Desert Traveler

Sally is a desert traveler who is slowly waking up from months of hibernation. Her favorite food is Romaine lettuce and she loves fresh water. I love the colors of her shell and her warm personality. I tried to express both of these throughout the painting of this sweet little soul. It is very amazing to watch a tortoise eat because it is a relaxing sight. All of her movements are slow and calming which many people can learn from. When was the last time you went to a restaurant or prepared a meal at home and sat in a long conversation with a loved one? My husband and I try to do this daily. Whether it is breakfast or dinner, we always try to make the time to sit like Sally and enjoy each other’s company. Tortoises are great teachers as are all animals. I also tried to embrace her calm while painting all the tiny dots in her shell. 

Waking Up | Karen Hilliard Art | Tiny Paintings | 4x6

The funny thing about details in watercolor is the fact that when I make all these tiny dots, I also wash them away with one drop of water. This medium has always been a joyous experience because it changes just like the flow of a river. I can only plan a composition so much with watercolor because it always seems to take on a life of its own. I love watching Sally cross the yard in her own time. She reminds me of each painting I have ever done and how much patience they all take. Sally meets every challenge that comes her way and pushes through frustration like the little tank she has become. She is fearless! I also wanted to add light colors to this piece because she loves basking in the sun.

I chose to leave the background white and create a light shadow under her shell to show how bright the sun is here in the desert. The light illuminates everything and plays tricks on the mind with many mirages. I love how her little mouth is open and hoping for a huge bite of the lettuce even though she always makes a small incision. I hope her personality of warmth, love, and patience shines through on this painting. I also hope you all have a Sally in your life as a reminder to slow down, bask in the sunlight, and flow like a river through any obstacles. Thank you for reading and commenting on the last blog. Enjoy your weekend!

-Karen Hilliard

Getting Ideas Together

Daily sketching for the series “The Wonder of Trees” has brought my mind to new places. So many ideas are floating around inside my head for where I want to take this series and what I want my viewers to get out of the experience. Trees are wonderful in so many ways. I find myself focusing on the intricacies of the bark. The lines or striations that grow, adapt, and develop overtime are fascinating to me. Nature has so many rich and subtle colors and everyone sees these differently. I love using a brown and blue mixture of paint to get the dark shadows and let these hues dry for days or weeks. They are so rich and deep all on their own and stand out with such presence. These colors remind me of how I feel when out walking on a hike and staring up at these tall wonders.

There will be a variety of trees in this series. Not all will be tall wonders with their roots planted firmly in the ground outstretching for miles. Some trees will be wood curled upon itself, fallen from their mighty mountain tops, or simply bushes that have rolled their way into a new life. Finding random cactus, weeds, and bushes that have turned into a hard wood appearance is a great joy of mine. I also love how Joshua trees form a hard seed pod that could be used as a baby’s rattle with all the dried seeds inside. The outer appearance is wrinkled, lined, speckled, and amazing. I did a whole series on these pods under my Acrylic Paintings Tab if anyone would like to see what I am writing about.

What are some amazing hikes you have been on? Did you find anything fascinating while you were walking? I always love walking in the Redwood Forests of California. The coastal air or salt and sea is wonderful. The trees always make me feel cool and shaded from the sun in a form of protection. I love the ferns on the ground and the forest floor filled with debris from the trees above. Almost as if I am walking in a whole different world filled with possibilities. I would love to hear about your experiences, hiking or otherwise. Especially, how the journey made you feel or what it made you wonder about. Thank you for reading! Until next time…

-Karen Hilliard

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

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

Spring in Cornerstone Park

Spring is coming to Nevada! The weather patterns have been very different this year and are cool, warm, cool, hot, then cool again. The bees are trying to not be confused by the changes in the atmosphere. They are working very hard to pollinate the few flowers and blossoms they can find. Cornerstone Park in Henderson, Nevada is a very beautiful place to take a walk. Canada Geese roam the grassy center of the park with many other bird species. Continuously hunting for tiny morsels or whatever they can find. I went to this park to photograph my friend for a painting and was fascinated by all the life there.

