By GAIL PARSONS
Every artist has his or her own style. Oftentimes it takes a while for them to discover it and hone it.
For years Bonnie Karraker’s style and skill was settled below the surface of everyday life. Although she recalled drawing a lot when she was a kid, she never identified herself as an artist.
As a young lady she moved from Dodge City to Abilene in 1958, started working, got married, had four children, and started college in 1967. While family, education and work took on the priorities in her life, there was an artist waiting to be released.
In 1989 she took her first art class, which unleashed the artist within. The class was watercolors, and she said she worked with the paints right out of the tube, which did not bring about the best results. But she wasn’t to be discouraged She started reading books and studying painting, specifically the work of artist Tony Couch.
“I really studied his book and tried to paint like him. He is my idol,” she said.
Though her style is very different than Couch’s, her skill level is just as superb. Karraker describes her style as “tight.” When one takes a close look at her work, that definition becomes evident. She painstakingly paints every minute detail often with a brush that only has two bristles. Whereas many artists employ a technique that gives the illusion of bricks on a wall, she will literally paint each and every separate brick, each as equally aligned as the next one and all of equal height and width.
Her specialty is realism and she works off of photographs that she either takes or finds in magazines. Her pieces are so precise they leave the viewer feeling the emotion felt by the subject in a portrait, or the warm breeze in a springtime landscape. But there is a process that goes into getting those results.
“I always sketch first. I make a value sketch to get the values the way I want them,” she said.
She has a sketchbook that contains the sketches of every painting she has done. Each sketch is as finely detailed as the finished painting. Years ago she would use a ruler and carefully measure out every detail to ensure everything, right down to the width of a stair was exact. Today she is as careful and meticulous but will use a computer to ensure the measurements are just right.
After the sketch is complete, which can take a couple of days, she traces it onto the canvas and begins the under painting, another tedious process but necessary to guarantee just the right hue is achieved.
“It takes longer to get ready to paint than to actually paint the picture,” she said.
Through reading books and studying the effects of the paints, Karraker has seemingly mastered a medium that many artists struggle with.
“(Watercolor) is more forgivable than people think,” she said. “Most of the times when people have trouble it is because they don’t use enough water – it is ‘water’ color.’”
What she likes about this medium is the way the colors mingle.
Despite her success at discovering a style of her own, Karraker said she would like to experiment with something that takes her out of her comfort zone a bit.
“I’ve always challenged myself to draw something as actual as I saw it,” she said. “Which is still fun to do, but now I would like to do looser, freer work. It is hard to change old habits.”
Karraker is well-known for her paintings of historical places in and around Abilene. Her latest work is of Nockey’s Drive Inn.
Karraker’s work can be seen and purchased at the Abilene Downtown Antique Mall. People who may be interested in honing their own painting skills are invited to join Karraker at a painting group that meets every other Wednesday. Anyone interested can give her a call at 263-3125 for days, times and location.
“I love painting. I turn on my music, get into my little zone and paint away all day,” she said.
This is one in a series of articles featuring Abilene artists, musicians, performing artists, and craftsmen. To recommend an artist to be featured, e-mail Gail Parsons at firstname.lastname@example.org.