Monday, October 24, 2011

Mind Body Spirit Artist Interview: Karen Casey Smith

If you've been reading the Mind Body Spirit Odyssey, or have followed us through our Marketplace over the last few years, you'll probably recognize the work of artist Karen Casey Smith. We have been fortunate to be able to use her artwork on numerous occasions illustrate our articles.  Meditative, simple and beautiful...whether through her stunning photographic images or her exploration of the Mandala form, Karen's work makes a specific, focused statement...while always motioning the viewer in for a closer look.

                                                                                                        ~ diane fergurson

Awakening in Your Spiritual Heart
MBS:  Can you tell us a little about your background?  How you got started in art?

Question 1:  My start in art was through my mother's paper dolls. My mom is creative in so many ways. When I was very young, she used to draw paper dolls for us to play with. I was enchanted with her drawings, and wanted to draw them too. I watched her, practiced, and found that I could draw them, and it was fun! Once I started school, friends would ask me to draw things for them. I feel very lucky to be a part of such a creative, and talented family.

Karen:  For many years, I mostly did drawings in pencil, or charcoal pencil. It's a peaceful, meditative activity that I really enjoy. I also loved to write, and by that I mean, the pencil or pen to paper, forming the letters. Handwriting is so beautiful. I've done some calligraphy, watercolor, and was also a comic book letterer for a short time. After reading Judith Cornell's book, Mandala, I was inspired to begin making mandalas in colored pencil. For awhile that was the only art I was interested in making. Once I got a computer, I started learning Photoshop and loved the freedom of it. You're only limited by your imagination, and knowing the program. A dear friend send me a link to flower mandalas, and they were so amazing that I had to try my hand at making one. Because I wanted more of my own photographs for making new flower mandalas, I got serious about photography, and found a new love in that.

Sho Yo

Question 2:  You are both a photographer and, as you said, work with digital images to create your Mandalas.
Do you prefer one over the other?  Or does one really feed into the other?

Karen:  I love doing both! When I go out shooting, I'm surrounded by the scents, the sights, the energy of the place, and filled with love and appreciation for each subject. All these things feel as though they're kind of downloaded into me, and recorded in the images I make. Later when I open the photographs up to work on them, or create the mandalas from them, I have access to all of that information again, and that same wonderful energy comes through in my finished work. When I'm working at the computer, time seems to cease to exist. Each image, each mandala, seems to unfold organically, with ideas and connections occurring during the working process. So yes, one does feed into the other.

Solitaire-White Lotus Blossom
MBS:  I've noticed that you really do seem to have a very focused, meditative connection to the energy of your subject matter, both with the photos and your mandalas.  How does spirituality play a role in your work and as an artist?

Snow Bunny
Karen: While all aspects of life are important, my spiritual life is my foundation. It's essential to my life, and my art. All things are spiritual, including work, family, our bodies, thoughts, and our talk, so it's part of everything though not separate. We're all spiritual beings. Everything is interconnected. Everything is energy. There's a vibration, that might be perceived as a 'feeling quality', to the energy of each being, place, and object. We can just be more, or less, conscious of this.

Making artwork is a spiritual experience for me. It was always that way, even before I knew it as spiritual, or had the words to begin to describe it. In a way it's difficult to talk about all of this, because the place you create from is a silent space. It's unlimited, pure potential, so full, but the experience isn't in words. Poetry, music, images, any work of art, is a physical expression of the artist's journey of connection and communication with the Divine, and a path that can be used by others to have their own direct experience of connection. Creative expression is one of many paths to this place.

Sometimes while working with an image I feel as though I'm watching the process, though I know I have my part in it. Once I begin, the creation takes on a life of its own. The outcome is better if I remain open to inner guidance, and let the piece dictate what steps come next, instead of holding too tightly to my original vision. It's very much a collaboration.

While I'm making photographs, or editing and creating, I focus on peace, the connection with my subjects, my deep appreciation for them, their inherent divine perfection, and love, so much love. All of this energy comes through the images, and the mandalas. I truly believe that the images, and most especially the mandalas, actually radiate positive energy, and that each one has a unique vibration. They can be used to assist in balancing the energy of people and places, and for contemplation. All of my work is uplifting in nature.

MBS:  Is there anyone or anything in particular that has has a big impact, or influence, on you as an artist, or
on your work?

Karen:  A big impact on my work came when I read Judith Cornell's book, Mandala - Luminous Symbols for Healing, based on workshops she gave. She taught people to access their own personal, meaningful, symbols. They would then use their symbols to make sacred art, for transformation and healing. I found the book absolutely inspiring, a book you really want to participate in! Before I'd even read the whole book, I made my first mandala. I still love making them.

Also, for years I've practiced Reiki and T'ai Chi, and use other energy balancing systems, and these all have taught me greater awareness, and definitely influence my work.

Question 6:  What's a typical work day like for you?  Do you work on your photography and artwork every day?

