by Carole Verona
Lafayette Hill resident Karen Kappe Nugent, 48, whose artwork shows regularly at the Chestnut Hill Gallery, has never stopped searching for the technique that will make her a better artist.
Her search began when she was on the academic track as a student at Hallahan High School, an all-girls Catholic school at 311 N. 19th St. “The academic track didn’t really didn’t interest me; it wasn’t a passion,” she said. But while at Hallahan, she did win an art award, and that was the encouragement she needed to pursue a career as an artist. She went to Penn State Abington, but once again it wasn’t a good fit for her. She transferred to the University of the Arts and after graduation went into the illustration field because “I couldn’t comprehend how to make a living as a painter. It was too much of a hairball to unfurl.”
While she was working as a graphic designer, she continued to take courses, “searching for myself as a painter.” Karen studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Barnes Foundation and at various art centers. “But I didn’t really feel confident in technique. I could draw, but there was a certain level of finish that I was looking for. I could take a painting to a certain level, and then I would be floundering,” she said.
Karen then attended a demonstration by Neil Carlin at the Greater Norristown Art League. “He was teaching how to use a prepared palette, something I had never been exposed to before,” Karen said. She explained that a prepared palette is an organized, efficient way of working and mixing colors. “A light bulb went off, and I said to myself, I need to learn more about this… I’m signing up!” Thus began a long mentoring relationship with Carlin. With a small group of other artists, Karen studies with him for about three hours a week at Studio Rilievo in Kennett Square.
The efficiency she learned from Carlin has allowed her to take her work much further. Most recently, she won the Rubenstein Painting Award for “Breakfast Beginnings” at a juried art show at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown. The Lafayette Hill artist won out over 150 professional artists who had submitted entries to the show. Painted in oil on paper, Karen used a limited palette of oranges and grays for the still life, demonstrating that depth and richness of color can be achieved even when using a limited palette.
“It’s wonderful to be recognized for your work,” Karen said. “There are many artists who produce good or great work and enter shows; however you don’t always get an award, and you may not even get in the show if it’s juried. This time everything was in alignment for me.”
When asked what she wants people to see when they look at her paintings, Karen said, “Whatever they want to see.” She believes that “art opens up dialogue.” She always tries to set up a painting to that it has more than one meaning, at least for her. “For me, it’s almost like a meditation,” she added.
Karen currently manages two facets of a very busy career. In addition to her work as a fine artist, she is the sole proprietor of a graphic design business. She has a diverse roster of clients, ranging from individuals and fellow painters to companies including Merck, Wolters Kluwer and Custom Ultrasonics. She also shares her expertise and insight in a graphic design course she teaches at Montgomery County Community College.
You will be able to see Karen’s work at the Montgomery County Land Trust Show in the fall at Montgomery County Community College. She has also been invited to serve on the jury at an upcoming show at the Greater Norristown Art League.
Karen lives in Lafayette Hill with her husband, Joe, who is Postmaster at the U.S. Post Office in Wayne. The couple has three children — Ainsley, 12, Meghan, 9, and Joseph, 8 — and two dogs, Daisy and Sundae.