Earthbound Artist

New Works - Magic Nights

01 December, 2021 2 comments Leave a comment

For the last two months I have been working steadily in my art studio, completing the seven new watercolours shown in this post. During this late fall season, I have enjoyed making art beside my cosy fireplace, while daylight hours continue to shorten outside my window.

The series of 'after dark' paintings I began a year ago continues to intrigue me. It has been exciting to experiment with new pigment combinations and create these magically dusky skies. My latest batch of paintings includes scenes of twilight and northern lights.

Northern Lights paintings in progress by Karen Richardson

The photo above shows the middle stage of my latest northern lights scenes, with the skies completed.

Painting skies was the most difficult part of the process, as layer after layer of colour was brushed on (with a day to dry in between) to build up saturated hues and gradual colour transitions. The darkest sky sections were achieved in the final few coats of paint. I would say each sky required five to eight layers to complete.

The foreground landscapes and trees were added once the paper was fully dry, to complete the paintings shown below.

Whispers in the Dark, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8 inch panel.

Sometimes northern lights are powerful and vast, and other times they are barely a whisper of light. In this night sky, the aurora provide just enough illumination to silhouette a few treetops.

Click here for more information about this piece.

 

Into the Night, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8 inch panel.

Standing silently under a canopy of starlight, these venerable pines in a northern forest look up into the night. They witness the vastness of the universe, bathed in the glow of northern lights.

I love the colour gradation from bright green to navy blue in this painting.

Click here for more information about this piece.

 

Dancing in the Dark, varnished watercolour on 12 x 12 inch panel.

Northern lights ripple across the night sky, reaching down to touch the horizon. A tiny island, cloaked in evergreens and nestled in mist, beholds the spectacle. It is as if the aurora are asking the trees to dance.

Click here for more information about this piece.

 

Night Magic, varnished watercolour on 9 x 12 inch panel.

The slim elegance of these trees hides an indomitable strength that allows them to withstand decades or even centuries of frigid northern winters. Their perseverance is rewarded on this spring night by a performance of northern lights.

The reference photo for this painting was taken by my Facebook friend Randy Whitbread of Flin Flon, Manitoba, and used with his gracious permission.

Click here for more information about this piece.

Aurora Fantasy, varnished watercolour on 9 x 12 inch panel.

In this dreamlike scene, northern lights illuminate the horizon with multi-hued rays, like nebulous curtains billowing across the universe. Ancient forests and a frozen river stand in awe of the glorious performance.

I had great difficulty with this painting. The icy river looked too dark initially and the aurora resembled a weird green sunset. I kept darkening the foreground until the river ice started to 'pop' and cropped off the upper sky so the aurora dominated. I love the result.

Click here for more information about this piece.


Starlight Lake, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8 inch panel.

In this simple northern lake scene, stars twinkle above rocks and trees, while the surface of the water seems lit from within by the faint glow of northern lights.

Click here for more information about this piece.

 

Starlight Magic, varnished watercolour on 6 x 12 inch panel.

This simple lakeside scene complete with Muskoka chairs for viewing sunsets was inspired by a photo taken by Lee Warner of Port Perry, ON, and used with her permission.

Click here for more information about this piece.

I look forward to lots of quiet painting days this holiday season and sharing the results with you. I have enjoyed delving into my northern lights series but feel like moving on to new subject matter. I wonder what that will be... Stay tuned!

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

Subscribe to Karen's Newsletter to see more of her painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.

Lake Superior Perfection: Top 10 Pukaskwa Views

01 November, 2021 4 comments Leave a comment

Pukaskwa National Park, photo by Karen RichardsonThis past August, as my husband and I explored the north shore of Lake Superior with our travel trailer in tow, we had the immense good fortune to obtain a serviced camping site for a week in a most amazing place that very few people have heard about: Pukaskwa National Park.

Pukaskwa National Park, photo by Karen Richardson Over the years, we had seen the sign for the turnoff to this Park on Hwy 17 between Wawa and Marathon and finally dropped in for a few hours in the summer of 2020, to check out the camping facilities.

We were so impressed by that short glimpse of the Park that we made plans to camp there this year.

Pukaskwa (pronounced PUCK-a-saw) has been a National Park for over 40 years and covers an area of 1,878 square kilometres (725 sq mi), protecting part of the longest undeveloped shoreline anywhere on the Great Lakes.

There are four large natural sand driftwood beaches in the Park, three of which are pictured here. (That is my husband John walking on a typically uncrowded beach.)

Pukaskwa National Park, photo by Karen Richardson

Our stay coincided with a week of hot, dry weather due to a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico pushing a warm front up our way.

