Karen LeGault ~Fine Art Blog

February 21, 2016

What’s in a Brushstroke?

Filed under: Floral/Botanical,Technical Aspects,Uncategorized — by Karen LeGault @ 09:11
I have observed many students loading a brush and then wiping out their efforts by dipping it in their water jar and eliminating the color they so carefully had picked up.
Painting with watercolor requires an attention to the quality of the relationship between pigment and water. You have to be constantly thinking about what you are trying to place on the paper.
The more water, obviously, the less intense the color will be, and vs a vs, an application of straight pigment with very little water added will yield a more intense color. There is a time for each!
There are many many types of brushstrokes, some are wet, wet and sloppy, some are dry, some very dry, some are big and bold, some are tiny and precise. The size, shape and nature of the brush and how wet or dry the brush is before you touch the paper with it all come together as you imagine what you want to happen when the stroke is placed.
Ultimately it is your imagination that is in charge! It has to request support from you and your brush, together with pigment and water, to create the strokes that lead to revealing your vision.

November 8, 2015

How Long Does it Take to Do a Painting?

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Karen LeGault @ 11:28
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This is a question I get occasionally from people who are visiting my booth at an art festival.
The answer is almost as varied as the paintings.
There are so many factors involved. Of course there is the smart-assed reply that it took however long I am old, … not admitting anything here : ) .

Seriously, skill develops over time with an artist’s maturity and interests, and there is some truth to that answer!

But in real time, it depends on the size , approach and the complexity of the piece.

A painting I completed recently, “On Spanish Creek VI” was painted over a five year period. I would work on it for intense week or two week long bursts of time at the site of the scene, and then work on it over another few weeks or months  in my studio, but not as intensely, each year.

That time of actually painting that painting was preceeded by 12 years of painting other paintings in the same series as well as numerous pen and ink studies, small watercolor studies and studying Asian landscape techniques which I was also teaching to others during the same time period. (If you want to learn something well, then teach it!) I am a believer in becoming familiar with your subjects.

An original painting is being invented for the first time, imagined into being, whether it is based on a real place or an imaginary place. Composition is critical. You cannot simply paint over a watercolor painting if you don’t like where you put something! If the main shapes don’t work together, or the lines are not elegant, it can be lost. With oil or acrylic you can change the painting to something entirely different if you don’t like it. This means that the further you get into a watercolor painting, the higher the stakes in making it work. A wrong turn can negate hours and hours of work!

Having already completed a number of small studies before undertaking a large project helps to solve some of the problems that the eventual larger painting will present. Working those problems out helps to ensure a strong beginning.

A large still life painting starts with having some interesting seasonal offerings – fruit, flowers or vegetables available. If they are from someone’s garden, they seem to offer even more energy. The “energy” of the subjects is important too!

The subjects begin to attract objects and the color palette of the composition of the painting begins to fall into place. None of the subjects or objects can be the same size or shape (unless it is one of several types of the same thing, like several tomatoes that all might be similar in size) There are several other considerations that go into the composing of the piece, but a dedicated period of time is required to work on it before those things go out of season or spoil or the painter (me) looses the momentum of the vision or time and has to put it aside to work on next year.

Again, as with landscapes, a large still life painting is best approached with some small studies to work out some of the technical problems that will present themselves. Once begun it  will take a minimum of 7 to ten days to complete.

Of course there are paintings that can be painted in a few hours. They have usually developed out of a line of interest in the particular subject. Some of the more traditional brush paintings like plum blossoms, bamboo, or simple flower paintings in small sizes can be painted in a couple of hours by the time you put in a background refine the details and mount them. The more realistic they are, though, the longer it takes to refine, detail and balance the work.

There are other hidden time costs besides time in the actual production of a painting. Maybe subject for another time!

October 13, 2015

Your color looks different from what I normally expect watercolor to look like. Do you use a special kind of paint?

