Newest Work



December 2017

It’s always been a challenge for me when I decide to paint dark colored images because I don’t use black. In my eyes, black seems so final and lifeless. It destroys and overpowers any color it’s mixed with, so I created my own way to make the darker colors by using blue and brown together. The process is very time-consuming and physically exhausting for me, but I think these pieces end up looking quite striking without the heaviness of black.

I start out by painting brown umber in the darkest areas and work the pigment throughout the image. I then use a dark blue, like ultramarine or midnight blue, and paint over the darkest brown areas. I alternate the colors like this until I feel it’s right. Layer over layer, the image starts to develop a rich darkness. By not mixing them together on a palette, the integrity of the colors remain separate and bring forward their own power. Looking directly at the image, one can see distinct blue areas and distinct brown areas. It’s an effect I like to use to manipulate the image like “pushing and pulling” it until the depth I want is achieved (the nose coming forward, the ears pushed back).

This painting was meant to be a surprise and I could only find one photo of Kai. I couldn’t see the edges of her face because the photo cropped them off. Since the contour of her face was unknown, I decided to paint flower petals around it so her face became the center of a flower. Everything else I couldn’t see in the photo I did from memory.

I’m very happy with the way it came out. There’s always a certain amount of stress when doing a portrait. I hope my friend will like it.


November 2017

This watercolor painting was created specifically for one of my favorite singers, Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues. The idea was taken directly from a song he wrote called “Voices in the Sky”, but since I had already done a painting using that as a title I decided to bring more attention to the faces.

I purposely gave myself an exercise in creating distance – physically and atmospheric. Everything far away is very unclear and clouded in color. I mostly show this with the tree, where the roots and lowest part of the trunk are very detailed with lots of contrast, as is the grass. As the tree gets taller it starts to fade away. The height is suggested by the softer colors and limbs shooting into the clouds. I love trees for their texture and strength. They remind me of strong people, and I have always thought of them as the guardians of the earth. The simple the face I added suggests that the tree has a personality. I already knew that it did.

I did not plan out where the faces would go before hand, nor did I plan out the size of each face or direction it was facing.. I literally saw a face in the paper and I would emphasize the features with color. I wanted them to disappear into the clouds so they would not be easily seen. Some of them actually look like portraits of someone I might know, but I did not plan it that way. Originally, I wanted the faces to get smaller as they got closer to the horizon line, but I had to bring out what I saw no matter how big it was or where it was. I think many of the faces are quite interesting, and I hope the viewer will enjoy finding all the hidden ones.



October 2017

Originally, this painting was started about 5 years ago. I’ve always had an interest in castles and Dracula/vampires, so finding a picture of his real castle in Transylvania (supposedly) was especially attractive to me. The only problem I have is I’m tremendously terrible with architectural work. Anything with straight lines is quite challenging to me. As I began painting it, I lost interest in it rather quickly. I couldn’t keep the lines straight and I wasn’t very happy with the way my castle was coming out. It looked rather shaky and unspectacular. I’m sure in reality had it been an existing structure it would fall down with the first breeze. Not only was the castle not sturdy looking, I fell into my old habit of painting too heavy.

I put it aside and moved on to complete numerous other paintings, but last summer I realized I didn’t have anything else lined up to work on. I decided that I should finish this painting and see how it goes. One thing I hadn’t realized is that my style had changed over the course of 5 years and my current style was much more interesting and colorful. I took it on as kind of a challenge and discovered it was going to be a big challenge. I couldn’t just continue working where I left off because I wanted to try correcting what I had already done. That was a job in itself, trying to fix that dark, wobbly – looking structure.

