Karen Couillard’s colourful work portrays a mix of illustration, pop culture, cartoons and contemporary living on everything from oversized canvasses to the tiniest compacts.
Karen Couillard did not set out to make her living as an artist. However, nowadays she has not one, but two thriving businesses revolving around her artistic talents. “It happened as a fluke,” says Couillard. “I studied interior design and I studied art, but I just fell into it by chance because I didn’t think people would buy paintings, and I always heard of the term starving artist so I never dared to try it.” The turning point came in 1998, when an interior designer friend from Montreal saw her paintings and purchased them for a client.
Couillard grew up on the East Coast and attended Cegep and Riviere-du-loup for interior Design and Laval University for Fine Arts. Growing up she doodled and illustrated but never really painted. She started painting when she and her husband moved to Burlington in 1994 because her walls were bare.
“We were starting out and didn’t have much money so I starting buying paintings [at garage sales],” says Couillard “and I didn’t like the image but I liked the frame so I would take acrylic paint and just paint over it, just for fun and put it on my walls. People would come over and say “Oh my God – I love this, it’s so great.’ And that really was my first stab at it.”
Couillard paints out of her home studio in her distinctive “Groovy Arts” style using acrylics. It’s unique characteristics include elements in black and 19-karat gold, distorted and narrative elements.
“I do everything basically opposite of what I learned in school, so I don’t play with the shadows like most artists would do. Wherever it falls, it falls. I think I make it messier now than I used to. Before it used to be less brush strokes, now it’s very vibrant and very busy,” she says. “I like something that’s distressed. I don’t like something that’s clean. Realism art is like a picture so there’s no real expression there. There’s talent but at the same time, there’s no creativity.”
Her artwork portrays a mixture of illustrative art, pop culture, cartoons and contemporary living. “I always like to use bright colours and I like to paint about lifestyles and things that people will look at, and it’s going to trigger happiness, a memory,” adds Couillard. “It’s basically lifestyles – sitting in a bistro, sitting at a café or painting the places that people love to go to France or Las Vegas, or painting icons, brands.”
All her pieces are varnished and mounted on 1.5-inch thick canvas with the image wrapping around the sides. The majority of her work consists of custom orders for original paintings varying sizes.
Groovy Arts, co-owned by her graphic designer husband Steve Couillard, has evolved into a company that includes compact mirrors, greeting cards and cardholders, all based on her paintings and can be found for sale locally at Burlington’s Bella Tesori. Couillard is in the process of working on a brand new line of custom invitations for weddings, bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs based on her art.
Couillard reflects on the evolution that has transpired since she sold those first paintings. “Sometimes, I look at the first ones I did, and I never thought it would lead to this. Now we work full time together because of it.”