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Karen LeGault @ 07:10
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"Tea Party"

“Tea Party”, watercolor by Karen LeGault


This is a question I often hear at art festivals when viewers are looking at my work.
Watercolor is a flexible medium that can be used in many ways. So, no, I don’t use a special kind of paint. It is normal watercolor. My preferred brand is Schminke, but I used others too. I like intense luminous color. To achieve it I layer my color, sometimes with as many as 20 layers, occasionally with a single layer.

In a painting, color is all about what you put next to it. Neighboring colors influence each other, much in the same way that friends influence each other. Who we are next to can change the way we feel and function at a given time.

For example, red and green are complements, or opposites. Together they can stimulate each other and they both appear brighter because of a phenomenon called simultaneous contrast.
You know how when you stare at a solid color and then look at a blank white paper, how you see the opposite color ghosting on the paper? A colors’ opposite gets cast out from it, so that its neighbor gets some of that opposite added to it. If a green shape is next to a red shape they will each give more of their complement to their neighbor, so the red appears redder and the green appears greener.

Working with those relationships is what the balance of a painting is all about.
Too many pure colors next to each other can be loud and annoying. In music a band can allow a particular instrument to take the lead, while the other instruments become background support, but still have their own character. In painting, finding ways to support color so that we can enjoy the subtleties involved gives visual interest. A color can be “shaded” (mixing black or a dark mix with the color) or “tinted” (adding white) or “toned” (adding its complement for tertiary effect.)

Tinting, toning and shading the color while leaving small patches of pure color, makes the color stand out. So, for example, if you want a red to stand out you can support it with a neighboring tone. (A mix of red and green creates an rich brown that can either be redder or greener depending on the mix). In context the red will stand out and have meaning. Red by itself is very flat! Yes, even red needs help from others.

This is part of what makes my use of color unique.

September 23, 2015

What is a Giclee?

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Karen LeGault @ 22:02
What is a Giclee?
I am often approached by fair goers who are baffled by the term “Giclee”.
Before 18 years ago prints were very expensive to obtain. They were often printed via lithography using flat stones and multiple layers of ink that each required separate stones to be prepared with the color separations. A run of many had to be printed at one time, meaning the artist or dealer had to store a lot of prints and that a “run” was quite expensive.

The word Giclee means “to spray”. The paper or canvas is fed under a giant drum. A line of ink nozzles the width of the paper sprays droplets of ink as the paper is turned under the line of nozzles.

I had my first Giclee prints made in the year 2001. I traveled to a state of the art facility in Manhattan Beach to a place called Nash Editions. Think Nash of “Crosbie, Stills and Nash, who was a photographer besides a musician. He started the business to make reproductions of his photographs. They were perfectionists in the budding field. Artists from all over the world went there to have their reproductions made.

After a few years the field evolved and there were excellent and much less expensive prints to be had in local giclee shops.

The cost to me as an artist for a print was as much as what I can now sell my prints for.  Yes, the price has come down substantially.

A Giclee is essentially (best case scenario) a really really good photo of a painting that must be perfectly evenly lit for the true color temperature of the painting. There can’t be any shiny spots from glare or reflections. There can’t be uneven light across the surface. The whole piece needs to be square at the corners, straight at the edges and match as closely as possible to the original art.

The print maker is usually adept at photoshop to make any corrections and must also understand the machines that they use to print with.

I have over thirty colors of paint that I work with to create my paintings.
Matching the color of the original painting using the limitations of the inks is an art in itself.

Giclees make it possible to provide high quality images to people who either can’t afford, or prefer not to collect, original fine art.

I use the service of Tony Molatore/ Berkeley Giclee.

These are his Technical Specifications:
This giclee print was created to high standards of reproduction with materials tested by the Fine Arts Trade Guild to resist fading and discoloration in excess of seventy-five years. Berkeley Giclee prints are produced on an Epson 9900 printer utilizing the eleven color Height Dynamic Range inkset which results in a wide color gamut, excellent color saturation and incredible sharpness.

