MaryBeth Karaus is a fabulous still life painter. Her paintings are beautifully composed, excellently drawn, emotionally compelling, exquisitely harmonious in color, and sensitively executed. You can tell I am a fan.
I first came across Karaus’ work when I was asked to judge the Oil Painters of America Wet Painting Competition held last September. The annual event, part of OPA’s National Juried Exhibition, is always a popular event. Over a two day period during the national event, artists were invited to create paintings outdoors or in the studio, but only from life. Because of the virus situation, the Wet Paint Competition was expanded to include a Plein Air, Studio, and an Open Division. Plein Air, was for those works done entirely outside before the subject. Studio works were created from life in the studio. The Open Division was open to all international artists and non-OPA members. All paintings had to be completed totally from life without the use of photography. Artist’s were allowed to submit just one piece for judging. There were just over 200 entries to consider. I spent considerable time studying all the images, and the awards were presented via Zoom.
MaryBeth’s painting was entered in the Studio Division. The quality of her painting, “Roses are Pink” spoke loud and clear. There was no other option but to award her First Place.
I’m thankful she allowed me to interview her. She is articulate and a true professional. You’ll enjoy and be inspired by her words. (Click images to enlarge)
Tell us about your winning Oil Painters of America Wet Paint Competition painting, “Roses are Pink”? First and foremost, thank you John for this award! It means everything to me that “Roses Are Pink” struck an emotional chord with you. This is, after all, what we as artists are trying to do. We feel emotion about our subject; the wonder of its beauty, and our desire is to convey this to the viewer. This emotional connection is what was so exciting about winning a First Place award in the OPA Wet Paint competition. I was really looking forward to participating in this virtual event and to connect with others that were also painting during those two days through a live Facebook feed. Being able to gather with the other artists during the pandemic and hearing the awards live was so darn exciting! Most of all, my kids were really proud of me!
When setting up this still life, what was your thought process? I honestly hadn’t ventured out in months. Not even to the grocery store. I bravely went to my favorite florist and was inspired by the beauty of some really gorgeous roses. The competition was two days. The morning of the first day was arranging and rearranging the roses. This process can take quite a bit of time. I didn’t want to complicate the still life with other objects. I wanted to paint only the roses and create a strong composition focusing on the arrangement of light and dark masses. I was excited about having these beauties in the studio and wanted to really share this feeling through the painting.
How long did it take to paint; was it done in one sitting? This painting took two days from beginning the arrangement, to the sketch, then to the painting and finally photographing it to enter the competition.
What was your palette choice; do you always use the same palette of colors? I start very transparent with sap green, transparent oxide red, transparent oxide brown, and transparent gold ochre. I mass in the darks and thin this mixture out to get some mid-tones. This early painting is somewhat like painting in watercolor. I then start adding some color with permanent rose, permanent red, raw sienna, cadmium lemon, cadmium yellow medium, viridian, and cerulean blue. I try to wait until the final stages of the painting to add titanium white mixtures.
What typically is your process when painting still life? I work with two very different processes. The first is arranging various objects and painting from life. There is really nothing better than directly painting a flower, fruit, or vase directly from life. These paintings happen in two or more consecutive days. I do this as often as possible. My other process allows me to do some more complicated arrangements. I will have an array of objects and using my north light window, I may take fifty or so photographs. I arrange and rearrange all of the objects using different aspects of composition. After loading these photos onto my computer, I begin editing them to refine the compositions. I narrow the choice photos down to one or two of the best and paint from the photo. I usually paint the same flowers or fruit from life later, and can then do a better job using photos. With both processes, I start with a small pencil sketch so I can determine my focal point, values, and edges before I start to paint.
A painting can be an oasis of peace and give nourishment to the soul in an otherwise tumultuous and chaotic world.
How would you define your work? Traditionally painted still life with a contemporary edge.
Do you have some basic rules of composition you always adhere to? I usually make the focal point in one of the four quadrants of the painting or use the principles of the Golden Mean. I also have used Edgar Payne’s principles of composition following the S, X, O and “Steelyard.” I try to have an unequal balance of darks and lights. Variety is always the key for me. I like variety in brushstrokes, edges, and mass.
How do you decide on a painting’s focal point and what technique do you use to secure it? The focal point can be secured by using the darkest dark next to the lightest light, the most vibrant color or most dominant shape.
