Magical Character Painting with Karen O'Brien

If you love drawing characters from your imagination, you are in for a treat. Mixed-media artist Karen O'Brien will be showing how she creates her unique, mesmerizing characters in "Unearthing Imaginary Characters," a live webinar on September 24th at 4 p.m., EDT. Please sign up for the webinar and discover Karen's secrets for drawing and painting these incredible creatures! You'll be able to ask Karen questions at the end during a live Q&A session. As a preview, Karen offers these fantastic insights and tips into her creative process. ~ Jeannine

Magical Character Painting

By Karen O'Brien

Regardless of whether I am working in a journal or on a large canvas, I rarely set out to draw or paint a specific character. I prefer to use a practice of being present and listening to my instincts. I call the practice Magical Painting. It is a process of working intuitively with paint, collage, and mark making, which allows characters to evolve, instead of starting with a set idea or plan.

Letting go of your control and just following your instincts provides opportunities for experimentation and discovery. You are teaching yourself to embrace your actions, instead of fighting with your expectations of what something "should" look like. Techniques and approaches that are stress free and fun will allow you to relax, as you develop a style and practice that is your own. Making expressive and varied marks, using collage, and embracing mistakes and unexpected results are ways to find and create characters that are unique to you. Become a "shape seeker" by looking at your surfaces from different perspectives, searching for the suggestion of a face or body that says, "paint me." Your characters will seem to rise from the canvas–like magic!

Here are some of my best tips for this process:

  • Alternate between multiple pieces so you can take a break and notice what is happening with your artwork.
  • Step back to get some distance from your surface.
  • Take photos of your work in progress. I use the camera in my phone, since it is with me all the time. Taking photos also forces you to stop and really see what you are doing.
  • Breathe and take time to look at the painting. Do you see anything that suggests the next step, color, or shape?

  • Turn the surface of the piece to see if there are other possibilities. Is there an area you do not like? Cover it up with paint or collage.
  • Use a discarded mat to isolate areas of your work; this will help with your decision making.
  • Place tracing paper or deli paper over your surface. The translucent veil helps mute distracting elements and can help you see your shapes better.
  • A clear acrylic sheet can also be used as an overlay to draw new shapes, block out distracting areas, or try out colors without working directly on the surface.
  • If you see an area you want to work with, start to define that area with drawing, shading and paint.

  • Go slowly, make small adjustments, and then re-evaluate.
  • The most important concept is to be present during the creation process.

I can't wait to see what else Karen has in store. Don't forget to sign up for the webinar today! Karen's amazing work can be seen in our magazine Faces: Creating Mixed-Media Portraits, and in her new book, Imaginary Characters: Mixed-Media Painting Techniques for Figures & Faces, due out in November from North Light Books.



Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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