It all started with one little painting that I had to have. Found at the Arts Council of Princeton, Longport Firehouse packed a gentle wallop in just eight inches square. The light and shadow were so enigmatic that it got me wondering about its maker. A few kind emails later and I was in the Princeton, New Jersey home and studio of illustrator and painter Karen Stolper, where she lives with her husband, two young daughters, and dog, Whiskey.
As the rain pounded away outside, I gratefully accepted a cup of Earl Grey tea, and listened as Stolper revealed herself to be that rare breed of artist: focused, composed, quietly self-assured. Even rarer: she has always worked for herself and by herself, making a living doing editorial and illustration work.
A few years ago, seeking a change from the editorial work, Parsons-trained Stolper gave herself a year to paint. She says it was a gift, not having to worry about whether the work was any good, or if it would be bought. And though she still takes the occasional illustration job, like the children’s book she’s working on at the moment, her current unfinished “story to tell” is her architectural paintings, which showcase the fine detail of her eye and hand: delicate phone wires, a particular green, a shadow from an awning, a gable.
She tells me that she is inspired by her everyday environment: by the way light, shadow, sky and buildings all fit together. Her methodical nature is as clear in her process as it is in her speech. She paints one piece at a time, from beginning to end, and though she says when she is done with a painting, she is done; Stolper sounds concerned over the fate of her paintings. "I want them to have a home, but that being said, it's like sending my children out into the world."
As our visit comes to an end, Stolper sits patiently as I take a reluctant photo of her. She scratches behind Whiskey's ears, and then generously shares info on a local photo exhibit she thinks I should catch, and says that she'd like to see my studio sometime. Then she hands me my coat and sends me out into the world.