Local artist and Ohio State alumnus captures life through art

A painting from LaValley’s backyard garden. Credit: Karen LaValley

Joshua Tree National Park in California; Sedona, Arizona; South Padre Island, Texas; and even her own backyard: all these places sparked Karen LaValley’s imagination and inspired her to paint.

LaValley, a Westerville-based artist and Ohio State Fine Art alumnus, has spent many years professionally pursuing her passion for the fine arts. She said her favorite subjects to paint are full of life, such as landscapes painted “in the open” or outdoors on location, as well as people.

“I like to see things that all of a sudden grab me,” said LaValley. “I think, ‘Oh, that’s so beautiful. Maybe I can try to capture this in the moment. “

For LaValley, these moments, while beautiful, are rarely perfect. She said her paintings are marked by a desire to capture beauty in all things, even though they are not traditionally seen as such.

“The things that inspire me are things that are not so pristine. I like wild things. I paint weeds if they’re pretty colors or flowers that aren’t super groomed, ”LaValley said. “I don’t think painting the most beautiful people is always the important thing – it’s trying to get the essence of someone.”

LaValley said that painting these “wild things”, while rewarding for her, can also be difficult, especially when the subject is outdoors. Often times, the original landscape with which she begins a painting will quickly fade as the sun moves across the sky, LaValley said. Despite the changing shadows and lights, she said she had to try to capture that initial moment.

LaValley’s artistic process is never the same for two paintings. She said that when painting outdoors, her first step is to install a viewfinder that helps her isolate the composition. She then sketches the scene loosely before gradually moving from larger to smaller shapes until it becomes like a picture.

“Towards the end, it’s more difficult because you have to make decisions to finalize the painting,” LaValley said. “It’s a very crucial piece. The whole process of setting up is a lot of fun, but then we really have to make the big decisions. It’s rewarding when it works, and not very rewarding when it doesn’t.

LaValley’s work has not only impacted her life, but the lives of others as well. Sharon McClurg Swedlow, LaValley’s childhood best friend and Ohio State alumnus, said she filled her home with paintings of LaValley.

“I am surrounded by his work and I am constantly inspired not only by what I see, but by what it means to me as we move through our lives,” said McClurg Swedlow.

McClurg Swedlow said LaValley often used his talents to capture special moments for the people around him. She received a painting from LaValley of her holding her first biological grandchild, which she says is still incredibly meaningful to this day. McClurg Swedlow said LaValley also painted several dogs in the family after their deaths and gave the paintings to their owners.

“It’s not just a picture, it’s a picture that Karen painted,” said McClurg Swedlow. “It is special.”

While LaValley enjoys creating art that is meaningful to others, she said she also enjoys creating art that makes people think.

“My only friend said she gained a new appreciation for weeds from looking at one of my paintings,” LaValley said. “I like to make people think about what they see and make them take a closer look at their surroundings. I think I impacted people that way.

LaValley’s art can be found in the Sharon Weiss Gallery located at 20 E. Lincoln St. More information can be found at the gallery website.

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