Your drawing is excellent; I find many students are unable to draw cylindrical objects (bottles, cups, saucers, vases, etc) effectively; what drawing advice do you have for them? I usually draw right onto the canvas with paint. I use my paint brush as a measuring device. Using the tip of the paintbrush and my thumb, I can measure that an object is twice as wide as it is tall or some other comparison measurement. I constantly use my brush to get the correct angle – moving it from the actual object to the painting. I also look at the negative spaces between the objects. Using these angles, I often draw most objects with straight lines.
Why have you chosen still life as the focus of your work? Honestly, this is what I love the most and is what has gotten the best response from my galleries.
What is your artistic background? My college degree is in Graphic Design and I worked in this field for about six years. After my two oldest children began pre-school, I began to spend some time painting in watercolor. I took a college class and pursued watercolor for about twelve years. I had several failed attempts to paint in oil as a result of not understanding how to use white paint. Then I was privileged to land in a workshop with Dan Gerhartz and I never turned back. For the last sixteen years I have studied with wonderful, giving teachers including Quang Ho, Scott Christensen, David Mueller, Daniel Keys and Kathleen Speranza.
Who have been the most important influences in your painting career and why? My Mom was an artist and we painted together from when I could first hold a brush until in her nineties when she could no longer hold a brush. My teachers have most influenced me, especially David Mueller with whom I was able to study for over a year and who has given me so much encouragement.
What’s your most important character quality? I love to take a tidbit of inspiration into a full-blown, complicated painting! I am easily inspired! I love to create multi-layered environments in my everyday life that engage all the senses, whether it be through cooking or music or wine or entertaining. I feel this is reflected in my painting by the dynamic compositions I tend to create. I strive to create a still life that isn’t too still.
How does your work reflect your personality? I will always be seeking more knowledge and striving to be a better painter. I don’t think I will ever be satisfied with what I know and will always want to know more. I think my work is also evolving and changing too. Each painting will hopefully reflect a little more understanding of painting, a more innovative composition or a more expressive brushstroke.
Please put these words in order: drawing, technique, composition, concept, color, values, framing. Concept, Composition, Values, Drawing, Color, Technique, Framing
What are the three most important artistic lessons you’ve learned as a professional? Here are some hard lessons I have learned: The first and most difficult is to try and take ego out of being an artist. It can get in the way of your important relationships with artist friends. It can dampen your creativity and stifle your growth. The second is that judging and being judged in a competition is only a matter of opinion. Submitting entries is really putting your heart and soul out there. Preparing oneself that it could go either way is a good idea. And lastly, I have learned that when doing a commission, it is always best to get something in writing. Try to get your photo, sketch, or preliminary painting approved before spending the time on a final painting.
What is the most difficult part of painting for you? This drives me crazy. Day one of painting flowers from life goes great! You are inspired and on your way to a masterpiece!! Day two… the flowers have drooped and your underpainting is sticky- not wet not dry. It is so frustrating! Then you have to rely on photos, and everything is different and next thing you know you have painted over all the good parts and lost the original inspired painting. This is the way it goes sometimes.
What do you hope to accomplish as an artist? I am constantly learning. I don’t think I will ever have it all figured out. Even though I may never be a master painter, I would like very much to produce a high quality body of work in order to have a museum show. I would also like to teach workshops without getting so nervous. I suppose this comes with more experience.
What value is there in entering art competitions? I do believe that the work is getting more and more outstanding in the top competitions. Just getting into some of these shows is really good validation for your work. If you need this validation then it is a good way to get your name out there and have your work seen. I try to have a thick skin but it is very hard sometimes.
What’s a typical workday look like? I start with getting my son off to school and drinking coffee. I try to get in any emails, phone calls, or chores before starting to paint in order to have a clear head. I usually take a break to walk my dog and grab a bite to eat. I paint until the very last minute if I am cooking dinner. Sometimes in the summer I can go and work in the studio after dinner until late when I have lost the light. Or in the winter I can work in the studio late in the evening if I am working from photos. But when I am getting tired, I can tell by the quality of my work and call it quits.
Any future goals? During the pandemic, I have painted more simple arrangements and mostly just flowers. It has been best for me to keep things uncomplicated during this time. I am hoping that I have used the time wisely to understand the structure of flowers and how to paint them so it feels like they are really in space. I want to use this understanding and paint large, more substantial contemporary pieces for a future show
To view more of MaryBeth’s work, click HERE.
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