Old Artist's Story - Karen Richardson

Beach Treasures by Karen Richardson (detail)

What is it about beach pebbles that draws us to search for the perfect one to take home? Why do we place beautiful stones around our homes and in our gardens? Is it merely a fascination with colour, pattern, and texture?  Or is it their ancientness that makes us curious about their story?

I have felt the magnetic pull of stone - from mountains to boulders to pebbles to grains of sand - from as far back as I can remember.

Having grown up near Algonquin Park in northern Ontario, surrounded by the terrain of the Canadian Shield, I am instinctively drawn to rock-filled wilderness scenery. The landscape of my childhood, characterized by extensive forests, with massive outcroppings of smooth bedrock, interspersed with hundreds of pristine lakes and rivers, was a region made famous by the paintings of the Group of Seven. I find harshly beautiful places such as these to be energizing as well as restorative. To date, over 400 of my paintings include stone in some form  - from exquisite pebbles to massive rock cliffs.

My husband John and I, married in 1977, enjoy active holidays spent exploring the North American continent. Whether traveling by RV, motorcycle, snowmobile, ATV, kayak, or on foot, I encounter limitless concepts for my artwork.

A pocket camera is a must for compact convenience, with frequent shots snapping up inspiration en route, and visually documenting cross-country excursions as they unfurl. An adventurous spirit steers us to mountains and prairies, tundra and desert, and dirt roads and snow trails. Our travels have taken us from coast to coast, with the Yukon and Northwest Territories, Newfoundland, the Gaspe, and the American Southwest being among our favourite targets for exploration.

Carved by the Yukon, watercolour by Karen Richardson


Closer to home, I have designed, constructed, and maintained the perennial gardens in all three homes in which we have lived, and often use my own flowers as references in paintings.

When I see something in Nature that is worthy of celebration, I want to capture that feeling of heartfelt awe and wonder in a painting. My artistic mission is to uplift, to share a moment of focused calm; in short - to make the world a happier place, one painting at a time.

Many of my collectors share the same feelings about my work, with responses such as, “I’m lucky enough to have a few pieces of your art throughout my home. They bring me a smile and quiet joy every time I look at them. It absolutely does ‘nurture my creative soul’ and when life throws in a curve ball, your paintings are a quiet oasis for me. Thank you for sharing your art!”

Island Retreat, watercolour by Karen Richardson

Another collector sent me a photo of my painting, hung in its new home, and confided “Here is a picture of your artwork of water lilies on my living room wall.  It reminds me of the lilies in my own backyard on Lake Scugog.  I get to see them every day and smile, summer or winter!  I just love it.”

For several decades, I protected my watercolour paintings in the traditional manner, with museum quality matting, glazing, and framing. In recent years, I have changed my presentation to a more contemporary look, taking advantage of advances in technology. I still paint on 300 lb. acid free 100% rag watercolour paper,  but now it is mounted on an archival panel with a UV- and moisture-resistant coating. The archival panel is then mounted in a simple wooden float frame.This new process protects the painting, yet allows it to be hung without the glare and weight of glass.

Killarney Afternoon Light, watercolour by Karen Richardson

Some people have asked if I have any artistic connections in my family. I recall my father's technical drawing ability, and my mother's strong organizational skills and attention to detail, all traits that now serve me well in my art career.

I was born in Montreal, Quebec, but my upbringing in the bucolic Ottawa Valley, east of Algonquin Park, nourished my innate bond with the outdoors. My parents built a house on the outskirts of the small village of Chalk River, and I merely had to cross the street to gain access to countless acres of wilderness forest.

Petawawa River, a few miles from Karen Richardson's childhood home

I have fond childhood memories of scrambling up erratics, those enormous boulders left behind by ancient glaciers; teaching myself to swim at a nearby lake; picking wild berries for Mom's pies; and climbing tall pine trees, clinging precariously to the tallest branch, just for the view.

Artistic intrigue was cultivated from a young age. As a child and teenager, I was consumed with drawing.  I was fortunate to have the benefit of a thorough arts and science education in high school, with many lessons taught at college level.  My art studies encompassed perspective drawing, life drawing, and painting in oils, acrylics, watercolour, and pastel.  Other lessons included art history, composition, colour theory, architectural design, furniture design, illustration, packaging design, collage, sculpture, printmaking, pottery and glazing, weaving, calligraphy, flower arranging, candle making, enameling, and batik.

Despite excelling in this sophisticated high school arts program, I did not envision a practical career path in that direction. Instead, I established careers in the dairy and electrical industries, and pursued my creative interests during evenings and weekends. At age 29, a chance night school watercolour class rekindled my love of that challenging medium, and I began showing and selling my paintings, and winning awards.

Karen Richardson exhibiting at the Buckhorn Fine Art Festival

The expertise I gained in my day job – such as computer skills, communications, inventory control, project management, and marketing – were put to good use in my professional art business. I honed my watercolour painting skills at various art classes as an adult learner, and eventually mastered my personal painting style, through a hybrid blending of learned techniques and self-directed experimentation. My major influencers were watercolour painters Jack Reid, Gordon MacKenzie, Arleta Pech and Birgit O'Connor.

With over 700 of my paintings acquired by collectors spanning 20 countries, and participation in over 100 solo and juried shows, my resulting regional, national, and international awards are equally impressive. I have been involved in many regional arts councils and studio tours over the years, volunteering on executive committees and organizing juried art shows.

After growing my art career for almost two decades, and with my husband about to retire, I left my day job in 2004, and created a new life. Now, taking advantage of a self-directed schedule, one third of each year is spent traveling and searching for new painting inspiration. My painting studio is in the lower level of my home, overlooking peaceful farmland in Lindsay, Ontario, near Toronto.

Students in a Karen Richardson watercolour class

At the invitation of a local public art gallery, I began teaching watercolour workshops in 2006. I find that breaking down the creative process into 'teachable bites' is very helpful to my students, and also aids in my own artistic development, questioning each step in the formation of a painting.

My students applauded this approach and encouraged me to capture my strategies and advice in book form. This resulted in the 2013 publication of Watercolour Toolbox: Essentials for Painting Success. This how-to book, illustrated with 40 of my paintings, went on to win several international awards.

This 30-second video sums it up:

I have been heard to say, jokingly, that I became an artist by accident, then an art instructor by accident, and then an author by accident. But if I really think about it, maybe I always was destined for this artistic path. Looking back and looking forward, the journey feels absolutely authentic to me.

I invite you to explore my online studio and gallery from the menu at the top of this page. Feel free to join my Studio News group below if you would like to 'come along' on my personal and artistic journey.

I hope you enjoy your visit and I look forward to hearing from you.