Working in the Details

Detailing a painting takes many hours of preparation as well as time working on the actual piece. First, I go out hiking and find a subject I am drawn to, fascinated by, or something inspirational. Various photos are taken from several angles and then a field sketch may be created on site. Trying to capture the colors with a limited palette out in nature is quite challenging and also exciting at the same time. As I hike, I get many ideas and my mind wanders to different scenarios of composition for the painting. By the time I get home some ideas may have been forgotten, remembered, or something totally different happens to be created.

I choose to paint from home on my projects because each one takes several hours to complete. Whether the painting is small or large, I take great care to add as many details to a piece as possible. I enjoy pointillism and cross hatching techniques and apply these to individual works of art. I love the control that comes from taking my time and exuding a lot of patience. The paintings that are the most enjoyable have a combination of controlled techniques as well as watercolor play. I love the unexpected that comes in life and with watercolor. Using wet on wet techniques and allowing the water and paint to move together at its own pace is a true joy to watch. Each painting has something entirely different if one looks closely!

The newest painting in the Lake Mead Series has many different techniques used on such a small surface area. I am looking forward to hearing or reading feedback on what people notice in this painting. The subject was part of a bush that had curled around on itself. It then got whisked away into the wash and rock bed in the desert. I chose to use a macro technique and show one section of the wood completely zoomed in. I see many different images in this painting especially when I look at if from different angles. I wonder, what do you see?

Thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard

Hiking Around the Desert

Inspiration is all around us whether it comes from personal experiences with loved ones or beautiful images we see everyday. Most of my ideas are sparked, inspired, and illuminated when I am out in nature. Currently, I have the luxury of living in a desert and beauty is literally all around me. Some may say the desert is nothing as far as you can see, but I see shadows, creatures, plants, and so much possibility everywhere I look. Fascination intertwined with delicate and intricate lines. Striations in rock faces and features as well as the bark of trees whittled by wind and rain. The desert forever changes.

I currently have been working on a small works series about the Lake Mead Recreation area. This is a great place to wander and explore. I like the early mornings so my husband and I can watch the sunrise over the mountains. The dog also likes the cool air as opposed to the heat of the summer. Our favorite time to go is after a rainstorm. We love seeing how the desert changed topography overnight. The sandstone and limestone stand strong and sticks from trees appear in the sand. The gravel and sediments on the ground create new shapes, new hills, and new valleys. I love photographing these amazing sights and then painting them later when I have more time. 

Lake Mead Wash | Rock Paintings | Watercolor Painting | Karen Hilliard Art

When I am on site, I carry a small sketchbook and watercolor set. I backpack everything in and out and my husband plays with the dog while I paint. Or, he sits with me and just enjoys the scenery. The desert is a wonderful place to call home! Wandering around and finding beautiful rocks with many colors is always a great joy. Here is the first painting in the start of this series. I hope you enjoy the new works and thank you for reading.

-Karen Hilliard

Acrylic Paintings

In the recent Joshua Tree Series from Red Rock Canyon, I focused on the seed pods inside the palms of the tree. These structures fascinate me every time I am out walking in the desert. In the early spring the pods are a beautiful light green color and attract burros that love to eat them. In the middle of spring they turn into beautiful white flowers and attract pollinators. Pods that do not flower attract many small insects including lady bugs that eat the aphids. The fall season turns these wondrous creations into a hard sculpture with detailed texture. They appear to look like striations in wood.

For “Swoosh, Center Texture, and Front and Center,” I focused on the tip of the pod. I wanted to show the beautiful lines and variations of color looking from the top of the pod downward. The color yellow was chosen to represent the dryness of the husks of flowers left behind. The purple is used to show depth underneath the pod before the green palms of the tree can be seen. I love the way these seed pods look like sea creatures popping their head out or swimming towards something. These pods fill my mind with so much imagination. What do you see when you look at them?

-Karen Hilliard

Little Red Burro

My husband and I saw a little red burro with its mother while hiking in Middle Creek Canyon, Nevada. The sandstone background behind the animals created a bright orange color as the rising sun touched the mountains. The morning air was crisp and a cool 50 degrees. We were wearing knitted hats, thermals, jackets, and gloves. I had brought tea to share with my husband when we got to a rest spot. It was a magical kind of morning where everything felt perfect and peaceful. I did not bring my camera and was unable to capture the moment of the burros digitally. Years later, I decided to paint the memory and the sweet face of the baby burro. I added a Joshua Tree pod into the painting to show a food source of the burro and focused on the texture of the fur. The nose was quite enjoyable to paint. I tried to add the deep oranges and reds into the hairs of the burro that we saw in the hues of the sunlit mountains. The purple colors represent the cool air of the morning hike. A beautiful combination of warms and cools.