Even though summer high temperatures along the shore usually max out at 15 C (59 F), we enjoyed a whole week of daytime highs of 24 C (75 F) and mild nights. There were no mosquitoes or black flies, but lots of birds and butterflies.

It was a glorious week; we swam, strolled the beaches, went for hikes, paddled in our kayaks, ate alfresco meals at our campsite, and generally enjoyed being out in nature in perfect conditions.

Pukaskwa National Park, photo by Karen Richardson

There were four easy to moderate hiking trails surrounding the campground, all less than 4 km (2.5 miles) in length. A few of them took us high above the lake to viewpoints that offered stunning vistas such as those shown here. The trails were so awe-inspiring that we hiked them more than once.

The water is very clear, and the white sand bottom gives the water a turquoise appearance similar to Caribbean or Mediterranean waters. But the wonderful thing is, Lake Superior holds fresh water, not salt, so there was nothing to bite, sting, or eat us while we swam!

Pukaskwa National Park, photo by Karen Richardson

This lake is so vast, you think you are looking at the ocean when there is only water as far as you can see. It is the largest body of fresh water on earth, with a surface area of over 82,000 square km (31,660 square miles), and over 4,000 km (2,500 miles) of shoreline.

Karen Richardson at Pukaskwa National Park

We spent a lovely afternoon in our kayaks exploring the protected bay of Hattie Cove. (Our kayaks are too short to withstand the waves out past the islands.)

Pukaskwa National Park, photo by Karen Richardson

These photos show us with massive rock cliffs in the background. The bay was shallow and featured many interesting islands of varying sizes and shapes.

There is something about islands, even tiny ones, that always captures my attention. I'm certain the ones shown in this post will be featured in my paintings some day. 

Speaking of paintings, I wrote an article about my first six paintings inspired by Pukaskwa. Check out New Works: Nights on Fire.

Pukaskwa National Park, photo by Karen Richardson

Pukaskwa National Park, photo by Karen Richardson

To sum up our week-long experience, I think the Park pamphlet says it best:

Pukaskwa National Park, photo by Karen Richardson

"Pukaskwa National Park is a vast, wild, natural playground found on the edge of the world's largest freshwater lake. It's a place where powerful waves collide with rugged, towering coastlines; a place of endless sunsets over sandy driftwood beaches...A place where Lake Superior's untouched beauty can be seen, experienced and remembered by all who visit."

I agree wholeheartedly.

As in all National Parks, Pukaskwa has a pair of those iconic red Muskoka chairs installed, overlooking picturesque Pulpwood Harbour. What a lovely spot this was to rest after a day spent clambering over these magnificent rocks. 

I have a treasure trove of photos from our time in Pukaskwa, ready to inspire more new paintings. Stay tuned!

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

Subscribe to Karen's Newsletter to see more of her painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.

New Works - Nights on Fire

14 October, 2021 1 comment Leave a comment

In a previous post, Smoke on the Water, I revealed four paintings inspired by our time at Lake of the Woods in northwestern Ontario this summer. After our stay there, my husband and I slowly traveled east for a few weeks, exploring the north shore of Lake Superior.

Richardson Airstream in Pukaskwa National Park

Luckily, we obtained the last available camp site (shown here) in Pukaskwa National Park near Marathon, for a week-long stay. We enjoyed hot sunny weather every day, which is rare on the Lake Superior shore. A 50-amp electrical hookup, as well as music from our satellite radio, were icing on our cake.

Pukaskwa (pronounced PUCK-a-saw) has been a National Park for over 40 years and covers an area of 1,878 square kilometres (725 sq mi), protecting part of the longest undeveloped shoreline anywhere on the Great Lakes. This photo shows me kayaking in a protected bay near our campground. 

Karen Richardson kayaking in Pukaskwa National Park

 

We were so charmed and delighted by this gorgeous park that I have posted a photo article entirely devoted to the highlights of our stay. See Pukaskwa: Lake Superior Perfection (Top Ten Photos).

For now, I would like to show you the first six paintings this special place inspired me to create. I assumed my initial pieces would feature magnificent Lake Superior water and rocks, but in fact the trees start out as the stars of this show.

Pukaskwa Treetops, photo by Karen Richardson

One evening during our stay, we were strolling through the campground and I noticed how beautiful and varied the tall tree silhouettes were against the twilight sky.

I took a few dozen reference photos such as this one, looking up at the treetops.

Back in my wee mobile studio (otherwise known as the dinette in our trailer), I let my imagination run loose. I wondered what would those trees look like with a radiant sunset, starry night sky, northern light display, or a combination of these backdrops.


