Earthbound Artist

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. 

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

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.

 

Framing Watercolours Without Glass

14 February, 2021 10 comments Leave a comment

Karen Richardson at arts festival

 

WHY FRAME WITHOUT GLASS?

I am pictured above at an arts festival in 2015 with a display of my watercolour paintings presented without glass. I began using this framing method in 2011, taking advantage of technological advances in art materials. I like the clean, contemporary look of the thin black frames and no glass.

Prior to this, for the first few decades of my art career, I protected my watercolour paintings in the traditional manner, with museum quality matting and backing board, UV-blocking glazing, and coordinated moldings to hold the 'sandwich' together. Examples of this presentation are pictured below, at an art festival in the early years.

Karen Richardson at an arts festival

These traditional archival materials worked well to shield the artwork from environmental damage, but were heavy and fragile to transport and display. The worst aspect was that reflections in the glass often impeded viewing of the painted image.

With my new method of mounting, the artwork is created the same way but sandwiched differently. I still paint on 300 lb. acid-free 100% rag watercolour paper. After the painting is completed, it is supported from behind by an archival wooden art panel and sealed on the front with a UV- and moisture-resistant coating that takes the place of glass.

The art panel is then mounted in a simple black wooden float frame, as shown in the 12 x 16 inch painting below 'Come Fly With Me'. This new process provides a clean, updated look to the artwork, helps protect the painting from humidity and colour fading, and allows the piece to be hung without the glare and weight of glass.

Now my watercolours have the visual impact of an oil or acrylic painting, while still showcasing the soft colour transitions and glowing light effects of traditional watercolour. I think of this as having the best of both worlds.

Come Fly With Me, varnished watercolour on panel, by Karen Richardson

HOW DOES THIS FRAMING METHOD WORK?

People ask me this question frequently. Sometimes they are curious collectors but often they are fellow artists who wonder if they too can present their artwork without the weight and glare of glass.

I summarize my experiences here, so that art collectors can be better informed when contemplating an art purchase, and artists can choose safe procedures and materials, and avoid potential problems.

That said, if you are an artist and wish to display your paintings without glass, I encourage you to do your own research and find the archival method that suits your circumstances and keeps your artwork protected. I place a lot of trust in art material manufacturers' recommendations based on actual science, rather than those of well-intentioned but possibly ill-informed artists on YouTube.

An example of a trusted resource would be this printable instruction sheet 'Mounting Flexible Supports to Panel, an Archival Practice', produced by Ampersand (manufacturer of art panels). This article includes instruction for mounting canvas art as well as paper art.

Outlined below are the methods and materials I use to mount and varnish my watercolour paintings, along with some important tips I have learned over the last decade. The process takes about a week to complete and can be somewhat perilous for novices. Remember that mounting your painting to a panel is non-reversible, so start with a small sample painting while you learn and test the process. Also bear in mind that some art societies might consider a watercolour painting coated with acrylic varnish to be a mixed media artwork.

TEN STEPS TO MOUNT AND VARNISH A WATERCOLOUR PAINTING

(A printable version is available at the end of this article.)

1. Obtain an art panel which has already been sealed and primed, and a floater frame that will fit. Panels come in standard sizes; the smallest I use is 8 x 8 inches and the largest is 24 x 36 inches. My favourite panels are Jack Richeson cradled gessoed tempered hardboard panels, ApollonGotrick gesso wood panels, and several coated panels made by Ampersand (Claybord, Gessobord, or Primed Smooth Artist Panels). I prefer the 3/4" or 7/8" panel profiles. I buy custom floater frames that will fit the panel profile plus the thickness of the watercolour paper and still have at least 1/8" of the frame protruding beyond the front surface of the artwork. This will protect the vulnerable edges of the painting.

2. Complete a finished painting on 300 lb. acid-free Arches watercolour paper, with an image that is 1 inch longer and 1 inch wider than the panel. The excess paper will be trimmed off after mounting is complete. Thinner papers will show any unevenness of the adhesive layer, so avoid 140 lb. paper. I do the mounting after the painting is done for two reasons; the mounting adhesive affects how paint behaves on the paper, and I don't want to risk wasting a panel with an unsuccessful painting.

3. Decide where the image will need cropping, to become the same size as the panel, but don't cut the watercolour paper yet. On the back of the paper, draw a pencil outline of where the panel will need to be placed. If your painting scene has a horizon, make sure it aligns parallel with a panel edge.

4. Place the painting face down on a hard, flat surface that is covered by a clean towel. Wet the back of the painting with clean water using a sponge. Quickly apply a thin coat of Golden Soft Gel Matte acrylic medium to the surface of the panel, using a two-inch flat brush. This needs to be done in about 30 seconds so the adhesive stays evenly wet. (Use a cheap brush, because the dried adhesive eventually builds up in the brush hairs, no matter how carefully I rinse the brush.)

