Karen Foster, the current featured artist at the Painted Lily, takes her turn sitting the co-op, driving her Jeep there from her mountain home off of Highway 46.
But if she had her druthers, she'd ride a horse. "It's a great way to see the world, from the back of a horse,” Foster said.
Horses are not only her favorite form of transportation, but also the subject of many of her paintings.
One reason she loves riding horses is to get to spots inaccessible by vehicles or foot where she can paint outdoors.
Recording natural areas is a passion for the woman who was a founder of San Luis Outdoor Painters Enterprise. She also spent 20 years with The Oak Group in Santa Barbara County, which gave her the chance to visit Santa Cruz Island often. The group sold paintings to make money for the Nature Conservancy.
"We could stay for days and paint. It was probably one of the highlights of my life."
Foster has won numerous awards, including Best of Show for the Color of Autumn, and has exhibited extensively, including the Cattlemen's Western Art Show and in Florence, Italy. She's been showing her art since her late teens and has continued to hone her skills with classes and workshops over the years. Since 1989 the Zazen gallery in Coronado has carried her work.
Although Foster has been riding horses to painting locations since age 14, it started even earlier "when I was on my bicycle wishing it was a horse."
Since age 12 she's taken part in cattle roundups on area ranches, and always has her camera at the ready.
"Of course you're always moving," Foster said, but she manages to grab her camera now and then to capture the motion, the light, the dust.She also rides mules and for the past five years assisted the muleskinner who leads off the pre-Mid State Fair cattle drive through the streets of Paso Robles.
But if necessary she takes shelter in her car, and one stormy winter did what she calls her "windshield wiper series."
For most of her 50-year painting career, Foster has used acrylics, since they're the easiest to tote and use outdoors. But lately she's taken up oils. She also works in watercolors, having inherited the paints from her late mother, Margaret Foster.
Now that Foster's horses are old and she's not riding as much, she still pulls alongside the roadways to sketch and to take photos to add to her stockpile. "I've taken a ton of pictures and hope to use them to paint more."