The Artistic Process of Karen Talbot


Conservaton artist Karen Talbot is a scientific illustrator as well known for her fine art as she is for her more technical illustrations. "Whether it's a painting for a client, a piece I intend to show in a gallery or at a fine art show, or an illustration for a scientific journal or magazine, my art almost always begins with the specimen itself," says Talbot.

"I prefer to work from actual specimens," she says, "and most paintings begin with field research. In the case of birds and boatnicals, I do lot of field notetaking, sketching and photographing. When it comes to the fishes, it usually means getting wet." As an avid fly angler and diver, Karen frequently pursues her subjects in their natural habitat, again making field notes and sketches, as well as taking photographs. "All of my notes, sketches and photographs are invaluable when I get back into the studio and start creating the studies for the fianl piece," says Talbot.

What Talbot calls "studies" are, for some of her collectors, as valuable as the finished pieces. "For a new species," Talbot says, "I may do eight or nine studies before I'm ready to start the final painting." Each study may consist of a blend of Talbot's own field notes with morphometric data transferred from reference material and specimens in the sudio or trips to research facilites, where she can work with preserved specimens. The text on the studies is often accompanied by detailed sketches a various anatomical features and color studies. The studies tell a story in and of themesleves, although many of Talbot's collector's choose to buy one or more studies with an original painting.

Once Talbot feels ready to tackle the finished painting, she works almost exclusively from her own studies. Most pieces begin with graphite work and progress to detailed pen & ink. In many cases, the pen & ink work--where Talbot frequently records anatomical details down to the proper number of scales along the lateral line for a fish species--may take two days or more to complete. With the detail work recorded, a light watercolor wash is applied. To finish a piece, Talbot commonly mixes her media, using colored pencil and various paints. Often the final detail work in terms of coloring is accomplished with an unforgiving dry brush technique.

When it comes to commissions, Talbot often works very closely with clients. "Working with clients is one of my favorite parts of my job," she says. "Whether the client is an indivudal, an editor, a currator of a natural history exhibit, an author, a marketing director, or a publicist for a state resource management agency, each job becomes a relationship." To discuss working with Talbot on a project, feel free to email her directly.

To see some of the studies currently available for purchase, click here.