Friday, December 20, 2013

Forgot something?

I have. I forgot to tell you that if you aren't local, you can still find a few of my new reproductions (the ones I mentioned in my last post) in my etsy shop.

"The Trickster." Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
Next year is going to bring about some interesting changes for me. The first one I am going to tell you about is that I am going to teach an online class!!! I have taught a few classes before, but I have never taught an online class. Fortunately, I will be helped greatly by my friend, Carla Sonheim and her husband Steve Sonheim. The class will probably take place in the spring. If you think you might be interested, you can email me. I will be writing more about it in the new year, so stay tuned for more details!

Have a great weekend, everyone! Thanks for reading, commenting, and all!

Thursday, December 19, 2013


There is a lot of waiting in life. At one time or another, we have all had to wait. Particularly this time of year. We wait in line at the store, the bank, the post office or the doctor's office. We are waiting for the holiday to begin, so we can take a break from our work. The children are waiting until they can open gifts under the tree. The adults are waiting until the new year to begin their diets, the fair weather folks (like me) are waiting for warmer weather. There is so much waiting! I remind myself to be in the present moment, and not jump ahead to some awaited event or moment. But of course, that is difficult sometimes! Isn't it?

The definition of waiting is: "The act of remaining inactive or stationary." Ah, that's the part that drives me crazy - remaining inactive or stationary. So, perhaps the solution to all the waiting is to find things to do: action to take while waiting. Thank goodness for the smart phone, that magical modern device that allows us to while away those moments of waiting in line by playing "Angry Birds", or checking in with Facebook, or whatever else you might use your smart phone for. I have to wonder if that is really the best use of my time. Even if I am waiting, can I spend the time waiting in line doing something else? Maybe I can smile at the person in line in front of me. (or behind me.) Have you ever tried smiling at a complete stranger while standing in line? I think 9 times out of 10 you get a smile in return, even if it's only halfhearted. I have also been known to strike up a conversation with strangers while standing in line. Anything is better than standing in the line, feeling resentful that we have to wait. Because EVERYONE has to wait. 

I am still working on cultivating patience. 

In other, studio related news, there is a lovely little blue building in Old Town Yucca Valley called Eclectica that now carries some of my small desert animal prints. These reproductions had their debut during the Art Tours in October, and were well received. What I have done is a little new - I am printing on canvas and mounting the prints to a cradled birch panel. They don't require a frame or a mat, and they are ready to hang on the wall or perch on your bookshelf. The best part is that they are all priced under $100! If you are looking for that last minute gift, and think you might want to buy one of these new prints, stop by and see them for yourself. Eclectica Home Goods 55818 Twentynine Palms Hwy., Yucca Valley, CA. 760-820-1119. Susan King is the owner, and you will love her!

Just in case I don't get a chance to post again before the holiday, I want to wish each one of you a very Merry Christmas!!! I am grateful you are out there, reading my posts and sending me comments and emails. May your holiday be a fabulous one!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Joshua Tree National Park Art Show & Faire

It was a busy weekend here in the desert. A brand new event in Twentynine Palms called the JTNP Art Show & Faire took place. It began with a juried show, located in the Twentynine Palms Art Gallery. The opening reception for that show was Friday night. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, there were events all day, including an outdoor art festival, music, and lectures. I set up a booth with my art as part of the outdoor art festival thanks to the help of my husband. (thanks, M!)

Here's a rundown of how it all went:
I set up my booth in the driveway on Friday to get everything looking just so. In the process, the wind blew my booth onto my car and one painting was punctured by the booth wall. A few four letter words may have accidentally slipped out, along with some tears. I had to take the walls down and start all over again in the garage. I did finally manage to get it set up, with the help of my husband (I am lost without him!) I took photos so I would know where I wanted each painting to be hung for the show. I had painted about ten new paintings specifically for this show.

