Earthbound Artist

Pacific Northwest: Forests and Freshwater

25 September, 2023 1 comment Leave a comment

Northern Idaho, photo by Karen Richardson

When examining the map of the Pacific Northwest region of North America, one might assume that mountains would be the most remarkable feature travelers would encounter.

But when my husband and I explored the Pacific Northwest for five weeks in July and August, I found this not to be the case.

Northern Idaho, photo by Karen Richardson

As we camped and hiked throughout northern Idaho, Washington, and southern BC, I was much more intrigued by the pine trees, lakes, and rivers we encountered.

In my view, the mountains became more of an attractive backdrop that gave context to the landscape.

The first group of photographs pictured here were taken as we explored northern Idaho, following our travels in the high desert of Wyoming and southern Idaho in June and July.

Journeying north from Boise, we followed along the Salmon River and were thrilled to see many parties of river rafters floating in the current.

Rafters on the Salmon River, Idaho, photo by Karen Richardson

We didn't have a chance to investigate this time, but if we return to this part of the world, we will look into taking a guided rafting trip down the Salmon River.

It looked like a lot of fun, not too challenging, and the scenery was gorgeous.

Lake Coeur d'Alene, photo by Karen Richardson

When we used to travel all over the US and Canada by motorcycle, we attended a Honda Gold Wing rally in Coeur d'Alene and were impressed by the beauty of the area.

As we planned this year's trip, we were sure to include a visit to this scenic lake, pictured here from the Mineral Ridge hiking trail.

Karen Richardson and her husband

We were thrilled to take a site seeing cruise on Lake Coeur d'Alene one warm evening. We got to know some of our fellow passengers and enjoyed excellent live music by a local band, while watching the sun go down over the surrounding hills.

It was a magical experience and the scenery reminded me of Lake Muskoka, with many luxury homes and resorts nestled along the shore.

Karen Richardson in Deschutes Falls Park

We journeyed on from northern Idaho across Washington and up to Vancouver to visit family and friends for a week. Then we made our way south to Olympia, Washington.

For two weeks we camped at the Washington Land Yacht Harbor, an Airstream-only RV park and mobile home community.

From there, we explored the area around Tacoma. We asked a local resident about scenic hiking areas and she directed us to a hidden gem near the town of Yelm.

It was Deschutes Falls Park, a 155 acre sanctuary featuring a lovely old growth forest and a small river gorge, and we spent a pleasant afternoon hiking in this shady park.

In this photo I am standing beside one of the venerable trees beside the forest walking path.

Deschutes Falls Park, photo by Karen Richardson

The river water dropped 27 feet over rapids and a series of small waterfalls, interspersed with calm clear pools. All we could hear were the soothing sounds of trickling water, a breeze in the treetops, and birdsong.

The moss-covered rocks were a type of conglomerate that looked very different from the Ontario granite and limestone I am used to.

Another day, we took a bus trip to Crystal Mountain (the largest ski resort in the state of Washington) with some fellow Airstreamers. We enjoyed a gondola ride up the mountain and lunch at Summit House restaurant.

As our cable car slowly ascended, more and more of the surrounding mountain ranges came into view.

View from Crystal Mtn, photo by Karen Richardson

I loved seeing the progression of blue shades in the mountains, from pale cerulean in the far distance, gradually darkening to a smokey navy blue in the foreground. 

You can see two gondolas in the centre of this photo.

Mt Ranier, photo by Karen Richardson

At the summit of Crystal Mountain we enjoyed beautiful views of the Cascade Range and Mount Ranier, which we learned is pronounced ‘rah-NEER’ in Washington. (We had been calling it ‘RAY-nee-er’.)

With its snow cap glowing white in the sunshine, contrasting with the clear blue sky, Mount Ranier was an impressive sight. We also could see Mount St. Helens and Mount Baker (which we had glimpsed often when visiting Vancouver.).