The conservation grade paper has a weight of 310 grams per square meter and a caliper of 22 mils. Composed of one-hundred percent cotton, the paper is acid and lignin free. It has a ISO Brightness factor of 95.6.
As with all fine art, for maximum longevity, this print should not be displayed in direct sunlight or subject to extremes of temperature or humidity.

August 1, 2015

What is Rice Paper?

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Karen LeGault @ 10:33
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What is Rice Paper?
When you hear the words “rice paper” does your mind conjure up something to wrap around a tasty spring roll?
It took me a while to figure out that when I mention to art festival viewers that “many of my paintings are on rice paper”, that they really were not sure what I was talking about. How could something made of “rice” be archival?

Of course this kind of “rice” paper is not made of rice.

What I can tell you is that high quality “rice paper” is a joy to paint on.

There are different thicknesses of paper, single, double and approximately one and a half weight. Some papers are very absorbent. Some are absorbent and very hard to retain clean edges in a brush stroke. Some are absorbent and much easier to keep that clean edge. The surface of a high quality paper is smooth but not slick like some of the machine made papers. Lesser papers somewhat rough.

Some are sized to make the surface less absorbent and more repellent, the ink and color almost sit on top of the paper when applied. Traditionally these are used for landscapes where color is, typically, not so important, but drawing with the brush on the surface is.
A thin paper is beautiful for single strokes in black ink, but more difficult to build up color on.
A thicker paper can sustain many applications of ink, color and washes.

Here is the description I found on Wikipedia of how it is made:

This “Rice paper”, smooth, thin, crackly, and strong, is named as a wrapper for rice, and is made from bark fibres of the paper mulberry tree. It is used for origami, calligraphy, paper screens and clothing. It is stronger than commercially made wood-pulp paper. Less commonly, the paper is made from rice straw.

Depending on the type of mulberry used, it is named kozo (Broussonetia papyrifera, the paper mulberry), gampi (Wikstroemia diplomorpha), or mitsumata (Edgeworthia chrysantha). The fiber comes from the bark of the paper mulberry, not the inner wood or pith, and traditionally the paper is made by hand.

The branches of the paper mulberry shrubs are harvested in the autumn, so the fibre can be processed and the paper formed during the cold winter months, because the fibre spoils easily in the heat. The branches are cut into sections two to three feet long and steamed in a large kettle, which makes the bark shrink back from the inner wood, allowing it to be pulled off like a banana peel. The bark can then be dried and stored, or used immediately. There are three layers to the bark at this stage: black bark, the outermost layer; green bark, the middle layer; and white bark, the innermost layer. All three can be made into paper, but the finest paper is made of white bark only.

If the bark strips have been dried, they are soaked in water overnight before being processed further. To clean the black and green bark from the white bark, the bark strip is spread on a board and scraped with a flat knife. Any knots or tough spots in the fibre are cut out and discarded at this stage.

The scraped bark strips are then cooked for two or three hours in a mixture of water and soda ash. The fibre is cooked enough when it can easily be pulled apart lengthwise. The strips are then rinsed several times in clean water to rinse off the soda ash. Rinsing also makes the fibre brighter and whiter-fine kozo paper is not bleached, it is naturally pure white.

Each bark strip is then inspected by hand, against a white background or lit from behind by a light-box. Any tiny pieces of black bark and other debris are removed with tweezers, and any knots or tough patches of fibre missed during scraping are cut out of the strips. The ultimate goal is to have completely pure white bark.

The scraped, cooked, and cleaned strips are then laid out on a table and beaten by hand. The beating tool is a wooden bat that looks like a thicker version of a cricket bat. The fibres are beaten for about half an hour, or until all the fibres have been separated and no longer resemble strips of bark.

The prepared fibre can now be made into sheets of paper. A viscous substance called formation aid is added to the vat with the fibre and water. Formation aid is polyethylene oxide, and it helps slow the flow of water, which gives the paper-maker more time to form sheets. Sheets are formed with multiple thin layers of fibre, one on top of another.

