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Karen has been commissioned to sculpt Saint Francis and Saint Clare. 

Holy Family Video

Click here to see Karen discuss the symbolism behind "Holy Family"

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Thoughts from Outside the Studio

Anyone who has sought to establish themselves as a professional artist knows how consuming that endeavor can be. But often other callings and responsibilities require our time and attention and we are pulled away from the artwork.

I am leaving this week to spend several days assisting my parents. I used to see time away from the studio, even for important reasons like this, as “time off” from being creative. But I’ve learned that my creative process depends on the richness, the challenges, and the beauty of my life outside of the studio.

How can we continue to develop as artists and to feed our creative imaginations no matter where we are? Here are some ideas:

Take a drawing pad and pencils everywhere you go.
Sometimes the quickest sketches are the most powerful. Even taking fifteen minutes in the day to sit and draw will keep your creative mind energized and remind you to really see what is around you.

Take photos.
With smart phones and tablets, photos are so easy to take, organize, and share. I have developed the habit of taking photos of artwork, poses, or gestures that grab my attention and keeping these in a separate folder. Some photos I’ve printed and hung on my studio walls for inspiration.

Be attentive and reflective.
It is my desire to express universal themes in my artwork, but this requires an attentive spirit and the practice of contemplation. I have found that journalling helps me to slow down and reflect.

Research and study.
With the internet being as portable as it is, we are able to do a great deal of research on the go. Find moments as you travel, wait in line at the doctor’s office, or quiet moments in the day to look at articles and artwork related to projects you have in the works or to study areas of interest.

Rest and recharge.
Time between projects can also be a chance to give our creative muscles (and physical muscles!) a break. You may find that time away from a work in progress can recharge your enthusiasm for that idea and you’ll approach it with fresh eyes when you return.


Reflections on Installing Holy Family

As I sat in the Works of Mercy Chapel at St. Thomas More Catholic Church and looked out the window at my Holy Family sculpture, I could hardly believe it was finished. Since February, this commission has been my primary focus in the studio. It was a very challenging sculpture for many reasons, but at this point, I was overwhelmed with joy, so grateful that I get to sculpt, and that I had the privilege of creating a sculpture about something that means so much to me. I was pleased by the way it fit into that space and how the color of the patina worked with the beautiful stained glass window behind it. I was delighted to meet some of the people at the parish. I'm thankful for my friends and family who encouraged me and prayed for me, and so grateful to God.

I learned a great deal this year and overcame a number of challenges to create this piece.

The Physical Challenge
A sculpture this large requires hundreds of pounds of clay, and I had to adapt to that physical reality. I designed and built sculpting tables which I elevated with a hydraulic lift, to keep the sculpture at a comfortable height and to allow me to move the pieces around the studio. Especially difficult was softening the pounds of clay and applying it–handful by handful–to the figures.

The Gestures of the Figures
This sculpture involves three figures in relationship to one another, and this presented a real challenge in terms of designing an adequate armature (the inner aluminum and steel).

Enlarging the Scale
Even though I mathematically enlarged the sculpture from an 18" maquette (model),  I had to approach the larger version as a new sculpture. For example, the degree of detail that works at 18 inches may not work at 54 inches.

The Foundry Process
The casting process was more difficult in a larger scale, especially with the minimal form and complex texture of this sculpture. The American Fine Arts Foundry had to develop a new combination of bronze chasing techniques in order to match the texture at the welding seams, and they created a custom patina for me.

Remote Installation
While the installation location is often a far distance from the foundry, some of the decisions regarding the positioning of the figures couldn’t be made without seeing the sculpture in the actual space. Only in the final hours was the final vision for this sculpture finally realized.

In spite of these great challenges, the project came to a beautiful conclusion. I see a Master Designer overseeing this journey and bringing a meaningful work of art to life.

Reflections on Finishing a Sculpture

How does it feel to be done? I won't really feel done until the installation is complete. But at this point I feel a little like a parent whose son or daughter is driving across the country to college–a little nervous about the drive, sad to see her leave, and excited about her future. Like raising children, we parents have a profound impact on shaping their character, but when they become adults we must release them to fulfill their calling. So it is with our art: we mold and shape the clay, imbuing it with meaning, and then must release it to the world to fulfill it's purpose.

My prayer is that this sculpture will lead people to contemplate the mysteries of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection symbolized in this sculpture.  Gregory Wolfe said it so well in "Beauty Will Save the World": "...culture and art can become analogues for the Incarnation. In particular, art is like a sacrament. A union of form and content, the inherence of divine meaning in the crafted materials of this earth." I'm humbled to be able to participate in the creation of something that becomes a vehicle for God's grace.

The "Holy Family" was crated on Monday, November 5, and picked up at the foundry in Burbank, California to make the long journey to Paducah, Kentucky, where it will be installed in a prayer garden at St. Thomas More Catholic Church on November 16.


Casting is Finished on Holy Family

After months of sculpting and weeks at the foundry, the 3/4-life-size Holy Family is finished and shipped to St. Thomas More Church in Paducah, Kentucky. Here is a slideshow of the final stages of the casting process and the crating of the finished sculpture. 



It's been a couple of weeks since attending The Representational Art Conference in Ventura, CA, and I find myself pouring over websites, and honing my drawing skills, and staying in contact with other artists from the U.S. and around the world.

I still feel a sense of growing momentum in the representational art movement. Some of the artists presented exceptional realistic art, like Sadie Valeri who was on a panel and also a demonstration artist; while others, like John Seed, who writes for the Huffington Post, presented three artist who painted figures that were abstracted in one way or another. Jed Pearl gave the opening address, and John Nava gave the closing talk. 

I'm encouraged that the academic knowledge and techniques were not lost to us in the USA. While most colleges and universities choose not to teach the knowledge and skills of past centuries (partly because the teachers themselves never received an academic education in art, and partly because they are pushing conceptual contemporary art and are afraid that knowledge will hamper the student's creativity (academic training didn't hamper Picasso or Matisse); there are still a few institutions and ateliers (a-til-iyay) (teaching studios) where it is still taught.

I recommend finding a school or atelier and take classes. And fortunately, there are very good resources for those of us who need to study on the side. A few resources I highly recommend Patrick Connors' "The Artist's Guide to Perspective" (you can get a taste on YouTube). Perspective isn't just for landscapes–it's used drawing anything three-dimensional–like figures. Also Juliette Aristides' "Lessons in classical Drawing: Essential Techniques from Inside the Atelier" (includes DVD) and companion book, "Classical Drawing Atelier." I am working my way through these myself, and dedicating studio time to drawing in addition to my sculpting.