Sketches and Studies

I have numerous photographs of nature waiting to become paintings. Over the years I have been on many hikes, camping trips, climbing trips, and visited many states in North America. Traveling is one of my greatest passions. I get inspired everywhere I go. While trying to decide what to paint next, I look through these various photographs and remember the feelings I want to express to my viewers. Sketches and studies get created and I work on design or composition. 

Karen Hilliard Art Blog Sketches and Studies

Sometimes a painting forms from a section of the photograph or sketch. Other times I use the entire image as a whole and focus on the main subject in the photo. Truthfully, even with sketching prior to painting, I never know how the painting will turn out. The colors take control and lead me where they want to go. They run into one another and create a beautiful image or detail I could not even foresee. This is when watercolor becomes joyous and unplanned. There is little to no control with watercolor and yet, I fall in love with all the tiny details that can be created. 

In this blog I am adding some photographs of field sketches, painted field studies, and a new tree root I am fascinated by. Yes, it may very well be my next painting. I look for color variations, such as warms, and cools. I focus on details and lines in the wood. I need to remember to write down ideas in my notebooks of what I am seeing at the time. So many photographs have been saved over the years and I would love to know what thought process I was feeling while out in nature. Do you ever have these moments when you try to flash back to a memory? Usually, I can remember the exact moment, but sometimes, a little help would be nice!

Thank you for reading.

-Karen Hilliard

The Wonder of Trees

One of my greatest passions is hiking among trees. I love the way they look, feel, smell, and sway in the wind. Standing under their massive beauty in a rain storm is also quite enjoyable. Their leaves and needles glisten with rain drops. The series I am focusing on now is the bark of trees. I am using macro and micro details to show images I find in their trunks. Oh the stories these creatures could tell if only they could talk to us. They have an amazing way of communicating with each other and the forest around them. I wish we could hear their language. In this series, I am trying to portray faces and creatures that I see in the lines or details of these giant wonders.

Each painting will be sketched out in my book beforehand to finalize the image I wish to show. I love how viewers see different impressions in my art than I intended. I love hearing and reading comments on these pieces because you all inspire me by showing me different perspectives of my own intentions. This has always fascinated me about painting, drawing, poetry, music, etc. The arts have a way of opening our mind and creativity to such amazing beauty. So please, send me messages, emails, or texts of what you see in the wood pieces that I will be creating throughout the journey of this series.

In this fallen tree from Mt. Charleston I see a pointed nose of maybe a witch or wizard. I wondered what this person was thinking and feeling. The colors of orange and dark brown/blue reminded me of Halloween and my mind drifted to watching the person doing spells. The painting also reminds me of wood nymphs, or dryads. I love how intrigued I get by being out in nature. I hope all of you have a place you can go that brings you immense joy and creativity. Even turning the home into a creative space is quite enjoyable. Let me know what you see in this painting if you get a moment in your day, or any of my paintings. I would love to know what you see! Thank you for reading.

-Karen Hilliard

What Inspires You?

I get inspired by multiple objects and subjects. One of my most interesting inspirations comes from hiking, camping, or climbing adventures. Another way I find inspiration throughout the day is reading comments from people who are interested in my artwork. This not only inspires me, but motivates me. Thank you for your continued support of my work, reading these blogs, and taking an interest in my art as I move forward into new creations.

Lately, I have been intrigued by early morning hikes in the desert. I love the way the light catches the rock formations and casts various shadows creating many images in my mind. Desert washes are fascinating because they are always changing with foot traffic, rain, wind, or any other natural element. The rock beds in the desert have cool and warm tones. My husband and I love wandering around and inspecting the type of rocks we come across. Sandstone and limestone are prevalent in the desert surrounding us. We often get excited when we find iron or gypsum lying around as well. These colors are challenging to try to capture with a camera, a quick watercolor sketch, and then finally a painting. I love the lines and striations in the wash and surrounding sandstone cliffs.

The reason I love the early morning is also because of the skies. Each day, every hike, the sky wakes up in a different way. I love trying to capture the rays of sunlight through the clouds and the fast changing pigments developing overhead. Our pictures rarely end up showing the glorious views we get to see. This is why I love painting so much. Art increases imagination and I use this in order to try and paint the feelings or emotions I had while witnessing such a breathtaking wonder. The color palette we see with our eyes as we look upon the sky is vastly different from the spectrum of colors captured by film. I hope your day brings you much inspiration and you are able to express it in an artistic way. Thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard


Happy New Year Everyone!! I hope your 2022 ended with excitement. I am looking forward to a wonderful new year with 2023 being filled with possibilities! Thank you for your continued support of my work as I move forward into new creations.

Soulful Wanderer• Watercolor Portrait • Karen Hilliard Art

“Soulful Wanderer” was created to capture an amazing vacation in Alaska. This original watercolor encompasses all the light and joy of the experiences shared. I was fortunate enough to have the exposure on my camera set in a slower action mode and it had an amazing effect on the movement. The original photo shows light illuminating behind the person and rays of colored lights pulling outward from his face. The photograph was taken at the Ice Show in Fairbanks, Alaska. When night fell, the ice sculptures were illuminated by different colored lights. My friend was walking among the sculptures taking pictures and I caught him in a moment of pure delight. He travels all over the world and brings joy everywhere he goes. My hope is that one day, this painting will bring wonder to whomever chooses it for their home.

Sled Dog

“Sled Dog” was painted from a photograph taken of a dog in Alaska. I met this wonderful dog while I was learning to mush in an open space outside Denali National Park. While painting, I decided to focus on the beautiful blue eyes filled with wonder and excitement. The most interesting observation I had about these dogs is how eager they all were to run and pull their person all over the frozen tundra. These dogs were just as excited as the mushers if not more. The negative space was fun to experiment with as I painted this watercolor. I loved pulling the blues of the eyes into the fur and combining darker shades of blue as well. The dog’s fur intrigued me with the dark shadows of the ears and eyes combined with subtle colors in the face. Mushing was an amazing opportunity and experience. I hope everyone who wants to try it can enjoy this activity someday.

The Fairbanks, Alaska Ice Show and Dog Mushing through the forest near Denali National Park are a must! I highly recommend both of these wonderful vacation destination experiences. Thank you for reading my blog and have a great January!

-Karen Hilliard

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