Trying to repair the castle was pretty much impossible because the medium was watercolor, but I was able to blend some areas and brighten them up. I had learned a technique from one of my professors on how to lift a minimal amount of pigment off. It’s very tricky and time-consuming – getting a brush slightly wet and painting over the areas that are too dark, cleaning out the brush and blotting it dry and then stroking over the moist area with the dry brush. It’s really the only way to remove a bit of paint. One must be very careful not to do this too much in one area because too much water and scrubbing will compromise the integrity of the paper and the image will get muddy looking. I’ve done it a million times and I’ve actually made holes in my paper. It would be so much easier if I would just use lighter colors and build them up slowly rather than trying to remove some darks. Maybe I’ll learn that lesson some day.

In order to repair this piece, I decided to use only a size  minus five zero’s watercolor brush, which is very tiny and has about 20 hairs in it. By using only the small brush I was forced to focus more on the details. When I decided to finish this painting, my thought process started to change. Instead of trying to create a realistic scene with a castle that was already far from perfect, I decided to cause a different effect by surrounding the castle with light and delicate color. I enjoyed the hours of the time it took to repair and complete the sky. I couldn’t fix my castle the way I wanted to so I turned it into a contradiction – where it is heavy with dark colors, the sky has the most delicate and puffy clouds that are blended to perfection. I located areas in the sky that made me think of flowers. Compared to the castle, the flowers are slender and tall like trees, looming around the castle. I actually saw the shapes of the flowers in my paper before I started painting them. They fit in the sky perfectly because the area they take up was offered to my eyes. There is a battle of contrasts going on – dark and light, heavy and light, structured and freeform. I believe the flowers and clouds help to tie in a different feeling about the castle where Dracula lived. The castle looks goofy, so why not surround it with light and airy objects to play with the idea that it is not a castle of horror and fear.

It’s an abstract, weird little painting, but I enjoy looking at it. Hopefully others will enjoy it as well – especially when they locate the two blue bats that are fluttering around.



May 2017

This painting is a free form piece, which is what I call paintings that come from images in my mind and do not necessarily depict realistic objects. I let my imagination determine what I paint on the paper and where. I can actually see pictures in the paper already – all I have to do is expose and embellish them, revealing what the viewer cannot see.

I consider this type of painting as being done purely for fun or releasing feelings and emotions.  Almost everything in the garden is somehow twisted in nature, and those looking at this painting should enjoy discovering every hidden element. I have also completely changed my palette to somewhat muted colors for a more disturbing atmosphere.

At first glance, the garden seems fun and colorful, a magical world; but there is something wrong with this place. Practically everything in the garden has a personality all its own, and it might not even be friendly. There is so much going on it almost feels like a suffocating trap. There are plenty of things to look at but there’s no way to escape. This garden is my world. I’m sharing a glimpse of it with the viewer. The  isolation in my life has caused me to seek stimulation and inspiration from within myself. I just make up the imagery I like because I don’t receive very much incentive to create from the outside world.

I completed this piece working totally from left to right, and every object included was decided upon seconds before I drew it in with paint. I usually work from back to front, but it was more challenging to figure out the positive and negative spaces and how each element fit together as I worked across the surface. Not knowing what was going to come up next was what ultimately kept this piece  more compelling to me.


February 2017

I was inspired to do this painting after an artist friend shared how she was designing tarot cards. While I did not want to re-create the Moon card, my interest was piqued by its components. I had just completed two portraits of dogs in my photo-realistic style, so I was looking forward to creating something from my imagination. I’m bringing in challenges for myself with composition, color and texture. My goal is to create an “other-worldly”, kind of scary place that doesn’t exist.

Using the Moon card as a reference, I became even more intrigued when I started my research. It refers to great “sensitivities and imaginative impressionability. All is not what it seems.”

The greatest challenge and most successful portion of this painting to me is the full moon. What started out as being a pencil – drawn circle on a piece of paper became a glowing body of mass. First I painted the blue sky leaving a small, blurry edge of white (paper) around the circle. I used the lightest color of purple I could make and filled in the circle, leaving another pure white edge around the inside of the moon. Many layers of a light blue/purple color was the finishing touch. I’m very happy with this part. When the tree and limbs were added, the moon was pushed back into the distance appearing to glow even more.