5. Flip the gel-coated panel over and place wet side down onto the back of the wet paper, aligning the panel within the pencil lines from step 3. Press hands hard on the centre of the panel to force air bubbles out the sides. Pile on heavy objects (stacks of books work well) on the centre of the panel to make sure the paper and panel are squeezed tightly together. (See photo below) Leave overnight to dry, then remove the weights and flip the painting front side up to continue drying.

Mounting painting to panel, photo by Karen Richardson

6. After another day, or once the painting feels fully dry, paint the edges of the panel with black acrylic paint. I usually apply two coats. The flange of watercolour paper helps to protect the front of the artwork from the acrylic paint. (Shown below)

Mounting paintings to panel, photo by Karen Richardson

7. Once the acrylic paint is dry (30 minutes), place the painting face down on a clean cutting mat and remove the paper flange with a very sharp utility knife. Make the cuts vertical and flush with the panel edge (shown below). When done, use a fine grit sanding block to sand the edges of the paper to remove any burrs.

Mounting painting on panel, photo by Karen Richardson 

8. The exposed thickness of the watercolour paper is white. Paint it with a black or very dark watercolour mixture (shown below). I mix my black from the three primaries. This dark colour will make the paper look like part of the panel rather than a separate layer. Do not use a black marker or acrylic paint, as it is too easy for these pigments to bleed over onto the front of the painting. Leave the painting face up to continue drying for several days before varnishing.

Mounting painting to panel, photo by Karen Richardson

9. I never varnish my paintings in my studio, because of the toxic fumes. I set up my turntable stand in a garage with ambient temperature between 65 and 75 degrees F (18 to 24 degrees C). The varnishing process takes me a whole day because there are seven coats, with at least 45 minutes drying time between each coat. I varnish my paintings in batches of 4 to 6 pieces to make the process more efficient. I wear a respirator mask and use a spray varnish that does not disturb the watercolour paint. I start with three coats of Golden Archival Varnish (Mineral Spirit Acrylic Aerosol with UVLS) Gloss, followed by four coats of the Matte version. (Shown below).

Karen Richardson varnishing a painting

This non-yellowing finish protects the artwork from dirt and dust and is moisture resistant. UVLS stands for UltraViolet Light filters and Stabilizers, which provide archival protection and reduce light damage. According to Golden, manufacturer of artist paints and varnishes, it takes a minimum of six coats of varnish to provide UV protection. The gloss coats seal the surface while keeping the painted image sharp, and the matte coats eliminate glare. I have not noticed any colour change caused by the varnish. It does add a slight texture to the surface of the painting. I have read that this varnish provides better UV protection than UV-blocking glass offers. I let the varnish dry overnight in the garage, to allow most of the smell to dissipate, before bringing the painting back to my studio.

10. After the varnish has dried for at least two days, I attach the frame to the back of the panel, add a hanging wire, and label the back of the panel with artwork and artist information. Now the painting is ready to hang on a wall.

I hope you have found this information helpful and interesting. Click here for a printable version of the above steps.

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.

December New Works: Dusk to Dawn

23 January, 2021 2 comments Leave a comment

Paintings by Karen Richardson  
Paintings by Karen Richardson
Up at the Crack of Dawn, watercolour by Karen Richardson

 

December was another busy month in my art studio, with the completion of the six new watercolours pictured above.

My northern lakes series continues and some unique and luscious skies have been introduced, depicting the magical effects of dawn, sunset, twilight, and starlight. I am enjoying this chance to work with bright, happy colours that lift my mood during this cold season.

Today, I am sharing the stories behind the creation of these new artworks.

Shown above is Almost Heaven, varnished watercolour on 12 x 6" panel. A venerable white pine stands guard over a peaceful northern lake as stars begin to fill the sky. The final glow of sunset rests on calm water. Places like this are almost heaven to many of us.

The scene is imaginary, but the tree details were loosely inspired by the photo below.

 

Tree in Lake Superior Prov Park, photo by Karen Richardson

I spotted this interesting white pine from Hwy 17 as we drove through Lake Superior Provincial Park last July, and took the photo from our truck. I love the way white pines tower over surrounding trees, like gigantic guardians of the forest.

For more details about Almost Heaven, click here.

 

Pictured above is Up at the Crack of Dawn, varnished waterdolour on 6 x 12" panel. Folks who get up early in the morning witness some breathtaking sunrises. In this scene, a streak of golden light parts the veils of darkness to reveal the trees and gently rolling hills of a northern landscape.

