Earthbound Artist

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.

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 '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.


'Nightfall' Selected for Kawartha Lakes Public Art Program

08 November, 2022 5 comments Leave a comment

Karen Richardson beside her public art installation

I had to keep this piece of happy news secret for several months, but now that the City of Kawartha Lakes has announced the official winners of this year's That's a Wrap Art Competition, I can share the story.

Nightfall image by Karen Richardson, on traffic control box

It began last June with a Call for Entry from the City regarding a temporary (3-year) public art initiative to wrap select traffic control boxes along the Kawartha Lakes road network with artist-created imagery.

The theme of the competition was Nature & Outdoors, and applicants had to be residents of Kawartha Lakes.

This project was a partnership between the City and Kawartha Arts Network, intended to enliven the urban landscape, help reduce graffiti, and visually connect the communities of Kawartha Lakes for area residents and visitors.

As an extension of the program, chosen artwork also is featured in the 2023 Municipal Calendar.

I submitted eight of my painted images in July and was delighted to learn in August that my painting 'Nightfall', was one of nine images chosen for installation this fall.

Nightfall by Karen Richardson, wrapped on a traffic control box in Bobcaygeon.

Everyone was asked to keep quiet about winning the competition until the City could make a formal announcement after the wraps were installed.

The City worked with Auto Trim & Signs in Lindsay to design and create vinyl wraps to fit the control boxes, based on the artists' digital images of their paintings, and installation was completed by early November.

My artwork image 'Nightfall' was installed on a traffic control box in front of the Bobcaygeon Municipal Service Centre, at the corner of County Rd. 36 and King St.

Nightfall image by Karen Richardson, on traffic control box

WOW it looks amazing, far surpassing my expectations! Auto Trim & Signs did a wonderful job of the wrap design and installation.

Here is a list of the location and artist for each art wrap image in the 2022 program:

Bobcaygeon (2):
Canal St and Bolton- Karen Szostak
Highway 36 and King St- Karen Richardson

Fenelon Falls (2):
Victoria st and Lindsay- Lindsay Edmam
Lindsay st and Colborne - Donna Bisschop

Lindsay (5):
Mary St and Lindsay- Wren Kellar
Victoria St and Colborne- Joy Mccallister
Kent St and Albert- Christine Woods
Mary St and Angeline- Megan Lowry-Smith
Kent St and St Joseph’s- Rhonda Larson

To view all the art images chosen for That's a Wrap, and see a map of their locations, visit That's a Wrap - City of Kawartha Lakes.

I am grateful to the City of Kawartha Lakes and Kawartha Arts Network for the opportunity to participate in phase one of this wonderful public art project. Next year, the City plans to run another competition and wrap more traffic control boxes in Kawartha Lakes.

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

Visiting Northern Vistas

23 October, 2022 3 comments Leave a comment

Near Killarney, photo by Karen Richardson

Our longest camping trip this summer was a four-week exploration of northwestern Ontario: Manitoulin Island, the North Channel, Lake Superior, and Lake of the Woods. During this trip I amassed many wonderful reference photos to inspire future paintings.

As I was reviewing the best of the best photographs to share with you, it struck me that my final selections, the ones that truly captured the sense of place, were stretched panoramas. The lakes and skies up north are so vast and wide, it's hard to take in all the beauty on display.

Sandhill Cranes on Manitoulin Island, photo by Karen Richardson

We spent the first week camping on Manitoulin Island, which is a very laid back place with a rural vibe and lots of historic barns. These Sandhill Cranes crossed a country road just as we approached in our truck. We see cranes like these every summer we travel in the north.

Karen Richardson and friends

My husband and I (back) were accompanied by our long-time friends Carolyn and Roger (front), pictured here at a lookout on the famous Cup and Saucer Trail. We had no trouble finding daily excursions like this to keep active and search out beautiful scenery.

North Channel, photo by Karen Richardson

Shown above is a view of the North Channel near our Manitoulin Island campground, with the Ontario mainland in the distance. I love the patterns the wind and currents make on the intensely blue water.

North Channel point, photo by Karen Richardson

Hoping for more photographic opportunities, we took a day cruise from Little Current harbour to the village of Killarney and back. Shown above is one of many 'paint-able' rocky points we cruised by. This type of rock reminds me of Georgian Bay, which is not surprising since the North Channel leads into Georgian Bay.