April 21, 2015

Remembering John Kaneko

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Karen LeGault @ 08:01
Remembering John Kaneko
IMG_1840 - Version 4
photo from High School Year Book
Good Teachers make a Difference in People’s Lives
A few years ago I wanted to get in touch with a high school Art teacher who was my first Art Teacher back in 1967. A few years later he started teaching at the Community College, American River College, that I attended. I studied with him there as well. The foundation he gave me was a strong building block in basics such as perspective, mixing color, drawing, composition and art history. Even though it was 47 years ago many of the lessons he gave seem as fresh in my mind as the day he gave them.
I still remember the color charts we had to match and mixing colors right on the tables  until I could create any color I could imagine, creating collages that he endlessly had me rearrange. I had to expand my vocabulary to describe historical art images learning about “mannerism”, Symbolism, Surrealism, Impressionism and the “Renaissance”.

He exposed me to Japanese art and architecture, giving me a lifelong appreciation of the seemingly simple forms. He helped me cut wood to learn how to create structural support for paintings.

He gave me encouragement to think about art as something I was good at a time when I was thinking about more practical ideas like commercial art.

He was also a man who lived in my neighborhood with his family, whose house I would stop by with my siblings on Halloween. He moved a few blocks from there to build his new house by hand, in his ‘spare’ time.

I didn’t find him a few years ago, even though I had called the college where he chaired the art department for many years. there were no clues online. No one seemed to be able to give me a way to connect with him.

Last night I decided to pursue my search again only to discover that he had passed away in January of 2014.

The biggest disappointment about that is that I never really got to thank him in person for the tremendous influence he played in my life, or for the generosity of time and his interest in me as a person in a day when girls were not taken seriously in their studies.

He knew about discrimination. As a Japanese American he and his family were interned during World War II. He talked to our school about the experience and I observed that many students were not respectful.

Maybe because of that he was especially conscious  of the value of opportunities, he was very supportive of female students at a time when it wasn’t the norm.

I was fortunate to have the gift of this excellent teacher and over the years have tried to pass on what I learned from him, in spirit as much as content.

November 7, 2013

Working with Pen and Ink

Filed under: Floral/Botanical,Uncategorized — by Karen LeGault @ 19:01
Tags: , , ,


by Karen LeGault

In my high school art classes everyone had a chance to work with pen and ink. In those days we used the crow quill pens that you would dip into a jar of ink to draw with. Inevitably there were always blobs from the nib that drop here and there, or smudges from a hand as the quill moved across the paper dragging a splotch from a blob.

A few years later a friend encouraged me to work with a rapidograph pen, a technical pen with a vulnerable filament of a needle that had a chance of bending if you took it apart to clean it. The beauty of using the pen lies in its perfect lines and permanent ink, non-soluble ink.

Fortunately rapidograph pens evolved and the vulnerable needles are now encased in a cartridge barrel that protects it from the user. The cartridges can be replaced when they wear out.

The drawback of these technical pens is that the ink that is formulated to be used in these pens may dry between uses, causing the needle to stick in the cartridge, requiring a thorough soaking with water and a dissolving agent to free up its movement and release of ink. There has been more than a few times when I soaked a pen cartridge for a few days in a solution of ammonia and water to get it to loosen up.

In Today’s Art Stores there are numerous disposable technical pens, drawing pens that do not have the problem of drying ink. Line work looks pretty good, though nothing really beats the clean line of ink released from a metal nib in a barrel such as a Rapidograph.

When I first started drawing plants in pen and ink, I drew them using the cross hatch style that grew out of the printing industries need to receive image images that separated the ink on their plates enough so that ink wouldn’t look blotchy and build up on the printing plates too thickly after repeated printings. Using cross hatching you can indicate the shading and subtle changes of plane that plants have a lot of. Think of the drawing of Durer for example.

As I grew dissatisfied with the mechanical look of cross hatching and began to aim for a more free and fluid look I began to draw without the cross hatching and to use instead scribbles and dots to help see the shifts in plane.

