"Santa Fe Leanings." Encaustic on Cradled Birch Panel, 18 x 18 inches. One of my recent encaustic abstractions.
I have always joked that I have creative ADHD. I paint wildlife in oil, but I also paint abstract encaustic paintings, and abstract oil paintings. I like to experiment with watercolor. I draw. I do like to work in a series, but I often have more than one series going on at any given time. Like a butterfly, I like to flit from one idea to another. (Sometimes even in the same day!) I never suffer from a shortage of ideas. A much bigger problem for me is being able to curate those ideas. Which ones are the most worthy of spending time on? Is it more important to make the work that is selling consistently, or should I focus on what brings the most joy and intellectual challenges? Friends have told me to paint what I want to paint. I do! I definitely do! But I don't always want to paint a rabbit, raven or roadrunner. Sometimes, I just want to paint - freeing myself completely from the representational world. I like to invent my own worlds sometimes. Sometimes, there is nothing I want more than to paint another jackrabbit. It varies, depending on the day.
I see value in staying with one subject matter and one medium. Mastery is best obtained when we focus in on a specific thing. I also believe that when we restrict ourselves and enforce boundaries, it is within those constraints that creativity really flourishes. This may seem counterintuitive, but there are so many decisions made throughout the course of one painting. When you can limit some of those decisions, you will do better work and the core idea can really evolve. Recognizing that, I also have found that when I allow myself creative detours with completely different work and even different mediums, I can return to my regular work (wildlife) with fresh eyes and enthusiasm. For me, the abstract work informs the representational work, and vice versa.
Working the way I do, I really have to spend a lot of time painting in order to complete full bodies of work in each genre. The time commitment is significant. Yet there is nothing more satisfying than being tired from work at the end of a long day in the studio. I need to paint - it is a balm for my soul and it helps me deal with the stresses of every day life in a crazy world. If I am unable to get into the studio for over a week, I start to suffer. I get cranky. I am saved by making art.
I often say to myself, "Karine, you need to just stay with this one thing, and abandon those other interests. Let go of encaustic. Let go of abstraction." But then I find myself thinking, "Gee, I'd really like to make jewelry and write a novel!" Crazy artist brain.
How about you? Do you allow yourself other creative outlets? What works best for you as an artist?
The War on Coyotes
A photo I took of a coyote near Joshua Tree National Park. ©2018 Karine Swenson.
This morning, we started out on our daily hike. Sometimes, we get in the car and drive to some public land near our house, but today we were both tired, so we decided to walk around our property. The dog found a mouse in the woodpile, and he was busy with that. My husband and I continued on. The path circles around our property, crossing over the arroyo twice. As we came down to the first crossing, I happened to look where the water forms puddles in the rock and to my surprise, a coyote was standing there. The coyotes here are shy - they are hunted - so it was a shock to see one so close. I quickly realized there was something wrong. This coyote was injured; missing one of its front legs. It had just happened, because as the creature tried to move away from us, it fell forward. It quickly got up again and again it fell. We did not want to cause further anxiety and suffering to the coyote, so we continued our hike and left it there.
The encounter was upsetting. I don't know, but I suspect a neighbor who owns the adjoining property is trapping the coyotes. Even though a law was recently passed in New Mexico outlawing traps on public lands, on private property there are no such restrictions. I suppose it also could have been hit by a car, but we are a mile from the paved road, and the way that coyote was moving, it seemed like a stretch that it could have gotten far. It's hard to say, and I don't think I will ever know what happened. We have watched as our neighbor put up a fence (with "no trespassing" signs) all the way around his property. A year or so after that, another fence went up. Then, a few weeks ago, we spotted a longhorn on the other side of fence #2. So it would stand to reason that anyone with a herd would be inclined to wage the war against coyotes. I hope I am wrong.
The coyote has been hunted, poisoned and trapped since Europeans came to the New World. Funded by the government, no less. Despite all of our efforts to rid the world of this creature, Wile E. Coyote has outsmarted us all. The coyote can be found in every major city in the US, and their territory has even expanded beyond the western prairies to the East Coast and up into Canada. There is even evidence that they are breeding with dogs and wolves. We did coyotes a favor when we eradicated the grey wolf in most places, since they are predators and competitors with coyotes. You can read more about it here.
