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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Karen Steffano, Cyprus, UK, South Africa
artwork by Karen Steffano