I spent several years drawing almost exclusively with a pen when I had time, refining my ability to record “place in space”, passing many hours at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden “interviewing” single plants and filling my notebooks with our meetings.

Drawing with the limitations of a pen, which has a singular sort of line, eventually segued into applying everything I had learned into the multi-dimensionality of the bamboo brush used in Oriental Brush Painting.


I found that a pen and ink “study” would increase my understanding of the forms within a subject rapidly so that executing the same with a brush was more successful.

Above is an example circa 1986 of a pen and ink drawing that I added watercolor to.

©Karen LeGault


April 30, 2012

On Blogging to You

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Karen LeGault @ 04:17

Who are you dear reader?

First of all you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t tripping around the internet in blogosphere-land if you weren’t a cyberspace adventurer to begin with. Or maybe you found your way into this bay of words and pictures by doing a search on my art, found my website, which led you to my blog. Or perhaps a friend sent you a link. Maybe you even found me in person at an Art Festival or Farmer’s market sharing my paintings!

However you found me, you wouldn’t have tarried here if you didn’t enjoy natural places, both cultivated and wild. You enjoy the experience you get from engaging with color and the evocation of scent and energy. You may be attracted to the spirit of the work and feel drawn into the other dimensions my work seems to access.

I don’t expect you to be in a “certain” age bracket, but instead are drawn by the serene and joyful spirit of my paintings, perhaps you are a gardener or are a garden appreciator. You may find a place of calm peace that assuages a hectic lifestyle or that energizes a sedentary one. You may just need some lively color and a sense of life around you to restore your spirit after your day, or year or life; or some inspiration to keep you going when you feel challenged.

Over time, you become friends with these works and find that the thought of living without them is unthinkable.

Where are you coming from dear Reader? Is it a State or is it a state of mind? Please let me know. How does my work speak to you and what do you hear, feel or see?

I am curious to see how writing about my work will help me clarify my relationship with it, and how your relationship with the work lends shaping. Ever looking for ways to connect with my viewers and help you understand what goes into a painting, – experiences, events, compositional intentions, decisions about subjects and color… not to mention things like choosing frames, successes and blunders, the trials and jubilations of exhibiting.

I wonder if I have anything to say, knowing that this life of art has consumed me for most of my life, the question is where to start…. And fear of not being perfectly stated! Yikes! Its time to let go! This blog could be a journey whose future is to unfold here on the page.

Please feel free to comment.

September 30, 2011

My Students are exhibiting at the Rockridge Library Oct. 1 to 29

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Karen LeGault @ 15:53

Instructor’s Statement

Traces of the Brush ~
an Exhibit of Paintings by Students of Karen LeGault

The Adults
This exhibition is a group of paintings done by some of my Painting students over the last four years. The groups of students that I teach tend to be quite dynamic. I am pleased to say that many of my students express delight in the caliber and experience of souls that they find themselves interacting with in the classes. As groups, they have given each other tremendous inspiration and spurred each other onward. I have been Teaching Drawing and Painting since 1993. Over the last 12 years, my ability to look into where a student is with their work and where they would like to go with it, has become more focused. While you can teach a group of people the same techniques or ideas, how they will interpret those ideas, how they will make the techniques their own, what their personal expression will convey, how their images evolve, what their unique interest are, are usually entirely different from one another. It is always an adventure to introduce material and watch what emerges, even after giving very specific instruction. Sometimes material needs to be repeated in many different ways, from many angles, before it is actually understood, received, and bears fruit in their work.

We have covered an amazing breadth of subjects: color theory, perspective, composition, drawing skills, hundreds of exercises in handling the brush in both Asian style and Western, all sorts of plants and flowers – traditional and non-traditional, trees, forests, animals, rocks, water, mountains, abstracts, and materials: water color, ink, pen and ink, colored pencil, pastels. In my classes we typically work on either cotton paper or “rice” papers. (Rice papers can be made out of a variety of materials – mulberry, bamboo, straw to name a few.)

