Two local painters pay homage to natural light at Gallery Los Olivos

Courtesy image by Karen Mclean-Mcgaw
READING THE PALMS: Prolific watercolor and oil painter Karen McLean-McGaw based her piece Refugio Palm Reflections on a line of palm trees at Refugio State Beach, one of her favorite Central Coast destinations.

The sun’s place in the sky or its relation to a single cloud can make or break a plein air expedition for Karen McLean-McGaw and Carrie Givens, two local artists and longtime friends who often paint landscapes outdoors together.

Despite their countless painting adventures over the years, the pair has never showcased their works side by side in a duo exhibition, until this August, when their debut collaboration premiered at Gallery Los Olivos.

Through the end of the month, a collection of colorful landscapes by McLean-McGaw and Givens will remain on display at the local gallery in a show titled Inspired by Light.

“When Carrie and I decided to work together on a show, it wasn’t hard to come up with an unifying theme,” McLean-McGaw said. “Carrie and I have always been drawn to and inspired by the natural qualities of light when defining the landscape.”

click to enlarge Two local painters pay homage to natural light at Gallery Los Olivos
Courtesy image by Carrie Givens
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE: One of local pastelist Carrie Givens’ landscapes featured in Inspired by Light, a new duo exhibition at Gallery Los Olivos, is Gaviota Morning, which captures the rolling hills of Gaviota.

“Light is just a given for both of us,” she added. “It’s what makes us tick.”

A prolific watercolor and oil painter based in Santa Barbara, McLean-McGaw said she has always been attracted to the interplay between sunlight and the environments she chooses to capture, especially waterfront settings.

McLean-McGaw’s personal favorite piece of her own currently on display at Gallery Los Olivos is Refugio Palm Reflections, which she completed in her studio based on a photograph she took at Refugio State Beach. She took the photo shortly after finishing a plein air landscape at the beach, when a change in sunlight grabbed her attention.

“The light was low and the colors were intensified,” said McLean-McGaw, who became mesmerized by a shoreside row of palm trees and the way it was mirrored in the ocean water while she was packing her painting supplies. 

“When I turned around to pack up, the tide had gone out, revealing all the beautiful reflections of the line of palm trees,” said the artist, who set out to re-create that moment in Refugio Palm Reflections.

Although seaside locales are prevalent throughout her body of work, McLean-McGaw is no stranger to highlighting vineyards, urban terrains, and other types of settings in her paintings. Over the past three decades, she’s frequently traveled to Italy and France to not only paint landscapes but demonstrate her painting techniques during workshops she’s led. 

While McLean-McGaw uses watercolor and oil to bring her landscapes to life, Givens works primarily with pastels. 

click to enlarge Two local painters pay homage to natural light at Gallery Los Olivos
File photo courtesy of Gallery Los Olivos
DISPLAY DESTINATION: Inspired by Light opened at Gallery Los Olivos in early August. The showcase includes watercolor and oil works by Karen McLean-McGaw and pastel landscapes by Carrie Givens.

Even prior to viewing her vibrant, photorealistic paintings, full of subtle hues to illustrate shadows and sunshine, Givens’ emphasis on natural light and timing is apparent in the titles of her works, which include Morning at the River and Glow of Sunset Grass.

“Light brings out shadow, color, and atmosphere that makes the scene so inspiring to paint,” said Givens, a member of the Pastel Society of the West Coast, the Santa Barbara Art Association, the Goleta Valley Art Association, the Southern California Artists Painting for the Environment, and other artist collectives.

A pastelist since 2003, Givens perfected her penchant for capturing light and shadows while shadowing several renowned artists—including Richard McKinley, Kim Lordier, Barbara Janieke, Liz Haywood-Sullivan, and Lorenzo Chavez—during various art workshops over the years.

Similar to McLean-McGaw’s approach, Givens will often start her landscapes outdoors on location and complete them at a later time in her studio, or work from her own reference photos to start and finish a piece indoors. 

Over the years, one of Givens’ favorite areas she and McLean-McGaw have traveled together to paint plein air was Bishop, California, especially during the fall, when they’re “both able to paint the colors from that time of year—super golden trees against the dark blue Sierras in the background,” the pastelist said.

Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood loves autumn colors too. Send pumpkin spice lattes to [email protected].

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