Rivers Edge Ranch RV Park, photo by Karen Richardson

Our travels then took us east through Washington, crossing back into Canada at Yahk, BC, where we found a delightful little place to stay for a few days.

River's Edge Ranch RV Park was nestled on the bank of the Moyie River, which was a shallow glacial stream with a gravel bottom.

In this photo of the campground, you can see our Airstream on the right.

Rivers Edge Ranch, photo by Karen Richardson

The campground was just off the Crowsnest Highway and was part of a horse farm, surrounded by the Kootenay Rockies.

The owner said we could hike beside the pasture area, so we were able to stretch our legs and see the horses up close.

Rivers Edge Ranch, photo by Karen Richardson

We drove to nearby Creston for groceries (having crossed from the USA with a nearly empty fridge) and were delighted to find many roadside stands selling local produce from vegetable farms and fruit orchards. We loaded up on organic sweet peppers, summer squash, cherries, nectarines, and apples. Delicious!

The next day we walked into the quirky village of Yahk, home of Two Pump Paul's gas station, and enjoyed lunch at a tiny ice cream shop and cafe called Two Scoops Steve's. Next door was an artisan soap shop that had a pen of pet white goats.

Between the two stores was an entrance to a public garden that lead to a charming forest walk, which eventually brought us to this beautiful spot on the Moyie River.

Our stay in this interesting community, surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty, was as delightful as it was unexpected, and allowed us to conclude our visit to the Pacific Northwest on a high note. It was time to head east towards Ontario and more adventures...

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 travel tales, painting stories, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.

My Summer Travels in the High Desert

31 August, 2023 6 comments Leave a comment

Flaming Gorge, photo by Karen Richardson

I grew up in northern Ontario near Algonquin Park, and my formative years were spent on the Canadian Shield, a land of rocks and pristine blue lakes and rivers. As an adult, my art now centers on the wild scenery I learned to love in my youth.

When my husband and I spent several weeks exploring high desert regions of the USA earlier this summer, I was surprised to discover the most beautiful places we visited also featured rock and blue water.

Over the course of three weeks, we sampled the scenic delights of Wyoming, northern Utah, Idaho, and eastern Washington. In this post I am sharing my favourite photos of the dramatically beautiful landscape we discovered there.

Richardson rig, photo by Karen Richardson

Our mode of travel is a pickup truck towing our 2021 Airstream Classic 30-foot travel trailer.

I think of our recreational vehicle as a moveable condo, with all the comforts of home including full kitchen, 3-piece bathroom, bedroom, dining area, lounge, art studio, and internet access to support all our entertainment and communication needs.

We began our trip in early June, crossing from Ontario into the USA at Niagara Falls, and headed straight west to Wyoming.

Airstream rally, photo by Karen Richardson

Our main reason for going there was to spend an exciting, informative week at the 2023 Airstream Club International Rally, held at a huge outdoor events complex in Rock Springs.

Ours was one of 1,200 Airstream trailers and motor homes hosted at the site, each provided with full utility connections. In this photo, taken by a drone flown by one of the 2,300 attendees, you can see about a quarter of the Airstreams camped there.

Flaming Gorge, photo by Karen Richardson

At the rally, we met tons of friendly, interesting people, got to see inside vintage trailers, and attended a variety of camping-related seminars.

For example, I went to two Instant Pot cooking demonstration sessions and my husband learned about optimizing solar power on trailers, and tire maintenance.

One day, we went on a sight-seeing bus trip to tour around the 91-mile long Flaming Gorge reservoir, pictured here and at the top of this article.

We both enjoyed the rally trade show offering travel accessories and equipment for sale, and I volunteered at a fund-raising art show to benefit a local charity.

Wyoming storm clouds, photo by Karen Richardson

In the evenings, there were themed dances and concerts, and star gazing with telescopes.

One of the aspects I loved about the high desert was the dramatic and huge skies we saw there.

