"I find it amazing that I'm doing this full time," Karen Eland tells me over the phone, en route to Seattle to talk about her "coffee art." She adds, "It's just one of those random ideas that popped into my head."
Inspired to go with a wild idea she had in an Oklahoma coffee shop 15 years ago, Eland has been dipping her paintbrush in espresso shots and creating masterful art pieces since, from recreating famous masterpieces like the "Mona Latte" to having her painting of the royal couple hit the front page of the British papers. Currently, Eland is focused on creating original landscapes—with coffee, yes, but also beer and even a bit of chocolate.
She continues, "I hope people are encouraged to step out and try those weird ideas they get, because pursuing something that strikes you might lead to something really enjoyable. I would encourage people to play around."
This month's featured artist, Eland spoke to the Source about the strong art collective here in Bend, and what inspires her.
SW: What's the process like to paint with coffee?
KE: I tried a few things, using loose grounds for example, but I finally settled on working with about five or six shots of espresso, letting it sit and evaporate so it becomes a bit more condensed. I add water to get the lighter shades.
SW: Having moved around a bit, how has living in Bend influenced your art?
KE: I've gotten more into landscapes because, of course, we all love the scenery around here. Also the community of other artists has really inspired me to learn and try new things. I used to recreate famous masterpieces.
SW: Such as a painting of the royal couple made from coffee?
KE: Oh gosh, yeah. Somebody wanted me to do that and it made the front page of the Times and the Telegraph. It was weird. I actually still have it. I should probably send it to them (laughs).
SW: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
KE: Unexpected travel. That article led to a lot of promotional stuff in Europe, including a Croatian Coffee and Art Festival that had me come and paint. I went to London and painted with beer for a commercial, I went to Dubai for a coffee trade show...so it has allowed me to travel which is something I love. It's great when my job allows me to do that.
SW: Has anything unexpected come out of your paintings? Anything weird?
KE: (Laughs) I've definitely had some weird ones...At first I was painting a lot of people's pets. There was this one weird, bald cat that they wanted painted. You know the hairless, wrinkly ones? It just looked so funny (keeps laughing). That wasn't very inspirational. For the commercial in England, it was for a very light, Indian beer. When I painted with it, it wouldn't show up, so I ended up mixing Indian curry spices with it and made a painting out of that. That was definitely different.
SW: You're also known for painting with beer. Tell us the process? KE: Yeah, it's pretty simple. I just get a dark beer like a porter or a stout. The lighter ones don't really show up.
SW: How is Bend different, in terms of the collaboration that happens here with other artists? Is the movement any different?
KE: What I have noticed is that everyone is just so down to earth and nice (laughs), so nobody really has an ego. For example, I was trying to make some frames out of lumber and iron sheets and I didn't even know how to begin. Stuart from the shop next to the Workhouse came over and said, "Oh I've got this tool, that tool" and he completely came and helped me make these frames. So there's this atmosphere here that if someone has a skill they're really willing to share it and there's not this sense of competing with each other to sell more stuff. It's more so, everybody is in this together, and that helps you overcome all the self-doubt that you can have as an artist when you're trying new things.
SW: With that sense of community behind you, are you planning on painting with any other medium?
KE: Oh yeah! I have done a bit of chocolate painting, and then wine, of course, which isn't as good at making the range of tones and depth but makes cool purple paintings. I like painting with coffee or beer because I find that it's a soothing color. Every now and then, I'm drawn to things that are colorful and so sometimes I wish I could capture that. I have a series of colorful oil paintings in the back of my mind that I'm going to begin working on this year.
SW: To finish it off...favorite cup of coffee?"
KE: Ah...I love a really great cappuccino.
SW: And your favorite beer?
KE: Oh gosh (laughs)...in this town that's too hard to answer.