Killarney cottage, photo by Karen Richardson

At Killarney, we saw many lovely summer homes on the rocky shore, but this humble cottage embodies that old-time Georgian Bay nostalgia.

North Channel sunshine, photo by Karen Richardson

As we cruised back to Little Current that afternoon, the sun came out and sprinkled diamonds on the waters of the North Channel, while a thunder cloud poured rain on Manitoulin.

Aguasabon Falls and Gorge, photo by Karen Richardson

After a very relaxing week on the Island, we journeyed north-westward to Lake Superior, camping at Wawa and then stopping at Terrace Bay to show our friends Aguasabon Falls and Gorge. There is a generous parking area, large enough to turn around and park our travel trailers, and a very short boardwalk hike that took us to this stunning view.

In the words of the town, "With a beautiful ferocity in the spring and a serene grace in the summer and fall, this spectacular 100 foot waterfall cascades into the Aguasabon Gorge—flowing along a 2.6 billion year old rock face." If your travels take you through Terrace Bay, watch for the signs to the Gorge and take a look at this natural wonder.

Lake Superior Archipelago at Red Rock, photo by Karen Richardson

We camped for several days at Nipigon to attend the Live from the Rock Folk Festival, an annual music and arts festival held on the shore of Lake Superior in Red Rock. While there, we hiked up to the lookout over Nipigon Bay to view the islands of the Lake Superior Archipelago. The hilly shapes remind me of paintings by the Group of Seven. I love the grace and power of this place.

Lake of the Woods, photo by Karen Richardson

While our friends departed to spend time with family, my husband and I headed for Lake of the Woods, pictured above. We spent a glorious week there, visiting family and enjoying lakeside living. The weather was favourable and we spent an entire afternoon boating through a tiny section of the lake, which is an enormous body of water - 137 km long and 91 km wide at its widest point.

Lake of the Woods, photo by Karen Richardson

Lake of the Woods has a shoreline of just over 100,000 km if you count the shoreline of its many islands as well as the mainland. That's more than Lake Superior! There are 14,522 islands in Lake of the Woods.

And gosh, do I love painting those islands and points with their iconic twisted pines! Our visits to this lake have inspired dozens of paintings.

As we journeyed homeward, we made a point to camp a few nights at Marathon so I could visit my favourite Pebble Beach.

Pebble Beach Marathon, photo by Karen Richardson

As is often the case, the weather was cool and foggy while we were there. I have only seen this beach once on a calm sunny day, and the rest of the time conditions have been misty or raining. But the mist adds a sense of hushed solitude that makes for very compelling paintings, and also makes the beach stones look more colourful than they do when dry. I like this shot above of my husband bending for a closer look. I had to lay flat on the stones to get the shooting angle I wanted.

Flat Rock Beach Marathon, photo by Karen Richardson

While in town, we heard about a flat rock beach and searched it out. We were amazed at the great slabs of rock we found there along the Lake Superior shore. It felt very other-worldly.

Flat Rock Beach, Marathon, photo by Karen Richardson

Now that we know where this place is, I'll have TWO beaches to stop at every time we travel by Marathon. Thank goodness for a patient husband! I would love to see this landscape in sunshine, when the lake looks sapphire blue.

By the time we reached our home base in Lindsay, my husband and I had travelled 5,000 km on this month-long adventure. We came back with happy memories of fun times, a renewed appreciation of this remarkable province, and so much painting inspiration, I hardly knew where to begin!

Did you enjoy these highlights of Karen's camping trip? 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.

New Works: Mist and Moonlight

20 September, 2022 3 comments Leave a comment

Karen Richardson in her mobile art studio

Usually when we travel in the Airstream I fit in a painting day once a week or so, just for the joy of it.

The rest of my time is spent living the simple life with my husband: hiking, kayaking, making healthy meals, and slowly exploring the region in which we find ourselves.

Varnished watercolours by Karen Richardson

This past summer, with steady sales of my artwork continuing in the galleries back home, I was keen to paint more frequently.

I found the dinette in our trailer (pictured above) to be the perfect spot to set up a simple painting space for a few hours at a time.

Varnished watercolours by Karen Richardson

By the time we got home and I returned to the art studio, I was able to mount and frame a half dozen new works (pictured here).

In these paintings, I have continued to focus on misty northern lakes, bringing more imaginary places to life, venturing into a moonlit night scene, and branching off (pun intended) into a pile of colourful maple leaves.

