’t know if
you’re going to make a dollar or if you’re going to
make $2,000 or more,” Darlene said.
But they have enjoyed the independence and
freedom of running their own business and following
their dream. For her, Darlene said, the reward has
come in “just being able to work together, you know,
and have a good marriage.”
And, of course, to celebrate a Valentine’s Day
with the same excitement they did 50 years ago.
For information about Raleigh Kinney’s Feb.
10-12 and March 11-13 workshops at his home studio,
and the upcoming fine arts shows in Scottsdale and
Carefree sponsored by Thunderbird Artists, call
480-350-9375, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit