November New Works: Magical Skies

30 November, 2020 1 comments Leave a comment

Watercolours by Karen Richardson

Watercolours by Karen Richardson

November has been a busy month in my art studio, with the completion of 8 new watercolours (pictured above). My northern lakes series continues and some unique and luscious skies have been introduced, depicting the magical effects of dawn, sunset, twilight, and starlight. I am in heaven, pun intended, and fired up to make more paintings in this dramatic series in larger sizes next month.

In the meantime, I am sharing the stories behind the creation of these artworks.

Shown above is Let the Dream Begin, varnished watercolour on 6 x 12" panel. Warm sunset fades softly into twilight after an early snowfall has blanketed the landscape. The lake is still open but soon it will freeze over to begin its winter slumber. The idea of drifting into peaceful sleep prompted the title.

This piece was inspired by a summertime photo of a Ganaraska sunset (shown below) taken by my friend Tim Thorington and used with his permission.

Photo by Tim Thorington

I decided to switch the season to winter in my painting, which simplified the foreground and let the water shine.

Click here for more information about Let the Dream Begin.


Shown above is Let It Go, varnished watercolour on 6 x 12" panel. I imagined a story to go with this scene. There is a canoe resting on the island, and the paddlers have gone for one last swim before sunset. They had an amazing day on the water and don't want it to end. This feeling is captured in the title.

In 2012, I took a sunset photo (shown below) while boating on Lake of the Woods. The clouds were backlit by the setting sun, creating a rim of pink light on each cloud, and the sun's rays fanned out across the sky behind the clouds. The clouds were very tricky to portray successfully in watercolour, and I used some artistic license in my interpretation.

Lake of the Woods Sunset, photo by Karen Richardson

This past summer while on camping trips to Lake Superior, I made some pencil drawings of imaginary northern lake scenes in my sketchbook. I selected this one shown below for the foreground of my new sunset painting.

Pencil sketch by Karen Richardson

Click here to see more information about Let It Go.

Shown above is the first painting in my new Starlight Series, Music of the Night, varnished watercolour on 12 x 12" panel. There is something magical about twilight, and this painting captures the essence of this special moment. A glowing remnant of sunset silhouettes tall pines as the heavens fade to black. And when we look up beyond the tree tops, we behold a symphony of starlight. This musical reference is echoed in the title of this piece.

This unusual night scene was inspired by a photo taken by professional photographer James Shedden that he posted on Facebook last spring. The photo reminded me of nights spent looking up into a northern Ontario sky after dark, with no light pollution to interfere, and marveling at the heavy blanket of starlight across the heavens. I asked James for permission to use his photo as reference for a painting and he graciously agreed. His photo is shown below.

Photo by James Shedden

In my painting, I made the format square instead of rectangular, added more reds and oranges to the sunset, and made the trees slightly less dense so the sunset colours would show more effectively.

The process of painting the background sky, with smooth colour changes through the spectrum from yellow to black, was very challenging and took all my painting skills. I built up these deeply vibrant colours using many layers of paint and allowing a full day for each layer to dry before adding the next one.

Creating the pinpricks of starlight was pure fun. Adding tree silhouettes at the end was easily accomplished, due to my extensive history of examining, understanding, drawing, and painting thousands of pine trees over the last 35 years. I used to climb trees like these when I was a kid, so they are in my blood.

Click here for more information about Music of the Night.


Shown above is Be Still, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8" panel. This scene is Picture Rock Harbour on Lake Superior, in Pukaskwa National Park near Marathon, ON.

This painting was inspired by a photo I saw on Facebook, taken by Tania Bortolon Krysa during her back country hike on the Mdaabii Miikna Trail last August. My husband and I visited this breathtaking park around the same time and plan to return for some hiking and kayaking in the future.

Tania's photo captured a quiet twilight moment and I loved the shapes of the iconic northern Ontario trees. She kindly allowed me to use her photo (shown below) as a painting reference.

Photo by Tania Bortolon Krysa

I changed my painting to a square format and made the sunset a bit more orange to contrast with the blue sky. I found this scene challenging, especially the smooth sky gradation and the rippled reflections on the surface of the lake, but thoroughly enjoyed the process of recreating this special moment in time. I would like to do another painting using the full rectangular format of the reference photo and including the moon in the sky.

When Tania saw my finished painting on Facebook, she said "I love it so much! This is going to transport a great many people right back to some beautiful and peaceful memories of Picture Rock Harbour. You are a great talent!"

Click here to see more details of Be Still.

Shown above is Into the Wild Blue Yonder, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8" panel. I am thrilled with the feeling of the finished work. The glow in the sky conveys that mystical time just before dawn. A light mist is rising from the lake and millions of stars still shine in the heavens. Soon the sun will burn off the remnants of night and a new day of adventure exploring these rocky islands will begin.

The literal meaning of Wild Blue Yonder is 'a location far away that is appealingly unknown and mysterious', which captures perfectly the spirit of this place. I am very keen to further explore this type of blue starlight scene in future paintings.

This painting is mostly from my imagination, loosely suggested by a long-exposure photo taken by my friend Carolyn Caughell in Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve near Gravenhurst, ON. I loved the starlight and the blues in her photo (shown below) but completely reinvented the landscape and emphasized the stars when I created my painting.

Photo by Carolyn Caughell

Click here for more details about Into the Wild Blue Yonder.

Shown above is Starry Starry Night, varnished watercolour on 12 x 12" panel. I had so much fun painting Music of the Night that I made a second, larger painting. I added the flare from the setting sun to balance the large trees on the left. I also made the colours brighter.

The title Starry Starry Night pays homage to the opening lyrics of Vincent, a haunting song about Vincent Van Gogh, on Don McLean's iconic 1971 album American Pie.

Click here to see more details about Starry Starry Night.

Shown above is Dreams of Dragon's Fire, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8" panel. This painting is set in that magical time when night fades and a new day dawns. Rich scarlet, gold, and purple flow like flames through the sky and reflect in a lake so vast, we cannot see the far shore. Pine trees perch atop a rocky island, perfectly reflected in calm waters.

I found the idea for this painting on, where I saw the photo below by Johannes Plenio.

Photo by Johannes Plenio

In my painting, I used the same background colours but made my own swirls and shapes. For the island, I used a photo I had taken while snowmobiling north of Lake Superior in 2017 (see below). I flipped the photo so the trees would lean into the centre of the scene.

Photo by Karen Richardson

Click here for more details about Dreams of Dragon's Fire.

Shown above is Shadows of Dawn, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10" panel. Mist dances in elegant swirls along the surface of a calm lake, parting to reveal a perfect little island, crowned with a cluster of conifers. Shadows recede gracefully as the new day awakens.

The background sky, mist, and water came about entirely by chance. I had laid down some gold graded washes to begin a new sunset scene, but the colours were dull and unattractive. I let the painting sit for a month or so while I pondered its fate. Then I decided to strike out in a new direction and added more washes of orange and black to pump up the drama. I loved the result and added the misty island and soft reflections to complete the scene.

The island is the reverse image of the one I portrayed in the painting below, titled Hidden Secrets.

Click here to see more details about Shadows of Dawn.

As the days continue to shorten, 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. Elfrida Jeppesen December 02, 2020

    Wow, you have outdone yourself with theses wonderful paintings. I was swept away by your “Starry Night” and then I saw “Dreams of Dragon Fire”. -just as stunning.
    Your work should be in the National Gallery.