#29. Island Inspiration (or, when you’re lucky enough to make art in paradise)


1893 map of Mount Desert Island by Edward Rand (perhaps a distant relation?)

Islands. If you live on one, your life is defined by either “on the island” or “off the island”, and you most likely love your island. If you are lucky enough to have a special one you can escape to from time to time, and be inspired by, well, you’re lucky.

MDI, shorthand for Mount Desert Island, Maine, is technically an island, although it’s attached to the mainland by a causeway. Geographically it’s a land unto itself, and when you drive over that causeway, you are leaving the mainland behind, and you get that sense of “ahhhhh.” Historically, it’s a fascinating tapestry, ancient Abenaki Native American history mixing with 17th and 18th century French and English exploration and settling, and early 19th century establishment of island life. (Way too much to address here.. but if you’re curious, click on the links … Great stuff.)

photo of an old print I have, a schooner sailing in Somes Sound … (my reflection is in the glass)

So much has been written about MDI and so many paintings have been produced here that it’s almost redundant to try to capture it in a little blog post, but I have a few choice things to show and tell. (Over thirty years-worth, actually… but that’s a different story.) My recent penchant for focusing on landscape is directly related to my love for this place, especially Acadia National Park, which is located on Mount Desert.

“Fall Blueberry Bushes, Beech Mountain” 12×12″ mixed media on panel ©2014 Karen Rand Anderson

Naturalists, artists and writers were drawn here in the early/mid 1800’s, including Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church,  inspired by the incredible beauty and rugged terrain, and wealthy seekers of summer idyll followed soon afterward, building lavish “cottages”.  Artists, writers, and nature-lovers (and tons of tourists) are still drawn to the natural beauty here. The magic is palpable on this island…

"Cairn Shadow" 36x36" mixed media on wood panel. © 2014 Karen Rand Anderson

“Cairn Shadow” 36×36″ mixed media on wood panel. © 2014 Karen Rand Anderson

There is an Artist-In-Residence program at Acadia that offers you (as an artist) “the opportunity to pursue {your} particular art form while surrounded by the inspiring landscape of the park.” For more information and to find out the details, click here. (Though I have not been an artist-in-residence at Acadia, I know several artists who have.)

Mount Desert Island (“île des Monts Déserts”, or Island of the Bare Mountains) is a place that instills creative inspiration in anyone who has the opportunity to explore it. Choose your path…

There is so much more that I could share, but I’ll just say– if you ever get the opportunity (apply for a residency!!) come visit. Hike, paint, write, photograph, whatever.  Lucky me

"Gray Day at the Beaver Pond" 12x12" mixed media on panel. ©2014 Karen Rand Anderson

“Grey Day at the Beaver Pond” 12×12″ mixed media on panel. ©2014 Karen Rand Anderson

 all photos of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park by Karen Rand Anderson

#19. “More Snow”: building a painting while wishing winter was over.


photo by Laurel Casey

This winter in New England is… enough already. I’m not alone in feeling this. But in truth, it’s beautiful, in many ways. I’ve been doing some blue and white paintings as a result. Here is the process of my recent “More Snow”, mixed media on wood panel, 24×24″ (When I say “mixed media” I refer to the fact that the painting is not ONLY made of acrylic paint, but also pencil and water-based crayon.)


First a couple of quick value and color studies in my art journal.


I toned the panel with a random mix of phthalo blue, green shade; a small amount of lemon yellow; some teal; a little white. First time I’ve decided to use this teal color as a ground. Sketched out the image with hot pink pastel pencil. I like breaking rules, although I really don’t have too many in my studio.


Laying in darks, lights and starting on some mid-tones… Also lots of scribbling. I love scribbling. Mark-making is important to me; I love the freedom of letting the marks make themselves through my hand.



After I get things pretty well established, I often begin to get fussy, which is always a no-no. I take a lot of breaks, turn away from the painting, eat lunch, check my email, go back to the painting, play with my dog Theo,  plan the next painting, go back to the painting, sketch some other ideas, read books, check FB, (oops), go back to the painting.