Besides loving all things lunar, I’ve been fascinated by werewolves since childhood. The thought of a human being turning into something with animal strength and freedom without responsibilities was very attractive to me as a young child with a disability. Watching stories about werewolves really fed my imagination. And what better painting to incorporate  a werewolf in? I decided to make the werewolf a female. She is trapped in a tree trunk with no means of escape – frozen in place. The position of her body, though, seems to express a sense of surrender. There is no other form of existence for her. The moon card “illuminates our animal nature“, and the wolf in general wants us to break convention and go wild.

The crab is a symbol of hidden psychic power, but for me it represents a tenacity to hang on to life and the daily struggles it offers to me after losing my dearest friend to cancer in 2013. The heart of stone in the painting refers to my sadness. It has a crack in it symbolizing that I will miss my friend every day for the rest of my life.

As for the other pieces of my painting, the rose always pertains to me. The unique thing is I left the eye of my brother’s dog on the paper (from a previous project) because I wanted it to be looking out from the center of the rose. There is also a small, grassy hill with two stones on it. This image is actually a partial face of a parakeet, one stone being the eye and the other being the beak. Little animals bring me so much joy, and I wanted to lighten the mood of the piece just a bit.

I worked very slow with a tiny brush, holding my breath the entire time while painting. My logic was if I worked more precisely, the image I I create will better resemble the one in my head, and it will be more compelling for the viewer if they can “see” a glimpse of my visual intention. The best part about doing this painting is I create it as I go. There are no rules or set guidelines. I just paint, and let the images I see on the paper guide me.



January 31, 2017

This is Bella and she belongs to my sister. Bella’s a feisty little critter and she loves her toys. I believe I captured her playfulness in this small watercolor. One thing I learned was how difficult it is to paint white animals…

After not painting for 3 years, I kind of wanted to jump right into another piece after creating a portrait of my brothers dog. I didn’t have any ideas and I didn’t want to waste any more time, so I decided just to paint my sisters dog. I thought it would be easier this time since I was back in the painting game and Bella is white. It wasn’t easier at all, and this is actually my 2nd attempt at this piece. I’ve always been a little heavy with color – maybe because I can’t move around easily and I tend to concentrate too much attention and pigment into one small area. Also I’m still. having to hold my breath when I work, so I find myself trying to get more color into areas more quickly. That’s the thing about watercolor, though – you can’t just pile color on willy-nilly because it cannot be taken away. Maybe I’m just getting more impatient in my old age.

When I messed up the 1st painting I almost didn’t start another one. I did start again, however, and I’m glad I did. I started out differently this time by purposely using a very tiny brush so I couldn’t use as much paint. All of a sudden I realized I was back in that familiar creative zone where you kind of work instinctively. The brush just does what it’s supposed to do without much thought. It’s like magic… I can barely believe the results myself.

Once again I used an unclear photo of Bella on purpose so I would add in details that I imagined should be there even though I couldn’t see them. I just let my mind make it up. In the photo, the dogs’ eyes dogs the dogs were merely big black circles. I imagined where the highlights should be, reflections, shadows and colors, as well as the pupil.

I solved the “white animal” problem by creating a small well of water and added some blue, dark brown, henna, green and red. I kept it so watery it had hardly any color at all. Using only the tiny brush (a triple 0) to apply the color, I was able to distinguish the fur slowly and precisely without losing the precious white paper that cannot be replaced.

I am very happy with the results of this piece, and that I successfully met the challenge I gave myself.




October 2016

This painting is pivotal to my career as an artist. I had not painted in nearly 3 years due to severe depression, and I knew if I didn’t pick it up again soon I might not be able to paint ever again. A year ago my brother had asked me if I would do a painting of his beloved dog Zoey, and I really wanted to do it. I could barely hold on to my pencil while drawing it out and it was extremely taxing  physically, but I never realized how much harder it was going to be when I started painting the eyes. I couldn’t hold on to the paintbrush unless I held my breath. I would work for 5 minutes and feel totally exhausted. I struggled so much I ruined three attempted portraits of Zoey. I became very discouraged as I destroyed every eye I painted. Creating art is one of the few things I could do by myself without assistance, and the thought of losing this ability was very depressing to me. I felt if I couldn’t paint anymore, I was no longer an artist.

