Featured Artist Karen Israel

Enjoy the intriguing pastel portfolio of artist Karen Israel, who captures human relationships and moments in time. See more by visiting her website.


pastel drawing of three people on the street

“Another Possibility” soft pastel, 18″ x 14″


I have been painting for over twenty years and teaching pastel classes and workshops for the past ten. I started as a still life painter. In those early days, as I honed my powers of personal observation, I preferred to paint from life.


street scene in pastel by Karen Israel

“A Novel Idea” soft pastel, 13.5″ x 17.5″


More recently, much of my work represents action. As I work to capture people moving or interacting, I rely on my photo reference. Photos are invaluable because they freeze a fleeting moment that would otherwise be almost impossible to capture.


pastel painting of dog walkers in the city

“Day Trippers” soft pastels, 19″ x 19″


So much of art is about emotion. One of the joys I get from painting is emphasizing my emotional reaction to a given subject or scene. As I create, I tie that emotion to a descriptive word that I keep in the forefront of my mind.


pastel painting of a man and his house in a neighborhood

“After Living Alone” soft pastel, 15″ x 12″


Currently, I am inspired most by the figures that populate scenes in all types of environments, but I am especially drawn at this moment to the busy life on New York City streets or inside restaurants. I am rarely without my camera and always on the lookout for what I imagine to be the interesting stories behind, or the relationships between, people, or people and their animals.


pastel painting of a group of young children

“Too Many Cooks” soft pastel,12″ x 18″


The photograph becomes my foundation and the general principle behind the painting. But I depart from it in order, ultimately, to emphasize certain essential qualities of a subject as I see them. One important element is color and to exercise my color memory, I often work from a grayscale photograph. This forces me to be less literal to the photograph and use my imagination instead.


pastel painting of three young children

“The Finalists” soft pastel,15″ x 12″


Another key factor is composition. As I recreate the scene on paper, I almost always edit the references—cropping where necessary and adding or subtracting shapes, elements, hues and values. All the while, I consider the light, especially its direction and color, which punctuate and help define the drama of the scene.


pastel painting of children at the piano

“Troubadours” soft pastel, 20″ x 14.5″


My approach is flexible. Each piece develops almost organically according to the specific mood of the story I am creating. In Fast Friends, City Slickers and Troubadours, I used Sumi ink as the underpainting on Pastelmat paper, applying the pastel in layers after the ink dried.


a pastel painting showing work in progress

“Fast Friends” work in progress


With this technique, I am able to create subtle variations in tone as I keep the mood of the painting introspective.


pastel painting of a dog walker and pets

” Fast Friends” soft pastel, 19″ x 19″


When I want to communicate a sunnier emotional response, I work on black sanded paper with saturated color, as in Too Many Cooks and The Finalists. I sometimes enjoy the contrast of bright colors with a lonely feel, such as in Another Possibility and After Living Alone. In Téte a Téte, I use muted colors to describe an emotional scene between two men.


pastel painting of an emotional scene between two men

“Téte â Téte” soft pastel,  12″ x 15″


In all of these ways, an objective reality is the place where my emotional response to the subject begins. Each painting tells a story. As a painter, I express the story as I see it. The job of each viewer is to react in their own way.


Karen Israel invites you to follow her on Instagram and Facebook. 



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