Since these groups have been fairly consistent since 2007, the first few years were devoted to focusing on didactic instruction and getting control of the mediums. In the last year, especially, the students have been following their individual interests, often working on entirely different projects from one another. Periodically, someone comes in with an idea of something to try, and everyone else in the group wants to try that too. Then I create a series of lessons to help break down the material into manageable learning experiences so they can eventually combine all the elements into their paintings. These projects have sometimes gone on for several months.

Over time, their ability to analyze what they need to successfully enter into and complete a project, have gotten to the point that they can more easily and more readily take on the projects that most interest them, with increasing degrees of success.

The Kids
I have taught after-school classes at Chabot elementary School since 2000. In 2009 I had three kids in a kindergarden group, who kept taking my class over and over, for two years, who I have invited to show with my adult students. These kids’ classes also have had some interesting explorations. My aim is to give them the tools to become self-directing in their art making, to have some choices and to be confident that they can create what they like, to know and experience that making art is fun and an imaginative pursuit. Their results are much more varied than what you see here in this exhibit and often quite surprising at the level of skill they achieve.

Early on in my teaching career, I realized that many adults have never had a chance to learn art, or if they had, had learned in a restrictive environment that had dis-empowered them from feeling capable enough to pursue it later.
After creating a program for teaching art to kids in 1993, I began using some of the same ideas and methods to teach adults. I found a huge welcome for this approach and have been gratified to see many students learn the basics that they needed to begin to flourish in their art making experience. Drawing and painting are skills that can be learned by anyone. Whether it becomes “ART” or not, is another matter, but there seems to be a great sense of accomplishment in simply being able to interpret the seen world in a two dimensional image.

Creating Drawing and Paintings requires thought processes on many levels to be integrated into a single experience. By recognizing and breaking down those experiences into manageable bites, a student can gain some confidence. The courage to try something new, to absorb and learn, and then be willing to take a next step, is a critical ingredient.
An Open Mind and a willingness to look and see “what is” are also most important.
I am starting a new group on October 19 on Wed. mornings from 9:30 to 12:30. Please contact me if you are interested in possibly joining.

Karen LeGault, who has always drawn and painted, began her formal training while in High School with two amazing teachers, Ralph Goings and John Kaneko. Starting out as a photo realist, winning several awards, after several years of personal exploration, she began studying Chinese Brush Painting with Lam Po Leong in 1985 and in 1993, began integrating Eastern and Western sensibilities while studying with Bob Bechtle, a photorealist contemporary of Ralph Goings, while studying at San Francisco State University. Along the way she also practiced photography, signmaking, fabric design, graphic design and worked as a draftsperson for 13 years. She taught drawing and painting at UC Berkeley Botanical Garden for 8 years and numerous community art centers in the North Bay and East Bay before taking on private teaching in her studio in Oakland. She also taught Tai Chi for 20 years. She has taught thousands of students. Her work is found in hundreds of collections including some local institutions, the County Clerks Office, Highland Hospital and Summit Hospital. http://www.karenlegault.com

April 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Karen LeGault @ 04:07

Finally! getting going on the second part of the second bathroom mural. after taking some time out to get mostly over a way-too-long-long winded cough and give some attention to Feather River Art Camp.

Painting Pond life has been an interest of mine since 1977, though it wasn’t until the early 90’s that I really began painting them in earnest. Monet has always been a favorite, but a real inspiration was a Chinese woman artist from the 17th century named Yun Bun. Her painting entitled “World Under the Bridge” touched my soul so many years ago and spurned me on to a whole genre of Fish Painting. I enjoy making it look like you can see different layers of the water, the surface where leaves lie, the inside – where fish swim and other creatures move about and some aquatic plants grow, and the bottom – where silt lies and plants grow.

Pond Painting going Swimmingly

I have layed in the main shapes, but as I go along more subordinate shapes could come in to play.

I have an Art Festival in Menlo Park this coming weekend, April 16, 17, 18 and am praying for no-rain. I will be there the whole three days. If you are there and want to find me, call me on my cell phone – 510-601-1619, so I can tell you my booth location.

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