carolyn macpherson

Carolyn, Artist

Inspired by a ninth grade teacher, Carolyn Macpherson has been painting in various media ever since. As a self-taught oil painter, she readily sold her art, but wished for the training that would give her more confidence. Upon graduation from Lewis & Clark, she was hired by the local community college to teach evening art classes and calligraphy. She was also active in the Washington State Arts Commission and directed the SW Washington Arts Festival. Later, she began to win awards at major art competitions in California, where she resided with her husband and their four children at the time. She established an art gallery in the Gold Rush town of Murphys.

Thanks to an accident created by her cat spilling pre-mixed watercolors on her paper, she adopted a highly concentrated style of painting where the rich dark backgrounds of still life and florals popped off the paper. Workshops featuring this dynamic technique became a regular part of her teaching schedule. Numerous awards and accolades followed, including showing at Sacramento art galleries, the Crocker Art Museum, wine label design awards, publications in the American Artist magazine and the book, “How Did You Paint That?”

Carolyn served as an interpretive host at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon, setting up her easel and using art to explain the region’s geology. She was commissioned to illustrate all of the interpretative displays at the Visitor’s Center, as well as the signage for the park’s hiking trails and botanical gardens. Loss of her husband has left a distinct impression on her current work, which is now softer, more atmospheric and introspective. Carolyn’s work is a reflection of her commitment to plein air painting, and often features birds in flight or the natural environment.


“I have worked my way through many trends, painting styles, and media because I am a restless person. Never satisfied with status quo, I love experimentation and teaching, which I find keeps my mind open to different ways of viewing the world. I discover from my students an entirely different way of reacting to the landscape. How in the world did Paul see that tree as if it were weeping? How did Mary see all that purple in a bush I saw as mainly green? Priceless input!

I work on a series with a rather mundane subject—eggs—until I had exhausted every single way I could see and paint them. I’ve used unusual material like powdered dye in the backgrounds because I get excited about the serendipitous result like when brown blooms out with the red, blues and yellows that comprise a neutral color’s makeup. This unifies my subject to their background. Thus, I have become an expert at controlling happy accidents or using them to lead me toward another interpretation of my subject. This has led me to put on workshops that teach aspiring artists how to loosen up and experiment with watercolors, because they are, indeed, so correctable in spite of their reputation.

My time as an interpretative camp host at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon taught me the necessary discipline for the plein air paintings.

The recent loss of my husband, best friend and critic has led me to an understanding of how grief can humble one, yet also teach you to be more expressive and introspective. My paintings are now softer, more atmospheric, as if viewed though a veil of tears. Watercolors allows for the fluid interpretation of scenes that I strive for and makes the statement I choose to make about how fragile our environment is; how important it is to respect the incredible diversity of the plants and animals we have been blessed with on this earth to paint and enjoy.” — Carolyn Macpherson

All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Seed pods

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© 2018 All images copyright Carolyn Macpherson

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