Descanso Gardens Path – California Impressionist Landscape

Descanso Gardens Path
9.7 x 7.6 inches
Acrylic on paper

People often ask me what the word “Descanso” means. It comes from the Spanish verb, descansar meaning “to repose or rest”. So, Descanso Gardens suggests a place of rest and relaxation.

To counteract today’s politically and economically charged climate, I thought I’d paint something that you would find restful and energizing. A place of repose and calm. A place to recharge and restore your soul. My friend Ruth told me the other day that she likes the ‘paths of light’ that I put into my paintings. It made me happy that she noticed that because they are a prominent feature of many of my landscapes. So today’s painting features all the restful elements I can conjure up … a cared-for well-tended garden, a place of rest and a path of light, beckoning to brighter times ahead.

Pasadena Federal Court of Appeals Painting – Karen Winters

Pasadena Court of Appeals – former Vista Del Arroyo Hotel
11 x 14 acrylic

This stately building has become the federal court of appeals in Pasadena, California, but it was formerly the Vista Del Arroyo Hotel. I’ve painted it once before in my sketchbook, but this was an opportunity to portray it from a different angle and at a different time of day. In the distance the San Gabriel Mountains catch the late afternoon light. The foreground sycamores are starting to turn color, an early sign of fall.

Sierra Madre Art Fair this weekend


Come see me this weekend if you’re in the Pasadena area. I’ll be bringing more than 40 original oil paintings and watercolors, plus some prints and cards. The park is shady so don’t let the weather keep you away! If you love art you won’t want to miss this once a year event!

Spring Medley – Anza Borrego Desert Painting – Karen Winters

Spring Medley – 11 x 15 – mixed media

Here’s a painting that combines both watercolor and acrylic – one for its transparency, the other for its opacity – each used to its best advantage (in my opinion!)

It was inspired by a photo I took at the Anza Borrego State Park in N. San Diego County when we went there to look at the wildflower bloom several weeks ago (better make that months ago!) What attracted me to this scene was the contrast of textures – the hard rocks and the soft desert flowers, plus the contrast of shadows and bright sunlight.

Right now I’m in final preparations for the Sierra Madre show. All of the pictures (more than 35!) are in their frames, although I don’t think I have enough space in my booth to display them all at once – so I’m going to have to make some hard choices.

In addition I have a number of matted but unframed watercolors, like this one, which will be in a bin for people to look through.

Sycamores and Sand

Sycamores and Sand – 5 x 7 acrylic on canvas on board
Click for actual size painting

Colors are strongest at sunset and dawn. In this miniature painting of a winter sunrise, the dawn touches wildflowers and clinging sycamore leaves and makes them shimmer. The location is near Palm Springs in one of the canyons where water and plant life are abundant.

At a Lavender Farm – Karen Winters Daily Painting

“At a Lavender Farm”
5 x 7 mixed media (watercolor and acrylic)

We have some friends who live in northern California who own a lavender farm. The climate is perfect for growing this beautiful fragrant plant. The plants actually grow in more regular rows than this, but I sort of like the wild blowsy look.

Tumbling Down – Karen Winters daily painting

“Tumbling Down” – 10 x 14 – mixed media on watercolor paper (wc and acrylic)

Last night, after I decided to stop working on an oil painting (for the moment), I took out a watercolor pad and thought I’d experiment with some of what I heard Jerry Stitt talking about – painting what things are “doing” rather than literally what they look like. This was the result.

I started with big bold washes with a wide hake (goat hair?) brush, and then started layering with other watercolor washes. I dropped thick paint into wet areas and let it run. I used the edge of a flat brush to sculpt some of the rocks. Dry brush was added here and there for foliage. Most of the white of the waterfall was the reserved white of the paper.

After the watercolor was dry, I went back in with acrylic (both diluted and full strength) to add more crevices to the rocks and to add to the spray effect over dark rocks. Knowing that I was going to include acrylic, I didn’t use any masking.