With no large trees to block the view, one could appreciate the vastness of the weather patterns in all directions.

I took this photo of an approaching rain storm from our trailer at the rally one evening.

Indian Bathtub rocks, photo by Karen Richardson

Elsewhere in Wyoming, we hiked on Indian Bathtubs Trail to see some interesting granite rock formations, shown here. The rocks have unusual depressions caused by natural erosion.

According to legend, when the Great Spirit decided to give rain, Native Americans played in these 'tubs'.

As we journeyed on through southern Idaho, we were very keen to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve to see the lava fields there.

Craters of the Moon lava cave, photo by Karen Richardson

The most interesting feature was the lava tubes. These are natural conduits formed by lava flowing from volcanic vents.

The surface lava cools and hardens, forming tubes that later become empty underground caves after the hot lava drains away.

Over millions of years, the roof of the caves collapses here and there, creating access openings to the underground tunnels.

In this photo, my husband is pictured inside one of the huge caves. The rock debris in front of him is from a collapsed roof.

Snake River at Twin Falls Idaho, photo by Karen Richardson

Elsewhere in Idaho, we learned the Snake River aquifer is an important resource, providing sustainable irrigation for farming a wide variety of crops in the desert, including the famed Idaho potato.

When we approached the city of Twin Falls, suddenly this huge Snake River gorge appeared below us. As we stopped to take photos, we were thrilled to see base jumpers leaping off the bridge to parachute into the river.

Shoshone Falls Idaho, photo by Karen Richardson

On the other side of town, we stopped by another section of the Snake River to view Shoshone Falls, which is often called 'Niagara of the West'.

It is 212 feet (65 meters) in height, 45 feet (14 meters) higher than Niagara Falls. Shoshone Falls flows over a rim nearly 1,000 feet (300 meters) wide. It was a wondrous sight to behold.

Columbia River, photo by Karen Richardson

The Snake River originates in Wyoming, crosses southern Idaho, and flows west into Washington where it empties into the Columbia River, which is pictured here.

Having spent several weeks in the high desert, I understand how important these large river systems are to the region.

It is uniquely awe-inspiring to drive through an arid desert landscape, full of dusty brown and grey rock, and suddenly come upon a vast ribbon of deep blue life-giving water.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post, where I will share photos from the next leg of our summer journey, as we explored the Pacific Northwest.

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 travel tales, painting stories, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.

New Works: Everything is Rosy

17 August, 2023 1 comment Leave a comment

Earlier this year, in the post New Works: Magical Northern Lights, I explained the genesis of a new series. These imaginary scenes depicted rocks, trees, water, skies, lakes, and northern lights, and were created using my new Holbein watercolour paints and vast photo library.

This spring and summer, I have continued to paint mythical, peaceful scenes of the north, based on memories formed over the course of my life.

I grew up near Algonquin Park in Ontario, and as an adult have explored the Canadian Shield landscape throughout northern, central, and eastern Canada on foot, in a kayak, on a snowmobile, on a motorcycle, and in our travel trailer.

In this post, I am introducing five of my recent fanciful scenes that portray morning or evening skies and feature the colour pink.

Rhapsody in Hues, varnished watercolour on 9 x 12 inch panel 

I began this painting by masking out the stars and creating the background swirls. I built up layers of pale yellow, red, blue, purple and black, letting each layer of colour dry for several hours before adding the next. The masking was removed and trees were added onto dry paper at the end of the process.

This painting was inspired by a previous work Awakening, which had the three-tree cluster on the right side. For Rhapsody in Hues, I added the majestic tree on the right side for balance.

For more information about Rhapsody in Hues, click here.

Still Standing, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8 inch panel

This scene was inspired by many small, rocky islands I have seen on Lake Superior and Lake of the Woods and was painted with a similar strategy to Rhapsody in Hues.

When I see trees growing on these seemingly barren hunks of rock with very little soil, I am amazed that they can find enough of a foothold to remain standing.

