Story Behind the Artist - Karen Burns

Pluots with Yellow PitcherOriginal Oil Painting by Karen Burns Fine Art


Karen Burns’ work is like what you would see in a museum or well-known, high end hotel lobby as a large, main focal point. The images she paints are so realistic that they make you take a second look, wondering if what you are seeing is a painting or a photograph. Then, once you realize it’s a painting, you start seeing all the small, finite brush strokes that bring the piece together and all you can think to yourself is, “wow”.

Karen is a representational painter and works most often from direct observation of everyday objects. She especially enjoys showcasing vintage pieces that have been worn by time and made weary from use. Still Life is what she enjoys the most, from setting up a composition and choosing the objects all the way through, to the final brush strokes, and then lastly the varnish. She considers the process to be very calming and you can see that calm assurance as you study each of her pieces.


Fine art oil painter - Karen Burns


But she hasn’t always been a still life painter, Karen used to be a professional still life photographer for many years, which explains where she got her eye for subtle details and lighting in her work today. “When I had a camera in hand, I often just watched the light travel across the sky or study how the light traveled across an object. It is the same while setting up a composition to paint… watching the light, setting the stage, and coming up with a pleasing design… It was rare to see me without a camera in hand, but over time it was replaced with a paintbrush,” Karen tells us. “It was calling to me to do something more with the compositions that were created in [my] studio.” And so began her journey of working with oils, moving the paint around until it took on a life of its own.

When Karen first made her transition from photography to painting, she knew she wanted to build a good foundation in her new craft. She sought out the best classes, found mentors to work with, asked for feedback, and gained the support from other artists as well. After practicing many different techniques, both with brushes and palette knives, she found her niche in painting wet into wet because she loved the feeling of the paint and seeing the colors come together to make her masterpiece. She will begin with a toned canvas, add a few strokes to set the boundaries of the still life she wishes to paint, then the blending process begins and her painting comes to life.

Karen Burns - Chinese Lanterns oil painting


Just like anyone who wants to perfect something, Karen tries to practice her skill of painting every day and, even on the days that doesn’t happen, painting is never far from her thoughts. “My goal has been to get in as much brush mileage as possible by painting as often as possible. It really helps because you can see improvement much more quickly. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the paints, paint quality, brush handling, even varnishing.” The entire process of bringing a detailed painting like this to fruition captures her attention and she has fallen in love with every step.

Originally from Michigan, Karen now lives in Northern California, halfway between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, very near to Napa. She and her husband have a small cabin on Donner Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains where she has a space to paint that gives her inspiration from the beautiful surrounding scenery then she also has a larger studio where she works as well. She is the mother of three children, all grown, and a very proud grandmother. Her love for her children is evident right away and, just like in her work, finds joy from each of these special people in her life.

“If you are here, it would please me if you checked out my work. I do enjoy painting so much and would love to share with you here on Made By Her.”


**Editor’s note: This article was composed as a joint effort between the Made By Her staff and Karen herself. 

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