The Making of 'Where Garden Meets Rock'

29 January, 2023 4 comments Leave a comment

This ambitious painting project - the largest watercolour I have ever done - took me two months to create. It was pure joy to paint, if a bit intimidating, due to the large scale of the piece.

Under normal circumstances, I could have produced eight of my average-sized paintings in this time frame, so it took some bravery on my part to commit two full months to just one painting.

I grew up near Algonquin Park and never tire of painting the rocks of the Canadian Shield, but when each stone is bigger than my head, the logistics of painting on a large scale come into play. I had to use big brushes and work quickly, because the drying rate is the same for painting a large area as a small one.

The painting is titled 'Where Garden Meets Rock', and is mounted on a 40 x 28 inch panel. The subject is my own perennial garden and river stone border beside our driveway.

Garden photo by Karen Richardson

I took this photo of my garden over a year ago and knew I wanted to paint from it one day. I was excited about the artistic contrast of bright spiky flowers and leaves against the subdued hues of the round river stones.

Even better, the gardener in me understood there was a turf war going on - a slow, silent struggle for territory between living plants and solid rock.

If you have grown these dwarf iris, you know how quickly they spread and how firmly rooted they become. Left alone, the iris will win the battle and start to envelop these stones in just a couple of growing seasons.

Over the last year, I had gathered the materials to make oversized paintings and decided this garden composition was complex enough to justify a large scale artwork.

I was eager to test drive a new brand of watercolour paints, having been awarded a lovely set of Holbein artist-quality paints last summer from the Women in Watercolour International Juried Competition. In the poster below, you can see my 'Bathing Beauties' did Canada proud by winning the Holbein Merchandise Award in the Landscape & Water category. (You can read the creation story for 'Bathing Beauties' here. This painting now graces a home in Pakistan.)

Women in Watercolour prize winners 2022

The 300 lb cold pressed watercolour paper I used was made at the Arches paper mill in France. This world-renowned company has been making fine papers since 1492. I could not find a Canadian source for the large format sheets and had to have them shipped to me from the USA.

The cradled birch wood panel, on which the finished painting would be mounted, was custom ordered through an Ontario art supply store and produced by Apollon Gotrick in Quebec. The wood floater frame to match was custom ordered through the same art store and milled from Canadian lumber by a framing supply company in Ontario.

I bought a selection of watercolour wash brushes in the 2-inch and 4-inch sizes, to allow me to apply and blend paint mixtures over large areas quickly.

With all these exciting new materials at hand, I began the iris project in early November, finished the painting by Christmas Eve, and did the mounting, varnishing and framing by New Year's Eve.

I made a 2-minute video showing the steps of this ground-breaking art project. Click on the image below to view the video.

I am very happy I took the time to create a painting that comes from my heart and soul. It embodies two of my favourite pastimes: gardening and studying stones. I learned so much along the way about how water, paint, and paper behave at this scale, and have gained enough confidence to try other large subjects.

Karen Richardson working on Where Garden Meets Rock

My husband has built me a massive paper-stretching board so I can attempt some large-format peaceful lake scenes, the scariest of watercolour subjects. Stay tuned for more of my painting adventures!

'Where Garden Meets Rock' went on display at Eclipse Art Gallery in the prestigious Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, ON right after the varnish dried, and was acquired by a Muskoka art collector a few weeks later.

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  1. Lesa Robertson February 02, 2023

    Congratulations on this beautful painting. It’s inspiring to hear how you continue to grow and challenge yourself in your artwork.

  2. Jan Pettafor February 02, 2023

    Fabulous painting Karen. Really interesting to learn all about the paper etc. I wish I had the space to try something bigger

  3. Diane Schurman February 02, 2023

    What a fascinating insight into your process. The planning that went into this piece is astounding…from the paper/panel/frame/brushes to the paint mixes and large scale adaptations. All of your work is sublime but this one is bursting with your heart and soul. Love it!❤️

  4. Elaine February 02, 2023

    Karen that picture is absolutely breath takingly beautiful !
    One of your former students :)