There are 216 owl species and Karen Kent, an incredibly gifted artist, has painted 35 species of owls (and counting) in a remarkably realistic manner.
And the amazing part is that she doesn’t know what kind of owl she’s painting.
Owls That Name Themselves
“I have no idea what kind of owl I’m painting. It’s not what I’m after,” she says. “I like that other people know. To me, it’s the essence, the heart, the soul of the owls I love to capture. They name themselves as I’m painting them.”
Ernesto. Grace. Herb and Glo. Poindexter. Christoper. Bryce. New Year’s Eve Party. Joia.
These are just a few of the funny and playful owls Karen brings to life on her canvases. And each has a story as unique as its name.
Love for Color
Karen, who lives in Fairfield, Connecticut, spent 27 years working as an interior designer before trading her swatch book for a more spontaneous medium and began painting.
“It was stifling my creativity,” she says.
She says she planned fantastic color schemes and clients asked if she were sure it would look good.
She fell in love with color the first time she opened a box of crayons as a kid, and throughout her career, so Karen is adept at mastering the use of color.
“My response to these types of clients was yeah, I want it to look bad, so you never ask me back again. I purposely made it ugly,” she says chuckling.
After overcoming a health issue, Karen decided it was time to quit her job and paint.
“The universe spoke, so I’m listening,” she says.
And for people who adore owls, it was a good choice.
Art Studio with a View
Karen works in a spacious studio on a picturesque location on her property.
Nestled by trees with the pond serving as the backdrop, visitors are enchanted by the rustles of animals and soothed by the harmony of birdsong.
The entire time we’re with Karen, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers and Blue Jays keep coming into the trees outside her studio and were stopping by the feeder closest to her window.
There is a sense of serenity about Karen’s studio. The animals are in tune with her calming nature. They know they’re not in danger. It’s as if they know a kindred spirit is just a few feet away.
“Life is crazy. And people can be crazy. I Come here, pray, and do my yoga every morning,” she says.
Besides being a painter, Kent also leads a weekly yoga class in her studio.
Two Books and a Love for Creating
“If you asked me to hold an owl I’d be scared to death, but I love painting them,” she says.
Karen doesn’t have a set intention when painting owls.
“I don’t have all these owls coming to my studio and modeling for me. I rely on two books that people sent me, a love for color, and a passion for creating.”
These are all the ingredients she needs to create a beautiful owl series that is ongoing.
One of Karen’s most memorable pieces is ‘Courage.’ It’s a 36” x 48” acrylic painting of a European Eagle Owl. The owl’s beautiful flaming orange eyes reveal its strength.
The owl’s eyes watch over all onlookers.
Karen says ‘Courage’ was exhibited at Richards, an upscale retailer in Greenwich, Connecticut, and the painting was hanging above men’s wear. The staff says ‘Courage’ watched over them.
‘Courage’ was also the first painting we saw attending the Fall Festival and Hawk Watch at the Greenwich Audubon Society in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Karen’s show, ‘The Majestic Owl’ ran from August 25 through October 25, 2017, and featured 25 paintings, many of which sold.
Kent’s Majestic Owls
‘Ernesto’ (24” x 30” Mixed Media) is one painting that she almost couldn’t sell.
“When I saw this owl’s picture I said to myself, I have to paint you. And I practically held my breath the whole time because I was so excited,” she says with a smile.
Coming from a design background and working with papers, Karen decided to use her daughter’s scarf in the painting.
She’s also quick to point out a magazine cutting of a glass fixture was worked into the piece for an added illumination effect. And silver foil.
“I love the silver foil on Ernesto. It’s just perfect for him.”
‘Grace’ (24” x 24” Mixed Media) was an award-winning painting for Karen in a New Canaan Art Show. But like many successes, Grace almost never happened.
“I started painting Grace, and I thought this was the ugliest painting I have ever seen. It looked like a big mush. Then one day I walked into my studio, and in two sessions it’s done.”
Now, ‘Grace’ hangs as the centerpiece in someone’s home.