Friday night at the opening reception, winners of cash prizes were announced. Amazingly, I won an award for my big coyote painting!!!! I was not expecting anything like that. It is quite a feeling to be standing among other artists I admire and hear MY NAME called. I think I may still be in shock. (but it's a happy shock)

The award winning coyote painting. "Confrontation." Oil on canvas, 35 x 40 inches. ©Karine Swenson2013
Saturday morning, we got up bright and early, drove two loaded vehicles out to the 29 Palms Inn, and spent about two hours setting up my booth. It was very windy in Joshua Tree when we left the house, but 29 Palms was calm, cold and lovely. Only two hours after setting up, the wind kicked in, and we had to tear the whole thing down. This was done while wind threatened to take the entire thing away, and we were graciously rescued by a group of friends who seemed to appear magically. (thanks, friends - you were like angels from heaven!)

A photo of my booth taken with my phone - sorry about the quality. 
Sunday morning dawned cold and calm, so we once again drove two loaded vehicles out to 29 Palms and set up the booth. It turned out to be a nice sunny day, but cold. The crowd was good, and we did make some nice sales. I managed to stay warm by wearing 5 layers of clothes. At 3 pm, we tore the booth down, loaded up the cars and drove home.

All in all, a great weekend filled with triumphs and challenges both. I am still a bit giddy about the award - it came with a significant cash prize. I have to say that it is rare for me to do well in a juried show. I rarely get accepted, never mind an award, so I was taken completely by surprise. When I think about the other art in the show, I must say I was up against some major talent!!! Astonishing.

The show catalog opened to the page with my winning painting, along with the certificate and tile presented to me.
I am grateful to everyone who braved the cold and came to the event out in 29 Palms over the weekend. I also want to thank the people who put the event together, especially the jurors and the judge (Rhonda Coleman) for the difficult task of choosing. I have been in your shoes before, and it can be difficult!

It was a great event, and I hope to be a part of it next year. If you are in the desert and find yourself with a little bit of time, I highly recommend driving to the 29 Palms Art Gallery to see the show. You will not regret it! Gallery Hours are Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 3 pm. The show will continue until December 29th. You can read more about it here (and see a photo with the overall winning painting and the prize winners.)

In other blog related news, I just want to thank all of you who wrote to me about my blog. Sometimes, all a person needs is a bit of encouragement, and I certainly got it from you. I am pretty sure that I will continue my blog, at least for another year.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Moving Ahead

"Moving Ahead." Security envelope, ink, acrylic and oil on canvas, 8 x 8 inches.© Karine Swenson 2013 

This is the time of year when I begin to look at my goals. I write goals every year, as a way to continue to grow and improve as an artist and as a human being. I like to review what I did in the past year, and begin to think about the new year, as it rapidly approaches.

If I complete five more paintings, before the end of December, I will have painted one hundred paintings this year!!!!
I also have a nearly full sketchbook, which was another thing I had really wanted to improve on this year.
"Draw more - fill one sketchbook." was how my goal was written. Pretty amazing, when you think about it. As far as being a better human being, one of my goals was "listen more, talk less." I think I may have to have this one burned onto my forehead. There's always next year, right?

How about you? Do you write goals? Do you find it helpful?

In thinking about next year, one of the topics I have been thinking about is this blog. I don't write as much as I used to. I am worried I have lost any readers through neglect!!! I have actually been thinking I may put an end to this blog, at least in its present form. If anyone is still reading, please feel free to chime in, here. I need to make a big decision! Should I:
a) quit my blog, once and for all?
b) begin with renewed vigor and exciting topics next year?

I have had this blog for six years. I have written five hundred and sixty two posts! (563, counting this one) That's a lot! Almost ninety people have subscribed to this blog (thank you, whoever you are!) But I find that I am spending more time in the studio these days, and less time with this blog. I have to wonder if it is finally time to do something else. Write a book? Write articles for other publications? Just paint??? ??? I don't know. I will be interested to hear what you, my readers, have to say about this dilemma.

