The Making of 'A Foot in Cold Water'

08 April, 2019 2 comments Leave a comment

Many of my paintings are inspired by my travels to wild regions of North America, but this one came about thanks to a shoe store, the Toronto Cottage Life Show and a collector of my work who loves Lake Superior.

A Foot in Cold Water, watercolour by Karen Richardson

The story began in 2010 at the Cottage Life show in Toronto, where I rented a booth to show my paintings. There, I met this fellow who had a family cottage (or 'camp' as they call recreational seasonal properties up north) on Lake Superior. He bought one of my Featherstone giclee prints because it reminded him of heron feathers on his camp's pebble shoreline on Batchawana Bay, north of Sault Ste. Marie.

Fast forward to 2017, when I mentioned in my monthly email update that I had started a new series of paintings based on my Lake Superior trips. After seeing that, the collector from the Cottage Life Show emailed me these two photos he took during a Zodiac trip from his camp to North Sandy Island, in case I could use them for inspiration.

Photo by Anthony Gentile     Photo by Anthony Gentile

I thought both were excellent shots but the one with the shoe and underwater stones really ignited my imagination, and I already had my own reference photos of pebbles under clear water. I noted the idea in my 'to paint' file.

About 9 months later while holidaying with friends in Kingston, I chanced upon a sidewalk sale table of colourful running shoes. They immediately reminded me of the underwater shoe painting I wanted to make. I took a photo of the display table of shoes and now had all the references I needed to design a painting.

Photo of running shoes by Karen Richardson

I started working on the 18 x 24" painting shortly after that, beginning with a very complex line drawing, and then completely finishing the painting, section by section.

For a large, intricate painting, this sequencing strategy avoids what can feel like weeks of drudgery when the whole painting is going through its unattractive, formative stage (I call this the 'teenage phase'). Finishing small sections creates excitement for me because I can glimpse the finished effect sooner and feel like I am making progress toward a positive outcome. The excitement is what motivates me to put in the hours necessary to finish the painting.

Beginning 'A Foot in Cold Water' by Karen Richardson

I interrupted the painting process many times to take photos of each stage, so I could make a time lapse video story of the painting's creation and title. I hope you enjoy this 2-minute video and that it helps you appreciate the thought and work involved in creating this intricate painting in watercolour. Click on the image below to view the video.

A Foot in Cold Water is one of my master works and every time I look at it I am taken to a happy place in my memories, filled with the excitement of discovery, exploring the stone-filled shallows of the North Shore. Sheer Paradise.

For more information about this painting, click here.

Have you taken an amazing photo of Lake Superior that you would like to show Karen, perhaps to inspire a painting? (She loves rocks, water, waves, trees, skies, sunsets, islands, reflections...) If so, please email your photo to karen[at] and include the location, and the story of what makes the photo special to you.

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  1. Karen April 10, 2019

    Thank you Elfrida. A grisaille layer is a monochromatic undercoat that establishes the pattern of lights and darks (values) in the artwork. Generally colour layers are added on top of the grisaille layer. The word is French for ‘grayish’.

  2. Elfrida Jeppesen April 10, 2019

    What is a grisaille layer?
    “Foot in the Water” is wonderful.