Open Studio Profile: Karen Olsen

Today you’ll be able to visit the 5 artists profiled at Mockingbirds at midnight. I do hope you’ll come let us delight you with our offerings!

The last artist interview for Silicon Valley Open Studios is with Karen Olsen. Karen paints beautiful landscapes in oil and watercolor, and her career in graphic design is evident in the strong designs and bold shapes she uses for her paintings.

Late Light at Grand Canyon Watercolor © 2014 Karen Olsen
Late Light at Grand Canyon
18″ x 24″ watercolor on Arches
© 2014 Karen Olsen

Describe your artistic journey
I was one of those kids who drew from the time I could hold a pencil, but my mother, who was very talented but had an unfortunate career path as an artist, encouraged me to pursue anything except art.  In my early twenties, I learned to paint in watercolor, and I dabbled in it between feedings of my newborn daughter, but still with little serious intent.  My life took an unexpected turn after that, and I was on my own, needing to make a living.  I eventually landed in the graphic design field, and for 25 years I have made my living in it.  Another life surprise recently brought me back to painting, and I now consider that I have a dual career as both designer and fine artist.

Where has art taken you in life?
I think my previous answer covers this…

Gnarled Tree at Canyon Rim Watercolor © 2014 Karen Olsen
Gnarled Tree at Canyon Rim
12″ x 16″ watercolor on Arches
© 2014 Karen Olsen

What do you think about when you begin painting?
First thought: “I wonder whether I can pull this one off??!!”

Yes, that’s sort of a joke.  But in a way it’s not at all.  Each blank sheet of paper or canvas is the beginning of a new adventure.  I may be trying a new brush, a new color, a new technique I want to experiment with, or a type of subject I haven’t done before.  Or maybe a subject I’ve done but want to see if I do better.  If it’s plein air, it’s new and unknown every single time!  Weather, changing light, curious onlookers, even bugs make for interesting challenges when painting outdoors.  So…to answer the question—I try to assess the environment I’m in and what I want to achieve, then try to figure out how to go about it.

Runner at Papohaku Beach, Molokai Oil © 2014 Karen Olsen
Runner at Papohaku Beach, Molokai
32″ x 40″ oil on canvas
© 2014 Karen Olsen

Tell me about one of your favorite paintings or drawings that you’ve made. Why is it your favorite?
Gee, I guess I’d have to select one of my Hawaiian or Grand Canyon subjects.  They are my favorites because of the joyful personal experiences that went into their creation, and which I hope are passed along through the eyes and into the hearts of the people who see them.

If you could ask one question of an artist you admire, who would it be, and what would you ask?
This isn’t an easy one.  I’ll let you pick…I can’t.  🙂

to Anders Zorn: “Your stunningly beautiful watercolor painting Sommarnöje (Summer pleasure) is so evocative, and so…well…Swedish!  It’s one of my favorites.  How long did it take you to make it?”

to Monet and friends I’d ask: “Hey, can I come out and paint with you guys one of these days?  I’ll bring a picnic…”

to Georgia O’Keeffe I probably wouldn’t ask anything.  I’d just tell her, “I could look at these paintings forever…except after a while, they make me DIZZY!”

and to Leonardo: “Who is that lady?”

You can see more of Karen’s work at

Karen Olsen will be exhibiting May 10-11 at 1471 Hollidale Court, Los Altos, CA 94024 and May 17-18 at  247 Velarde, Mountain View.