Windswept – by Karen Winters

“Windswept” 18 x 24 oil on canvas

This new painting was finished just a few days ago, and will be in the show at Descanso Gardens, now just two days away. It’s my favorite painting, so far, for a few reasons. For one, it’s the largest oil painting I’ve attempted and probably represents the most dynamic design. The larger size meant using larger brushes and standing back farther. Although I did the block in part sitting down, all the finishing was done standing, which was a different experience for studio painting. I almost always stand when painting en plein air, but not in studio.

The best part was the inspiration for this piece. A month or so ago we visited our daughter in San Francisco where she was doing her summer internship between the two years of her MBA program. We went up to Mt. Tamalpais for the day and had great time wandering through a redwood grove. On the way back we got caught up in the traffic returning over the Golden Gate bridge, and our movement came to a standstill. When I’m a passenger in a car, I almost always have my camera at the ready, and this time, I happened to see a tree clinging to a cliffside we passed. The light was striking it in a particularly dramatic way and I was immediately started thinking of creative possibilities. (It was not a cloudy day – I made that part up.) So because we were frustrated and inconvenienced, this shot became a possibility. Speeding by at 60 mph, it wouldn’t have been.

This incident reminds me of the value of acceptance. Acceptance of things the way they are, rather than how we would like them to be. Possibilities are all around us if we are not fixated on achieving specific results.

For example, you run out of the color of paint you want as you are beginning a painting. Use a different color and see what happens. Water dribbles in the wrong place on your watercolor. Is it an error or a doorway to a new shape that you might not have tried? You leave your pencil sharpener at home and have to sharpen a tool with an exacto knife instead – creating a different sort of edge. I’ve heard stories of artists who suddenly develop an allergy to their medium of choice, and have to switch to another, leading to breakthroughs in their careers. These stories are abundant in art and other endeavors.

Have you had this happen to you? How did it change your art or, even more so, your life? How did acceptance of something unexpected or even unwelcome make a difference for you?


  1. Nancy
    September 12, 2007

    Karen you mastered the light in this so beautifully! The gracefullness of the cliff side really catches my eye and holds it. The lone tree at its peak yeilds a simplistic splendor. You added the clouds to the scene, and I’m certain that has added more drama to complete the scene!
    What an undertaking to paint so large! How many tubes of paint did you go through? Quite a different experience for you I’m sure! I don’t think I could even paint standing up! So you are to be congratulated just for that alone, but then to have it look this incredible, WOW!
    Thank goodness there was traffic that day!
    You wrote a marvelous narrative too. I agree with you. Sometimes we discover that good things can come out of unfortunate events, we just need to look for them.

  2. ronell
    September 12, 2007

    This is a beautiful painting Karen! And looking at it again after I read your writing, I do see acceptance in it….this is great work and I wish you well with this paintingl in the show!

  3. Wendee
    September 12, 2007

    Oooo! You’ve been busy, indeed! Can I say it again? Oooooooo.

    There are plenty of things that didn’t fit what I’d expected of course, that worked out okay, in art, in life. I fought and fought gouache class, the way it was taught. I picked up my old tubes of paint after almost 4 years, and just spattered paint around and enjoyed it for the first time. I had to embrace my inner messiness, in spite of all that very precise design engineering training and
    crisp rendering and drawing training. We fight the idea of impreciseness so much, but I find that the fuzziness is what I really seem to enjoy the most.

    And about accepting something unexpected, I recall thinking, one spring evening, “Oh. Is that my date? Wow, that’s a *REALLY* bright yellow shirt. Who the heck buys bright polos as bright as that? Ehhhhh…”. I caught lots of flack for dating the guy, who has a screaming bright yellow Mustang to go with the bright yellow polos, “OMG. And you call yourself a designer?”. Are you smiling, yet, Karen? The man turned out to have a heart as brightly gold, a wonderfully strong sense of art and color and balance, and a
    really comfy shoulder. I’m still a demure periwinkle and soft white gal, but I >HEART

  4. Wendee
    September 12, 2007

    What? the end got cut off!

    I >HEART

  5. Wendee
    September 12, 2007

    Oh, I see. Sorry.

    I *HEART* my bright yellow bear. Mmm :)

  6. Jana Bouc
    September 12, 2007

    I see why this is a favorite. I love the way you’ve highlighted that little tree just hanging on to the edge of the cliff in a bright sunbeam amidst the fog and clouds. Thanks for the reminder about the importance and value of acceptance and how it can lead to good things. I’ve found that to be true too.

  7. Linda T
    September 12, 2007

    Great story and a beautiful painting!

  8. Swan
    September 12, 2007

    How long will the show stay at Descanso Gardens? Just for the weekend or a little longer?

  9. Karen
    September 12, 2007

    It’s for a full month, Swan – September 14 to October 11.
    Are you in LA? If so I hope you can come!

  10. Karen
    September 12, 2007

    Thanks, everyone for your comments and stories, Ronell and Linda …
    Nancy, I didn’t really go through too many tubes of paint, but parts of several and it was sure fun using it.

    Wendee, yes I know your story exactly – and I agree, he’s a keeper!

    Jana, thanks for your observations as well. Sometimes it’s hard to see the opportunities when we are frustrated, but they’re there anyway.

  11. Swan
    September 12, 2007

    Yes, I’m in Pasadena. I hope I’ll make it. Your painting are so nice. They must be even greater in person :)

  12. wemdy
    September 12, 2007

    A tree clinging to a hillside. Good symbol. And I appreciate your explanations about accidental things that happen. I don’t use oil paints because the last time I did I got a rash. I once did a pic of a cliffside and clinging tree after a bushfire, but the picture is lost now.

  13. Mariana
    September 13, 2007

    What a gorgeous painting Karen, and great composition and clarity too, that cliffside is amazing.

  14. Kate (Cathy) Johnson
    September 15, 2007

    WOW. You nailed it–your impression, the distilled reality! It is just gorgeous…

  15. Linda
    September 15, 2007

    Karen, I can see why this is one of your favorites! There’s a combination of stillness — the light, the tree hanging — and dynamic movement, with the diagonal brushstrokes and the angle of the cliff. Just EXACTLY what a perfect landscape should be, I think! Your show is going to be spectacular. I wish I could be in California to see it. Please be sure to post lots of pictures!

  16. Sherie
    November 23, 2007

    Karen, this is just gorgeous. I can understand why it’s your favorite. I love the story and you’re right about acceptance. I did a year at PSU after high school while I was waiting to get into art school. My best friend from that year was a girl who had diabetes. We were both in the art program so we spent a lot of time together. After I had gone on to art school, we kept in touch and would visit each other. She ended up losing her site to diabetes induced glaucoma. First one eye, then the other about a year later. Not only did she completely lose her sight, she lost the eyes as well and had to get prosthetics. But, she never lost her bubbly personality or became bitter. She always had strong faith and I think that helped her cope. She was a painter. When she lost her site she turned her abilities to sculpture.

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