We stumbled upon these gorgeous trees with brownish purple trunks and pink blossoms everywhere. The trees had some purple and red flowers in the blooms as well. As I was taking photos of my friend, I got a rare treat and a bee flew into the camera lens. I ended up taking many pictures of the blossoms for reference and was delighted at some of the close ups I took of the bees. Thankful this little buddy decided I was a friend. He went on about his merry way and continued to work as I took pictures to make him immortal. I used transparent yellow to really bring out his sunny disposition or how happy he made me feel on this wonderful day.

The flowers were on a beautiful flowering desert tree that I cannot place the name of. If any of you know what type of tree this is I would love an email so it can be named in this blog. You can contact me at or just click on the link. Here is a close up picture of the buds on the tree and the color of the bark. I decided to make them lighter in the painting and add the bright highlights seen in person. They were absolutely beautiful trees. I would appreciate the help in identifying them. The trees looked very young if that helps.

Thank you for reading and have a lovely Wednesday!

-Karen Hilliard

Mt. Charleston Watercolors

The Tiny Painting Series are a way for me to create small versions of what would be larger pieces so everyone can enjoy my work. My larger watercolor paintings take anywhere from 80-100+ hours to complete. Although painting larger is the most enjoyable for me, I chose to create smaller works using the same technique. I had a customer tell me she was so happy to be able to afford one of my originals and this made me smile. I will explain pricing in my next blog and the differences. Everyone being able to have a piece of my artwork in their home is a goal. I also like to have prints for this reason but do not print all my work so people who want only the original may have that happy feeling.

Number 2 and 3 in the Mt. Charleston Tiny Painting first Series took much longer than I had anticipated. Simultaneously working on larger works for juried competitions is quite challenging while trying to produce smaller works. Balancing time is vital between social media, conversations with buyers, and slowing it all down to paint. This is why I love painting small. It is an amazing release and nice to see a painting accomplished within two days instead of a month. The second painting is from the same photograph I used to create “Movement of Change,” an acrylic on canvas. I love the way the bark of the tree seems to be dancing and moves my imagination into many directions. The head of a cat appeared to me the first time I saw this tree and the paintings have taken on new life of their own. 


Number 3 in the series has the same effect on me. With this painting, I tried to focus on the contrast between light and dark. I see many creatures in this tiny space. I love the blues, browns, and subtle grays because they allow the yellow ochre to be illuminated. The focus is upon the light but my eye keeps being drawn back into the detail and texture of the dark. This is a very lovely painting that allowed my mind to wander through its many lines. While exploring with dots, lines, and dashes, I realized there are many tiny images that pull my viewpoint inward. I could look at this painting for many days and hope it goes to a really loving home. Thank you for reading, until next time!

-Karen Hilliard

California Coast #’s 3 and 4

I left off on Monday with the second painting in the series. The third tiny painting from the coast is a zoomed in version, or macro, of Number 2. I chose to take the portion of the bottom left and blow it up for an individual painting in this series. I was fascinated by the tiny plant hairs on the rocks in the tidepool portion of the painting and wanted to emphasize their beauty with color. Every brush stroke created tiny hair lines and layered texture. As I painted this, I could almost feel the softness of the algae on the rocks, smell the salt air, and feel the midst of the ocean touching my face. This painting brought me back to many happy times. I was very glad that Number 2 and 3 went to the same home to be enjoyed together for all time.

California Coast Series 1 #3 • Nature Watercolor Painting • Karen Hilliard Art
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Number 4 in the series is a farther away look, or micro, at the ocean and tide pool rocks. This painting is set at a different time of day when the sun is just starting to set and relax in the sky. I love the color in the clouds and tried to bring out the purples along with the blues of the sky. The reflection on the water, with the waves, was interesting to paint. I love that no matter how many times I look at the ocean, the waves always seem to break in different waves. New patterns are created with wind and water. Nature is such a powerful force and I could stare at what is created by the elements for a very long time. 

California Coast Series 1 #4 • Nature Watercolor Painting • Karen Hilliard Art

This series reminded me that I am not just fascinated by rocks and trees, but by the four elements altogether. Wind, Fire, and Water create the formations in the rocks (Earth) and trees that I am so fascinated with. I could stare at the trees blowing, ocean crashing, canyons forming, and fire burning for many hours and feel complete satisfaction. I hope my paintings move my viewers in such ways. My goal is to bring joy, conversation, and happy memories through my artwork. 

-Karen Hilliard