This pair of blue lake scenes began as simple blue graded washes for the sky and a few horizontal streaks of blue for the water ripples. It took 3 or 4 layers of paint to build up the colour density I was after. I left large blank white areas in the middle to add some islands and reflections later.

Listen to the Silence, varnished watercolour on 14 x 11 inch panel.

I invented the overlapping blue hills for the background, wetting the bottom edges with clear water to simulate mist.

When that was dry, I painted an imaginary island, again with mist cloaking the shoreline, and a canoe seen coming towards the viewer.

I added a soft reflection under the island so it would not draw the viewer's eye away from the canoe.

Click here for more information about Listen to the Silence.

The Answer Will Come, varnished watercolour on 14 x 11 inch panel.

I knew I wanted an interesting island centred in this piece so I looked through my treasure trove of Lake of the Woods photos. (We visit family there most summers.)

Photo Lake of the Woods by Karen Richardson

This is the reference I chose, adding some hefty rocks to the front of 'my' island. Again, I added water when painting the bottom of the island, to simulate a foggy shoreline.

The water ripples in the foreground needed more visual interest, so I imagined some smooth underwater stones and painted the shadowy spaces in between them. Then I added a few above-water rocks to lead the viewer's eye between the foreground and the big island. Lastly, I painted in a hazy reverse image for the island reflection.

Click here for more details about The Answer Will Come.

Reunion, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10 inch panel.

One of my painting buddies goes on an annual canoe trip with a group of women friends, and she was kind enough to supply me with several dozen photos of canoes taken at various places during her trips.

These are a great resource whenever I want to add a canoe into an imaginary scene.

Photo Lake Traverse by Averill Ambrose For this painting, I used her reference photo (shown here) for the foreground and invented a couple of islands to make a more interesting scene. I changed the canoe colours and decided to make the season autumn, so the trees would complement the canoes.

Click here for more information about Reunion.

Misty Beginnings, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10 inch panel.

This painting was inspired by a quick photo I took out of our truck window one summer as we were driving along Hwy 17 north of Lake Superior.

Photo by Karen Richardson

I thought this little point of land on the edge of an island looked interesting.

I imagined a new scene roughly based on the photo, adding more mist, a canoe, more prominent rocks, and individual trees on the point.

Click here for more information about Misty Beginnings.

Some Enchanted Evening, varnished watercolour on 16 x 12 inch panel.

This was an experimental piece, meaning I had no idea if it would be successful or not. I knew I wanted a night scene with lots of deep blues and black, with a yellow full moon and its reflection across the water.

I imagined a slight breeze rippling the water and how the resulting reflections would behave.  I figured the rocks would have some warm tones, coming from moonlight.

I breathed a big sigh of relief when this painting turned out so well.

Click here for more information about Some Enchanted Evening.

Maple Flooring, varnished watercolour on 11 x 14 inch panel.

I took this reference photo decades ago while walking in the woods and have painted from it twice.

Photo by Karen Richardson

It is a simple scene, but that red maple leaf is so wonderfully symbolic of Canada, and it was fun to work with bright colours.

Click here for more information about Maple Flooring.

As cooler weather arrives, I feel my inner energy rising. It's time to get the garden trimmed back and close out the growing season. I look forward to having lots of studio time this fall and winter to create more new paintings, and then share 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.


My Fabulous Frog Encounter

24 July, 2022 3 comments Leave a comment

Frogs at Point Pelee, photo by Karen Richardson


Water Lily photo by Karen Richardson

My husband and I had the chance to visit Point Pelee National Park on the shores of Lake Erie this summer.

While there, I was thrilled to meet some very photogenic frogs in a small pond near the visitors' centre.

Why this excitement over frogs, you ask?

It's because I have a collection of lovely photos of pink water lilies I would like to paint, and lily pads are the perfect setting for frogs.

I chanced upon the gorgeous blooms pictured here near Timmins, ON three years ago. 

Water Lillies, photo by Karen Richardson

We were in town to see the 'Stars and Thunder' outdoor music festival, and the resort we camped at had an ornamental pond with koi and water lilies.

These photos could translate into great paintings, but if I have some well-focused close-up shots of frogs to add a bit of animation or 'story' to the scenes, I have the possibility of creating some really exciting, large-scale watercolour pieces.

That is why I was so pleased to have these wee frogs pose for me at Point Pelee. Imagine the fun I could have coming up with painting titles...