MBS: The only thing that's typical is the way I begin my day. If I get a good start, set the tone, the rest of the day works out great.
After a nice glass of water, I do Donna Eden's Five Minute Energy Routine, then a modified form of the Tibetan Yogic Exercises, at least five minutes of Zhan Zhuang - the Embracing the Tree form, and then a meditation. Depending on weather, I practice my T'ai Chi outside then, or later in the day. Then it's time for breakfast, brush and play with the cats, and after that, start to work.
As a small business owner, my work includes bookkeeping, packing, shipping, inventory control, creating, and marketing, plus improving my skills, and keeping up with new technology. It's always interesting, challenging, and rewarding. And yes, I do work on photography, or artwork, every day; that's the part I love the most! Some days are filled with other work, or unexpected things come up. When that happens, I spend time on my creative work in the evening. There's either some idea I really want to try out, or I want to do just a little more on something I'm working on. I always make space for my favorite part of my work!

 MBS:  What kind of photographic equipment do you like to use?

Karen:  Other than my camera and my tripod, Photoshop is the "equipment" I like to use the best! Once you know the tools and their functions, whatever you can imagine, you can make visible with Photoshop. It's almost magical!

MBS:  Your work really does have a signature look to it...both the mandalas and your photos.  Your images are very crisp, clear and clean....colors are often bold.  What is it you are striving to portray in your images? 

Karen:  It's definitely a feeling. My work is about light and energy, about the vibrational aspect of our world. Capturing the peace and perfection present in all things, through the beauty all around us, is my focus. I hope that my work may act as a bridge to connect the viewer to the spirit, the truest essence, of my subjects, and this in turn will assist them in connecting to their own intrinsic beauty, their own peace and perfection.
Danza de la Vida
MBS: I know many artists who are very hesitant about selling their work online. I've noticed that you actively sell quite a bit of of your work that way and are on several different selling sites.  Your also pretty active with your blog. How has selling online and social networking worked out for you as an artist? Any advice you can give to other artists who are thinking about selling their work this way?

Karen: Having an online presence has been a positive experience. I love selling online. Sales come through at any time of the day or night. I meet lots of really nice people, and have made some amazing friends that I might never have known otherwise. When you sell online, your work has the potential to be seen by more people than you could ever reach in person. Your work is available to buyers at their convenience, unrestricted by the time of day, or where they're located.

My advice for selling online is to deliver high quality products, give superior service, be easy to deal with, and respond quickly and pleasantly to any communication. Provide quality pictures, and information about your work and processes, but don't be offended if it isn't read. People are busy, and have more information coming in than most anyone could keep up with. :)

Opening a shop, or creating a web site to show your work, isn't enough. Besides connecting with your audience, they need to remember you, and know where to easily find you; this is ongoing work. Marketing and promoting are a huge part of your job, though these things can simply be the ways you connect with people, not a one sided activity. Also, life will be easier and more fun if you're adaptable, and love to learn new things. Make peace with the fact that things are always changing, and there's always something new to learn. Have confidence in your work, and have fun!

MBS: Any advice you have for those who wish to pursue an artistic path?

Karen: If you feel a pull to follow an artistic path, begin to take some action in that direction, and make it a priority. They say that people regret the things they didn't do, more than the things they did do. Don't wait for conditions to be "just right," or for anyone else to approve. You don't have to quit your day job. Begin small, begin anywhere. Do even a little toward your path consistently, and it will build on itself. Make friends who are positive people, are supportive, who share your core values, and are moving forward. Jim Rohn said, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Who and what you surround yourself with matters.

Do your work with a feeling of appreciation, keep touch with why you love it, and why you chose it. This way it will always be an adventure, always be fresh.

Thank you Karen 

For more information about Karen Casey Smith, you can visit her blog.  Her work is also available for sale on Etsy and Artfire

Additional interviews from the Mind Body Spirit Artist Series:
Ben Isaiah
Emily Balivet
Laura Milnor Iverson
Joanne Miller Rafferty
Jude McConkey
Atmara Rebecca Cloe 
Alison Fennell
Fernanda Gonzalez
PattyMara Gourley

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  1. I really appreciate Karen's art work along with the energy and intent behind it. I hope everyone who reads this interview will take a look for themselves. I own some of her work and enjoy the beauty and quality of her art.

  2. I met Karen online a few years ago and her inner beauty shines through her lovely work. You can feel the happiness flooding right through your computer screen. It is a pleasure knowing her and reading this great interview of this wonderful friend. Be sure to keep an eye on her work. Her talent just keeps expanding.

    Julie Magers Soulen Photography

  3. I love the energy in her work. There's a timeless sacred element in each one. Lovely.

  4. Forgive me if this is a repeat comment. Diane, you have done another wonderful interview. Thank you. I feel as if I have been given a window into Karen's beautiful life. I have one of Karen's flower mandala calendars, and each month I love turning over the page to reveal the new month's mandala. I hope you are planning to make a flower mandala calendar for 2012, Karen!

  5. It's always a pleasure to share the work of other artists and to learn more about them. I'm also happy to be receiving so much positive feedback about the series.



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Artist,Writer, Jewelry Design