"Spring Quail." Origami paper, acrylic and oil on canvas, 8 x 8 inches. ©2013

In other news, I am going to have a booth with my desert animal art this weekend in 29 Palms. From 10 to 4 pm on Saturday and 10 to 3 pm on Sunday (weather permitting) I will be outside on the "lawn" next to the 29 Palms Inn with many other wonderful artists. There is also an opening reception Friday night from 5 to 8 pm at the 29 Palms Art Gallery for the juried show. This is the first year for this event, and I am excited to be a part of it! For more information, click here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wax and Wane

The desert has its own version of fall

Ebb and flow. Wax and Wane. Whatever you want to call it, there are these cycles. Maddening for our culture of constant motion, I think. Our lives have become contests of bus"y"ness. "Sorry I haven't written or called, I've been so busy!" "Sorry, I can't make it tonight, I'm just too busy!" Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that we are not subject to the laws of nature. We are above it all. We are the mighty humans, after all. Oh yes. We can drink coffee, or exercise, or take B vitamins and never, ever get tired.

Yeah. Well, not me. I have been waning. Ebbing. Barely moving. My daily routine has become one of minimalism. And you know what? I'm okay with that.

Have you been able to see the moon these past few nights? It is the barest sliver of a thing.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Post Art Tours Post and the Pig

The Hwy 62 Art Tours have come to an end. Whew! Two fun, busy, art-filled weekends! I want to express my gratitude for each one of you who came to visit me during the tours! I enjoyed seeing everyone, meeting so many new people, and sharing my art with all of you. For those of you who took a piece of art home with you - from the bottom of my heart I thank you! You are the people who help me continue with my life as an artist, and I will never forget it.

I had a little giveaway during the second weekend of the Tours. I want to announce that we have a winner!!! The little giclee of my original painting called "Bacon" will be going to live with Karen Slocum. I have already emailed the winner with the news. A great big thank you to everyone who entered!!! It was a lot of fun. The original painting of "Bacon" sold over the weekend, too, which is also very exciting. I do have other giveaways from time to time here on the blog, so if you didn't win this time, stay tuned for future opportunities.
The giveaway.

The first wall you see upon entering our house.

A wall of new abstractions

If you live nearby and missed seeing my studio during the Art Tours, I do allow studio visits by appointment. Simply email me to arrange a time.

Thanks again, all of you wonderful people!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Take a walk with me

M and I went for a hike with a friend in Joshua Tree National Park last week. This fall season has been a little like spring in reverse. Rain, flowers, and now wind. With allergies to boot! We are seeing more flowers than we ever saw last spring, because of the monsoon rains. It's lovely! Let's all hope the government can get their act together and re-open the Park while people still have a chance to enjoy the flowers....and frogs.


Did I just type "frogs"? Why yes, I did. It's true, folks. We saw FROGS on our hike in the desert last week. I very nearly stepped on several, they were so abundant and well-camouflaged. According to my amphibian and reptile book, they are red spotted toads. Unexpected.

The desert floor is covered with yellow Chinchweed (pectis papposa), in addition to datura, amaranth, and a few others I don't know the names of yet. We've been seeing more desert tortoise tracks, but haven't seen a tortoise lately.

In other news, I have been accepted into this year's Joshua Tree National Park Art Show and Faire! This event will be December 7 & 8th. You can visit the website for more details.

The latest coyote painting:
"Winter Coat." Oil on canvas, 20 x 20 inches.  ©Karine Swenson 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013


It is also known as Western Jimson Weed, Thorn apple, and Indian Whiskey (because of the ritual intoxicating use by many tribes.) The Datura wrightii near Joshua Tree are in full bloom. Even though this member of the nightshade family is poisonous, it is fragrant and beautiful to look at. The plant is large, and strikingly green in our dusty desert landscape. The white flowers are large and trumpet shaped. It's hard to miss.

I decided to use the Datura as the background for my latest jackrabbit painting. This is quite possibly my grumpiest jackrabbit yet! Proof that even a jackrabbit can have a bad day.
"Jimson Weed Jack." Oil on Canvas, 30 x 24 inches.

