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Art Inspired by Life

Caroline Karp was classically trained as a painter from a young age, working mostly in oils. When she started her bachelor of fine arts at Florida State University, she says, “I knew the technical skills for being a creator of artwork—mixing paint, etc.—and I felt confident.”

An acrylics class changed her perspective forever. “We went on a field trip to the coast; it was my first plein air painting experience,” she recalls.

Plein air painting, popularized by the French Impressionists, is the practice of painting in the open air. The artist is often trying to capture the ephemeral in nature: changing light, clouds or water.

Caroline vividly recalls the subject of her first plein air painting: a close-up of an old sailboat in a marina. She was struck by peeling paint on the hull. “I wanted to capture the beauty of the sailboat and the oldness of the white paint peeling off,” she says.

“And that’s when I pivoted from being a purist working with oils to experimenting with more media. As a child, I painted almost photographic realism; in college, I expanded to Impressionism. I moved from being really tight to really loose in my brush strokes, and I painted really large abstracts on heavier canvas—feeling the paint and the canvas underneath.”

After college, Caroline pursued a master’s degree in education and began a career as a teacher. She’s also a mother of two. “But I’ve always painted,” she says. “I’ve never gone more than 3 days without painting. For me, making a painting is like falling in love. My work tends to be bold, and a lot of passion and emotion comes along with the process. Most of the time I have no idea what I’m about to paint. But it’s about the journey into uncertainty and an awakening of the heart.”

Her own blog is filled with her plein air adventures and their resulting art pieces. She also vlogs about her techniques and paintings.  Much of her work begins while traveling to beautiful vistas, she then adds finishing touches in her studio.

And she’s developed ways to share her passion for the creative process with through one-on-one and group workshops and retreats.     

“I love to paint in front of an audience,” she says. “I find ways to make that happen.”

She’s painted in the mountains, by a stream, in the middle of town, even in Manhattan. “I think people like to watch other people create. I believe that when I paint and when I paint with others, there is healing and transformation that happens,” she says. “This transformation is one toward empowerment.”

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as social distancing and stay-at-home orders were being enacted, Caroline felt the same anxiety and uncertainty we all did. And she set about capturing it in a large, intuitive, mixed media piece that was initially dominated by a large black helicopter she’d seen—and heard—crossing the bay. “I was working on some fear stemming from the pandemic–my son living up in Manhattan–and a loud sound of a helicopter flying over the bay, for whatever reason, it was bothering me. I decided I was going to paint about that fear so it could be tangible. Began the creative process by tearing black tissue paper and gluing to canvas to create a tangible element out of the fear.” Then she added a sailboat. Then a horizon. Then the sun and sky.

“I imagine when I create, and I imagined the helicopter was a vehicle of rescue for the 1.63 million people living on the island of Manhattan. The sailboat was for my son. I imagined I could save people by painting gold (light) on their buildings. And when the Comfort sailed into the harbor, I added it.”

As our period of quarantine progressed, so did the art: Caroline added more and more references to what was happening.

“When I added the starry night aspect, I was listening to the news—the statistics and numbers—and writing them among the stars. I wanted to add signs of hope, not just bad things, so I searched for signs of hope in everyday life from the news and other people, my social media followers, all of the my Zoom calls….”

And so Caroline’s focus for the piece has become finding and capturing signs of hope in the midst of the pandemic. Eventually the helicopter was painted out of the piece—“it was no longer scary,” she says.

“Signs of Hope” is a work-in-progress, she says. “I anticipate working on it either by writing in the sky, or…. I don’t even know how it’s going to change or shift; we don’t know when this pandemic is going to be over.” When it is finished, Caroline says she’d love for it to tour around, so as many people as possible can also experience the signs of hope to be found in even our most turbulent times.

Watch a video of Caroline working on “Signs of Hope.”

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