I only vaguely used a reference photo as a starting point and to understand the flow of the cascade. Most of the rocks were made up as the paint did its own thing and I needed to respond to it. That’s something else that I found fascinating from Stitt’s demo – he did his paintings completely out of his head based on his response to a very quick gestural drawing and what the paint was doing on the paper. Stitt has been painting for so many years that his knowledge of land forms is vast, so in a sense he’s relying on an internal reference library and a near photographic memory. But what he says is true. At a certain point in a particular painting you need to make the painting work and forget trying to match a scene “out there” in reality. I observed the same ability with watercolorist Barbara Nechis who invented landscapes as she painted … again building upon years of experience as a painter and observer of nature. This is yet another reason to keep a sketchbook and draw nature wherever you go. By this simple act you are committing nature to memory.

Fortune Cookie – Karen Winters Daily Painting

“Fortune Cookie” – 5 x 7 – acrylic

This painting was done in response to a creative challenge to “draw or paint something wrapped in plastic.” Since we had Chinese food the other night, I still had this fortune cookie sitting around, so I decided to paint that. The problem is, I can’t read the fortune inside without opening the plastic and I think I might like to paint it again. So, it will sit on my desk enigmatically with the life-changing fortune and lucky lottery numbers safely sealed inside. I have a feeling that if and when I do finally tear it open it will say something like “this fortune is past its sell-by date and has expired.”

I was thinking a little bit about how I’d approach the painting of transparent plastic and I finally settled in with the realization that it’s no different than painting anything else … it all comes down to color, value, shape and edge. Simple concepts when you get right to it.

Keeping to my art resolutions, tonight I started a figure drawing class with a new teacher and what was the first thing he said about modeling the head? “You have to pay attention to value, shape and edge …(we were working in charcoal so color wasn’t a factor.) So there you go – three teachers out of three and they all concur … value, color, shape, edge – that’s how you render any object – no matter what the medium. So the next time you want to paint a lake or a cloud or a parsnip – you know the answer.

California in the Rain

California in the Rain – 9 x 12 – acrylic on canvas on board

It’s coming down in buckets – really big buckets. Which is a good thing for our thirsty land and I’ll just have to put up with the people who don’t know how to drive in it.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know how I love our California eucalyptuses, a gift from our friends in Oz. Well, eucalyptuses are absolutely ethereal looking in the rain. Those towering masses seem to slip into the fog and mist revealing their forms in different ways.

This painting was done with just a handful of colors – viridian, yellow, black, white and burnt sienna. Using fewer colors lets me concentrate more on value and composition.

Here’s a good quote I saw today that relates to color:

“One can define the shape of every object in nature by showing the precise color tones of everything that surrounds it. Nature is not to be rendered with the colors one buys from a merchant, but by accurately imitating its color in relation to space and to the light that illuminates it.” Jean Baptiste Chardin.

Arroyo Seco morning – Karen Winters Daily Painting

Arroyo Seco Morning – 8 x 10 acrylic on canvas on board

As I am still recovering from my cold, I decided I didn’t want to risk a setback painting in oil with mineral spirits so I painted this small study in acrylic. No smell, no muss, no fuss. I can hardly wait to give it a coat of varnish and see the colors glow.

Although I will never lose my passion for watercolor and oil, I have to say that acrylic is growing on me – especially when it’s cold outside and I can’t have my studio window open for ventilation. Colors mix the same and there is so much in common with both oil and watercolor that it feels quite comfortable to me. Plus, acrylic allows you to do things that are just impossible in either oil or watercolor. Because it dries almost immediately you can layer and glaze as the spirit moves you – no waiting a day to come back and do that. And if you glaze a light wash on a dry layer and don’t like the effect – wipe it off (You sure can’t do that in watercolor.) Paint thick or paint thin – use washes or heavy brushwork. It’s really an amazing medium. Scumble, use a palette knife, get painterly – acrylic lets you do it.

This is a scene in Hahamongna Park, which is the upper arroyo seco and lies between Pasadena and my town, La Canada Flintridge. Right now the willows have turned yellow and tomorrow during the rainstorm the arroyo will be full of rushing water coursing out of the San Gabriel Mountains. One of these days (when I’m feeling better) I want to go down there when it’s raining or right after and see the power of nature. Don’t worry, I won’t do anything stupid like trying to go out in a wild river – I’m happy to watch it from high up on the riverbank.