I have also begun re-vamping my website. I would really appreciate it if you would click on this link and give me some feedback:
Do you like the changes I made? Is there anything I should do differently? Is there anything you do like about it? I can still change it, so if there are some suggestions, I am all ears, just like my jackrabbit paintings!

Happy Fall - can you believe it's here?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

More Desert Tortoise stuff

The monsoon season brought the desert some much needed rain the past few weeks. Now, the sun is shining, and the desert floor has sprouted a green fuzzy stubble. More green than we saw during the past spring. (and as I've already told you, the tortoises are out, enjoying what the rain has brought us.)

I have been enjoying not just seeing the tortoises, but also seeing evidence of them. For example, tortoise tracks, and tortoise burrows. These creatures just fascinate me!!!

So, I had begun a new jackrabbit painting, when I had this flash. And the next thing I knew, I had painted this:
(well, it was not as easy as I made it sound, since I worked hard on it. A departure for me, since I invented a good portion of the painting. I mean, how many photos of tortoise butt do you think I've taken, anyway? Many thanks to Katie, my niece, for the reference photos. And of course, credit to George, my nephew Liam's tortoise, for being a good model.)

"Ready, Set, Go." Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches. ©2013 Karine Swenson

Monday, September 9, 2013

Painting vs. Photography

"Old Timer." (desert tortoise) Oil on board, 16 x 20 inches. ©Karine Swenson2013 
This year, my focus in the studio has been to strengthen my understanding of light and shadow. It started with the Imagined Animals. I know you thought those were just for fun (and they were fun!), but I did have a purpose in mind when I painted them. I wanted to really study what light did when it hit the smooth surface of those little toys. What kinds of shadows were created? What kind of reflected light did I see? Can I use the light to make the flat painting have a three dimensional quality?

This focus on light and shadow has continued into my other paintings of animals. I have finally decided to start painting the backgrounds more like the natural setting in my reference photos, in order to understand the light and shadow even better. Of course, photographs can be limiting when it comes to light and shadow. I think it is important for an artist to work from life as well as from photos, because there are things the eye is capable of seeing that the camera is not capable of capturing. I have done a lot of drawing and painting from life, which I apply to my work even when using photos.

I often feel that photography has been used as a measure for how successful a painting is. I have heard people say, "That painting is amazing - it looks just like a photograph!" Do people really think it's that hard to make a painting look like a photograph? I am here to burst your bubble, if you feel that way. Here are a list of reasons why I don't think it's hard to make paintings look like photos:

1. A photograph doesn't EVER move. The light doesn't change, the model doesn't get tired, the animal doesn't hop away, etc. You can conceivably work on a painting from a photograph forever, and it will always look about the same.
(of course, one of the reasons why I use photographs as reference for my animal paintings is simply because they don't move. It's hard to get animals to hold still. My sketchbooks are full of quick drawings I have done from life of animals. Some of those drawings consist of only one line, and then the animal moved. Not enough information for a full painting, I'd say.)

2. Modern technology has made it relatively easy for an artist to replicate a photograph. Many portrait painters simply project the photographic image onto their painting surface and trace the image. It is a common practice among other "realists" as well. Artists can also use a grid to transfer the photographic image onto the painting surface, preventing major distortions. This is particularly helpful in blowing up a small image to a large painting surface.

Just so you know, I don't use either of these techniques. I have to do everything the hard way - I do all of my drawing free hand.

3. A photograph is already flat. The artist doesn't have to try to take a three dimensional object and create a flat image with it. That step has already been done by the camera.

4. When working from life, time becomes an issue. If one is outdoors, the light will change - almost constantly. If one is working from a model, the model moves. He (or she) becomes tired and the body shifts subtly. The model will often take breaks, and when he gets back into the pose, there are always differences.
These kinds of challenges don't exist when working from a photo.

5. When working out of one's imagination, the artist has to have a basic understanding of how things look in order to make a believable painting. This is so much more difficult than having it all right there in front of you like you would when working from a photo!! (In fact, this is my biggest area of weakness - I am not very skilled at working from my imagination. I need to practice.)

