By Betty Swanson © 2009 The Apache Junction-Gold Canyon News
Artists are different from you and me. Well, maybe not so different in what they feel, but in their ability to convey those feelings and impressions. The best art produced by talented artists moves the viewer to insights regarding the time or place or personality depicted.
Local artist Karen McLain is a third generation Arizonan who grew up with a strong connection to the outdoors and a deep appreciation of the landscape and ranching lifestyle. She is also an avid animal lover. Not surprisingly, the outdoors and animals (particularly horses and dogs) are the dominant subject matter in the beautiful oil paintings that she creates.
This summer has been a very special one for her. She recently returned from weeklong workshop in Robertson, Wyoming with Western artist Jim Norton who is a noted member of the Cowboy Artists of America.
Karen calls her experience in Wyoming studying with Norton a tremendous “growth experience,” and says that she will “never look at horses the same again” after learning so much about equine anatomy.
She relates that the group spent a lot of time outdoors, drawing and painting horses from life. This aspect of the course really resonated with Karen because she is a devotee of Plein Air painting, that is, paintings done outdoors from life, typically in one sitting. We’ve all seen artists standing at portable easels, working with pen or brush, totally intent on the vista before them, seemingly oblivious of all else.
As the light changes (Karen says that light changes every seven minutes) and/or the subject moves, she strives to catch those revealed dynamics in her paintings, so that she can “touch” her viewers and allow them “to feel the same extraordinary bond viewing the painting as I had while painting it.”
She pursues this “bond” relentlessly while working. That is the reason Karen much prefers painting any of the animal portraits that she commissions on site while interacting with the animal. She seeks to capture “the personality, spirit or essence” of the horse that is felt “in
an instant” as the result of observing “a flicked ear, a relaxed jaw, or a collection that passes before the camera is ready.”
While painting a horse from life, she said that she feels a connection and communication similar to what one feels when training or riding a horse. She feels that there is “a bond” between horsemanship and painting with many of the same principles –“harmony, feel, timing, rhythm, movement and balance” involved and reflected. I think that many of us who work with horses recognize that “connection” she describes, and I envy her the ability to pursue it and recreate it in a substantial form through use of a physical medium.
Sometimes, for fun, Karen says that she goes up to Goldfield Ghost Town with her easel and draws or paints horses tied to the hitching rail. When the Budweiser Clydesdales were in town she says she became “their groupie,” hanging around their stabling area with an easel, brush and canvas.
She admits this connection she describes is more difficult to capture when she is commissioned via her website (http://www.karenmclainstudio.com/) long distance to do an equine or canine portrait. In those cases, she paints from photos and/or videos, even asking the owner to relate anecdotes that reveal the animal’s personality.
An added bonus to her 1,888 miles of travel this summer was the opportunity, through a friend, to observe and photograph firsthand a herd of wild horses in Nevada. The memories, drawings and photographs she captured are providing inspiration as she develops them into larger works in her home studio this summer.
Karen can be found riding or spending quiet time with her horses and dogs when she is not working on her beautiful paintings. She knows she is a lucky person and says, “Seeing and expressing light and shadow, form and beauty in everyday life is a blessing.”