These paintings are the result of absorbing the essence of this magical place and letting my creativity soar.

#1: Sweet Dreams, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8 inch panel. Click here for more information about this piece.

#2: Nightfall, (below) varnished watercolour on 12 x 9 inch panel. Click here for more information about this piece.

#3: Awakening, varnished watercolour on 9 x 12 inch panel. Click here for more information about this piece.

#4: Last Light, (below) varnished watercolour on 10 x 10 inch panel. Click here for more information about this piece.

Then I progressed to these northern lights scenes:

#5: Night Fire, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10 inch panel. Click here for more information about this piece.

#6: Night on Fire, (below) varnished watercolour on 8 x 8 inch panel. Click here for more information about this piece.

I look forward to sharing with you more inspiration from this exquisite National Park. Stay tuned!

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

Subscribe to Karen's Newsletter to see more of her painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.

The Making of 'Superior Jewels and Gems'

23 September, 2021 2 comments Leave a comment

All my life, I have felt the magnetic pull of stone, from mountains to boulders to pebbles to grains of sand.

Perhaps it was my childhood spent near Algonquin Park, surrounded by the terrain of the Canadian Shield, that makes me instinctively drawn to rock-filled wilderness scenery.

Pictured here is 'Superior Jewels' (varnished watercolour on 20 x 16" panel), a painting that features the beautiful weathered stones of a Canadian Shield fresh water beach.

Photo of Pebble Beach (view eastwards) at Marathon, Ontario by Karen Richardson

Many people I meet at art shows or in my art classes are as captivated by beach pebbles as I.

We often talk about our shared fascination with smooth stones, especially those displaying unusual colours or interesting patterns.

Marathon Pebble Beach, photo by Karen Richardson

During a classroom chat about four years ago, one of my painting students suggested I would enjoy a visit to Pebble Beach in the town of Marathon on Lake Superior's northern shore.

Since then, my husband and I have visited this beach once or twice every year.

Shown here are three views looking eastward along the shore, photographed during three separate visits.

The beach and lake look different every time, due to the weather conditions of the moment (sun, clouds, fog, wind).

Marathon Pebble Beach, photo by Karen Richardson

Marathon's Pebble Beach is composed of smooth round stones the size of citrus fruits - from limes to grapefruits.

The colours are rich and varied, especially when the stones are wet, and many have interesting stripes or other markings.

Photo of Pebble Beach (view westwards) at Marathon, Ontario by Karen Richardson

One wonders how stones from many different rocky origins ended up in one place. Imagine the journeys they have undertaken over millions of years to reach this gathering place.

I always wear my hiking boots to explore this beach, as walking on these piles of shifting 'bowling balls' with camera in hand is a tricky prospect.

Shown here is the westward view along Pebble Beach.

So far, I have completed two paintings of this beach, choosing a low point of view for the composition to give the stones more prominence. Both of these paintings have been acquired by private collectors.

I photographed each step of my painting process and created one-minute time lapse videos, to show you the flow of these paintings from start to finish.

Click on the pictures below to view the videos and get an idea of how I work.

The Making of 'Superior Jewels' (2021):


 

The Creation of 'Superior Gems' (2018):

 

Marathon Pebble Beach, photo by Karen Richardson

I have many more dramatic photos of this beach and am looking forward to creating more paintings of this remarkable place. If you are a 'rockaholic' like me, you will understand my compulsion.

Here is a photo looking out into the lake that really inspires me. I will attempt a painting of it one day when I need a serious 'pebble fix'. 

Do you have favourite spots on Lake Superior I should visit? If you have suggestions or comments you wish to share, please do so using the 'Leave a Comment' button at the top of this post. 

Subscribe to Karen's Newsletter if you wish to see more of her painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.

Smoke on the Water (and the paintings it inspired)

29 August, 2021 3 comments Leave a comment

Photo, Lake of the Woods, by Karen Richardson

Earlier this month, my husband and I camped in our trailer while visiting family at Lake of the Woods for ten beautiful days.

Photo Lake of the Woods Islands by Karen Richardson

The weather was fine and hot, but every day was hazy or overcast due to smoke from forest fires burning in northern Ontario and western Canada.

Some days we could smell the smoke, even though the fires were not in our region.

Photo Lake of the Woods Islands by Karen Richardson

I thought that photography would be challenging, but the haze actually provided some interesting atmospheric effects in my photos of islands in the lake.

While staying at Lake of the Woods, I was able to work on four small paintings inspired by 'smoky' photos such as those shown here.