For more information about Still Standing, click here.

Not a Care in the World, by Karen Richardson

Not a Care in the World, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10 inch panel

There is something about calm northern lakes that touches the soul and brings peace, whether we are quietly fishing, kayaking, canoeing, floating, or just gazing from shore. We need to pause and appreciate these beautiful moments whenever they happen.

This painting is a re-imagining of a scene I painted a few years ago titled Old Friends. I changed the colour scheme and added a foreground tree silhouette to make the viewer feel more immersed in nature.

For more information about Not a Care in the World, click here.

Little Bit of Heaven, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8 inch panel

This scene is inspired by many rocky islands I have seen in the 30,000 Islands region of Georgian Bay.

There is something special about the vintage cabins I see, perched on these weathered rocks. The humble, sturdy dwellings make we wonder about the lucky folk who own these little bits of heaven and what their lives are like.

For more information about Little Bit of Heaven, click here.

The Promise, varnished watercolour on 10 x 8 inch panel

This sunset scene was composed of a collection of vintage white pines I photographed in the Temagami region of northern Ontario.They tower above the surrounding forest, making for an impressive sight I admire every time we drive through that region.

The title refers to the saying 'Red sky at night, Sailor's delight', which promises good weather the day following a rosy sunset.

For more information about The Promise, click here.

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of my latest paintings of fanciful northern scenery.

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 of her painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.

It's a Winning Summer

25 July, 2023 0 comments Leave a comment

Three Karen Richardson paintings win awards

Summer has arrived in full force and brought with it a bounty of sunny tidings on the artistic front.

The first piece of happy news is so remarkable, I hardly can believe my good fortune. About a week ago, I learned that not just one, but three of my paintings had won awards in the 4th annual Women in Watercolor International Juried Competition.

The congratulatory letter went on to say, "This year's competition had over 1800 submissions from over 60 countries from the best of the best women watercolor artists, so you should be very proud!". My winning paintings are shown below.

Superior Jewels, watercolour by Karen Richardson

Superior Jewels (varnished watercolour on 20 x 16 inch panel, private collection)

Won Third Place in the Landscape & Water Category


Where Garden Meets Rock (varnished watercolour on 40 x 28 inch panel, private collection)

Won Finalist in the Still Life & Floral Category


Superior Lady, watercolour by Karen Richardson 

Superior Lady (varnished watercolour on 14 x 11 inch panel, private collection)

Won Honorable Mention in the Animal & Wildlife Category


I am grateful to the Women in Watercolor organization, which was formed in 2020 to "help encourage, support, and promote the outstanding women that are working in this medium on an international level, through online competitions, and in-person events". I also send heartfelt appreciation to the nine international judges who bestowed awards upon my artwork.

If you take a tour of all the inspiring prize winning paintings at you will understand how incredibly blessed I feel to have received these honours, given the level of technical and creative excellence among the winning artists.


Airstream Life Magazine

The second piece of happy news arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, in the latest issue of Airstream Life magazine. This subscriber-based quarterly publication serves 10,000 enthusiasts of the iconic brand of recreational vehicles and related active outdoor lifestyle.

I had been interviewed last winter by one of the magazine's writers, for a series called Collecting Experiences, focusing on various creative pursuits that Airstream owners enjoy.

When the June 2023 issue came out, I was thrilled to learn that it contained a seven page feature article, illustrated with a dozen colour images of my watercolour paintings, telling the story of my artistic life and how my paintings are inspired by our adventures traveling in our Airstream trailer. (I wish I could share a copy of the article here, but it is only available to magazine subscribers.)

After many decades spent navigating through this topsy turvy artist's life of mine, I still feel as thrilled as a little kid when good things like this happen. I feel incredibly fortunate and often think to myself "Pinch me, somebody!".

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 of her painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.



