InformArt - Winter 2006
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Karen Vance Likes To 'Paint Big'


Sitting in a bay window at the National Arts Club in New York City, looking out at the late summer gardens in Gramercy Park, Karen Vance must have been thinking of the trees near her mountain home in Winter Park, Colorado, when she said, "Nature is big and I like to paint big. Nature envelops you when you're out there."

During her few days in New York as an exhibitor in the first annual show of the National Academy of Plein Air Painters, Vance rushed from museum to museum and event to event just like a veteran New Yorker, but her heart was in the mountains where nature envelops her. That's where she does her painting.

Slinging paint, painting big, that's fun, she says, with a dimpled smile that could light up a room. The Perfect Place For A Picnic is a big painting in two panels, both are eighty-six inches high and one is forty-two inches wide and the other is thirty-six. "I was sitting having coffee at our table and thought, 'Wouldn't it be neat to make a diptych in a screen form that could sit on the floor around the dining room table and cover up the winter outside? I could sit there with my coffee and be surrounded by spring, as if I weren't in winter at all.'''

The first step was to plan the frame's construction with her framer. The paintings she envisioned would create one scene across two hinged panels, but each painting could stand on its own artistically.

Although it was cold and snowy, Vance says the spring scene was clear in her mind. "I wanted it to feel like you were hiking through the mountains in the morning when the wildflowers are out... and the clouds are nestled in the valleys ... and there is mist all around ... and then, all of a sudden, the sun breaks through." Not only did the pair of paintings sell within a couple of weeks after being displayed at the Big Horn Gallery in Cody, Wyoming, but two people have commissioned diptychs. "One man," she says, "wants one around his bed like a headboard!"

Vance has accomplished so much plein-air painting in her mountain area, she is so skilled, and her memory is so good that she is able to bring a spring scene to life from the depths of winter. A more immediate example of her ability to hold an image was revealed when she was on her way to the Buffalo Bill Cody Historical Center Invitational Show in Cody last September. A quick draw was on the agenda. "Why we artists do that to ourselves, I don't know;' she grimaces. Yet, she does know. She admits to loving the challenge and the responsiveness. "I think the best times painting are when I'm in that response mode. I'm not thinking anything, I'm literally responding to the colors, shapes, values, and line.

"I had done a sketch out of my head of something I'd seen on my drive up to Cody," she explains. The quick draw allows the artists to use sketches or photographs, but the canvases have to be blank when they begin. "The aspen were turning and their backdrop was the evergreen trees. We were coming out of the mist of clouds in the morning, a very gray moment, and the sun was just coming out and hitting those aspen and they shone like amber. The rhythm of the aspen was not only in shape but color. The trunks aren't all white, they are green gray and pink-gray towards the tops. I was elated when I saw that," she continues, noting that painting the "colorful grays" she sees so often in the mountains excites and challenges her. "I almost didn't want to do a pre sketch because I didn't want to destroy the memory. But I did do one and I wrote down things to remember ... connect the darks, connect the lights, just reminders, because if you get stuck in a quick draw you don't have time to think it through. Quick draws are a challenge and the stress is enormous, but they make me grow as an artist."

Reprinted from InformArt Magazine, Winter 2006

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