Karen Richardson working in her mobile art studio

Each day, I set up a tiny 'mobile studio' at the dinette in our trailer, to work on these paintings for an hour or two in the morning.

There was just enough room to work on small format paintings (8 x 8" or 10 x 10"). I protected the upholstery from paint splashes with plastic tablecloths.

Karen Richardson's mobile studio setup

When traveling, I take minimal painting supplies with me: a small paint palette with lid, a fistful of brushes, a few tubes of paint in primary colours, cloth rags, and pre-cut watercolour paper taped to foam core supports. 

I mixed up a big batch of blue paint in a tin camping mug, used my metal mixing bowls to rinse brushes, and relied on a tub of rolled oats to support my boards at the right angle. I'm a big believer in 'making do' with equipment on hand when we go camping.

The four new paintings are pictured here, along with their titles and 'stories'.

Click on each image to see the painting in its frame, art value, and availability.

#1

Beyond Blue Water, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8" panel.

Under the glow of a million stars and a full moon, a cluster of venerable pines guards the rocky shore of a northern lake, while the evening mist approaches.

 

#2

Blue Bliss, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10" panel.

Bathed in the gentle glow of moon and stars, weathered rocks and trees survey the surrounding lake from a cluster of islands. What a blissful place this would be to spend the seasons.


#3

Blue Beckons, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8" panel.

As mist floats in on a soft breeze on this northern lake, the glow of the moon and stars reflects off the water. Rocky points, laden with clusters of pine trees, appear to float in the mist.

 

#4

Just the Stars for Company, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8" panel.

On a quiet summer night on a still northern lake, the landscape is reduced to its simplest forms. A lone pine tree perches atop a rocky island, enveloped in a gentle mist, with just the stars for company.

 

I have a treasure trove of more photos of Lake of the Woods islands, ready to inspire more new paintings. Stay tuned!

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

Subscribe to Karen's Newsletter to see more of her painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.

 

Creating 'Land of a Million Stars'

27 June, 2021 2 comments Leave a comment

Shown here is one of the northern-themed paintings I created this spring, Land of a Million Stars, varnished watercolour on 16 x 12" panel.

Wild places like this make my spirit soar with a feeling of adventure and wonder. I feel a kinship with unspoiled forests and fresh air.

This sense of connection restores my equilibrium and brings me peace, and it is these feelings that I try to capture in my artwork.

HOW I PAINTED THIS NIGHT SCENE

Let me share with you how I built up thin films of colour and shadow to create a night time painting that looks lifelike.

I lost count of the layers in the sky, but I would estimate there are about ten. The snow required four paint layers to create the shadow areas and the black trees were created with two layers.

SEE THE VIDEO

Here is a 1-minute video clip summarizing the key creation steps in this painting. Click on the image to start the video.

 

THE SECRET TO CREATING REALISTIC ARTWORK

The slim elegance of these stark trees hides an indomitable strength that allows them to withstand decades or even centuries of frigid northern winters. Their persistence is rewarded on perfectly clear nights by a glimpse of the Milky Way.

In a similar way, it is with patience and perseverance that my watercolour paintings are created. There are no gimmicks or short cuts, just an authentic pursuit of accurate shapes and appropriate light or dark values.

The result is a scene so real, the viewer feels compelled to step into it, absolutely riveted, to drink in this awe-inspiring piece of the world.

Click here for more information about Land of a Million Stars.

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

Subscribe to Karen's Newsletter to see more of her painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.

The Making of 'Our Place'

15 May, 2021 9 comments Leave a comment

Our Place, watercolour by Karen Richardson

Shown here is 'Our Place' an 11 x 14" watercolour that I created recently for good friends of ours, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

This lovely cottage property named 'Screeching Pines' is in the Haliburton Highlands region of Ontario. My husband and I have spent many weekends there, in all seasons, over the last 30 years.

Back in the day, this building was a commercial establishment - a dance pavilion - and after purchasing it, our friends moved the structure onto a new foundation and basement walkout level. Now there are nine comfortable bedrooms plus loft, 4 modern bathrooms, a large garage, a well-equipped kitchen, and an enormous great room with cathedral ceiling - room for a whole gang of people.

Photo by Karen Richardson

In winter months when snow was plentiful, a big group of us would go snowmobiling from here, returning at the end of each riding day, grateful for a warm fire and delicious food followed by board games and conversation.

Photo by Karen Richardson

In spring and fall, we often joined the seasonal changeover crew, putting the dock in or out of the lake, getting snowmobiles ready for riding or storage, cleaning, and working on whatever maintenance or upgrades were scheduled that season.

