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

Alaska!

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
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“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
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“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
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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

Arch Rock, Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire in Nevada is a great place to go see wonderful colors of the Southwest. The sandstone is something to marvel at in this magical park. Sunrises and sunsets paint the sky with rich colors. I often take my camera and a sketchbook along with my hiking essentials. One of the spots to stop is called Arch Rock. This rock is slightly off the road and minutes from its trailhead. There are signs placed at the beginning of the trail asking visitors not to climb on the rocks. Some people still do to take their pictures which is really bad for the structure of the rock. I wanted to paint this amazing wonder so it could last forever throughout history. I hope it is still standing many years in the future so all who wander into this park may see it. Many photos were taken for this painting to be created. 

Arch Rock | Watercolor Nature | Original Watercolor | Karen Hilliard Art
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The photograph used as a reference had a boulder through the arch instead of the sky. I chose to use cerulean for the sky and created whimsical clouds to dance through the arch. Orange was used in the layering of rock to add blue’s complimentary color. The rock looks washed out by the direct sunlight above it. Sometimes in the desert the rocks appear white depending on the time of day. The shadow of the rock holds the deep color of sandstone that is amazing to look at. I love the reds, orange, and brown tones throughout this piece along with the subtle pinks I was able to include. If you are ever in Nevada, near Las Vegas, I recommend driving out to Valley of Fire. It is about 45 minutes outside the city and you will not be disappointed. You may even get to see the herd of desert bighorn sheep that live there. Nevada’s state animal! If you have been to this State Park, please send me a message about your hiking experience. Have a great Wednesday, and thank you for reading.

-Karen Hilliard

Fallen Trees in Red Rock

As we walked around in the desert and absorbed our surroundings we found some amazing sites. Mountains of sandstone, riverbeds filled with stones, and fallen trees looking of driftwood all over the paths. The bark was sculpted by the elements of time with wind and water. When I look for inspiration I find it among the trees. I am captivated by texture, lines, and holes of various shapes. Some of the movement is created by the elements and others by the decay of insects. Sometimes the image of the whole tree creates a picture in my mind and other times I see creatures in sections of the bark. I title my pieces when I am out in nature and everyone else sees something different than I do. My favorite part of life is that we all have our own perspective.

In the first picture here I see a bird with a beak looking to their left. I also see a scrunched up face of a human looking to their right. In the second photo I see so much texture I do not know where to start with the focus of the painting. The second photo is one that I could make several paintings out of just from the lines and pockets alone. What do you see in these photographs?

In these vertical photographs I see many images. The tree stump on the left looks like a creature with a large eye and wrinkled mouth. I also see a horn coming out of the creature’s head. The photograph on the right shows me a lizard, a snake, or a bird with a long neck. I follow the grains of the wood from the foreground up into the horizon line of the piece. I like the contrast of color between the trees and the rocks in both compositions. I am excited to see what my hand and paintbrush create with these. Stay tuned!

Moon Wizard” is an original painting. This watercolor measures 18″ x 24″ and is painted edge to edge. No prints were made. We found this tree on Dale’s Trail in Red Rock Canyon State Park. This trial is is off of the Pine Creek Trailhead and lies between Pine and Oak Creek.

-Karen Hilliard