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Local artist featured in a national exhibit

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Spring Hill artist Karen Heidler saw her painted masterwork featured on a national stage recently when she was a showcased artist in the American Watercolor Society’s 155th Annual International Exhibition, celebrated at the Salmagundi Club in New York City. And for this noted watercolor artist and graphic designer, her inclusion in the show marks a true career milestone. Heidler shared, “I had never been so excited to get into a show! It has been a highlight of my art career so far! My painting that was accepted in the American Watercolor Society’s International Exhibit was of my cat, Maggie. It’s titled, ‘The Master’s Light’.”

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The beautiful feline proved ample inspiration for a lovely and vividly realistic portrait. “This is the third painting I’ve done of my cat,” said Heidler. “The other paintings of Maggie have been in other shows as well, and I have to give Maggie credit for being my muse.” Heidler enjoyed the experience of seeing her work exhibited at a major NYC gallery show. She stated, “One thing I love about getting into shows in other states is that I can travel to see the exhibit and meet the other artists from all over the country (some are from other countries as well). Meeting the other artists is as exciting as seeing their art. To me, it’s like meeting celebrities. I’ve seen their art on Facebook and am in awe of their abilities. It’s such a privilege to get to talk to them.”

Heidler herself has established a longstanding art career that began during her school days. “I’ve loved to draw ever since I was a kid. My art teacher in high school, Mr. Laird, saw my talent and encouraged me to grow as an artist,” she explained. “He’d enter me in art competitions in the county and I remember one summer in particular, he gave me paint to take home and an assignment to come back the next school year with 3 paintings. My father has an artistic ability which I inherited. My parents have always been supportive of me and encouraged me to do my best. After high school, I studied fine art at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio.”

As her talents developed, so too did her connection to her many muses. Heidler shares, “I choose subjects that are meaningful to me and hopefully others can look at and feel a connection. Our human need for connection is an integral part in our makeup. There is a constant struggle with how to connect to others through my paintings. It’s something that I put a lot of thought into.”

And over time, Heidler has seen a definite evolution in terms of her artistic process. “As a young artist, I wanted to paint beautiful paintings that were uplifting and would look good hanging in someone’s house,” she said. “As I’ve grown, I want to paint subjects that show life in process, whether it’s my cat sitting on a pile of laundry, a piece of driftwood on the beach, or a beautiful, elderly woman. Life is difficult but beautiful and I want to capture those moments in time that help us relate to each other.”

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And as much as she is an artist, Heidler is a continual art student as well. “I was an art major in college and we learned many different art media. I started doing my senior show (exhibition) in oils but at the time I just started to take a watercolor class,” she said. “I connected with it right away and I loved it. I love how much easier/faster it is to mix paints and how much control I have over it. When I was using oils, mixing the paint to get the right color seemed to take more time than the actual painting. I think personality and temperaments help a person decide what medium they like better.”

Heidler feels that arts competitions are a prime tool in the advancement of her art and her art career. She shares, “One thing I’ve focused on in my art career is to get into watercolor exhibitions around the country. It’s a competitive aspect that has really helped me grow as an artist. When I’m getting ready to submit to a watercolor exhibit, I will look at what paintings have been selected in the past years and it gives me an idea of “how good I need to be” to get into that show. I might realize that I need to step up my game and not enter that show just yet. For me, that means pushing myself to paint even more realistically than I have, have more patience in painting, and learn new techniques to get better at what I’m doing.”

Heidler is a signature member of the Florida Watercolor Society and the National Watercolor Society. “To become a signature member of those, you must be accepted into 3 annual exhibits,” she said. “For the NWS, there is an additional application procedure to become a signature member. I also entered the Transparent Watercolor Society of America Exhibit which is near Chicago (and I’ve traveled there once for the exhibit).”

Heidler found her inclusion in the American Watercolor Society to be a particular challenge. “The American Watercolor Society is probably THE most difficult watercolor exhibit to get into in the US,” she said. “It is open to artists all over the world and there are 5 jurors in which all 5 have to like your painting.”

Heidler was up to the challenge. “The first time I submitted a painting to The American Watercolor Society was in 2012 and I was not accepted. I realized I needed to vastly improve my painting skills, so I didn’t submit again until 6 years later,” she said. “For 3 more years, I was not accepted. Finally, my 5th time I submitted my work, I was accepted into the show!”

Heidler truly enjoyed the exhibit and her NYC adventure. “I also love sightseeing in the areas I travel. I’ve been to California many times for exhibits at the National Watercolor Society in San Pedro, and also the San Diego Watercolor Society’s International Exhibit,” she said. “But this was the first time I got to go to the AWS Exhibit in New York City. I admit I had a little bit of trepidation about going to NYC because of the things that have been in the news lately. But my husband, Joey, went with me and he navigated getting places via the subway and the bus. It was so much fun! We visited 2 art museums, the Modern Museum of Art (MoMA) and the Guggenheim and crammed a bunch of other things into the 6 days we were there. NYC is such a high energy place to be. I remember thinking the first day there, I can’t wait to come back here, because I knew we wouldn’t have enough time to do all we wanted to do.”

Aside from her painting, Heidler also excels at still life, figurative, pet portraits, landscapes, and graphic design; creating many designs on behalf of her friends at the Nature Coast Art League. “The Nature Coast Art League is very dear to my heart! They got me involved in the art scene in Brooksville when I moved here in 2007 where I formed friendships with other artists. Besides getting together for monthly meetings (Sept. – May), they provide ways for artists to get their art out into the public. They also have a weekly create-along on Mondays where they meet at People Helping People, 1396 Kass Circle in Spring Hill,” she said. “I am also a graphic designer so I create their meeting/event announcements for Facebook. I want to help get the word out to other creatives who want to find an art community to belong to.”

In the future, Karen Heidler plans to keep creating; expanding her artistic ambitions still farther to create a body of work that is in itself a masterpiece. “I currently am working on a couple portrait commissions. I will be doing a demo at the Florida Watercolor Society Convention in Punta Gorda, September 19-24, which provides opportunities for workshops and plenty of demos by accomplished watercolorists,” she said. “I’m teaching a 3-day workshop in Arkansas in October. I have a solo show lined up at the Rao Musunuru, M.D. Art Gallery at the PHSC Pasco Campus in March 2023. Some of my goals are to become a signature member of the American Watercolor Society, have more solo exhibits and to exhibit my art in other countries which will be a great reason to travel abroad!”

Linda Graves, president of Nature Coast Art League, is a fan of Karen Heidler; the artist and the person. “Although Karen is not an active member of NCAL she continues to support us by designing beautiful announcements on our NCAL Facebook page. Karen’s personality is reflected in her paintings depicting a feeling of warmth that is beautifully done,” said Graves. “She is a delightful person.”

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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