Sierra Storm – Sierra Nevada Oil Painting – California Landscape Painter Karen Winters

Sierra Storm
12 x 16 inches
Oil on linen panel

More Sierra Nevada paintings here

In the fall, storms begin to gather over the Sierra, offering dramatic lighting effects. This storm was breezing up and brought two days of downpour in its wake. We outran it and came back to paint another day. The sage and rabbit brush looked wonderful rimlit by the sun.

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Point Lobos – Monterey Peninsula

Pt. Lobos Rocks
9 x 12 acrylic on paper

We’ve been having a great time seeing some of the natural beauty of Northern California, and this is one of my recent studies from a few days ago at Point Lobos. I’m updating from the road so I don’t have quite as much time for blogging – there’s too much to see and do.

This scene is from Pt. Lobos State Park, on the Monterey Peninsula. It’s a breathtaking place and I could spend days there. We’ve also spent some time in Big Sur, San Francisco and around Paso Robles and the central coast.

I don’t have Photoshop with me on this computer so I can’t tweak the colors to get them exactly like the original, which is a bit frustrating. IPhoto does an ok job, but it doesn’t have the control I’m used to with PS.

Last night we went to see Wicked, a Christmas present from our kids. It was fantastic and I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. A great musical and one that will surely become a classic in American musical theater.

A plein air study – granite rock group

Sketchbook, rock study

From time to time I’ve mentioned that I keep an industrial-strength watercolor sketchbook with nature studies of trees, geology, animals (occasionally) and other features of the natural world. Because the focus of this blog has changed to reflect my evolution into a full-time painter, I have stopped posting those studies. But recently I’ve joined .a group of nature sketchers on a group blog, so I will be posting some of those studies here as well. And, of course, I’ll continue to post new paintings daily, or as often as I can.

This is a study of some granitic rocks in cool morning light. The gentle morning light made the gray rock look violet, which was a beautiful complement to the yellow green spring grass. I did this study to learn more about how rocks can have several types of shadows, depending upon whether there is a hard or soft edge. This sort of observation is very useful to a plein air painter, whether one works in an impressionist or realist style.

For those of you who get this blog in an email, you may notice that these sketchbook posts will have the words “nodp” at the bottom. That is a secret code that tells the Daily Painter software not to post these entries to because it’s not a painting for sale. So if you’re wondering what that phrase means, now you know.


Arroyo Seco Path – California watercolor sketch

Arroyo Seco Path
7″ x 5.5″ watercolor sketch

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One of the most frequent questions I get about my paintings is whether they are all done plein air style (no) and, if not, what I use for reference. Although I do use photos to catch specific details of trees and structures, especially when painting architecture, one of my most valuable tools is my sketchbook. Because my roots are in watercolor, I usually do plein air sketches using that medium. This is a quick way to get color notes and the general layout of a landscape subject without having to fuss with too much detail.

General color areas are indicated with a quick wash. The colors of the shadows can be added when those are dry (and outdoors, watercolor dries fast!)

Using watercolor as a plein air medium has a long history among 19th century painters, and noteworthy is John Constable. His field work formed the basis for his later oil paintings. Eugene Delacroix followed the same practice.

Watercolor painting has the benefit of being quick and portable, and it is a good way to capture the mood with few strokes. Although I love plein air oil painting and do it as often as I can, it’s not always easy to set up an easel. But a watercolor sketchbook can be opened and put to use in a few minutes. A portable watercolor palette, a spray bottle, a collapsible water bucket and a few brushes, some paper towels and I’m good to go. And I can carry a kit in the car so it’s handy at any opportunity.

Poppy Garden – sketchbook watercolor

“Poppy Garden” – approx 9 x 12 watercolor

Tuesday afternoon I had the opportunity to join my friend Wendee for some sketching and painting in a nearby garden that is filled with billows of California poppies. Do you detect a seasonal theme here? I didn’t have time for a big painting but I wanted to do a reference sketch that I could take home to use for a larger watercolor or oil painting. It contains just enough information to describe the scene without being too detailed. I can paint the smaller touches from memory. Or leave them out, as the case may be.

A Spring Walk – Karen Winters Daily Painting

A Spring Walk – 9 x 12 – watercolor sketch

This one is a little bit from real life, and a little bit from imagination. I embellished the wildflower strewn meadows just a tad beyond reality, but if you don’t tell, I won’t.

Ah, springtime. Our peach tree is in bloom, magnolias are covered with blossoms and the mustard is starting to blanket whole hillsides in a warm yellow glow. I’m looking forward to getting out and painting again soon, now that the rush to deliver paintings to shows is almost over. I have more deadlines ahead of me for other shows yet on the horizon, but there is a bit of a breather, at least.

And speaking of shows, the “Warm Welcome” watercolor of the Chevy Chase clubhouse garden and front door was purchased today, two days before the opening reception. I am very pleased and hope that the new owner enjoys it as much as I did painting it, although it will hang for the duration of the show. I hope this is a good omen for the rest of the show.

Someone asked me the other day if I felt stress painting to deadlines for shows and competitions. I thought for a moment and realized, yes, I feel stress, but it doesn’t feel like a negative pressure – just busy-ness. It causes me to focus and be deliberate about what I’m doing, but it’s not a bad feeling. Quite the contrary!