Photo by Karen Richardson

Occasionally in the summertime, we would drive up on our motorcycles for the day and enjoy some summer fun on the lake with our friends and their kids and grand kids.

So, even though I don't do many architectural commissions these days, when our friend asked if I could make a painting of 'Screeching Pines' in only two weeks, as a surprise 50th anniversary gift for his wife, from photos he would email me, I agreed.

The fact that I have spent so much time at this place, meant that my memory and imagination could 'fill in the blanks' where needed, and construct a scene that really captured the feeling of this special piece of heaven.

Despite time pressures, during the design and execution of this artwork, I stopped and took photos of the work in progress at many intervals. From these photos, I put together a time lapse video of the whole project. This custom video is my anniversary gift to our friends.

Click on the image below to view the 4-minute story.

 

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

Subscribe to Karen's Newsletter to see more of her painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.

New Works - Stars of the Night

28 April, 2021 2 comments Leave a comment

Karen Richardson working on a painting in her art studio

For the last two months I have been working diligently in my art studio, completing the seven new watercolours shown below. During this late winter season, I have enjoyed making art beside my cosy fireplace, while daylight hours continued to lengthen outside my window. I welcome the advent of spring that is upon us.

New works by Karen Richardson

You might assume my studio would be full of new paintings by now, with the pace I have been setting (painting an average of one painting each week since the fall), but most of my new works have gone on to collectors or out for display at my retail galleries. I still have two empty walls in my studio that need filling, but I am extremely grateful that my artwork is capturing the attention of collectors even during this pandemic.

New works by Karen Richardson

The series of 'after dark' paintings I began late last year continues to intrigue me. It has been exciting to experiment with new pigment combinations and create these magically dusky skies. My latest batch of paintings includes scenes of sunset, twilight, starlight, moonlight, and dawn.

Today, I am sharing the stories behind the creation of these new artworks, beginning with the two blue moonlight-on-water scenes.

These two varnished watercolours are different sizes of the same scene. On the upper left is Moonbeam Dream (8 x 8" panel) and on the lower right is Moonbeam Melody (10 x 10" panel). In both pieces, the reflection of a full moon shimmers on the lake like a dancing flame. The heavens are so dark a blue they almost appear black - a perfect backdrop for the celestial bodies that shine in the night. 

The smaller painting was requested by a client and I enjoyed painting this simple but evocative scene so much that I proceeded to make the larger one as well. I also painted this scene in February for another client. It's a popular scene.

Photo by Karen Richardson

These paintings were inspired by a photo I took of the full moon over Lake Ontario last summer. We were camping steps from the shore and the blue of the water and sky was captivating. Thankfully my camera was able to capture the rich colour (shown at right).

To make the distant headland more interesting, I changed it to a group of islands I photographed at Lake Superior (shown below). I had to imagine what the islands would look like in moonlight rather than sunlight. I also added the stars to make the scene extra special.

Lake Superior photo by Karen Richardson

Click here for more details about Moonbeam Melody.

The next painting shown here is Dancing With the Moon, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10" panel. A stately pine bows gracefully towards a resplendent moon playing peekaboo with a delicate swirl of clouds. Together they dance under a canopy of stars.

The genesis for this painting was a photo I took at my sister-in-law's home on Lake of the Woods. We were sitting at her camp fire one evening last summer when the full moon rose over the trees (shown below left) and I grabbed my camera. I loved the soft blue and purple colours of the sky that were revealed when I lightened the digital photo later on.

I found another photo I took during that trip, of tree tops in Lake Superior Provincial Park (shown below right). I used some of the dramatic tree silhouettes in the painting.

Photos by Karen Richardson

Click here to see more details about Dancing With the Moon.

Shown here is Land of a Million Stars, varnished watercolour on 16 x 12" panel. The slim elegance of these trees hides an indomitable strength that allows them to withstand decades or even centuries of frigid northern winters. Their perseverance is rewarded on perfectly clear nights by a glimpse of the Milky Way.

This painting was inspired by a photo taken by my Facebook friend Randy Whitbread, an avid photographer who lives in Flin Flon, Manitoba. When I saw his photo (below right) , I knew it would make a super painting, although a technically difficult one (and I was right).

When I was close to finishing, I decided my painted sky was too bland. I referred to the photos of another Facebook friend, professional photographer James Shedden from Magnetawan, ON to add my interpretation of the Milky Way. An example of his beautiful night photography is shown below left.

Photo by Randy Whitbread   Photo by James Shedden

I am tremendously grateful to these intrepid fellows who allow me to use their photos in my paintings. They can capture northern night images that I cannot.