I kept trying, though, and I could work about 10 minutes before I would have to rest. Soon it became 20 minutes at a time, and finally the longest time I could work was approximately 90 minutes. The more I did, the easier it became. I am so glad I pursued painting again because now I know I’m still an artist, and even more so a productive human being. I can do something not everyone can do.

I had several  references for Zoey, and  I chose a 3/4 side view of her head. It’s an interesting pose compositionally, but I really enjoy the effects of foreshortening when animals are photographed a certain way. As the head and nose come closer to the camera and become larger I can really see and create a personality. To me, the expression emits a sort of happiness, loyalty and joy. She looks ready to do whatever my brother wants and she is waiting for his command.

There were no plans as to what else would be included in the painting other than the dog. In the early years I would not put backgrounds in my pieces because I thought emphasis would be taken away from the main subject. In this case, I thought by using contrasting colors I could make the image pop more than if I left the background white. I started painting a cool blue sky to complement the dark brown/black fur of the dog. Knowing my brother loves islands and diving, I decided the bottom half of the painting would be a beach. Not only does the warm color of the sand compliment the sky, it really works with the cool blue colors in the white fur. I believe because of my strong use of contrasting colors, this is one of the most dynamic images I have created in recent years.

I do love working with textures – and it looks great for the dog and the sand, but I didn’t like the textured sky. I was very disappointed in it, but it seemed like there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I have never been able to work large areas and keep the paint transparent like traditional watercolor is supposed to be. I had to develop my own style many years ago, and that is using thousands of tiny brush strokes until they blend together and cover the bigger areas. It takes a long time and lots of layering of colors. It bothered me because I felt like the sky looked furry like the dog. The texture made it look heavy, but I did find a solution to take some emphasis away. I decided to add three palm trees in the distant background, and it worked. The trees were painted very spontaneous. I literally painted them in without drawing them first. They ended up being the perfect distraction – the attention went right back to Zoey.

I am so happy when I look at it and it makes me smile. It represents the happiness of living well and making the most out of each day. The words “hope realized” also comes to my mind – hope that I could still paint and turn out something acceptable. I can, and I did.




Peace Puzzle 20154wheeler (5)ANIMAL PEACE by Karen Wheeler

April 20, 2015

Animals inspire me beyond words. My definition of Peace is expressed by showing how two animals of different size and species can lay down together and sleep. I have chosen a domestic house cat and a parakeet lying in peaceful slumber even though the cat is a natural predator to the bird. The larger cat is happy to be the protector of the smaller bird in this instance. There is no fear here because the two are friends and love each other so much that their only desire is to remain close to one another in peace. Maria Arango Diener skillfully carved my detailed drawing on the puzzle piece I received just so I could participate in the “1000 Woodcuts Peace Puzzle” project. To learn more about this project, please check out Above is the completed puzzle – can you spot my piece of the puzzle?



November 2014

Hearts and Flowers 75


The idea behind this piece is that one time while I was under hypnosis I had a vision of painting a red heart surrounded by green leaves also shaped like hearts. Later on when I consciously thought about it, I decided that I would actually never paint a plain heart. Since the heart was on a stem like a flower with leaves, I thought I would instead create a rosebud shaped like a heart. If the viewer squints their eyes while looking at the painting they will see that the rosebud is actually a heart.

I decided to work very small and make an art card, which is usually 3″ x 4″. It was much harder than I thought it would be, because even though it was tiny it still took me about a month to complete. Mostly my eyes aren’t what they used to be, and I would rather work a little larger since I’m so keen on crazy detail.



