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Meet the Artist: Karen S. Garnett

Meet the Artist: Karen S. Garnett

Meet the Artist: Karen S. Garnett

Interview by Christiane M. Franke

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep”

–John Keats



Karen Garnett paints en plein air. “The majority of my landscape paintings are done out-of-doors and on-site so that I can see and absorb the small details that photographs fail to depict but that do so much to capture the sense of place,” Garnett says. This incorporation of the elements into the painting gives one a sense of magic: not only can you see the landscape as it was at the time of painting, but the very air of the day has gotten into the paint, an invisible guest. 

Garnett is one of the artists whose work is featured at Stems Floral and Interior Statements. Born in Texas, Garnett has traveled the world and lived in Greece and Germany, though she has long made California her home. She has worked as an archaeologist, a software engineer, and an art historian. Early this month, we were able to sit down with her and talk about her art, how it came to be and what it means to her. 


Where do you find inspiration?

I absolutely love painting along the coast, just going and being there and having the time to watch the waves while trying to paint them; watching the birds and the clouds and the sea and the light changing on it all–I just love that! The coast from Santa Cruz to Big Sur is close to home and so many beautiful vistas to paint! I am a member of the Monterey Bay Plein Air Painters Association; they have paint-outs, where we go paint on location as a group. It’s nice; you get to spend time with other artists and paint fantastic scenery together. 

Tell me about your favorite medium. 

My current medium is watercolor. For years I painted with a palette knife and oil, and I enjoyed that medium very much. However, it would take a month to dry: I’d have to set it outside and make sure it was protected from the elements. At some point I switched to acrylic and I did that for a number of years, but then in 2018 I had surgery and needed to lighten up my material load, so I decided that my medium would be watercolor, which had been my favorite medium a long time ago. But at that time, you had to mat your watercolor and put it under glass, and that I found too tedious; with oil you just frame it. So I used oil instead. Now I have a technique to stabilize the water color to make it still archival, but prevent it from being damaged on the surface. So I don’t have to put it under glass!

When is your favorite time of day to create?

When you’re plein air painting, you are more or less controlled by the sun. There are two times I like to paint: the first is from nine to noon, so the shadows are coming from one side. By noon the sun is overhead, so you lose your shadows, so if you continue to paint you’ll mess things up because your shadows have moved. The other time I love to paint–but it’s hard to paint– is before twilight, because the light changes so fast. It starts getting darker and you can’t see the color on your palette well. You can use a headlamp, but it’s very time sensitive. The evening light has a wonderful rosy glow–unless there’s a lot of fog on the coast; then there’s no rosy glow! But the rosy glow changes everything; it’s very comforting.

Do you have a network of other artists, and how do they support you?

I have two organizations–in the past there’ve been more, but at the moment I have two: Monterey Bay Plein Air Painters Association and the Valle del Sur Art Guild, which is a local art guild based in Morgan Hill. We have almost monthly meetings and we have paint-outs. Years ago, many of the artists had a co-op gallery in the Morgan Hill Downtown Mall [sadly demolished in 2016], but it’s no longer there. Many of those artists are still friends and we’re able to paint and exhibit together. 

How do you navigate the professional art industry?

At this point I consider myself retired from art marketing. I paint for my own enjoyment and I’m blessed that Diana at Stems enjoys my work and promotes it.