This painting was inspired by the photo below, which I took decades ago from a moving vehicle in an unknown northern location. I have kept this photo aside since then, knowing it would spark a great painting some day.

Photo by Karen Richardson

I love the feeling of mystery in this hint of landscape as dawn breaks on the horizon. It took many coats of paint to achieve the level of darkness and the glow of light behind the trees that was needed to create a magical effect.

Click here for more information about Up at the Crack of Dawn.

 

Shown above is Beyond the Blue, varnished watercolour on 12 x 12" panel. I am thrilled with the feeling of the finished work. The glow in the sky conveys that mystical time just before dawn. A light mist is rising from the lake and millions of stars still shine in the heavens. Soon the sun will burn off the remnants of night and a new day of adventure exploring these rocky islands will begin.

This painting is mostly from my imagination, loosely suggested by a long-exposure photo (shown below) taken by my friend Carolyn Caughell in Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve near Gravenhurst, ON.

Photo by Carolyn Caughell

I loved the starlight and the blues in her photo but completely reinvented the landscape and emphasized the stars when I created my painting.

To see more details about Beyond the Blue, click here.

 

Pictured above is And Time Stood Still, varnished watercolour on 12 x 16" panel. This painting was inspired by a photo I saw on Facebook, taken by Tania Bortolon Krysa during her back country hike on the Mdaabii Miikna Trail in Pukaskwa National Park last August.

Photo by Tania Bortolon Krysa

Tania's photo (shown above) captured a quiet twilight moment and I loved the shapes of the iconic northern Ontario trees. She kindly allowed me to use her photo as a painting reference. This is the second version of this scene that I have painted.

My husband and I visited this breathtaking park near Marathon, on the north shore of Lake Superior, around the same time this photo was taken, and plan to return for some hiking and kayaking in the future.

Click here for more information about And Time Stood Still.

 

The painting shown above is The Place I Belong, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8" panel. The sky is imaginary, but the land formations and trees are taken from a photo I took on Lake Muskoka in October 2018 while on a site seeing cruise. The photo is shown below, and you can see I took considerable license with shapes and colours.

Photo of Lake Muskoka by Karen Richardson

For more details about The Place I Belong, click here.

 

Shown above is the last painting I created in December, Time to  Reflect, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10" panel. The sky is from my imagination and the treeline is similar to one I used in my previous painting Exit Light, Enter Night (shown below).

For more information about Time to Reflect, click here.

As winter days begin to lengthen, 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.

The Making of 'Reflections of Yesterday'

10 January, 2021 3 comments Leave a comment

Pictured above is my watercolour painting 'Reflections of Yesterday' and today I am recounting the story of how this remarkable painting came to life.

In the spring of 2017, my husband and I and several friends explored New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island for two months in our travel trailers. I posted three stories showing the highlights of this fantastic trip ('Perfect Prince Edward Island', 'Camping in Beautiful Nova Scotia', and 'Top 5 Must-Have's for Travel Fun').

While exploring the quaint seaside village of Victoria in PEI, I photographed a colourful, weathered shed window from five different angles. I knew the various elements of this scene would work well as a watercolour portrait. The two views shown below are the ones I chose as painting references.

PEI shed window photo by Karen Richardson   PEI shed window photo by Karen Richardson

I liked the colours better in the red window trim in the left hand photo, but I preferred the reflection of the jellybean house in the right hand photo. One of the advantages of being a painter is that I can 'mix-and-match' my references.

Every inch of this painting was pure joy to create, from the cracks in the wood shingles, to the flaking red paint of the trim, to the distorted reflections in the vintage window glass.

For this painting, I tried out watercolour paints made by Sennelier in France and I was very impressed with their clarity and strength of colour. The three pigments I chose (Sennelier Red, Sennelier Yellow Deep, and Phthalocyanine Blue) worked perfectly for this piece. I will be using these paints again!

Fortunately I had the foresight to take photos as I worked on this challenging composition. From these work-in-progress photos, I assembled a short time lapse video, so you can see the flow of this piece to its completion.

Click on the image below to view the 2-minute story:

 

The completed painting (shown below) 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 'Reflections of Yesterday'.

This 12 x 16" artwork was acquired by a collector in Sunderland, ON shortly after completion. A little piece of my heart and soul went with this painting. I consider it to be one of my master works.

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. 

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

A Corona Harvest: Feeling Thankful

13 December, 2020 4 comments Leave a comment

Carrots grown by Karen Richardson

What a year this has been. When you throw a worldwide pandemic into the mix, life gets turned upside down, and everyone has to construct a 'new normal'.

Some folks have had a very sad experience with COVID-19. We hear of people who have lost their loved ones, jobs, homes, savings, or businesses, and feel so badly for them.

