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!