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Karen Steffano



I was born in Cyprus of British parents. The year was 1966. I spent my early life in England until age six, after which my family immigrated to South Africa, where we have lived ever since.

I have always loved to draw and paint, my initial inspiration was discovering horses and horse riding at the age of eight, I became completely horse mad and they were what I most wanted to draw. To me no other creature has such beauty and perfection. When I watch a horse move I am awed by its natural grace. To this day I still doodle horses – it’s an ingrained habit. In my childhood I had some fun with paint-by-numbers – my first introduction to painting, they were of horses, naturally, I later moved on to the Walter Foster How To series on landscape art.

At the age of fourteen I submitted four drawings on four separate occasions to the local Sunday paper and all four were published on the children’s art page.

Art became my favourite subject at school, I won the art prize one year and I dreamed of becoming a famous artist.

I went on to study Fine Art at Wits University, majoring in Painting.

After graduating, despite having two works chosen for the end of year student exhibition and also winning a merit award in a local competition, I told myself that art and making money don’t go together, so I pursued a career in other things and dabbled in art for a long, long time. After years of excuses and promises that I would one day go back to art, I finally found myself back where I belong.


My Vision

Animals and landscape are my favourite subjects, sometimes I combine both in an unexpected way – I get a kick out of putting things where they don’t belong so that the viewer becomes curious, amused, perhaps even taken aback.

So there are works like the pig at a dining room table, or the larger than life giant statues of horses emerging from the sea. There is a sense of humour and lightheartedness about most of my paintings.

When I paint landscape I like to capture the essence of the subject rather than get bogged down in every little detail. I like to play with colour, initially I study my source carefully and paint what I see, I then ignore the source and liven it up a bit by adding colour that is not really there but which gives it interest and spark.

When you look closely at some of my work it is simply colour and brushwork, once you step away it becomes almost photographic as your eye fills in what isn’t there.

I love the South African landscape, there is so much variety and as it is my home it holds special meaning for me. I find myself quite often drawn to the mundane in a landscape rather than a grand vista, taking something you wouldn’t ordinarily notice and turning it into something special – I believe when you spend the time to paint something with joy and care you are paying homage to the subject, perhaps it is part of my quirky nature to elevate things most folks would bypass. Yet when I am out and about in nature I am transported by the beauty of nature, those grand vistas can really move me but I also notice things – like the way a shadow falls, the pattern of leaves on a tree, the wonder of that purple blue haze of things far away, the particular mix of reds, browns and yellows on an autumn tree, sunlight emerging after a recent thunderstorm or sunlight during a light rainfall - in South Africa we call that a “monkey’s wedding”.


The Process

As a painter I don’t like to spend too long on a work, I work best if I try to keep things fresh and spontaneous. This gives me a sense of freedom, I don’t want to be tied too closely to the source, it’s as though I want to express myself with paint.

I don’t know if it laziness or a low boredom threshold but there it is.

When I draw I find my best work is in charcoal, pencil feels too definite and stilted.

I did try super realism once – it didn’t work out and I knew that it just wasn’t me.

I am always anxious to get to the end – I can’t wait to see what it will be when it’s done.


When I start a painting I quickly draw in just few guidelines of where things will be, I then add washes and colour. This is fun and exciting as I visualize what it will be when it is done. I always do a colour wash over the whole canvas before I start; a pure white canvas is too intimidating and has no soul. I sometimes leave bits of the background wash to show through, red works especially well with a green landscape as the red adds a liveliness to the green.

Once I have painted a fair bit I usually go through a painful period in the middle where I struggle to get it to where I want it to go.

Sometimes I emerge from this and when I am in the final stages the excitement kicks in and I can’t wait to finish it.

Other times I have to put the work aside and start something else.

I have lots of half done canvases in my studio, where I hit the struggle in the middle and couldn’t find my way out.

Some of them I will simply start over, the problem is sometimes with the source, other times I will see a way through and end up being very happy with the result.

I did a portrait of my daughter once that I almost gave up on, but I really wanted to finish it so I pushed through the struggle part and ended up with a wonderful painting.

There are days when the work just flows,  I work best if I start first thing in the morning, after my coffee  and breakfast of course – can’t work on an empty stomach.


I went to an astrologer once who told me that art is very strong in my chart, that my life would go well if I was creating and it is true.

When I create art I feel energized, good about myself and at peace with the world.


I found it hard to choose what painting to include as an example of my work, Each one is very different so in the end I decided on my favourite piece called “Dining Pig”.

Karen Steffano, Cyprus, UK, South Africa

DINING PIG, postmodern artvork by artist Karen Stefano


Dining Pig, artwork by Karen Steffano

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