Frog photo by Karen Richardson

'I've Got Your Back'


Frog photo by Karen Richardson

'Private Spa'


Frog photo by Karen Richardson

'Who Let the Frog Out'


Frog photo by Karen Richardson

'Sit Quietly and Listen'


Frog photo by Karen Richardson


'The Thinker'


Frog photo by Karen Richardson


'All That You Dream'


Frog photo by Karen Richardson


'Best Friends'


Frog photo by Karen Richardson

'Just Chillin'


Frog photo by Karen Richardson

'The Sunbathers'

With this variety of poses, I may have all the angles covered for some upcoming frog-and-water-lily compositions. Stay tuned!

Which frog is your favourite? Do you have a great painting title in mind? 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.


One Magic Island is Enough

17 July, 2022 1 comment Leave a comment

Sand Lake - photo by Karen Richardson

My husband and I love to go camping spring, summer, and fall. Most of my inspiration for paintings of northern scenery and pristine lakes comes from these trips.

Earlier this summer, we camped for a week at Sand Lake near Kearney, in the Muskoka region of Ontario. While there, I got to study this magical island just off shore. It's just one wee island, but I know it will inspire a multitude of paintings.

Edgewater Park Lodge, photo by Karen Richardson

We discovered this pretty little lake in March when we stayed at Edgewater Park Lodge to do some snowmobiling, and decided we should return to see it in the summertime. You can read about our winter adventure here.

Sand Lake - photo by Karen Richardson

The Lodge had a half dozen serviced camping sites adjacent to their cabins, so we reserved a spot for a week in June and brought our travel trailer.

Sand Lake, photo by Karen Richardson

This is the view of the little island from the shoreline of Edgewater Park.

The island looks small and unassuming from this angle, but I suspected from seeing it last winter that the island might be more impressive from other viewpoints.

These Canada geese swam by as I was taking photos from the shore.

They might be just the thing a future painting could use in the foreground.

Sand Lake, photo by Karen Richardson

Luckily, we had our kayaks with us, and on the first calm day of our visit, we went for a paddle along the shore and over to the island.

I had my IPhone on board in a waterproof case so I could take pictures.

Sand Lake - photo by Karen Richardson

My husband, paddling in his kayak ahead of me, made for a good model in some of my photos, helping to show the scale of the landscape. The island looks quite wide from this angle.

Sand Lake - photo by Karen Richardson

As we circumnavigated the island, it was amazing to see how its appearance changed when viewed from different directions, and depending on whether the sun was shining or hidden by a cloud.

The lake water changed its appearance also. Sometimes it was a pale blue, sometimes a deeper blue, and other times the water was so clear we could see the sandy bottom.

Sand Lake - photo by Karen Richardson

There were quite a few different types of evergreens on the island and they made ever-changing groupings as we paddled by.

I particularly like the dynamic cloud and tree reflections in this scene. They would be challenging to paint but worth it.  I think a large scale painting would do this scene justice.

Sand Lake - photo by Karen Richardson

Here are more intriguing cloud and tree reflections. The slanting lines of the waves really catch my eye in this photo.

Sand Lake - photo by Karen Richardson

Parts of the shoreline were rock, which is one of my favourite subjects. The warm tones of the stone contrast nicely with the cooler hues of lake, sky, and trees.

Sand Lake - photo by Karen Richardson

Here are some lovely slabs of rock counterbalanced with a few interesting trees and rustic sheds. I am certain these rocky shorelines and their reflections will make their way into some northern lake paintings one day.

These are just a sampling of the many photos I took of this little island. Each of them is a seed with potential to grow into beautiful artwork one day. Nature is all around us, ready to inspire dozens of paintings. But sometimes, one magic island is enough.

Which scene 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.

New Works: Going for the Glow

08 June, 2022 3 comments Leave a comment

Watercolour paintings by Karen Richardson

Usually my realistic landscapes begin with a full sized pencil drawing of the entire scene, based on one or more reference photos, before I apply paint to paper.

The five northern lake scenes pictured here were created this spring with a different strategy that pushed me out of my comfort zone of colour and composition.

I began all of the paintings at the same time, using combinations of purple and gold paint mixtures.

Each artwork would have serendipitous focal areas of glowing light. The location of the glow would determine the placement of the scene's horizon.