Click here for more information about Land of a Million Stars.

 

Shown here is Twilight Magic, varnished watercolour on 6 x 12" panel. Northern lakes are the places in nature that heal the stress of my busy life, calm my mind, and restore my equilibrium. I love them beyond measure and cannot imagine a life that does not offer frequent immersion in these magical landscapes throughout the year.

Photo by Lee Warner

This photo was inspired by the photo (shown here) posted on Facebook by our friend and former neighbour, Lee Warner of Port Perry, ON. This is the view from the property where she used to live. I loved the way the last rays of sunlight silhouetted the Muskoka chairs and distinctive cedar trees of the shoreline.

Click here to see more details about Twilight Magic.

 

Shown here is Morning Calm, varnished watercolour on 8 x 10" panel. This iconic diving raft is often seen in the quiet bays of northern Ontario lakes, near family cottages. A luminous sunrise reflected on the water makes the solitary raft our sole focus. It brings memories of summer fun, when swimmers played in the bay, and reminds us that soon summer will be here again.

Raft in the Clouds, watercolour by Karen Richardson

In 2006, I painted Raft in the Clouds (watercolour, 5 x 14"), shown here.

The photo that inspired both of these painting was one I took in 2004 at my sister-in-law's former cottage at Lake of the Woods (shown below).

Photo by Karen Richardson

Click here for more details about Morning Calm.

The last and largest painting in this group is shown below, When Dreams Come True, varnished watercolour on 24 x 12" panel. A cluster of pines on the rocky shore of a peaceful northern lake behold the approaching night. Stars begin to fill the sky and the last rays of daylight bathe the scene in a misty glow. Immersing ourselves in glorious moments like this, is a dream come true.

This scene is mostly from my imagination. I found an old colour test sample (shown below) from my studio archives and liked the soft glowing effect these colours produced when used together. I decided to use them in the new painting.


Watercolour test by Karen Richardson

For the tree shapes, I referred to the photo shown below, which I took in 2018 on a Lake Muskoka cruise. I drew a loose interpretation of the point of land on the right side.

 Photo by Karen Richardson

Of all these paintings, I am most drawn to When Dreams Come True, because of how it took on a life of its own during the creation process. I love the misty, dreamy quality of the trees and the golden light. This painting surpassed my expectations. I look at it and wonder "how on earth did I do that?".

Click here to see more details of When Dreams Come True.

As spring flowers begin to bloom, and gentle rains bring new life to the earth, I feel my inner self reveling again in the simple abundance of the outdoors. I look forward to creating more new paintings that celebrate those natural places that replenish us, and sharing with you the stories behind the artwork.

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. 

Subscribe to Karen's Newsletter if you wish to see more painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.

 

 

The Making of 'All That I Am' (and How It Barely Survived)

28 March, 2021 9 comments Leave a comment

Shown above is an extra-large painting titled All That I Am (varnished watercolour on 24 x 36" panel). Don't let that smooth, untroubled lake surface fool you; this was an enormously difficult piece of artwork to complete. (More about that later.)

There is something special about a calm northern lake, especially when it features a stunning island. Every tree and rock is perfectly reflected on the water's surface. It is as if Nature is saying "See how wondrous I am." I feel a kinship with quiet, wild places like this.

All That I Am marks a milestone because it is twice the surface area of my previous maximum-size painting (which was 18 x 24"). Since I create my paintings on watercolour paper and mount them to cradled wood panels, I am limited by the size of paper and panels I can procure.

A few months ago, I discovered that Arches (the company in France that manufactures the watercolour paper I prefer) makes an oversized paper. I searched all over Canada without success for a supplier that stocks this large paper and eventually had to import it from an American art materials company. I also found an Ontario supplier of 24 x 36" cradled wood panels which are made in Quebec.

Next, I bought a selection of 2" flat watercolour brushes, since my existing arsenal of brushes is comprised of smaller sizes, and I knew I would need to work with bigger tools and generous amounts of paint.

Once I had all the materials in the studio, I searched for a subject suitable for a large painting. I wanted to start with a simple composition to evaluate my new materials, in case the experiment was a flop. A few months ago, I met Randy Whitbread through Facebook. He is an outdoor enthusiast and photographer who lives in Flin Flon, Manitoba. His photos of the northern wilderness near his home are breathtaking.

Photo by Randy Whitbread

Randy gave me permission to use his lovely photograph shown above as a painting reference. It was taken on Millikan Lake near Flin Flon in late fall. I have seen countless islands in pristine northern lakes similar to this. The mist and the dramatic island just spoke to me. 