The Miskwaa 2023 Collection

14 June, 2023 2 comments Leave a comment

Karen Richardson at Miskwaa Outdoor Art GalleryOver the past winter and spring, I have devoted myself to building a fresh collection of landscape paintings, destined for display and sale at my retail gallery partners.

I experimented with new composition strategies and colour combinations, and feel that this sustained burst of creative intensity has allowed my paintings to reach a new level of clarity and emotional resonance.

Pictured with me here are five special artworks I selected for the Miskwaa Open Air Art Show & Sale 2023, which runs daily in July and August.

In this post, I am very excited to share a show preview with you, and hope this brief overview inspires you to see these artworks in person. (Click here for show details.)

Living the Dream, varnished watercolour on 12 x 12 inch panel

The concept of an ideal life may look different for others, but mine includes quiet moments spent at northern lakes, drinking in the splendour of the seasons. Peaceful places like this, where I slow down and connect with nature, replenish my soul.

The colourful autumn forest with its slightly blurred reflection was technically difficult to paint in watercolour, and until I was about 90% done, I was certain this painting was a failure. Having invested hours and hours of time in this piece already, I pressed on and was incredibly relieved when it transformed into a believable scene. Tenacity wins the day!

Living the Dream is available at the Miskwaa show, valued at $1,070. including tax.

Quality Time, varnished watercolour on 9 x 12 inch panel

Going on an excursion with our loved ones, quietly exploring a northern lake, and basking in the beauty of unspoiled nature, provides respite from busy lives. How lucky are we who get to spend quality time like this.

I tried a new colour combination for the sky and water in this piece and am happy with the peaceful feeling it adds to the scene. The setting was inspired by Lake Muskoka, and I saw these canoeists with their dog in Pukaskwa National Park on Lake Superior.

Quality Time is available at the Miskwaa show, valued at $730. including tax.

Daybreak, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10 inch panel

In this winter scene, stars begin to fade as a blaze of sunlight heralds the beginning of a glorious new day. The golden hues of dawn bring welcome warmth after a cold winter night.

Although this is an imaginary landscape, the trees are inspired by my vast photo reference library from many years spent exploring the forests of northern Ontario.

Daybreak is available at the Miskwaa show, valued at $680. including tax.

Dancing in the Dark, watercolour by Karen RichardsonDancing 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.

This is another imaginary scene, inspired by an island I photographed at Lake of the Woods.

Dancing in the Dark is available at the Miskwaa show, valued at $890. including tax.

Steadfast and True, watercolour by Karen RichardsonSteadfast and True, varnished watercolour on 16 x 12 inch panel 

Rocky shores of northern lakes are subject to relentless natural forces, such as wind, waves, heat, cold, and ice. And yet, these robust stone beaches survive the test of time. I admire their strength and beauty.

I began this piece by painting, from my imagination, a graded blue wash for the sky and water, then adding the orange of a sunset where the horizon would fall. The foreground stones of this scene were inspired by a pebble beach at Lake Superior and the island was one I admired at Lake of the Woods.

Steadfast and True is available at the Miskwaa show, valued at $1,300. including tax.

I hope you have enjoyed this personal private tour of my Miskwaa Collection for 2023.

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 of her painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.


New Works: Magical Northern Lights

30 May, 2023 2 comments Leave a comment

In my last post, Secrets to Painting Glowing Skies, I revealed three principles that helped me improve my skills in painting complex cloudy sky scenes.

In a nutshell, these strategies included colour testing prior to starting the painting, building up vivid colour gradually in many layers over many days, and adding colour quickly on wet watercolour paper for each layer.

Over the last year, I employed these principles to help 'up my game' in portraying the aurora borealis, and my latest creations are pictured in this post. (If you want more details about an individual painting, click on the image.)


In addition to this new painting strategy, a big breakthrough in painting northern lights resulted from my introduction to Holbein watercolour paints. They were awarded to me last year, as a prize in the Women in Watercolor International Juried Competition.