A short list, but one I hope you will consider the next time you find yourself feeling impressed that a painting looks "just like a photograph."

Even though I use photographs for reference when I paint, it is my hope that the paintings I create will transcend merely "looking like a photograph." I want it to be a painting - to have qualities a photo will never have - bold brush strokes, unexpected colors, texture, and a physical presence only a painting can have. I am seeking something beyond the photographic image, because I am ultimately a painter. Not a photographer. I don't know if I am attaining that goal, but I am striving for it.

You may think that I don't admire photographers. This simply isn't true. I have seen some amazing photography, and it isn't that easy to take a great photograph. I want to take great photographs and then use them to help me make even greater paintings.

I leave you with a photograph I took on a hike of a tortoise we saw that was only about 5 inches long:
cute as can be!!!
This tortoise was in the shade of a fallen long, so I probably won't be doing a painting of it. But I thought you would enjoy it!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog, all.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tortoise walk

The desert got some much needed rain last week. Well, not everyone got the rain, but near our house, we got two good, wet storms. Little green things are pushing up out of the soil and the rabbits finally have something to eat that I didn't plant. What a great relief!

On the walk this morning with Mr. Pono the fuzzy dog, we had a tortoise encounter!!! I am sure the tortoise came out to munch on some of those little green things. This tortoise had places to go, plants to eat.

I suppose if there were a desert creature I could most identify with, it would be the tortoise. When frightened or threatened, we retreat into our shells. Our insides are soft. We love to eat flowers and green things. We may be slow, but once we get going, yes, we do move. You don't see us out in the open too often, since we spend most of our lives hibernating....and we look prehistoric. ;) I'm not sure I could go a whole year without water, though, like the tortoise can. Such an impressive critter.

In other news, I am gearing up for the Hwy. 62 Art Tours, which is an open studio event for me. The last two weekends of October, you will be able to come and see all the new work that I have created this year. Or at least, all the new work that I haven't sold yet. I am happy to tell you that I am experiencing pretty consistent sales this year, and I am grateful for it. If any of you buyers are reading this, THANK YOU!!!!

If you want to see a short (3 minute) video of me talking about my work:

As ever, thank you for reading my blog!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Snail Mail

I love snail mail. A distant friend and I have recently begun sending each other REAL MAIL, rather than emails or phone calls. It is intensely satisfying to put a pen to paper and write to a dear friend. It is also exciting to look in the mailbox and find a letter. I think this may be my new hobby. I used to write letters all the time, and I have had many pen pals over the course of my life. It all got wiped away by the internet. Email. Skype. The dreaded Facebook. Maybe I am regressing. I don't care. Modern technology and instant gratification be damned. I'm reverting to the old fashioned notion that all good things take time.

The mailbox also yielded some other excitement today: a book!!!! Creative Photography Lab by my friend Steve Sonheim with Carla Sonheim. Some photos I took using my smartphone are featured on page 23. How cool is that? Well, I think it's pretty cool.

I met the talented photographer Steve Sonheim and his wife Carla in Salida, Colorado. Now they live in Seattle and I don't get to see them as often as I would like. This new book might interest you if you want to learn how to take more expressive photographs. There are 52 exercises in the book. I have only had a chance to skim over it, but so far what I have read is great. I can't wait to do more of these exercises! I am honored and flattered that I was included. Thanks Steve! You can see more of Steve Sonheim's work here.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Last week I had the good fortune to travel to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, to have a little getaway with my sister, my eldest niece Natalie, and her friend Grace. Girls only!!! We had fun. It was the first time I had ever been to that part of Mexico. So beautiful! So relaxing! So humid! I brought back some photos and a nice little heat rash. I didn't take that many photos, except for the ones I always take with my own eyes.

It was nice to see a familiar face - the desert iguana. Just like the ones in Joshua Tree!

Lots of pelicans


Even artists need a holiday, every now and then. The visual library in my head has now been refilled. Back to the studio!