Anyway, after a few days, I decide it’s done, and here’s “More Snow” 24×24″ mixed media on cradled board. (My personal title is actually “More F$%^&ing Snow.” )


“More Snow” 24×24″ mixed media on panel. © 2104  Karen Rand Anderson

Theo, faithful studio assistant

Theo, faithful studio assistant


#12. The Last Creative Third (or 1/4, as the case may be)

#12. The Last Creative Third (or 1/4, as the case may be)

 piece of pie

If life is a pie, mine is at least two-thirds gone; no way of telling how much of it is left, of course, but it’s a pretty good pie, all things considered. Not to be cliché, but we’ve all heard that this aging thing is not for sissies. Turning sixty is not like turning 59, no matter what they try to tell you. So, I’m toughening up. And as an artist, I (once again) decided to reinvent what I’m doing, at 60. Women artists reinventing themselves is not uncommon. One of my absolute favorites is Beatrice Wood, who, in her late 30’s after years of dance, theater, art, travel, love and passionate liaisons with fascinating people, including Marcel Duchamp, found her true creative path through ceramics. Her pie was a wonderful, rich and large one; she lived passionately until 1998, aged 105, creating extraordinary art until the end. She was known as”the mama of Dada”, and the character of Rose in the film “Titanic” was based on Wood. An incredible life story.

I shock myselfBeatrice Wood’s autobiography. Best title ever.

When I turned sixty last spring, I had no idea where my work was going. I knew that I was pretty much finished with the work I’d been doing for the previous eight years, which was metaphorical, emotion-driven, symbolistic, and based on personal narrative. 

unsafe hanging72“Unsafe Resting Place”  2009. charred paper sewn with bronze wire, canvas, acrylic, branches, bird. 22x24x41″ ©2014 Karen Rand Anderson 

my message

“Getting the Message”  2010. graphite, acrylic, gouache on paper. 38×50″ 

©2014 Karen Rand Anderson 

Enough, already. “Let it go”, said my inner wisdom. “Move on. Do something healing. Like, paint landscapes, of places you love, that are beautiful.” OK, I said.  I will. Georgia said something similar, and through her passion, drive and creative commitment,  immersed herself completely in her beloved New Mexico landscape until her pie was gone, at age 99. More about Georgia O’Keefe here.   (I can never get enough) Like anything newly begun, I’ve  having an awkward time trying to get to where I envision my current work to be going. I had a show in the fall of 2013 of some of these new paintings, and.. well, let’s just say, the work wasn’t ready to show yet. Nevertheless, I put it out there, for better or for worse. Live and learn.

krause showSome of the new landscape work, Krause Gallery, Providence RI, September, 2013

One can spend time & energy going back over the would-haves, could-haves, should-haves.. hashing over the choices that were made in art + life, (not to mention relationships), but it doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s far more productive to stop looking back, and focus on going forward.

not looking back“Not Looking Back” 2010. graphite + gouache on paper, sewn onto linen. 32×38″

© 2014 Karen Rand Anderson 

One more extraordinary woman artist:  German-born Meret Oppenheim (1913-1985.) Meret was the “enfant terrible” of the surrealists, moving to Paris at age 18 and connecting with artists Hans Arp,  Andre Breton, and Alberto Giacometti  among others, including Duchamp. This  December 2013 interview with Meret’s niece, Lisa Wenger shares wonderful details and anecdotes. (With thanks to Hyperallergic)

oppenheim book

I was gifted this incredible book  by my professors when I graduated from my MFA program at Johnson State College/Vermont Studio Center, in 2010.

Oppenheim was also a muse for Man Ray,who did a 1933 series of nude photographs of her.  (Scandalous…) Sculptor, conceptual and installation artist, painter, photographer, Meret made art until her death, at age 72. As for moi, I’m just going ahead now with these paintings of place, season, energy and light, reflections of what I’ve seen and where I’ve been and how I feel about it all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Late Light on the Marsh I” 2013. mixed media on canvas, 30×30″. ©2014 Karen Rand Anderson 

Which is not to say that I won’t be doing ephemeral sculptural installation and mixed media stuff again…

chairs“Forgiveness Bower” sculpture and “A Tentative Embrace” drawing, from my show at Cate Charles Gallery, Stonington, CT, 2010  ©2014 Karen Rand Anderson 

I just never settle for one medium, one concept, one process, one creative endeavor. My life as an artist would be much easier and well-established if I could focus on one thing and do it well, but — I can’t. So be it. In the meantime, the pie is constantly being nibbled at. Every so often, I think about that, and wonder how much (or how little) is left of it. There is no sense in worrying about it. But I find that I feel a sense of urgency these days, to get into the studio as much as possible, to get lots of work done, and to be patient with myself. The energy level is not what it used to be. So– whatever gets done will get done. And that’s OK with me.


Postscript:  Interesting to note that all three of these incredible women artists did not choose motherhood, as I did; they chose their work instead. They sure as hell made the most of their last thirds. Good inspiration for a sixty-year-old starting over…