Little Red Burro | Original Acrylic Painting | Karen Hilliard Art

Our dog reacted quite calm and relaxed around the burros and just watched them. He sat and looked upon them with curiosity. The wild donkeys just frolicked and played in the desert. It was amazing to watch them enjoy their life with such a strong bond between mother and child. I love how burros roam together in their family herd and protect one another from danger. It was an amazing day of our family observing another family from the same animal kingdom and finding similarities between both. I was elated to recreate this memory on a canvas. The “Little Red Burro” was painted on a 12” x 12” wrapped canvas with 1/2″ stretcher bar. The painting is available on my website at I hope you enjoy it as much as I did painting this little burro. Please contact the artist with any questions via the contact page. Thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard

Backyard Painting

The morning was cool and crisp with a lovely wind blowing dust around on our hike. When we arrived home, the sunflowers in our garden decided to say hello. The wind started to dissipate and the clouds covered the sun. It was a wonderful morning in the desert. The kind where I could wear a hat and a hooded sweatshirt. My favorite kind of day. The flowers were so beautiful, our dog was so calm, my husband was making breakfast, and I chose to paint the flowers in our garden. The backyard is definitely a happy place. We had not had a backyard in several years since we lived closer to the city, and now we get to enjoy this marvelous place. Happiness can grow anywhere. Here are a few photographs from our tiny garden. 

The flower had just bloomed a few days prior and I had been wanting to paint it. The sunflower had been pollinated and the center was larger than the petals. I modified the flower in the painting to scale it down to the 5”x7” size I was working with. I added colors of Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Scarlet Lake, Lemon Yellow, including oranges, browns, blues, and violet hues. I wanted the center to appear to have substance and almost look furry to the touch. The petals needed to be bright and shadowed in certain areas. I wanted the stem to look fuzzy and one leaf to be displayed prominently. 

This was an amazing start to the day after a beautiful hike. I always love when the dog lays at my feet and is at peace in the presence of the painting process. I hope you all have a wonderful Saturday. Just wanted to share a great experience in the hopes it brings light to your day. Thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard

Burros of Red Rock Canyon

Wild donkeys, or burros, are a remarkable sight to see in their natural habitat. Sometimes aloof and distant, these creatures are one to marvel at. My husband, my parents, and I were fortunate to have the pleasure of 2 wonderful burros come up near us and say hello. We kept our distance and they stared at us with such curiosity. We did not move and then they began to frolic and play around in the desert. They were having fun running and bounding about. When they were finished, they turned around and ran back into the wilderness of the vast desert. We began to hike again full of smiles and a new conversation was sparked. It is very important to remember we are visitors in the wild and to respect all creatures’ natural habitats. I was lucky to get a photograph of the burros when they stopped for a moment as I stood still. I hope you have the pleasure one day of seeing a burro in the wild. Here is a painting I created from the photograph I took. 

My Home | Original Acrylic Painting | Karen Hilliard Art

I focused on the shadows in the face and the subtle light of the sun touching the hairs in the darkness. I loved painting the light side of the face and trying to convey the coolness of the day. Both warm and cool colors were used to replicate the feelings of the day. The sun was out and warming us while the cool chill was at 50 degrees so we were wearing hats and jackets. Sunglasses were a must as well due to the brightness of the afternoon. I tried to show the contrast of the weather in the color choices of the fur. Purples, browns, yellows, whites, blues, and greens were used for the decisions of hues. I also used a lot of white and cream to build light textures. The background went through many changes and I finally settled on a loose technique to make the burro more prominent. I wanted to show the sand and plants of the desert in a simple way with less detail. A touch of color to let the viewers imagination of cacti wander. This is an original acrylic painting and it is available on my website. It is also ON SALE until June 17th if anyone is interested. Thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard

Building Textures

Many mediums are fun as well as challenging to work with. Watercolors happen to be a favorite of mine for the intricate, slow, and patient details I can create. They are a way to escape into a different world for moments to hours a day and get lost in thought. Acrylic is a medium I tend to paint at a quicker pace only because of the drying time. Each medium is layered with texture, however, with acrylic I can build designs, hills, and valleys that can be touched or felt. Watercolor is different in the sense that I create the illusion of hills, valleys, and depth but they are flat to the touch. This new series on the in depth look at Red Rock Canyon’s plants, formations, and animals is being created with acrylic paint. The focus of each individual original painting is movement, color, texture, and transitions.

I chose to show close ups of the paintings and represent the texture being painted. All the paintings are taking multiple hours to create, drying time, and a build up of texture to entice the senses. I wanted these paintings to be interactive not only with the mind but for people who like to look closely at the canvas and see the layers. 10 paint brushes were used for each 12” x 12” painting. They are created on stretched canvas over a ½” Stretcher Bar. I decided to use the thinner canvases so people can frame them or hang them on their wall as is. These paintings were a joy to create and I am excited to write more about the individual works once I release them on my website. It is quite enjoyable to post sections of the paintings as I work while looking forward to showing you all the finished products soon!