I thought this simple scene would work up relatively easily on my large paper, because the composition is mostly plain gray sky and water. Boy, was I wrong.

The biggest challenge in painting an evenly-coloured sky and water background in watercolour is speed: getting the paint onto the paper quickly, taking a few more seconds to move the darker colours to where you want them, and then stepping away before any section of the painting starts to dry. An even drying rate is the key to a smooth, flawless background. It also helps to build up colour in multiple layers, allowing a full day's drying time in between each layer. This repetitive process produces deep, even colours.

Shown below is my work in progress after three sky and water layers and one land layer have been completed.

All That I Am (watercolour in progress) by Karen Richardson

The first issue I ran into on day one was the speed issue. Paint dries just as quickly on an area of six square feet as it does on three square feet. This meant I had to paint twice as fast as I am used to. The new 2" brushes helped, but I probably should have invested in a 4" brush as well.

Another problem I had to deal with the first day was buckling of the paper. This is a normal occurrence for me, and usually taping my 300 lb paper to a firm surface before I start keeps buckling to a minimum. (I can hear you artists out there asking why I don't pre-stretch the paper. I prefer the way paint behaves on virgin paper that has all its surface sizing intact.)

My usual taping strategy didn't work because the differential expansion of the wet centre of the oversized paper compared to the taped edges, caused the centre to heave up in large ripples. These undulations cause pooling of wet paint in the troughs, which would make those areas darker if the paint was to dry on rippled paper. I quickly solved this issue by removing the tape, wetting the edges so the paper could expand evenly, and then redistributing the wet paint with my brush.

Having the edges of the paper unfastened caused a third difficulty, which I discovered on day two. While drying overnight, the short sides of the painting had curled upward significantly. I taped them down to my drafting table so I could apply the next layer of colour. This new moisture allowed the paper to relax and flatten, and I removed the tape so the paper could expand and not buckle while I painted. After a few hours of drying, I re-taped the edges to my drafting table to avoid the overnight curling. Problems solved.

I continued with this layer painting for four days and on the fifth day was able to start the easier process of painting the big island on dry paper. Shown below are the steps as I gradually built up colours, shadows, and details, layer by layer.

Layer 1 started:

All That I Am (detail of watercolour in progress) by Karen Richardson

Layer 1 finished:

All That I Am (detail of watercolour in progress) by Karen Richardson

Layer 2 finished and masking removed:

All That I Am (detail of watercolour in progress) by Karen Richardson

Layer 3 finished:

All That I Am (detail of watercolour in progress) by Karen Richardson

Once the main island was completed, I built up the smaller island using three layers of paint:

All That I Am (detail of watercolour in progress) by Karen Richardson

Shown below is the completed painting.

If it weren't for my 35 years of practice and experience dealing with technical issues in watercolour, this painting would not have survived the battle. That is one reason I titled the painting 'All That I Am'. I certainly gave it my all.

The second reason is that I grew up near Algonquin Park in northern Ontario, where lakes and landscapes like this were the backdrop to my formative years and help define who I am and where I feel at home.

You can see the scale of this piece, pictured beside me in the photo below.

All That I Am, watercolour by Karen Richardson, with the artist

The completed painting is mounted on an archival wood panel, trimmed, varnished, and presented in a black wood floater frame. There is no glass to get in the way of enjoying the details of 'All That I Am'. I consider it to be one of my master works because of its size and level of difficulty. And it has a really cool island in it!

Click here to see more details about this painting.

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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New Works - Scenes of the North

09 March, 2021 2 comments Leave a comment

Standing Watch, watercolour by Karen Richardson, with the artist

Watercolours by Karen Richardson

Watercolours by Karen Richardson

Since the turn of the year, I have been working away in my art studio, completing the eight new watercolours pictured above. During these cold months, I enjoy making art beside my cosy fireplace, while winter winds blow outside my window.

My studio is full of northern scenes this winter, and I feel like I am creating some of my best work. Half the pieces produced so far this year explore the effects of northern lights, and it has been exciting to experiment with vibrant greens and blues to create these magical skies.

I've also done scenes from summer, fall, and winter with various atmospheric effects such as mist, sunset, and moonlight.

Today, I am sharing the stories behind the creation of these new artworks, beginning with the larger pieces.

 

Shown above is an extra-large painting titled All That I Am (varnished watercolour on 24 x 36" panel). There is something special about a calm northern lake, especially when it features a stunning island. Every tree and rock is perfectly reflected on the water's surface. It's like Nature is saying "Stop and see how wondrous I am." This piece is twice the size of my previous largest works. 

