Barns and flowers lined her path to the lake. When they would drive along North Georgia roads, Karen remembers sketching what she could see out the window, trying to catch the image in time.
Her mom was drawn to the landscapes they passed, too. “I remember pulling over, and she would always pick wildflowers off the side of the road and make her arrangements,” Karen recalls. Here lies some of her first artistic inspiration, her early memories with pencil and paper, and her first barn, now one of her favorite subjects.
It’s not surprising that Karen Marcum wanted to draw. “Creativity was always in our house,” she says. Using metal scrap or other discarded things found on the road, her dad would repurpose the material to create metal sculptures, and her mom loved photographing the flowers and the scenery around her. “She was always taking pictures, and I was fascinated with them.”
Although she’s now putting the sketchbooks aside for wood panels and acrylic paint, Karen’s work still reflects the nature she grew up around and the old photography she studied. “I’ve always loved going through my grandparents’ old albums,” she says. Karen once painted from a photo of her friend’s grandmother hula hooping, transforming a black and white photo to a colorful image with the same vintage feel.
Karen painted a shot from one of her family’s old home videos too, one of her mom riding a unicycle in Miami. With fitting Florida pastels, there’s an energy in her style that emerges with color and an expressive style in her strokes. “I was always trying to paint so tight, and I’m trying to loosen up,” Karen says. “I’ve realized that I end up liking it better if it doesn’t look perfectly realistic, and sometimes it’s fun to break the rules.”
Her style has changed over years of painting, but it all began with her children’s bedrooms. “I started painting for their walls, and that’s when I fell in love with it,” she says. She painted baseball gloves and soccer cleats for her son Zack, now a senior at Homewood High School, and his childhood bedroom and continued for her son Spencer, a sophomore, and her daughter Avery, an eighth grader. Covering the counters with paint, she worked in her kitchen, placing her studio in the heart of her home around her kids and husband Bart. “I loved getting to paint in the same room as everyone,” she says.
Only a year ago, she moved from working in the kitchen to her upstairs studio. Completed paintings and prints rest near each other in the space, displaying the many forms Karen paints in. With her use of modeling paste underneath the color, her larger works rise from the surface of the wood with every brush of paint. Her nests carry lots of blues, and she fills her barns with airy color. As the textured strokes move to create the picture, you feel like you’re driving past the barn when you get this magical glimpse of it, just like Karen did as a child.
Then, her Birmingham and Homewood scenes jump out with color. Either in a print or a notecard, they sport brightness and present this ideal little town, vibrant and filled with people. When you look up from the stack of prints on the table, the walls of Karen’s studio hold more color in the collection of her three children’s art from Edgewood Elementary and other classes. She photocopied their work and printed all the pieces together, lined up in little squares in front of the white walls. “They all have a different style that comes through,” she says. Zack is precise in his detail, Spencer focuses on realism in his charcoal sketches, and Avery brings out energy in her lines and colors.
Once she started painting more, Karen and some of her friends held an art show in her backyard, their first attempts at selling. “We just brought our work, brought some food and let our friends know,” she says, and from that led to more home shows and became Homewood Creatives. For Karen, that group of artists encouraged her to participate in more shows like Handmade, the Bluff Park Art Show and the Moss Rock Festival.
Although she’s always experimenting with different techniques and subjects, there’s a common thread beyond her impressionistic style—a realness and comfort, like each piece is a memory (or a beloved old photo). “I enjoy painting things that bring a kind of nostalgia or feelings of special times, and barns remind me of when I was growing up,” she says. “I love hearing stories from others about how something I painted brought up some connection they have to what they see.”
To learn more about Karen’s art, visit karenmarcumart.com or find her on Instagram @karenmarcum_art.
Where to Find Karen’s Work
- Alabama Goods: Homewood
- Four Seasons Gallery: Homewood
- Sweet Pineapple: Huntsville
- Sis and Moons: Alpharetta, Georgia
- Wild Oats and Billy Goats: Decatur, Georgia