-Karen Hilliard

Commissioned Portraits

Drawing memories for others and trying to capture a moment in time is an amazing experience. When I take commissions I always remember the photographs people choose are very important to them. Sometimes clients will give me 1-5 photographs to choose from and I try to use aspects of each photo to get the feeling of the subject. In each drawing I emphasize expressions, emotions, and the person’s requests for particulars. Drawing children has always been a favorite of mine because of their joy and laughter. Another preferred subject are pets due to their endless devotion, love, and compassion for their families. Everytime I am chosen to create these memories in a different form, I challenge myself to make the drawing unique. Separate from the photograph as its own beautiful art form. 

This portrait was especially fun for me because of the composition from the photograph. The children were already in a position of an embrace and brother sister bond was being displayed. I tried to capture the light and dark contrasts from a very subtle color spectrum. The gray scale on this pencil drawing was limited and yet lovely. I wanted to emphasize the idea of conversation, a game they may have been playing, or simply the joyous sounds that may have emitted in the room they shared. I wanted their parents to feel the lightness of the moment every time they looked upon this creation. Lastly, I focus on the client asking for the commission and their taste. I try to produce an experience in each piece of art I create. Thank you for reading and have a lovely weekend!

-Karen Hilliard

Painting for Charity

While spending time with kids one can see their innate nature of wanting to give. As a teacher, I always had students who drew me pictures and wanted me to hang them up in my classroom. Each year, we would have a wall dedicated to the students for a gallery behind my desk. Humans are givers and kind hearted from the time we are tiny children. Christmas is my favorite holiday because it is a season about giving and spending time with loved ones. Every year I make gifts from scratch because this small act of kindness is very important to me. Growing up into a professional artist has had its challenges. Financially, my art world became a business in order to support myself and then my family. Putting a price on something I love is probably the hardest part of this experience. The value of the work itself factors in cost of materials, amount of time, detail of subject, and experience of the medium. I try to balance out the feeling of cost and love of art by doing charity events and giving back to communities in need with my paintings whenever I can.  

Karen Hilliard Art Blog | Red Rock Canyon | Painting for Charity

The most recent event was with Prevail Farmers Market and the recipients were a local school called Joy Academy. They work on letting children explore education in a different environment,  and setting, by helping students be more involved in their learning paths. Students spend a majority of the day outside, working on art projects inside, connecting thought patterns to subjects, and forming deep connections with their understanding. This is a great organization and I was honored to be asked to paint something to raise money for the school funds. The presenter requested for me to create a landscape of Red Rock Canyon in watercolor style by using acrylic paint. I chose to set the mountains back and focus on the foreground. While at the event, however, amazing Jazz music was playing and the colors of the canyon came to life. The painting took on the feel of a bold acrylic with subtle watercolor wash techniques. The patron loved the piece and I was very pleased. Many people came up and talked to me while I was painting and it was an overall great experience. What a wonderful feeling it is to be able to help those in need by giving something so personal as an artistic creation. 

Thank you for reading.

-Karen Hilliard

Pencil Portraits

Drawing portraits of people is a favorite pastime of mine. As a child, I was always fascinated by the eyes of everyone. It still amazes me how an expression can be seen in the eyes. During Covid we all had to get creative with how we expressed our facial patterns to show mood due to wearing masks. I found comfort once again in the eyes and their ability to show someone’s soul. This is where I start on a painting for a single person. If there is more than one subject matter in the photograph I am requested to draw, then I start with the shapes of the face. I used to just go for it without blocking in the space, but with drawings I take a different approach. Since the medium is already in pencil, I see no reason to not draw shapes and get an idea of where everything will go compositionally. Yes, drawing one person in a space is far less challenging than adding more into the same space, however, I love challenges.

My beautiful neighbor commissioned me to draw this lovely picture of her and her grandmother. This woman means the world to my friend and I wanted to show the light of their spirits shining through the images. I focused on layering and leaving white to emphasize highlights. The hair is always a special treat for me because the tiny details enthrall my mind. I absolutely love the details of the hair and the shirts they are both wearing. Their smiles and lines in their expression were also very important to the feeling I was trying to represent. This drawing was meant to rekindle happy memories and spark joy anytime it is looked upon. The client was very pleased with this representation of her loved one. Always a joy to have amazing feedback of love from people I create portraits for.

The next portrait is of my niece and was supposed to be a reference piece for a larger painting I am creating. This drawing took on a life of its own and created a light in the subject. I love how the drawing changed the composition of the painting and how the drawing is its own entity. When I look at the drawing and the painting side by side I can see all the differences in each. No two artworks by me are the same no matter how similar they may look. I take great care in giving each original piece something special. The drawing of my niece is one of my favorites that I have ever created and it will stay in my private collection for all time. I do love black and white or grayscale drawings of people or animals. They are fun, and imagining the colors that may be there captivates my senses. Thank you for reading and have a great weekend! Please contact me if you are interested in a portrait.

-Karen Hilliard