Plein Air & Portrait Artist

Tidewater Women’s Fran Ward talked with Virginia artist Karen Kinser, about plein air painting—the French tradition of painting outside.

FW: Karen, you paint plein air, and I’ve seen your website full of color painted both in outdoor settings and in the studio.

KK: I do love what I’m doing.

FW: Where you are from and how did you begin painting?

KK: I grew up in Miami and went to University of Florida. My foundation is in fine arts, yet I veered off into graphic design, received a Bachelor of Design, and worked doing commercial art.

FW: When did you switch from commercial to fine art?

KK: After my first child, I decided to freelance. My husband was doing well enough; I gave fine arts a try. I took a class in pastels at Virginia Beach Center for the Arts (now MOCA) and started producing in pastels before picking up a paintbrush. I’ve always been drawn to my first field of interest— the human figure. I worked with a group. For years we hired a model every Friday for drawing and painting. It was a great time for me to develop my skill.

FW: What came next?

KK: Then I did the outdoor art show circuit. It’s very hard work. Like a gypsy, I would pack up my stuff including my tent. Tents don’t magically appear on the boardwalk. Artists purchase them, bring their own, and set them up. I went up and down the East Coast, then wondered what I would do next.

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I was taking a painting workshop in Easton, Maryland, that coincided with their annual “Plein Air Easton.” Artists from all over the country arrived with their easels and materials to paint outdoors in the sun and wind and rain. They would take to the fields and farmers’ backyards—and be available to anyone who asked them questions. It was a great event benefiting not only the artists (at the show and sale at the end of the week) but also the art center and the town. The townspeople learned something about art, watching it being made.

I left with the idea that I wanted to do something similar in Tidewater. I’m an “I can do it” person. Sometimes I take on too much, but I started out small with “Out and About Norfolk.” I advertised. Again I relied on my graphic skills to create the website, the ad, the posters, everything by myself. I had free rein to do whatever I wanted.

I’m more comfortable in the planning and designing world of plein air than I am behind the easel. I raised enough prize money to draw some really fine painters. It was an interesting experience to be the woman wearing all the hats. I didn’t sit down for days—it was go, go, go….

FW: It sounds as if it was a high-energy event.

KK: It was. Especially for me. It was a huge success. The event grew and outgrew Norfolk, so I expanded it to “Plein Air 757.” When people in the towns in the area were losing interest, I moved on.

FW: You’re philosophical and practical.

KK: Everything has its life span and shelf life.

FW: What’s your focus now?

KK: Portrait commissions. I take hundreds of pictures of an individual then capture that person’s moment in paint. People have responded to the portraits. Photos are everywhere these days. It’s nice to have something to be cherished as a family heirloom almost.

I still paint plein air 2 or 3 times a year, at least. I’ll be participating in the Hampton Arts May plein air event at Fort Monroe.

FW: There are so many choices for an artist at Fort Monroe—unusual architecture, the stone fortress, the largest moat in America, a lighthouse, a chapel with Tiffany windows, the pet cemetery, Hotel Chamberlin, the sea, beaches and marshes, and the natural windswept landscape. It will be a fabulous experience.

What would you like the readers of Tidewater Women to know?

KK: Remember there are many wonderful local artists painting, drawing, and  print-making. No one has to go to Washington or New York to purchase art. I wish people would buy local art just as they do their groceries. Support our local artists. Go to art festivals, the d’Art Center, and the local galleries to make art purchases locally.

FW: We have such a great artistic and cultural community. There is a diversity of talent in Tidewater. Perhaps someone might gain inspiration from your thoughts and reflections. Thanks, Karen.

Plein Air at Historic Fort Monroe • May 14, 2016, 9 am–5 pm • Presented by Charles H. Taylor Arts Center, 4205 Victoria Boulevard, Hampton • • 757-727-1490 • Registration fee for painting • Free to watch & interact with artists.

Karen Kinser:;

Fran Ward is an artist and writer with a PhD in Metaphysics. She is an active art and music lover who enjoys traditional cultural productions as well as seeking events off the beaten path.

Fran Ward

Fran Ward is an artist and writer with a Ph.D. in Metaphysics (the body, mind, spirit connection). She is an active art and music lover who enjoys traditional cultural productions as well as seeking events off the beaten path. Reach her at

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