Karen Mathison Schmidt
Containing the answers to way more questions about my art than you would probably ever think to ask.
I was born a long time ago in a land not so far away: Fort Worth, Texas.
I grew up and became a graphic designer and prepress artist in the before time, when we didn’t have personal computers or cell phones and if you wanted to be a successful “real artist” you had to move someplace like New York or Chicago or Paris.
Paris, France. Not Paris, Texas.
Fast forward 27 years: After thoroughly enjoying a career in typesetting, graphic design and illustration for a couple of local printing companies in Louisiana and then a paper distributor in California — during which time desktop publishing was invented and this new “internet” thing became, well, a thing — one day it dawned on me that, hey, now you didn’t have to lug your portfolio hither and yon to bring your art to the attention of someone in charge of putting it in a venue where you might be able to sell some of it. Now you could show your art to the world right from your very own studio, via your laptop. AND you could do it in your pajamas. Not that I ever would. But I could. So I decided to make the leap into painting full time, and see if I could make a go of it.
Fast forward another 12 years: I’m finally on the brink of being able to make a go of it. I’m a professional artist living on a 35-acre pine tree farm in the woodlands of northwest Louisiana. Over the last 12 years I’ve sold paintings and fine art prints to very friendly people throughout the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and Europe. I’m teaching small group workshops and loving it. Many thanks to all my collectors and students!
A follower of Christ, I’m married to a man who keeps me laughing and makes beautiful music on his guitar; I’m “Mom”-and-chief-wrangler of six dogs and concierge to six cats. That’s right, half a dozen of each, all of whom we love and all of whom continually provide me with inspiration enough for a lifetime of paintings. My daily goal is to glorify God in every aspect of my life, from the most mundane and necessary of chores to the work I enjoy the best, ever grateful for the opportunity to share the gifts I most graciously have been given.
I’ve been drawing, painting and making art my whole life; in addition to college art classes, I’ve learned from creative parents, from books, by studying the work and technique of other artists, and by painting, painting, painting.
I use the highest quality materials to ensure that my paintings and fine art prints are of a quality that will satisfy the most discerning collector. Constantly challenging myself to grow as an artist, I actively seek to improve my skills and techniques with the hope that my work will steadily move toward excellence. I love learning, teaching, writing and painting; I hope to keep doing all of those as long as I’m able!
Influence & Inspiration
I’ve always been drawn to the strong graphic style of the artists of the Golden Age of Illustration (1850’s - 1920’s), especially the work of Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Maxfield Parrish and others. As a graphic designer during the advent of desktop publishing, my use of illustration software (Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop) taught me to “think in layers,” and this experience, along with studying the color layering processes and techniques of some of these Golden Age artists, has been the basis for my own experimentation with the painting technique I now use to build up a picture in layers.
My landscape paintings are also greatly influenced by the work of the California Impressionists (circa turn-of-the-20th-century), particularly William Wendt, Franz Bischoff and a few others who were known for their bold brushwork, strong composition, use of intense color (esp. Bischoff) and skillful simplification of the landscape, along with a great personal reverence of nature.
I admire the work of many contemporary artists, too numerous to list them all, but among them Richard Schmid, Susan Sarback, Hongnian Zhang, Victoria Kalaichi, Colin Page. From studying their work and the work of others I have learned a great deal about the depiction of light and the harmonious, balanced and joyful use of color. I’ve tried to incorporate into my own work their methods of seeing color, choosing color, and determining a palette for each painting.
Out here in the rural area where we live there is a wildness of untamed, tangled and overgrown landscape juxtaposed with an attempt at orderliness carved out and maintained by the rural residents, farmers and ranchers. The result is that the neatly planned rows of cropland, the fairly well-used roads, the well-maintained pastures and gardens, no matter how well tended, have an air about them of being sometimes more than a little rough around the edges. I find great beauty and interest in those areas “between mischief and control” (from a song by Vonda Shepard).
My aim is to focus attention on the serenity and beauty that can be found even on the edge of seemingly chaotic wildness, and the light that will not be thwarted from breaking through even the most overgrown canopy, dense underbrush and tangled vines. I love the challenge of pulling a simple, strong and calming composition out of a landscape that at first glance may seem too busy, too randomly overgrown and too full of the distraction of detail; the challenge of sifting out the meaningless while keeping the essential and still ending up with a genuine sense of this place I love. I hope my art communicates my gratitude for the God-given blessings of peace, hope and joy, no matter what my outward circumstances.
Process & Technique
I paint both outdoors and in my studio, which is a room in our old farmhouse. Although I love to travel, as an artist I’m fascinated by and grateful for the seemingly endless visual inspiration I receive every day right where we live. I take my camera with me just about everywhere, including frequent morning and late afternoon walks in all kinds of weather out in the tree-studded pasture and through the woods which surround our home. And of course I’m always snapping photos of our dogs and cats making themselves at home in various cozy corners around the house.
Often when using a photo as reference (especially for a pet portrait) I combine elements of different photos into one composite, which I then use as reference for my painting. I like to start with a fairly detailed sketch as a springboard, usually simplifying as I go, and stopping frequently to assess which elements to keep and which to lose or “paint out.” There comes a certain point in the progression of almost every painting when I stop referring to the photo altogether and start ”working without a net,” continuing to completion making decisions from memory and imagination.
I start a painting by using acrylics for the underpainting, layering vivid, transparent glazes over another. After this underpainting is dry I continue with acrylic or I will switch to oils. As I add layers of more quiet and “realistic” color, both transparent and opaque, I try to keep my strokes nice and loose, to let that vivid underpainting show through in places, lending depth and liveliness to the finished piece. Sometimes I blot, scrape or wipe off paint to let the underlying layers show through in certain areas. As I approach the finish of a painting, I step back quite often to evaluate the whole, and at this stage I’m usually spending more time making decisions than actual brush strokes. And at the very end of the process, sometimes I coast to a stop, and sometimes I skid to a stop — I’m sure all you artists know what I mean!