Tomatoes grown by Karen Richardson

As I write this, I find myself feeling grateful for our own situation. Many positive things have happened in our life because of the global pandemic and related time of isolation, perhaps because of the way we dealt with it. My husband and I realize we have much for which to be thankful.

Onions and garlic grown by Karen Richardson

Here in Ontario, starting last March, life got really simple, really fast. The province went into a state of emergency, schools and non-essential businesses were closed, and everyone was asked to stay home to control the spread of COVID-19.

Garlic scapes grown by Karen Richardson

With me running a home-based art business, and my husband being retired, staying at home is normal life for us, and we have endless to-do lists to keep us busy and content at the homestead.

Raspberries grown by Karen Richardson

I am an introvert, so being asked to remain at home and clear my calendar of meetings and appointments was no hardship at all. In fact, I came to love the simplicity of deciding each morning how to structure my day, depending on the weather forecast. Sunny - go for a walk or work in the yard. Rainy - make stuff in the kitchen or studio.

Crabapples grown by Karen Richardson

Since our spring trip to Australia was cancelled and Ontario campgrounds were closed, it looked like we would be spending the spring and summer at home. Rather than view this as a disappointment, we decided to take advantage of this opportunity to work on some major projects at home.

One of those was to grow a food garden in our back yard and figure out how to harvest and preserve the bounty. You can read about my spring and summer gardening journey in these previous posts:

My Corona Garden (May 2020)

My Corona Silver Lining (July 2020)

Rhubarb grown by Karen Richardson

This gardening project was the perfect way to change a negative into a positive. I got such a kick out of watching seeds and seedlings grow into delicious, nutritious things we could eat. It was miraculous, even in a garden as small as mine.

Tomatoes grown by Karen Richardson

I heard of many other folk who tried growing vegetables for the first time in 2020. The photos in this post are all vegetables and fruits I produced this year. I guess I can add 'farmer' to my resume ;-).

Lettuces grown by Karen Richardson

My husband built me two fantastic raised garden planters, (one of which is pictured below in September), and I grew most of my produce in them.

Karen Richardson's garden

With dine-in restaurants closed, I got used to cooking and baking delicious meals seven days a week, incorporating my garden produce whenever possible.

Tomato salsa made by Karen Richardson

I did some canning to preserve food, such as the tomato salsa shown above, and the crab apple jelly shown below.

Crabapple jelly made by Karen Richardson

I oven roasted most of my cherry tomatoes and then froze them. I look forward to adding these sweet gems to chili and pasta sauce this winter.

Roasted cherry tomatoes by Karen Richardson

I pureed some of the roasted tomatoes in a blender and will add this mixture (shown below) to soups or lasagna - perfect on a cold winter day.

Tomato puree by Karen Richardson

Another big positive to spending much of the year at the homestead was that we got to complete a major renovation on our house. When we moved here six years ago, the plan was to change the siding on the house from white to blue, to match the two new outbuildings we had built. This is what our house looked like in 2014 when we moved in:

Karen Richardson's home 2014

Since then, we have renovated the entire interior, re-shingled the roof, and completed extensive landscaping.

This summer, we hired a couple of local contractors to remove the old white siding, add a layer of rigid foam insulation all around, and then add blue siding with stone wainscoting. Shown below is a photo of the insulation going on in August.

Karen Richardson home 2020

Shown below is what our house looked like in September when all the work was done. We immediately noticed how much quieter our home was inside, and I expect this winter we will save on heating costs while being warm and cosy, with this project finally accomplished.

Karen Richardson home 2020

Another beneficial effect of the pandemic, and one I never would have predicted, happened with my art business. When all the galleries representing my artwork across Ontario had to close for three months this spring, I expected a long, slow period of recovery once they were allowed to reopen.

Such was not the case. When galleries reopened in June, sales of my original paintings were very strong, and have continued since then. I find it incredible that my total painting sales for this year of the pandemic have exceeded last year's levels (and 2019 was an excellent year).

Having to cancel the fall watercolour workshops I normally would have taught allowed me more time to paint over the last few months, and I continue to paint as quickly as I can to keep ahead of demand. 

Karen Richardson in her art studio

As my husband and I approach the end of this unprecedented year, we are filled with gratitude for the life we live and the good fortune that has been bestowed on us. We are people who see the pot as half full rather than half empty, and this outlook allowed us to be flexible and make the most of a challenging situation.

I sincerely hope next year is a healthy and happy one for everyone.

What was your impression of 2020? Has the period of isolation revealed any positive aspects you would like to retain in your future life? If you have comments 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 life-of-the-artist articles, travel tales, painting stories, studio news updates, or notices of upcoming exhibitions.