New Works: Stories of Peaceful Northern Lakes

25 October, 2020 4 comments Leave a comment

New paintings by Karen Richardson


It is remarkable how many memories can be captured in a simple lake scene. I grew up in the Canadian Shield region of Ontario, just east of Algonquin Park. Landscapes filled with clear water, sturdy rocks and wind-sculpted pine trees are ingrained in my soul.

Now that our summer camping trips are in the rear view mirror, it feels great to get back to playing with paint in my studio. Camping season ended at Thanksgiving, and already I have finished six exciting new works in my northern lakes series, pictured above.

I love painting the effect of calm water and the stillness it imparts to the viewer. Many people tell me these paintings remind them of their childhood. Let me give you a tour of my latest paintings and tell you their stories.

Exit Light, Enter Night watercolour by Karen Richardson

Exit Light, Enter Night, 6 x 12" varnished watercolour on panel, shown above, has been a long time in the making. I have lost count of how many attempts I made at capturing the vivid colours of this scene.

My original inspiration was a photo taken by professional photographer James Shedden, who posts his gorgeous photos on Facebook. When I saw his winter photo (shown below) in May of 2019, I felt a visceral connection to the land of my childhood in the Upper Ottawa Valley. I just had to paint this! And James was kind enough to give me permission to use his photo as a painting reference. You can check out his work at

Photo by James Shedden

The difficult aspect of this subject is controlling the placement and intensity of the colours that make up the sky. I had to paint on wet paper to get the soft transitions between colours, but problems occurred when the colours bled too far on the wet paper, and warm oranges mixed with cool blues to create grayed colours. After starting over a few times and running into the same problem, I decided to begin again but with a new strategy: slow down and separate the processes.

I pre-wet the watercolour paper and applied many coats of blue to the upper sky and the snow-covered lake, letting each layer dry overnight before adding the next coat. After several days, the blues reached the intensity I was after. When they were fully dry, I re-wet the middle section and stroked in the pinks and oranges.

I changed some pink areas of the photo references to oranges when I painted them, to emphasize the dramatic contrast of complementary colours blue and orange. It took a few coats over several days to build up rich colour there too. When the sky had dried, I added in the delicate streaks of purple and turquoise above the treeline.

Once the sky had dried thoroughly for a few days, I drew the tree outlines with pencil and then filled in the trees with black watercolour mixed from the primaries. Several coats were needed to achieve an opaque black.

This paint-and-wait process I have described required patience and the ability to delay gratification, but I was very happy with the final result.

The title 'Exit Light, Enter Night' is from the lyrics of one of my favourite Metallica songs and perfectly describes what is happening in the scene.

For more information about Exit Light, Enter Night, click here.

Serenity by the Shore, watercolour by Karen Richardson

Shown above is Serenity by the Shore, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8" panel, inspired by our camping trip to Lake of the Woods in northwestern Ontario in July. This vast lake contains many scenic bays and islands and the waters are very clear so you can see the bottom of a shallow bay.

Photo by Karen Richardson    Photo by Karen Richardson

These are the two reference photos I used to compose my painting. The transition from blue sky reflected on the water to the sandy brown lake bottom was done in one paint layer on wet paper. This is a risky technique, especially adding in the slight ripple of waves, so I was very pleased to get it right in one go. Once this layer had dried for a few days, I painted in the island, its reflection, and the underwater rocks and crevices.

For more information about Serenity by the Shore, click here.

Waiting For Summer, watercolour by Karen Richarsdon


Shown above is Waiting For Summer, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8" panel. This quiet little scene was inspired by a photo I took decades ago at the Richardson familycottage on Big Cedar Lake, in central Ontario.

Photo by Karen Richardson


When I look at this scene, I almost can hear the echoes of summers past, when kids swam around and dove from the home-built raft. I love the feeling that mist softly imparts; there is a gentleness, but also a sense of mystery, inviting the viewer to add personal reminiscences of cottage life.

For more details about Waiting For Summer, click here.

Heading For Home, watercolour by Karen Richardson

Pictured above is Heading For Home, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10" panel. This painting began as a doodle in my sketchbook (shown below), during our camping trip to Lake of the Woods. This was drawn entirely from my imagination.

Pencil Sketch by Karen Richardson

When planning the colour scheme for the painting, I wanted to try some complementary sunset hues. I found a photo of a random sunset in my archives and the unusual colour combination of turquoise and peach caught my eye. I added the canoe and paddlers in the distance to imply the end of a fabulous, strenuous day spent exploring the wonders of Nature, when it is time to return home before dark.

To see more information about Heading For Home, click here.

Misty Blues, watercolour by Karen Richardson

Shown above is Misty Blues, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8" panel. This foggy Lake Superior scene was inspired by a photo taken by my Facebook friend Ellen VanLaar. Last May, she posted the photo shown below of a foggy morning at Coppermine Point, which is near her home between Pancake Bay and Lake Superior Provincial Park. Ellen graciously gave me permission to use her photo as a painting reference.

Photo by Ellen VanLaar

I so enjoyed painting the 8 x 8" version of the scene that I made a second version in a rectangular format in a larger size. This became Blue Becomes You, varnished watercolour on 12 x 16" panel, shown below.

Blue Becomes You, watercolour by Karen Richardson

For more information about Blue Becomes You, click here.

As our weather gradually cools, and more days are spent indoors than out, I look forward to creating more new paintings and sharing with you the stories behind them.

Which painting is your favourite? 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. Dianne Nielsen October 28, 2020

    I love these new paintings, especially the brilliant sunset, Exit Light. Thanks for explaining how to achieve the intensity of colour. I have several sunset photos that I may try to paint this winter!
    Also the “Serenity by the shores” makes me think about attempting a transparent ice painting. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jan Zeldenrust October 28, 2020

    Thank you for posting the process you used to achieve that fantastic sky in Exit Light, Enter Night. I too have been struggling to achieve that blend of complimentary colours we see at dawn and dusk but have been frustrated again and again. I look forward to a time when I can again enjoy your classes, but meanwhile I will spend these self isolating winter months at my studio painting table with lots of practicing.

  3. Elfrida Jeppesen October 28, 2020

    Beautiful paintings as usual. Congratulations on the sale of so many.

  4. Wendy Allison-Barnes October 27, 2020

    I think my favorite is “Serenity by the Shore.” It immediately takes me back to a trip I did to raise monies for Breast Cancer, “Paddle to a Cure” on Georgian Bay, several years ago.

    Given the crazy times we are living in, I believe we could all benefit from a little serenity by a shore.