GIANT BUNNY SALE – Artists Notes

December 25, 2013

Giant Bunny Sale

Giant Bunny Sale

This idea came to me while I was traveling home from California and reading signs along the road. One sign that caught my eye said “Giant Used Car Sale!”, and all I could think about was “We have giants? And they use up cars and sell them to us little people?”. I was being silly because I was tired, but I started thinking about what other types of giant sales there could be, and for some reason I thought of rabbits. Rabbits are seen as adorable, furry little nonviolent animals – but what if they were giant and ominous? What if their cute little black eyes were huge and terrifying? The pictures in my head amused me, and since I hadn’t painted for seven months after losing my dad and my dear friend David, I was really happy and quite proud of myself for even thinking of something to paint. I love painting animals, especially if they can be seen in an unusual or unexpected way. I was also thinking of David because when we were a couple at one point I used to call him “Bunny” (short for honey bunny). I am looking forward to this because it makes me feel happy.

I am totally changing my palette and paints. I have decided to use some pan watercolors from Daler Rowney. This will force me to use new color and mix them in different ways. I am enjoying this challenge, and as always I am using Arches watercolor paper. I can’t go wrong –

I really wanted to keep the rabbit in the foreground black-and-white, but unfortunately I used up too much of the white area. It was an easy decision just to make it black, and it still stands out like I wanted. I’m glad it is finally finished – July 17, 2014.


RED GERBIL – Artists Notes

December 2013

Red Gerbil

Red Gerbil

The painting Red Gerbil is a commissioned piece which will be a surprise for my collector. She wanted me to paint something for her, and for many months her nickname in the social media (Red Gerbera) has reminded me of “red gerbil”. I can only hope she will like it.

I decided to put a gerbil standing next to a pink rose. I wanted the background to be loose and nondescript with cool colors so I could bring warm colors into the gerbil and the rose. The background is a washy blue with some brown near the bottom/foreground. I almost work too slow to do the wet on wet technique, but I found if I work on a 3 x 3″ sections, I can control the bleeding of the pigment by keeping such a small area damp. I use lots of water to prevent hard edges from forming, and I like working back to front and nondescript to detail. The background will take a total of three days as I can only work on it in sections without getting tired. First I completed the right side and then the left side. The foreground will be done last and I am trying to keep it very toned-down with interesting shapes. It shows up a lot right now because there is so much white paper showing, but once I get the subjects in place and start putting in detail, the background will not be prominent at all and should fade into the distance. I am happy to work on it.

Red Gerbil is finished! This is Wednesday, February 26, 2014. I am delighted with the way it came out, and I was especially nervous about painting the gerbils whiskers! But they came out perfect. The rose came out a little darker than I expected, but I still think it’s interesting to look at. I feel like I am finally starting to maintain some transparency instead of painting so heavy all the time. I enjoyed working on this piece so much and watching it grow. I’m so happy that I have not lost my skill!



  1. You’re work is thoughtful and inspiring thank you for sharing your incredible talent and story. As the mother of a beautiful little girl struggling with autism, you give me hope that, like you, her beautiful talent will surface and she, too, will bring joy to others; she already fills my life with it!!

    Thank you,
    Catherine lane (ucalane on Instagram)

    • Thank you so much Catherine! Art is the perfect form of expression, so your daughter is sure to teach and inspire others…..
      Always, Karen

  2. Red Gerbera says:

    It must be some kind of serendipity that made me come to your website today. Why? Because I see that it’s the first anniversary since you painted Red Gerbil. Thank you again for accepting my request for a Karen Wheeler original. It makes my heart sing every time I see it….and that’s not a usual reaction when one sees a rodent in their home :-)

    Love it and love you!

  3. Mona Lisa Buck says:

    Hi Karen, How much would the pictures of the pink, purple roses? MLb

    • Hi Mona! The prints are all different prices – just click on the painting you like and you will be directed to all the options available to you. Thanks so much for checking out my website!

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