Living in the Mojave desert gave me an opportunity to see and know these intelligent, adaptable animals in a way that has stayed with me. I love to hear their yipping. It makes me feel like I'm home. I think it's unfortunate that the only solution we see when we have conflict with nature is to eliminate it. I fear that one day, when we have finally killed off all the wild things, we will realize our error. By then it will be too late.
"Thirst." Oil, pencil and oil bar on cradled birch, 30 x 30 inches. ©2021 Karine M. Swenson
Reproductions vs. prints
I have always wondered why people don't take a little time when they buy art to understand what they are buying. Is it because art intimidates people? Is it because we don't know that much about it and are afraid to show our ignorance to people? I suppose I will never really know the reason. I can tell you that art is just like anything else - you do get what you pay for. I suggest that before you make a significant art purchase, you spend just a little bit of time doing research.
As a working artist, I offer both original works of art for sale as well as reproductions of my originals. I do make an effort to clearly mark the reproductions (copies) as such. I have no intentions of misleading people. I also make sure that my reproductions are called reproductions rather than prints. Why? Why does it matter? Well, a print is a totally different animal (please excuse the pun - it was too tempting) than a reproduction. A reproduction is a copy of an original work of art. Whether the original work of art is a painting, a photograph, a drawing or some other original, it can be reproduced by digital means. For example, I take a high quality photograph of one of my paintings and then use a high quality ink jet printer to produce copies of the painting. The resulting work of art is a reproduction.
A fine art print, on the other hand, usually refers to a work of art where the artist actually works on a matrix - like a wood block, a piece of linoleum, a stone, a metal plate, or a screen. That matrix essentially becomes the original work from which multiple images are printed. The artist is involved in each step of the printing process. The matrix can become worn as the prints are pulled, making the number of prints limited. An example of a fine art print maker is a friend of mine named Chad Nelson. You can see some of his beautiful work here.
Why do artists even bother with reproductions? Well, I guess I can't answer for any artist other than myself. The reason I make copies of my paintings is because my paintings take time, and the prices I need to charge in order to cover the cost of materials and the time it takes me to create the work prevents me from pricing my paintings as cheaply as they once were. Offering smaller, more affordable reproductions has allowed me to be able to sell my work to those who may not be able to afford a big original painting. I like it when people who love my work can find something they can actually afford to take home and enjoy.
From a collector's standpoint, if you can afford an original work by your favorite artist, you are always much better off buying an original than buying a reproduction. In terms of value, you are also better off buying a limited edition print (like a lithograph, a mezzotint, a woodcut or an intaglio) than a reproduction.
I hope this gives you a little better understanding of what these terms mean. If you do fancy a little reproduction of mine, you can find many of them in my etsy shop. Oh, and I do have a few smaller originals available for sale there, too. Thanks for taking a look!
More color studies
I have completed my 30 day challenge. I actually ended up doing closer to 50 of these, and I was joined by my friend and fellow artist Patricia Scarborough. Patty is a talented landscape painter, and her studies were amazing. You can see her work here. I am planning to turn many of these studies into larger oil paintings. I've already begun, in fact! This was a great challenge for me. I learned a lot. For one thing, I learned that art really is a practice. Some days are better than others, and with each day I practice, I improve. (at least, that is what I kept telling myself.) I also realized that when I am focused on larger paintings, I don't draw as much. The larger works take more time and energy.
In other news, I finally tackled the coyote painting that I posted progress shots of, several months ago. It took me a while to figure out what I was going to do to it, but I finally worked up the courage to jump in. I think it's finished now.
I have created a goal for myself of doing a study in color every day for 30 days. I got started a little after the new year, so now I have competed 22 little studies. I post daily on Instagram, and about every other day on Facebook, if you feel like following along. I have been joined by my friend and fellow artist, Patricia Scarborough. Patty is a talented landscape painter who lives in Nebraska. To see some of her wonderful art, click here.
Here are a few of the little studies, for those who aren't on social media. Of course, I urge you to follow along, either on Instagram or Facebook, and cheer me on. I'm nearly done, but since the fabulous Patricia Scarborough has agreed to join me, I will extend my studies to finish when she does. It's been a really good thing, to go into the studio and draw each day. I highly recommend it!
