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on paper, 44x34) 
was the reward for 
working his way uphill 
through fresh snow to 
access the trail that 
offered this view. 
It was the foreground 
light and the shadows 
fi ltering through trees that 
inspired Flickering Late 
Light Along the Ridge 
Trail (acrylic and casein 
watermedia, 22x30½ ).
The beautiful scenery that Quiller encounters on his afternoon 
ski excursions offers an endless supply of landscape inspiration.
A Day in the Life
ArtistsNetwork.com 35
36 Watercolor artist | OCTOBER 2018
athryn Mapes Turner’s childhood sounds like the stuf of 
fairy tales sprinkled with Dr. Doolittle. She grew up sur-
rounded by mountains, wilderness and family on a ranch 
in Grand Teton National Park that has been operated by 
her family for i ve generations. Her father, a zoologist, 
was constantly rehabilitating animals, including coyotes, 
elk calves and all sorts of birds. “I had a pet raven, and 
we always had a bald eagle in the backyard,” says Turner. 
Being raised in such a special place had a profound impact on Turner—and 
her future career. “I felt from a very early age that I wanted to i nd a way to con-
nect with and express my appreciation for the beauty of this place I call home,” 
she says. “Painting became that mode of expression.”
GOING WITH THE FLOW
Today, she intimately documents the animals and landscape of the American 
West, consistently adding to her body of work. Although she does a lot of work 
in oil, watercolor is her i rst love. Turner started playing with watercolor as a 
child. An artist friend of her father’s noticed her interest and introduced her to 
some fundamentals of the medium. “I was handed real technical tools,” she says.
“I felt like a door had been opened to a world in which I could lose myself.”
At 12 years old, Turner had a corner of the house where she could paint. 
She’d also tuck her supplies into her saddlebag and tote them around the ranch 
and on backcountry trips with her family to do plein air painting. 
Born Free 
A STRONG DRAWING FOUNDATION, CONTROLLED PAINTING EDGES, 
PURPOSEFUL BRUSHSTROKES AND KEEN ATTENTION TO DETAIL 
BRING KATHRYN MAPES TURNER’S ANIMALS TO LIFE.
By Amy Leibrock
Free (watercolor on paper, 10x8)
38 Watercolor artist | OCTOBER 2018
With all that time to experiment,
the watercolors themselves became
her teacher. “I learned a lot of life
lessons—not to overcontrol, over-
work or overthink, and to just go with 
the l ow in an organic way,” she says. 
She learned to let the paint dry natu-
rally without fussing with it. She 
experimented with dif erent color 
combinations, dif erent ways of 
moving the water and the paint, and 
letting the water move itself—all 
skills she relies on to this day as she 
continues her relationship with the 
natural world, painting the animals 
and landscapes she cherishes from 
her studio that overlooks the Teton 
mountain range.
RETURNING TO PLAY
Turner continued to explore art in 
college while at the University of 
Notre Dame, and spent a semester
in Rome, but she didn’t yet envision 
herself earning a living as an artist. 
She went on to earn a master’s degree 
at the University of Virginia and to 
spend a few years as an art teacher
in the Washington, D.C., area. 
At a time when abstract expres-
sionism dominated the art school 
curriculum, Turner feels that she was 
lucky to i nd artist mentors from 
whom to learn more traditional 
approaches to drawing and painting. 
In 2000, even though she loved teach-
ing, she decided it was holding her 
back from her dream. So, she quit her 
job and returned to Wyoming to begin 
the transition to full-time artist. 
Now, Turner’s days are spent “play-
ing” again, observing elk migration 
and snow-packed peaks from her back-
yard. She treats learning an animal’s 
form, movement and proportions as a 
discipline and a way to honor the ani-
mal. Part of that is making sure each 
animal painting is rooted in a strong 
drawing. “h e proportions have to be 
right, because even if viewers don’t 
know how to draw, they intuitively 
know the proportions,” she says. 
Getting the drawing right is more 
about accuracy than including every ear 
and eyelash. “If it’s accurate, I can get 
away with a ‘less-is-more’ approach. ” 
CAPTURING THE SOUL 
Before Turner begins to paint, she 
makes thumbnails to work out the 
positioning and composition. “h e 
clearer I can get in my composition, 
the more coni dence I have going into 
the piece,” she says. h at strong foun-
dation allows her to take a lighthearted 
approach to the painting process.
When she’s happy with the posi-
tioning and composition, Turner will 
put down an initial wash to get her 
base set. If she’s painting an animal, 
she’ll then paint the eyes and face. 
“It’s the most important part of the 
painting,” she says. “h e eyes are so 
ArtistsNetwork.com 39
ABOVE
Coming Home (watercolor
on paper, 7x19¼ )
LEFT
Mosey (watercolor
on paper, 8x10)
40 Watercolor artist | OCTOBER 2018
special; they’re so alive, there’s so 
much soul in them. If I don’t get them 
right, I might as well just start over.” 
h e other reason Turner starts with 
the eyes is because they give the 
painting a chi, or spirit. “As a painter, 
I like to have a relationship with that 
being that’s emerging of the paper,” 
she says. “It’s much more of an engag-
ing conversation that way.” 
Once the eyes and face are set, she 
moves on to adjacent areas, resisting 
the urge to hop around the painting 
in its early stages. She also puts in her 
darks in these initial stages, similar to 
the way an oil painter would work—
a method she learned from watercol-
orist Charles Reid. h is allows her to 
ensure the painting has a strong 
structure and foundation. Adding the 
darks i rst also retains a transparent, 
less muddy quality in the color. “But 
the tricky thing is that when
I’m putting them in, I dei nitely also 
have to control the edges,” she says. 
“When I’m setting my darks, the 
whole time I’m thinking, ‘Is this going 
to be a hard edge or a soft edge, 
because when it’s wet is when I can 
change it.’ ” 
ArtistsNetwork.com 41
To work the edges, Turner loads sat-
urated paint onto the tip of a round 
brush, and less saturated paint or plain 
water onto the back of the brush. h en 
she can use the back to pull the paint 
into certain areas or to soften the 
paint. “I’ll put down saturated paint 
and then bring in water next to it to 
pull it in the direction I want,” the 
artist says. She keeps a towel handy, 
but she tries not to scrub too much. 
Turner also makes use of the white 
of the paper as a design element and
a resting place for the eye, but she has 
stopped relying on masking l uid to 
preserve those areas, preferring 
instead to control the paint and the 
edges herself.
DOING MORE 
WITH LESS
When Turner places a wash, she does 
so with coni dence; once it’s dry, she’s 
RIGHT
Union (watercolor 
on paper, 16x16)
BELOW
Pleasant Things 
(watercolor on 
paper, 12x16)
deliberate in i guring out the next move instead of 
going in with “guns blazing.” “Spending more time 
looking and thinking, and less time painting, serves me 
well,” she says. She also works from large shapes to 
small shapes, always thinking about how many edges 
she can lose so she can capture the essence of her
subject with as few as possible—in a poetic way. 
Studying Chinese brush painting has helped Turner 
resist the urge to overwork her pieces. “In Chinese 
brush painting, you do the stroke and then you leave it. 
If you go over it a second time, you kill the chi, or life 
force, of that particular stroke,” she says. “I think about 
that a lot when I make a brushstroke. It might not be 
perfect, but it will be a whole lot better than if I go in 
and paint another stroke on top of it. It will have a lot 
more personality and life to it.”
Turner uses a broad range of brush sizes, from
big, moppy washes to tiny rounds. “I love paintings
with varied brushwork—soft edges, hard edges, 
found places, lost