A Plein Air Artist Who Rocks It!


With roots in Framingham, Karen now lives in Watertown and enjoys the space and the community of her Waltham art studio.

Ink + paper + water + rocks + sunshine = joy

Working in paper conservation is where Karen first got excited about using Japanese paper, brushes and Sumi ink in her artist practice. Intentionally, she made her own way with the paper and ink before learning about the traditional methods. The special Japanese paper she uses is made with the inner bark of the Mulberry tree. I think it is interesting that though she is using a brush and ink, Karen calls her work drawings instead of paintings; this is an important distinction for her. The series she has been working on is all rocks! Drippy, alive, and well-loved rocks.

Karen’s plein air drawings capture the immediacy and unique energy that comes from “working outside in that place, on that day, in that moment.” The challenge for her creating large scale drawings through wind, heat, and humidity in New England is real — but Karen would not have it any other way. When I asked her if she ever takes photos of her rocks and works inside, she said “There is a different energy outside. It just doesn’t work for me to be inside.” Karen visits the same group of rocks at the Grist Mill in Sudbury to work. Maybe you have seen her there? She packs her car with large foam core to use as drawing boards, always stands while she draws and moves about the drawing quickly. She holds the board in any position that works, has the brushes in her other hand and her drippy rock drawings come alive without a preliminary pencil sketch or plan. Spontaneous, intuitive works of art.

Karen usually works on 6-8 drawings at a time. First she draws the lines that will be the basis for the different values to be added to give the rocks shape. She does this for all the sheets of paper she is working on and lays them out to dry. By the time she is done with all the line drawings, usually the first one is ready for the first layer of value to be added. Karen works this way adding layers until the painting is finished; and she is always confident when a work is done.

Back to the studio with the “duds”

Karen herself said the duds go into the studio and find new life. In fact, the piece that Karen won the award for the Emerging Artist for the 2023 Juried Exhibition was actually a result of drawings that she repurposed into new art. When adding blue ink, Karen is curious about the tide lines — the dark edges where the wet and dry ink meet. These tide lines can be really beautiful. The irony is not lost on Karen that she is looking to create tide lines for beauty in her own work, while this is something she fixes at her day job. After she has created the effects she is looking for, Karen folds the paper, draws, folds, and draws  until it feels done.

Serious attachment to landscape

Karen exclusively draws landscapes. Up until this point, mostly rocks. She loves being outside and seeing her subject in it’s raw three-dimensional form. In fact, there is a particular group of rocks in the stream at the Grist Mill that has been the source material for her rock paintings for some time. Karen declared that “It is important to me that the rocks are in the water, even though I do not paint the water.” Karen thrives on the energy — light, noise, rushing water. She works well with a time limit, often finding herself needing to finish by dark or rain.

Karen is just beginning a series of tree drawings; she got excited describing to me what she envisions. Using her usual large sheets of Japanese paper, there will be multiple pieces of paper with different parts of the same tree. And repeated again with different trees. The way Karen described it, I picture them hanging together overlapping on the same wall. Sounds magnificent — I can’t wait to see what evolves.

We’ll have to check in on Karen’s website to see.