I am working with markers, which is completely new for me! Prismacolor and Copic markers. The Prismacolor markers have been in a box in my studio for years, and when we moved, I didn't want to part with them. So I told myself I was going to USE them. So I am! I wanted to use a medium that couldn't be erased, so I wouldn't spend too much time re-working them or trying to get the drawings just right. My goal is to work more quickly, have more fun with color, and learn how to let go of my perfectionist tendencies. (is that possible?) At the suggestion of my friend Patty, I have now started to set a timer, to see if I can keep them under 30 minutes. (so far, that hasn't happened, but the timer does force me to work more quickly.) Maybe some of these little studies will turn into larger paintings. Who knows? Which one is your favorite?
Work in Progress
It's not often that I post progress photos. (Most of the time, I forget to take photos!) So I thought you might enjoy seeing a few of the coyote I am currently working on. This canvas is 36 x 48 inches. I did the drawing in vine charcoal, and now I am painting in oil. Hope to finish soon!
It has been a true pleasure to experience a fall season with leaves. Living in the Mojave Desert for a decade meant living without this seasonal marker, so New Mexico has given us something we had almost (not quite) forgotten about. I am heavily influenced by my surroundings, and I expect the colors and shapes of New Mexico to begin appearing in my paintings. But it doesn't happen all at once. Usually, it's a slow process that unfolds over a period of months, perhaps years! I have always been a slow thinker, I suppose.
I have been working in encaustic, for the past month or so. I took two workshops with Ellen Koment, a gifted encaustic artist who lives close by. She has helped me with some of the finer points of transparency, as well as some basic practical skills related to studio set up. I am grateful to her for sharing her knowledge with me! So far, most of my encaustic paintings are small, but I am gradually working up in size as I get more comfortable with the medium. The three paintings below are all 7 x 5 inches. (Sorry for the quality of the photos, as I took these in a hurry with my phone.) Already, I can see the gold and orange in these three pieces.
My online class, "Intro to Realism" is now over as a live class. I enjoy having a chance to share some of my art knowledge with other artists. The students who took my class worked really hard and posted some fantastic work! The class is now available as a self study, along with the three other classes I have taught through Carla Sonheim. You can learn more about them by clicking here.
I hope you all have a happy fall! I'm going out to see and smell more leaves now!
New home, New Mexico
We have now been in New Mexico for nearly four months. Most of the boxes have been unpacked, and I am back in the studio. I have been preparing for my next online class which will be launched in October. The class will be the first in a series designed to teach techniques for realistic drawing and painting. I believe that drawing is a skill that can be learned, and the thing I will try to emphasize is to accept individuality and imperfection. If you can write your name, you can learn to draw. Since all of my other online classes have been geared towards abstraction, this will be a completely different class for me to teach. I am really looking forward to it!
We do not see as much wildlife here as we used to see in Joshua Tree. We do hear coyotes almost every day, but sightings are rare, and photos even rarer. I am beginning to think that most of the wildlife in Joshua Tree is half tame. (I do recall many desert people telling me how they fed the animals they had in their yards.) Maybe there's just more space without human beings here, making the wildlife more skittish. I am planning to visit Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge soon, and I have hopes that I will be able to replenish my library of wildlife images.
In other studio news, I have been working on making short videos of myself while painting. I am finding the technical challenges to be somewhat daunting, but I have managed a few short clips. If you want to see them, I've posted them on Instagram.
Packing is the pits
I am up to my armpits in boxes, tape and black sharpie markers. We are getting ready for our big move from Joshua Tree, CA to Santa Fe, NM!!! It seems like I will do almost anything to get out of packing for a little while. With a flower-filled spring in the desert, there are plenty of distractions. Ole and I walk in warm, sweet scented desert air. I have to stop every few feet and feast my eyes on the spectacle of color. Eventually, I must come back home, and put things in boxes. There are endless decisions: what to pack, what to get rid of, what to keep out in case you need it,... It is exhausting. I have been waking up at 4:30 each morning, thinking about the loose ends that need tying up, and trying to remember where I put that one thing I need today. Already, I have packed things, only to discover I really should have left them out. Ole helps, by taking things out of the box after I have put them in.
I had my big fire/moving sale of artwork a week and a half ago. It was a great success, and I am grateful that so many people came and so many people took a piece of art home with them. Thank you, to those of you who are reading this!!!! I still have a lot of art, and I have been packing it up, slowly but surely, since the sale.