Paintings in progress by Karen Richardson

After taping my watercolour paper to rigid supports, I brushed on clear water and applied a layer of rich colour on each piece of paper, allowing the colours to blend on the wet surface. This photo shows the first layer complete. I let the paintings dry overnight, then re-wet the surface and added more colour.

I continued to add one layer per day, building up more intense colour over the course of a week.

Working on wet paper is very unpredictable and risky, since paint moves freely on the moist surface and I never know how successful my attempts will be until all the layers have dried.

When luck is on my side, this process can result in beautiful glowing skies and lake reflections. If not, I can turn over the paper and try again on the other side. (Been there, done that, many times!)

Once the backgrounds were done, I continued work on the paintings one at a time over a six-week period, completing each artwork before proceeding to the next.


The largest piece became Nature's Gift, varnished watercolour on 14 x 11 inch panel.

The inspiration for the sky was a photo by a Facebook friend, Noreen Ebel Luce, of a sunset on Lake of the Woods. She gave me permission to use her photo (shown here) as a painting idea.

Photo by Noreen Ebel Luce

Once I was happy with my many-layered watercolour sky and lake, I invented a pine tree for the foreground (work in progress pictured below left).

Nature's Gift, watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson    Test compositions for Nature's Gift, by Karen Richardson


I saw that the composition was too heavy on the left side. I needed to either make the tree extend to the right, or add a second tree to the right of the first one. Since watercolour is a transparent medium, I knew I only had one shot at fixing this painting.

To help me decide which option would look better, I took a photo of the artwork in progress and printed out two copies on photocopy paper. Then I used coloured markers to 'test drive' my two ideas (pictured above right).

I liked the single large tree better, so I went with that option to complete the watercolour painting.

For more details about Nature's Gift, click here.


I decided to use the two-tree concept in my next painting, Sunset Duet, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10 inch panel.

This pair of windblown pines pays tribute to the many beautifully sculpted trees I have seen in the Georgian Bay region. These steadfast conifers have spent a lifetime together, adorning this rocky shore. Hand in hand, they sing a quiet farewell to the setting sun.

Sketch and reference photos for Sunset Duet, by Karen Richardson

I gathered several reference photos I had taken at Georgian Bay and sketched out an imaginary lake scene (shown here). With a few modifications, these morphed into a finished sunset painting.

Click here for more information about Sunset Duet.


Something about islands in a calm northern lake just draws me in. I want to hop in a canoe and get a closer look at the rocks and trees that have found a home there.

This idea resulted in the third painting of the series, Heaven on Earth, varnished watercolour on 10 x 10 inch panel

Searching through my reference archives, I found these three lake photos taken throughout northern Ontario.

Photos of northern Ontario by Karen Richardson

Using them as reference, I sketched a composite scene onto my watercolour background, inserting foreground rocks and canoe. Then I painted all the elements in subdued colours to give a feeling of dusky light to the scene.

Click here for more details about Heaven on Earth.


Dawn of a New Day, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8 inch panel, the fourth painting, was taken from my imagination.

Onto my watercolour background I sketched a simple, rocky island and a few trees, with their feet cloaked in a gentle mist.

I made the leafless tree sturdy enough to support a bald eagle, surveying his watery kingdom from a lofty perch. Soft reflections completed the painting.

Click here for more details about Dawn of a New Day.


One Last Look, varnished watercolour on 8 x 8 inch panel was the final painting in the series and the most technically difficult piece.

This scene is Pukaskwa National Park on Lake Superior near Marathon, ON. My husband and I spent a glorious week camping there last summer. Kayaking in Hattie Cove was a special memory of this trip. The surrounding rocky cliffs were so massive and impressive. I didn't want the day to end, and this painting commemorates this special place.

Pukaskwa National Park, photo by Karen Richardson

Pukaskwa National Park, photo by Karen Richardson

I used these reference photos from our visit, but I took them on a breezy day and my painting had calmer water.

This meant I had to create a whole new set of reflections, based on the physics of how light behaves. I studied a bunch of other reference photos of reflections on waves to understand the concept before completing my painting. I breathed a big sigh of relief when it was done successfully.

For more information about One Last Look, click here.

I hope you have enjoyed this look 'behind the scenes' of what goes on in my art studio. Determining layout concepts and painting approaches are key steps in creating meaningful, beautiful artwork that conveys authentic emotion.