Did you know that there are actually two kinds of stress? One, the one we think of commonly, is actually distress. It makes us feel bad. The other kind of stress, associated with good things, is called “eustress.” Here’s a link, look it up! So when I’m painting to a deadline, I feel eustress and it actually energizes me. I think this is the kind of stress people refer to when they say “I do my best work under pressure.” Distress, on the other hand, tends to paralyze you and make you lose focus and confidence. That kind of stress makes you avoid the project instead of looking forward to the next one. So, as a long way of answering, I do feel stress, but it’s the kind that makes me want to jump out of bed in the morning and get to work, not to pull the covers over my head!

And since it’s past midnight right now, I think I’ll go pull the covers over my head and hopefully dream about walking down that spring path.

Peppertree Road – Karen Winters Daily Painting

Peppertree Road – watercolor sketch

Here’s another watercolor vignette from my sketchbook while I’m working on another large oil seascape. (To be posted as soon as it’s done.) My cold/flu bug is gone (at least enough) that I can contemplate painting in oils again, and so I am.

This little sketch was derived from color notes and photos I took on a trip to northern California. No matter what the season, peppertrees are evergreen here – always brightening the scene with their greens and yellows gleaming in the sun. I see them lining our highways and rural roads, gracefully nodding with every breeze. I love to paint them!

Here’s something I’d like you painters to think about: before you started painting did you look at trees and bushes, mountains and clouds in the same way that you do now? Do you find yourself drifting into a reverie when you see the sun coming out in a certain way and thinking … hmmm … is that sky blue cobalt or more toward cerulean? Do you paint with your eyes even when you’re away from your easel?

No Mail Today – Karen Winters Daily Painting

No Mail Today – 8 x 6.25 – watercolor sketch

I painted this little vignette this morning as a way to get some art practice no matter what the rest of the day would include (chores, an art association meeting and demo, car-shopping, housework, etc.) I’m very disciplined about making sure that I paint daily – and now I know why. At yesterday’s Watercolor West demo featuring Elaine Harvey (watercolorist) she said it’s essential to practice frequently because painting is not just an intellectual activity – it’s a physical activity. If you don’t paint for awhile she says, you lose some of your dexterity in brush handling, color mixing, just the way you move your hand and move paint around. I hadn’t really looked at it that way but I can see the wisdom in it and will continue making time for at least one painting or sketch a day – more if I can afford the time.

This little sketch is a bit of a fantasy based on a little picture I took last summer of a country road. It looks nothing like this in real life but it does capture a little bit of a peaceful, cheerful country feel, in a completely romanticized way. Every now and then it’s sort of fun to escape from the mud and muck of reality. Like, during the US election season, you know?

San Pasqual Stables – South Pasadena – Arroyo Seco

“San Pasqual Stables in the Morning” 9 x 12 – oil

This morning I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the San Pasqual Stables in South Pasadena, California for a group paintout. The location was challenging because I don’t frequently do architectural subjects, and morning light is hard to catch because it changes so fast. So, I decided that I was mostly concerned about getting the “color notes” right for the barn, shadow, distant trees and foreground. If I happened to get those spots of color into good shapes, all the better, but I kept my expectations low just in case.

I liked how this came out and do think it represents the feeling of hazy light between 9:30 and 10 in the morning. After that time I worked on refinement of the image rather than trying to “chase the sun” and continue modifying the shadows, color etc. That means that the “bones” of this were laid down in 20 minutes, more or less, and then as I changed shapes and edges I mixed more of the same colors that I already had.

It would have been nice if there had been some people and horses standing around outside the stables, but mostly they were inside or moving through the scene quickly and I didn’t fancy trying to fake one, so I left it alone.

There were two somewhat exciting incidents while I was there 1) a golden eagle was spotted in the vicinity, slowly gliding over the area near a few crows and 2) a big male stallion got loose and came running right near where I was standing, at the side of a corral. Now I don’t know about horses, but I think they usually have people with them – they’re not like dogs that you can just let loose to find their way home. I saw this big guy running toward me and I just froze at my easel, not wanting him to see me as threatening in any way. In a few seconds he turned and went into a corral. A groom came running after him but was clearly keeping his distance so he didn’t spook him. The groom chained the horse in the corral and then he and a few other wranglers approached him gingerly and got a halter on him to lead him back to the barn. That stallion had a lot of attitude – I’m glad he didn’t decide that I was someone to have “issues” with.

Road Trip

“Napa Purple House – sketchbook entry – 4″ x 6″ – watercolor and felt tip pen – orig. not for sale – print available

This weekend we made the trek to the SF Bay area to visit with our daughter before she heads back to business school in the fall. We had a great time brunching in the Marina district, visiting Mt. Tamalpais and hiking in the woods, dining on tapas, seeing some Shakespeare, more brunching in Napa and visiting a winery. I sketched and painted along the way, so here’s a quick page from my sketchbook, done at brunch on Sunday. Yes, this house really was painted bright purple with blue accents. It was across the street from a charming cafe, and I was fortunate to get a window seat to sketch this souvenir while chatting and munching.