In January, through Facebook, I met Randy Whitbread, an outdoor enthusiast and photographer who lives in Flin Flon, Manitoba. He gave me permission to use his lovely photograph shown below as a painting reference. It was taken on Millikan Lake near Flin Flon in late fall. The mist and the islands just spoke to me. I feel a kinship with quiet, wild places like this.

Photo by Randy Whitbread

The creation of All That I Am was arduous due to its size, and I will tell you the full story of that adventure in a future article. Suffice it to say for now that I was very relieved when I managed to complete the painting successfully.

Click here for more information about All That I Am.

Shown above is 'Moonglow', varnished watercolour on 20 x 16" panel. A vintage cabin sits nestled in the quiet of a winter forest, under the warm glow of a full moon. Two venerable conifers stand guard as branches creak and wind sighs softly through a gentle night.

This complex scene was inspired by a photo taken by another of my Facebook friends, professional photographer James Shedden. His photo of an old schoolhouse near Magnetawan, ON on a moonlit night (shown below and used with his permission) captivated me. I was looking for a 'meaty' subject to get my teeth into and loved the complexity and mood of this scene.

Photo by James Shedden

 

I consider this painting to be one of my master works, not only because of its size and intricate structure, but also for its feeling of mystery and invitation.

For more details about 'Moonglow', click here.

Pictured above is Splendour of the North, varnished watercolour on 9 x 12" panel. Calm northern lakes provide the perfect showcase for northern lights. As they dance across the starry night sky, the swirling hues of the aurora are in perfect synchronicity with their twin on the water.

This painting was inspired by another photo (shown below) by my Facebook friend Randy Whitbread.

Photo by Randy Whitbread

Click here for more information about Splendour of the North.

Pictured above is Reflections of Glory, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10" panel. One of the many benefits of living in or visiting northern Canada in wintertime is being able to view the aurora from time to time (if you are willing to stay up late in cold, dark conditions). The eerie lights move across the night sky in luminous ribbons and waves, like vast curtains billowing in heavenly breezes. In this scene, the glorious hues are reflected on a frozen river.

This painting was inspired by a photo (shown below) taken by my Facebook friend James Shedden near Magnetawan, ON.

Photo by James Shedden

Click here for more details about Reflections of Glory.

Shown above is Reach for the Stars, varnished watercolour on 12 x 6" panel. Whenever I am lucky enough to witness the aurora, they always leave me awestruck with the power of Nature. Their ever-changing colours and shapes, like silent fire rippling across the heavens, never cease to amaze me.

This painting was inspired by another photo (shown below) that was taken by James Shedden near Magnetawan, ON.

Photo by James Shedden

To see more details about Reach for the Stars, click here.

Pictured above is Standing Watch, varnished watercolour on 16 x 20" panel. Every night, as they stand guard under a canopy of starlight, these venerable pines in a northern forest witness the vastness of the universe. Tonight their spectacle includes the glow of northern lights.

This night scene was inspired by a daytime photo I took looking upward in a pine forest (shown below). I don't recall the location but I assume it was in northern Ontario.

Photo by Karen Richardson

It took some imagination to remove the sunlit effects and convert this to a night scene. I enjoyed painting the characteristics of each tree that made it unique. No two are alike.

Click here for more details about Standing Watch.

Pictured above is Sky Fire, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10" panel. This painting started out with an imaginary, luscious sky and a low horizon. I wasn't sure what scene to invent but the white section remaining at the bottom  of the watercolour paper reminded me of snow. A winter scene was born.

I see landscapes like this when we are out snowmobiling in northern Ontario. I love the drama of reflections on open water, contrasted with the white of the snowy fields. The flat orange pink colour of the lower left sky was a perfect backdrop for the intricate branches of a tree.

 

And finally we come to Moonbeam, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8" panel (shown above). The reflection of a full moon shimmers on the lake like a dancing flame. The heavens are so dark a blue they almost appear black - a perfect backdrop for the celestial bodies that shine in the night.

This scene was inspired by a photo I took of the full moon over Lake Ontario last summer. We were camping steps from the shore and the blue of the water and sky was captivating. Thankfully my camera was able to capture the colour (shown below).

Photo by Karen Richardson

To make the distant headland more interesting, I changed it to a group of islands I photographed at Lake Superior (shown below). I had to imagine what the islands would look like in moonlight rather than sunlight. I also added the stars to make the scene extra special.

Lake Superior photo by Karen Richardson

Click here to see more information about Moonbeam.

As the late winter snow begins to melt, and the breeze becomes more springlike, I feel my inner energy rising. 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. 

Subscribe to Karen's Newsletter if you wish to see more painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.