My first experience using these paints was in the creation of my largest watercolour ever, a 40 by 28 inch close up of dwarf yellow iris and river stone. I shared the whole story, including a time lapse video, in a recent post The Making of 'Where Garden Meets Rock'.

I am thrilled to have been introduced to Holbein paints, which are made in Japan. They have a lovely creamy consistency that makes them easy to re-hydrate and mix together, and the resulting colour combinations are clear and vivid without being garish. It was very difficult to make a dull, muddy mixture, even when combining warm and cool pigments. If you have worked with watercolour paints to any extent, you know how remarkable this attribute is.

Colour tests by Karen Richardson

Shown here are the colour tests I did on watercolour paper swatches, using Holbein yellows, blues and greens, in combination with some past favourite hues in the MaimeriBlu, Sennelier, Schmincke, Winsor & Newton, and Daniel Smith brands.  Although all the mixtures I tried looked luscious and fabulous when wet, they became dull and unattractive after drying.

It wasn't until the fifth test (shown on the right of the swatch photo) that I found a combination that stayed vivid even after drying. These brilliant greens and blues formed when I combined several layers of Holbein Permanent Yellow Light, Permanent Green, and Viridian, with Winsor Blue (Green Shade), and Daniel Smith Indanthrone Blue.

Another big step forward in my aurora borealis journey, and in all my northern landscape paintings for that matter, is that I feel I have reached the point where I can invent  imaginary scenes that contain believable lakes, rocks, and pine trees.

This was not always the case. In the early years of my art practice, I would rely on a single, perfectly-composed photo to inspire the details of shape, value, and colour in a realistic painting. Forays into imaginative work usually ended in disappointment.

Now, I often imagine the basic layout of a landscape painting, and then search through my photo archives to come up with, for instance, a few perfect pine trees for the focal area, interesting sky colours, a few lake reflection concepts, and ideas for a rocky shoreline.

I can whittle down these choices into a single scene, or create a series of paintings using the same colours but a variety of landscape elements. I might decide a painting should be a night scene with stars, or a sunny autumn morning, or I might add a soft blanket of snow.

Since I like to create the feeling of 'being there' for viewers of my landscape paintings, I also rely on my soul-deep memories from years of exploring the Canadian wilderness by kayak, ATV, snowmobile, truck, and on foot.

This imaginative way of planning and executing paintings has opened up a whole new world of artistic possibilities for me, and I can hardly wait to find out what new excitement the future brings.

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 of her painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.

Secrets to Painting Glowing Skies

29 April, 2023 4 comments Leave a comment

You might be surprised to read this, given the hundreds of landscape paintings I have created, but in the past when painting a cloudy sky, I never felt confident that the scene would turn out well. The effort always seemed like a huge, scary gamble, and my attempts didn't always bear fruit. I think my fear stemmed from the loss of control intrinsic to the fast-and-loose technique that such skies require.

I decided to spend a few months this winter and spring focusing on painting cloudy sunset scenes, to try to determine where I had been going wrong in the past, and figure out what strategies might work better.

As I experimented with new painting processes, I was able to confirm, at least for me, that there are three secrets to creating glowing skies. This realization resulted in several ground-breaking paintings, and I learned a lot in the process of painting them.

First, I did some research at the 'University of YouTube', watching instructional videos by a couple of professional watercolour painters I admire greatly. When I reviewed painting approaches used by Birgit O'Connor in her Atmospheric Landscapes online course, and Steven Kozar in his free tutorials on high realism, I realized where I was going wrong. It was mostly about the pace of painting.

As I experimented with new strategies in my paintings, I was able to confirm, at least for me, that there are three secrets to creating glowing skies:

  • Do colour tests to make sure the selected paint colours work well together to produce clear, vibrant pigment mixtures when dry.
  • Be patient and don't add rich colour to the painting too quickly. Instead, build up colour in gradual layers over many days.
  • Add each single layer of colour to wet paper very quickly and step away from the painting well before the paper starts to dry. Resist the urge to fiddle, in other words.

