For Karen Nephew, the art of watercolor allows her to make scenic California views come to life one paint stroke at a time.
She has been creating watercolor paintings for seven years with art ranging from paintings of the charming cottages that line the city of Carmel, to the lush green landscapes of Yosemite, to the sea life that inhabits the central coast. She even creates her own holiday cards using her paintings.
Nephew, an administrative assistant in the Department of Physical Therapy, got her start in watercolor after retiring from the County of Fresno, where she worked for 40 years. After retiring, she wanted to try something new, challenging and out of her element. Along with a friend, Nephew began watercolor lessons through Clovis Adult School, which is where her journey in art began to take shape.
On just the second day of class, her teacher, Kay Owens (now a mentor and friend) gave Nephew a box of photographs and told her to ‘‘start painting’’. With zero experience in art, Nephew was nervous, but gave it a shot.
“It was frightening because we didn’t even know where to start,” Nephew said. “She was teaching us how to sketch everything out, and [I] just needed to have fun and learn what [I] could.”
For her sea life paintings in particular, Nephew drew inspiration from her daughter, Mallory (now 30), who loved sea otters. Nephew decided to experiment by painting a sea otter and to her surprise, it came out well. Now she counts sea life among her most favorite types of paintings. She says Mallory and son, Nicholas (33) truly keep her passion for art alive.
From the short time that she’s been painting, Nephew has had the opportunity to showcase her art in multiple galleries across the Central Coast. Her paintings have even won several first place awards, including at The Big Fresno Fair competitive Fine Arts exhibit in Oct. 2017 and with the Clovis Art Guild.
I’ve been really lucky because very few people that have been painting in the short time that I have, get their stuff in a gallery and I have been really kind of proud of that,” Nephew said.
When she’s not at work, Nephew paints every day out of her own kitchen, often joking about turning her dining room into an art studio.
“If I don’t keep [my paintings] spread out then I tend not to paint,” Nephew said of her set up. “When you start a painting, you’ll have it laying there for a couple of weeks while you work on it. That’s good because whenever I do that, I will pass by and look at it and I can see where I want to make changes. It’s nice that I have it sitting right there so I can look at it.”
At first, her hobby was just something fun to do while keeping busy, but now it has turned into a passion and a way to connect with other people. She has traveled all over California mastering her technique and receives new inspiration from her surroundings. She sells and showcases her art in Morro Bay, in local galleries such as the Seven Sisters Gallery.
“Spending time over there at the coast has been really inspiring and because I was showing in Morro Bay, they wanted more pictures of Morro Rock which was a challenge,” Nephew said. “If anyone ever looks at Morro Rock, it’s not just a brown rock. There are so many different colors and so I’ve done paintings that have the rock in it, so the gallery carries all of those.”
Looking back on her personal journey, Nephew doesn’t want others to be discouraged in their own creativity.
“I’m proof that people can start at a much later age,” Nephew said. “I never thought that I had any artistic capability at all. I took an art class in high school and I thought, ‘I can’t do this’. It was a real surprise to me when things started coming out well. To be in this position now is just amazing to me. It is really fun.”
Her hobby isn’t going to become a career anytime soon, but Nephew is having fun and enjoying her artistic expression.
“Even looking at my own stuff, I can see the difference from when I first started to where I am now,” Nephew said. “All this progression from when I first started, I was a little green and things weren’t coming out right. At this point I’m kind of established on what I want to do.”
Since May, Nephew has been working in the Physical Therapy department – but prior to that has worked in other areas on campus including the departments of Theatre Arts, Communicative Sciences and Deaf Studies and Social Work Education.
“I love it here, I really do,” Nephew said of the University. “Once I got here and interacted with all the students on campus, it just got to be really fun for me. This is good. This is where I need to be.”
To view more of Nephew’s artwork, see gallery below or find her on Facebook. For inquiries, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Written by Rebeca Flores, CHHS communication student assistant