New Works: Going for the Glow

08 June, 2022 3 comments Leave a comment

Watercolour paintings by Karen Richardson

Usually my realistic landscapes begin with a full sized pencil drawing of the entire scene, based on one or more reference photos, before I apply paint to paper.

The five northern lake scenes pictured here were created this spring with a different strategy that pushed me out of my comfort zone of colour and composition.

I began all of the paintings at the same time, using combinations of purple and gold paint mixtures.

Each artwork would have serendipitous focal areas of glowing light. The location of the glow would determine the placement of the scene's horizon.


Paintings in progress by Karen Richardson

After taping my watercolour paper to rigid supports, I brushed on clear water and applied a layer of rich colour on each piece of paper, allowing the colours to blend on the wet surface. This photo shows the first layer complete. I let the paintings dry overnight, then re-wet the surface and added more colour.

I continued to add one layer per day, building up more intense colour over the course of a week.

Working on wet paper is very unpredictable and risky, since paint moves freely on the moist surface and I never know how successful my attempts will be until all the layers have dried.

When luck is on my side, this process can result in beautiful glowing skies and lake reflections. If not, I can turn over the paper and try again on the other side. (Been there, done that, many times!)

Once the backgrounds were done, I continued work on the paintings one at a time over a six-week period, completing each artwork before proceeding to the next.


The largest piece became Nature's Gift, varnished watercolour on 14 x 11 inch panel.

The inspiration for the sky was a photo by a Facebook friend, Noreen Ebel Luce, of a sunset on Lake of the Woods. She gave me permission to use her photo (shown here) as a painting idea.

Photo by Noreen Ebel Luce

Once I was happy with my many-layered watercolour sky and lake, I invented a pine tree for the foreground (work in progress pictured below left).

Nature's Gift, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson    Test compositions for Nature's Gift, by Karen Richardson


I saw that the composition was too heavy on the left side. I needed to either make the tree extend to the right, or add a second tree to the right of the first one. Since watercolour is a transparent medium, I knew I only had one shot at fixing this painting.

To help me decide which option would look better, I took a photo of the artwork in progress and printed out two copies on photocopy paper. Then I used coloured markers to 'test drive' my two ideas (pictured above right).

I liked the single large tree better, so I went with that option to complete the watercolour painting.

For more details about Nature's Gift, click here.


I decided to use the two-tree concept in my next painting, Sunset Duet, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10 inch panel.

This pair of windblown pines pays tribute to the many beautifully sculpted trees I have seen in the Georgian Bay region. These steadfast conifers have spent a lifetime together, adorning this rocky shore. Hand in hand, they sing a quiet farewell to the setting sun.

Sketch and reference photos for Sunset Duet, by Karen Richardson

I gathered several reference photos I had taken at Georgian Bay and sketched out an imaginary lake scene (shown here). With a few modifications, these morphed into a finished sunset painting.

Click here for more information about Sunset Duet.


Something about islands in a calm northern lake just draws me in. I want to hop in a canoe and get a closer look at the rocks and trees that have found a home there.

This idea resulted in the third painting of the series, Heaven on Earth, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10 inch panel

Searching through my reference archives, I found these three lake photos taken throughout northern Ontario.

Photos of northern Ontario by Karen Richardson

Using them as reference, I sketched a composite scene onto my watercolour background, inserting foreground rocks and canoe. Then I painted all the elements in subdued colours to give a feeling of dusky light to the scene.

Click here for more details about Heaven on Earth.


Dawn of a New Day, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8 inch panel, the fourth painting, was taken from my imagination.

Onto my watercolour background I sketched a simple, rocky island and a few trees, with their feet cloaked in a gentle mist.

I made the leafless tree sturdy enough to support a bald eagle, surveying his watery kingdom from a lofty perch. Soft reflections completed the painting.

Click here for more details about Dawn of a New Day.


One Last Look, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8 inch panel was the final painting in the series and the most technically difficult piece.

This scene is Pukaskwa National Park on Lake Superior near Marathon, ON. My husband and I spent a glorious week camping there last summer. Kayaking in Hattie Cove was a special memory of this trip. The surrounding rocky cliffs were so massive and impressive. I didn't want the day to end, and this painting commemorates this special place.

Pukaskwa National Park, photo by Karen Richardson

Pukaskwa National Park, photo by Karen Richardson

I used these reference photos from our visit, but I took them on a breezy day and my painting had calmer water.

This meant I had to create a whole new set of reflections, based on the physics of how light behaves. I studied a bunch of other reference photos of reflections on waves to understand the concept before completing my painting. I breathed a big sigh of relief when it was done successfully.

For more information about One Last Look, click here.

I hope you have enjoyed this look 'behind the scenes' of what goes on in my art studio. Determining layout concepts and painting approaches are key steps in creating meaningful, beautiful artwork that conveys authentic emotion.

If you have comments you wish to share, please do so using the 'Leave a Comment' button at the top of this post. 

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  1. Shirley Stopyra May 31, 2023

    Karen , I love the detail in your paintings. I too have painted that very scene from Pukaskwa in Acrylic. I am painting watercolor cards & bookmarks. Can you tell me what finish should I put on them to prevent them from running. It was so nice to meet you a few years ago in Marathon. I would appreciate your expert opinion. Shirley

  2. Gay Liddell June 10, 2022

    Such exquisite paintings! I love them all. Your explanations really brought the process to life. I very much enjoy your emails Karen. They are an island of peace in a World of turmoil. Blessings. Gay.

  3. Diane Schurman June 10, 2022

    Fascinating insights! Thanks so much, Karen. It is amazing the work and planning that goes into each one of your stunning paintings. Knowing all this makes them even more special!