As a result of employing these painting principles, I was able to create the following successful paintings from complex reference photos:

Solstice Sunset, varnished watercolour on 8 x 10 inch panel, captures sunset during the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The warmth of the sun slowly fades, heralding the beginning of a long dark night.

The contrast of golden radiance and soft purple clouds behind the dramatic silhouettes of old growth trees captures a captivating moment in time and the promise of spring.

Photo by Karen RichardsonThe painting was inspired by this photograph I took of the view from my bedroom window last December. The trees grow in the hedgerow between farm fields behind our house, and every morning I look out my window to absorb the beauty of nature.

Click here for more details about Solstice Sunset.

The Wonder of It All, varnished watercolour on 6 x 12 inch panel depicts a glowing sunset over a northern lake. Sometimes I look at a splendid sky and just have to marvel at the artistry of nature. She creates the most marvellous paintings, just using light and water vapour. I am awed by the wonder of it all.

Photo by Sharon HopkirkThe painting was inspired by this photo of Six Mile Lake in Muskoka, taken by Sharon Hopkirk and used with her gracious permission.

Originally my painting was to depict the entire scene including the puddle on the lake and the bushes in the foreground, but I ran into technical difficulties when the masking film I used damaged the lower half of the paper. I discovered the problem after the sky was completed and realized I would have to crop the painting. I thought the sky was beautiful enough to be the star of the show and invented a simple treeline to give context to the scene.

Click here for more information about The Wonder of It All.

Crimson Twilight, watercolour in progress by Karen RichardsonI was still entranced by Sharon's gorgeous photo, and started a second attempt at painting the full scene. I took a photo at the end of each day so I could show you the layering process.

Here on Day 1, a strip of masking tape forms a lower boundary for the sky and the first layer of colour is on.

Crimson Twilight, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

Day 2 The second layer of colour has been applied, using the first layer as a placement guide.

I start by wetting the watercolour paper with clear water, giving it a minute to soak in, then painting on various colours, and letting them mingle before the paper dries. Paint application has to be done in the space of a minute or so, depending on how much water is used.

Crimson Twilight, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

Day 3 The third layer of colour is on.

The wet-in-wet process produces lovely soft-edged shapes, but it can be difficult to get the right shapes in the right places, because the paint spreads out beyond where it is initially laid. It takes skill and practice to apply just the right amount of paint to control the spread.

Crimson Twilight, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

Day 4 The fourth layer is on and the colours are intensifying.

This might seem like an inefficient use of my studio time, to work on a sky painting only a few minutes a day, but I always have several paintings on the go and while one dries I can work on others. 

Crimson Twilight, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

Over the next three days, I added more golden tones to the sky and puddle, working on wet paper. After that dried several hours, I added more scarlet to individual clouds, working on dry paper and feathering out the edges with a clean wet brush.

Once I was happy with these areas and they were fully dry, I masked out the inner edges of the puddle and painted the blue snow in three layers, drying several hours in between. I stopped when it was dull and dark enough to look like twilight and contrast dramatically with the sky hues. Once dry, I removed the masking.

Day 8 and done! I added the treeline and hills on the far shore, and the twigs in front to complete this painting.

The finished artwork is Crimson Twilight, varnished watercolour on 11 x 14 inch panel. I love the vivid warm orange hues in the sky and reflection, contrasted with the cool dark blue of the snow.

Click here for more information about Crimson Twilight.

Having completed these three sunset scenes successfully, I feel a new confidence in how to approach complex sky subjects. I have added another skill to my repertoire. That is what I love about watercolour: there is always something new to learn, explore, and discover.

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 of her painting stories, travel tales, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.

The Making of 'Reunited'

25 March, 2023 2 comments Leave a comment

Reunited (varnished watercolour on 24 x 24 inch panel), pictured here, was the first artwork I painted this year, but it marked the second time I painted this peaceful, imaginary place.

