BROOKSVILLE — Karen Heidler has become one of the best-known artists in Hernando County in recent years, and her watercolors have adorned gallery walls throughout the state.
But this past week, the work of the 42-year-old Brooksville painter earned even broader recognition: one of her paintings was included in the National Watercolor Society's annual members show in San Pedro, Calif.
Thanks to a donation received from the Spring Hill Art League, Heidler traveled to attend what she called a "blessing and a dream come true" to present her painting.
Called The Reader, the piece was one of just 80 works — out of 500 submitted — selected for the show.
"I was surprised but really glad that they chose a painting that I enjoyed working on so much," Heidler said.
Heidler's creation, which will remain on display at the society's gallery through Aug. 14, had already won recognition last year, when the Florida Watercolor Society selected it to be part of its first-ever traveling exhibit.
Florida society president Marilyn Johansen said Heidler has mastered the ability to bring deep emotions to simple subjects.
"She is very realistic and that's rare in the medium," Johansen said. "She uses light and composition to get across feeling and emotion. You find yourself drawn into her paintings as if you're right there with the subject."
The inspiration for The Reader came from a photo Heidler took last year at a Mother's Day event at Brooksville Wesleyan Church, where her husband, Joey, serves as pastor.
While visitors were milling around the building, she noticed a girl alone in a classroom.
"She was so intent on looking at the pictures in the book that she didn't even notice me as I started snapping pictures of her," Heidler said.
"The light coming in the window, illuminated through the scarf she had over her head — I remembering thinking to myself, 'Wait for it; wait for it.' She was just getting ready to turn the page and the light caught the book."
For Heidler, the deep contrast of light and color makes for a compelling image that commands the viewer to take a closer look. A demanding medium, working with watercolors requires precise timing and planning and a very steady hand that Heidler says took years for her to develop. Her hope is that the images she creates reveal aspects of her personality.
"I really enjoy pastoral scenes that reflect my faith and respect for humanity," she said. "I work hard to bring that to my audience and to share with them the beauty that is all around us."
Heidler's art career has followed a series of personal stepping stones that dates to her youth growing up in Hyndman, Pa., where she was first drawn to art by illustrations she saw in children's books.
After high school, she studied art at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Ohio. She also met her future husband, who encouraged her to consider becoming a book illustrator.
But Heidler ended up concentrating her talents on creating more personal art in her home while raising three children. An admitted "night person," she often paints after everyone in her household is asleep.
As her knowledge and artistic skills have evolved, so have her paintings. Working almost exclusively from photos allows her to better depict the interplay of colors, she said.
"My flavor is detail. I enjoy bringing reality to the canvas."
A part-time independent graphic design artist, Heidler said she would one day like to make her living strictly as an artist and have her paintings featured in well-known galleries around the world.
That could happen with help from the National Watercolor Society, one of the oldest artistic organizations in the United States. In addition to its annual members show, the organization sponsors art exchanges with other nations.
"Being a successful artist means getting recognized, and I'm trying to do that more," Heidler offered. "This past year has brought a lot of wonderful experiences for me. I look forward to seeing what doors open next."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.