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: Timeless Trees and Northern Lakes

25 April, 2022 1 comment Leave a comment

March was a quiet and intense time for me and I was able to finish five new paintings. I continue to express my admiration for northern lakes and forests in my artwork, inspired by past trips to Lake Superior and Lake of the Woods in northwestern Ontario.

Photo by Karen Richardson

Sometimes it takes a while for painting ideas to digest and mature, rather like fine wine. In the case of these first two paintings, the journey from inspiration to finished artwork took six years.

The story began in 2016, when I spotted this pine tree with its top lopped off by a wind storm.

At the time, we were travelling between Sioux Narrows and Kenora, near Lake of the Woods. Traffic had stopped on the highway, conveniently within view of this distinctive tree.

The white pine reminded me of a bonsai, carefully groomed into an artful shape. I knew its quirky branches would make a marvellous painting subject, so I took this quick snapshot from our truck.

Sketch by Karen Richardson That same month, we saw bald eagles quite often during our boat cruises on Lake of the Woods. The eagles would perch on tall trees, looking for their next meal. I managed to photograph this one way up in a dead pine tree.

Two years later, I used my reference photos to sketch the bonsai pine and bald eagle together. It made an exciting composition.

The tree has a wonderfully asymmetrical structure with flowing limbs, and the exposed branch at the top forms a perfect perch for the eagle.

Then life got in the way and four years passed. Finally, this year I created this small painting from my pencil concept.

The painting is titled The Warriors, (varnished watercolour on 8 x 8 inch panel).

The simple gradation in the sky from vivid to misty blue forms a suitable backdrop for the dark colours of the subject, while giving a sense of energy to the painting.

I was happy with the look of this watercolour study, so I decided to frame it as a finished artwork. Click here for more information about The Warriors.

Then I proceeded to create a larger interpretation of the same subject (four times the size of the first painting). I made the sky slightly more complex with some cloudy streaks running through it. I also added a few distant treetops to show how the white pine towers over the surrounding forest.

Thunderstruck, varnished watercolour on 16 x 16 inch panel, may have taken six years to come to fruition, but I still feel the same thrill looking at it as I did the first time I saw the battle-scarred white pine at Lake of the Woods. Click here for more information about Thunderstruck.


Early One Morning, varnished watercolour on 6 x 12 inch panel, was inspired by the old growth forest towering above the campground at Pukaskwa National Park on Lake Superior.

Pukaskwa Park trees, photos by Karen Richardson

I wanted a gentle, warm mood so I created soft mixtures of peach and bronze using primary colours (Sennelier Red, Magenta, Sennelier Yellow Deep, and Phthalo Blue). 

I used these two reference photos of tree tops I had taken in the Park one evening, and assembled them into an imaginary dawn scene. I love the romantic peace of this time and place. Click here for more information about Early One Morning.

The marvellous Pebble Beach in the town of Marathon on Lake Superior has inspired yet another painting.

This one is Superior Sunbathers, varnished watercolour on 20 x 16 inch panel.

This beach is composed of smooth round stones the size of citrus fruits - from limes to grapefruits. The colours are rich and varied, especially when the stones are wet, and many have interesting stripes or other markings.

Photo of Lake Superior by Karen RichardsonThe scene never looks the same twice, with wind and sunlight affecting the behaviour of the waves and the colours of water and rock.

A few years ago, we were lucky to visit the beach on a calm, sunny morning, and I took dozens of photos from many angles.

Sometimes I had to put my camera almost in the water, viewfinder out of sight, hoping to capture the low point of view I was after.  The photo pictured here is one of those lucky shots.

Stones are one of my favourite painting subjects and it was pure pleasure to depict the beautiful details of this extraordinary place. Stay tuned for more paintings of Pebble Beach.

Click here for more information about Superior Sunbathers.


On the subject of multiple interpretations of a given scene, here is my third painting of this northern lake with dock and red canoe.

This piece is Spirit of the North, varnished watercolour on 18 x 24 inch panel. The first two versions were painted earlier this winter and you can read their story here.

Photo by Pamela WestonThank you to Pamela Weston for permission to use her reference photo (shown here) in the creation of my artwork.

I love to paint scenes that convey an unfolding story, immerse us in the beauty of nature, create a sense of joyful anticipation, hint at a mystery, or capture a precious memory. This scene checks all those boxes.

Click here for more information about Spirit of the North.

Currently, I have five new paintings of northern lake sunsets in progress in my studio and look forward to introducing them to you next month. I call them my 'purple and gold' series...

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.