I am supposed to be packing up my oil paints, but I can't seem to. I haven't been painting, but somehow, once the paint is packed, it will be official. I won't be able to paint until we get moved and unpacked in Santa Fe. Oh, but that's a long time to be without my beloved paints!!!! I did save out some watercolor and gouache, so it's not like I can't work at all. But the oil is my true love, don't you see?
It is a gradual process, saying good bye to this desert. I have felt so connected to this place. It has changed me. It has changed my art. I love it here! Every day, I go out for the morning walk, and think, "oh, I will miss these Joshua Trees. I will miss seeing lizard tracks in the sand. I will miss the warmth of the air, the boulders, the vistas...And the wildlife." I will miss these amazing desert creatures. I cry a little. Then, I remind myself that I am going to a new desert, and there will be plenty to fall in love with there. It helps, but I still need to say my farewell to this magical place.
The part that I have only begun, the part that will be the hardest, is that part where I have to say goodbye to all the people here. My friends, my fans, my collectors, my fellow artists,...this community is so special. I don't want to say good bye to my people. Maybe just a "see you soon," since I have already invited so many out to visit, and promised a return visit to Joshua Tree. See you soon. Much better. That is what I will say. But not yet. Not just yet.
I had visitors to the studio, and then the comment is made, "You are SO LUCKY to be an artist! I wish I could draw. It must be so much fun! Do you just sit down and paint?" Uh, .....well, no, actually. I don't just sit down and paint. There is a process, and it's much more involved than you might think.
For one thing, I didn't just pop out of the womb, knowing how to draw. I have worked hard, for many years - decades, in fact - developing my drawing and painting skills. I use my own photographs as reference. Before I even start to paint a new animal, I need to have images to work from. I hike for hours, every day, camera strapped around my neck, hoping to see some wildlife. I paint wild animals, so there's no guarantee I will see one while out hiking. Most of the time, I don't see much of anything at all out in the desert - a glimpse of some ears, disappearing behind a creosote. Maybe a bird of prey, quickly taking flight upon seeing me. It is always exciting and special to be able to photograph a wild animal out in their native habitat.
Once I have some photos, I get them on the computer where I can select a few of the best ones. I print those out. I then sit down and draw. And I draw. And I draw some more. I like to have a few different photos of an animal, so I can study it from different angle and in different poses. Not all of the photos become paintings, but most of them become drawings. The drawings are sometimes fast and loose. They are sometimes slow and studied. But I use the drawings as practice. I draw to begin to see and understand how my subject, whatever it may be, looks. I also like to read about the animal I am getting ready to paint. I like to do research on the internet, to find out what they eat, how they reproduce, and other characteristics that may help me understand them.
Once I begin to get a feeling for the animal, I may brave the blank painting surface. The surface isn't always commercially prepared. Sometimes, I prepare my own surfaces. I stretch the canvas. I then prime it - usually with at least three coats of primer. With canvas, I like to use an acrylic gesso. The primer prevents the fabric from soaking up all of the pigment. It also helps the painting last longer. With birch panels, I often use a clear gesso, so that the natural texture of the birch can still be seen. I like the color of the birch, too. Each coat of primer needs to dry before the next layer can be applied. I usually sand the final layer. Now, I have a painting surface. I stand when I paint. I don't sit. I have my own reasons for this, but that's how I work. I still am not ready to begin painting. The composition of the painting must be considered. Then, the initial drawing is started. I don't use a projector. I don't use a grid, except maybe every now and then to help me place the animal correctly on the surface. My drawings are all done free-hand, and I don't always get it right. Often, the drawing takes a while, and gets erased several times. When I think I may have the drawing where I want, then, and only then, do I begin to paint.
Once I have painted an animal a certain number of times, my preparation process is much shorter, and then I will often jump right to the painting surface without quite as much prep work. It isn't always this lengthy. Smaller paintings are treated a little more like quick studies, but larger paintings do take more preliminary steps. I find I have higher success rates if I take the time to go through these steps.
Having explained all of this to you, I will say that most of the time, I love what I do. And yeah, painting animals is fun! Just maybe not quite what you thought.
A few pages from my sketchbook.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.