The first rendition was last August, when I created a small watercolour study while we were exploring northern Ontario in our travel trailer. I framed the 10 x 10 inch painting when I got home and sent it off to one of my galleries in a shipment of new work. The eventual fate of this painting was revealed several months later, thanks to Facebook.

In the meantime, my husband and I did some fall camping. We towed our trailer to Fergus, ON, to join a small gathering of Airstream trailers belonging to the Ontario Unit of the Airstream International Club.

While there, we met many friendly, interesting folk, including a couple who had gutted and rebuilt a vintage Airstream for themselves and their kids. We enjoyed a tour of their awesome trailer and after conversing a while, felt like we had known this guy and gal for a long time. She was very interested in paintings of northern scenery, bought a selection of my Art Cards, and said she would peruse my web site with a mind to possibly choose a painting.

Back at the studio two weeks later, I learned from the gallery that two of the new paintings, including Reunion, had sold to an unspecified buyer.

The next month, I thought of following up with the lady we met at Fergus, but didn't want to appear pushy. I figured we probably would run into the same couple at a future Airstream rally and could see where things might lead from there.

Top 9 Paintings of 2022 by Karen Richardson

At the end of the year, I posted this collage of my Top Nine favourite paintings of 2022 on Facebook, with a thank you to all my fans and followers.

Of the many posted comments that followed, one woman wrote "Amazing! J**** surprised me for my birthday with two pieces from this collection. I was thrilled!!!! And so lucky. Beautiful!!!!"

As it turned out, her partner had contacted the gallery two weeks after we met in Fergus and bought Reunion as well as the painting in the centre of my Top Nine. I was really happy to learn this, and glad I had not followed up with her in October or I might have spoiled the surprise her partner had in store for her.

I kept thinking about the islands and canoes of Reunion the following month. Apparently the scene wasn't done with me yet, as if it had more to teach me about glowing light, luminous colours, and the quiet power of Nature. I decided to paint a larger version of the scene, and in doing so, spend peaceful hours under the spell of this mystical northern lake. 'Reunited' was the result.

I paused and took a photo now and then throughout the painting process, so I could share with you the visual creation story. Click on the photo below to view the two-minute video.

Working on this piece gave me a chance to practice on my oversized watercolour paper, and I look forward to creating more larger scale pieces. Stay tuned for further painting and travel adventures!

For further details about Reunited, click here.

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.

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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.

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.

Autumn Adventures in Muskoka

28 December, 2022 2 comments Leave a comment

Karen Richardson's Airstream

Throughout this past spring, summer, and fall, my husband and I enjoyed seven camping excursions in Ontario in our Airstream. We were out for a total of eighty days. 

I wrote about the major trips in previous posts, One Magic Island is Enough (June in Muskoka), My Fabulous Frog Encounter (June in Point Pelee), and Visiting Northern Vistas (August in Manitoulin, Lake Superior, and Lake of the Woods).

North Channel, Lake Huron, photo by Karen Richardson

I was able to paint and gather extensive inspiration for new artwork, while enjoying hiking and boating in these beautiful regions.

We concluded the camping season with a ten-day stay just west of Algonquin Park. Our timing was perfect, and we witnessed some of the loveliest fall foliage we have seen in years.

The weather was sunny and mild for most of our stay, and we hiked almost every day as the fall colours came to full glory around us. It was a truly magical time and now I have enough fall foliage photos for decades of paintings!

Buck Lake, photo by Karen Richardson

It was impossible to whittle down my best shots to just a handful for this post, so I made a video slideshow instead.

Click on the image below to view a glorious autumn in Muskoka, seen through an artist's eye (3-minute video). Enjoy!


Thank you to my friend Roger who took the photo of me beside the Oxtongue River, shown on the title page of the slideshow.

Where is your favourite place to see fall colours? 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 painting classes and exhibitions.