Karen flips through an owl book given to her by a friend and stops on the photo that inspires ‘Grace.’
“I have no idea what kind of owl that is, but this owl is soft and knowing,” she says. “I call her Grace because there is such strength in her grace. And that’s what it’s about for me.”
‘Charlie’ (42” x 53” Mixed Media) is a large painting prominently hanging in Karen’s living room and named after her grandson, Charlie.
“My grandson, Charlie has that sized face, and I look at it and see Charlie.”
Herb and Glo
‘Herb and Glo’ (36” x 36” Acrylic) is painting that holds special meaning for Karen.
“As I was painting this, I was like, these are my parents. They loved each other, but they were cranky and yelled at each other constantly. They look like two cranky owls that are mates for life. Like my parents,” she says with a smile.
New Year’s Eve Party
‘New Year’s Eve Party’ (48” x 36” Oil on Canvas) took Karen over a year to paint because she said it just wasn’t clicking.
“When I started getting funny and playful then it started to pull together.”
She put a vest on one owl, put a crown on another and painted one falling sleep.
Karen says she paints alone and in a group once a week and when a painting buddy looked at the painting and suggested that the name of this painting should be New Year’s Eve Party, and she knew, that’s it!
Karen says she looks at the picture of an owl in a book and thinks, “I have to paint you. You look like a Poindexter.”
‘Poindexter’ (12” x 16” Oil) hangs in her brother’s house with a few other of Karen’s paintings.
Her inspiration for painting owls and creating an entire series is steeped in tragedy turned tribute.
As Karen begins to tell her story, she becomes very serious, intense and spiritually enlightened. It’s obvious this is not easy for her to tell.
Three years ago on a cold and sunny day, she and her husband were traveling to meet friends in the Berkshires and then, out of nowhere, on a deserted road, she sees an owl.
“The owl looks just like this in full flight.” Karen points to the large 30” x 60” acrylic painting of a Barn Owl hanging over her door entitled, ‘New Heights.’
One can’t but notice the thoughtful placement of the painting parallel to the bird feeders just outside her studio.
Almost as if this painting is a beacon to call other birds and let them know this is a place of peace.
Brush with Death
“It was eleven in the morning, and we’re just getting near open space, and I see this owl flying heading straight at us. I was amazed because you never see that. I was positive it was going to fly over the car.”
You see the emotion on Karen’s face as her voice drops.
“We lock eyes. I’m in the passenger seat, and the owl came full force into the windshield right on my side. I couldn’t breathe because I knew it died. I didn’t even know something like that can happen.”
The owl’s body left a huge impression in the windshield, but a more significant impact in Karen’s life.
She couldn’t shake the tragic events so she and her husband light a fire to honor the spirit of this owl.
After sharing her story, a friend suggests Karen paint owls as a tribute.
“There is my tribute. I feel like the universe knocks on your door in strange ways and this was like, hello.”
Karen says the story about why she’s painting owls is the same reason why she’s not interior designing.
“The universe speaks, and I listen.”
Now every owl she paints in tribute is done under the watchful eye of the Barn Owl that inspires her on this rewarding journey.
Next Art Series
The commissions keep rolling in and she hopes to begin a series on a new topic someday soon.
After taking a trip to Africa, Karen says she’s found her new muse.
“The elephant is the most incredible creature,” she says as she leads us to the beginning of new work in progress of an elephant family crossing a stream in Africa.
“I was going to do a whole elephant series, and I still am, but I’m still getting calls for these owls,” she says. “I have a pile of stuff that I should be doing, but I’d much rather be painting. Everything I do is about creating.”
And the tribute continues.
See Karen Kent’s owl series here.
Karen Kent is an exhibiting member of Rowayton Arts Center and New Haven Paint and Clay. She is also a member of Carriage Barn Arts Center, Westport Arts Center, Westport Arts Collective, Greenwich Art Society, the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County and the Ridgefield Guild of Artists all based in Connecticut.
Check out Karen’s new show, “Road Trip,” featuring mixed media on canvas January 10, 2019 6pm-8pm at the New Canaan Library in New Canaan, CT.