For Tulsa native Karen Eland, coffee is more than a pick-me-up in the morning; it’s part of her unique art.
Eland, who resides in Oregon, paints with coffee. Her journey with this unusual medium began several years ago, when she patronized Nordaggio’s Coffee in south Tulsa.
“I was painting a watercolor while sitting at the bar, where I could watch the beautiful, red-brown espresso coming out of the machine,” Eland says. “I thought it was a beautiful color, and that if coffee stains things, maybe it could be a paint. The barista encouraged me to try, so I did, and it worked.”
For the next several years, Eland says she perfected her technique, often while at the coffee shop. The owner became a fan and commissioned several pieces, she says. A 4-foot-by-8-foot “caffeinated” take on The Last Supper is displayed there.
“It’s still one of the largest pieces I’ve done,” Eland says.
Painting with coffee can be tricky and has its quirks, says Eland, who uses watercolor paper for the medium.
“It’s very similar to watercolor paint, but will come back off the page if you press too hard in second and third layers,” she says. “It takes a delicate touch.
“Since I already had experience in watercolor painting, coffee painting came pretty easily. My style is a more realistic one, so I have to go carefully and delicately to achieve good results.”
Eland has become noted for re-creating classic works with her method.
“Mona Latte was my first ‘real’ coffee painting,” she says. “I wanted to see if the coffee could handle the detail of a masterpiece, and the idea to have Mona Lisa holding a cup popped into my head.
“It was a fun way to challenge myself and bring joy to the viewer. Then I realized how many famous pieces could have a coffee twist, and I set off on a long series, learning from the different master artists as I repainted their works. I don’t always include a direct coffee reference, but it’s exciting to find paintings that would work with a twist.”
Every artist has a process, and Eland is no different.
“I sketch the painting first, very lightly so the pencil doesn’t smudge with the coffee,” she says. She also likes to work from a reference, most often a photograph or print. “It helps me capture all the details. Some artists work mostly from their own imaginations, but I really enjoy the process of making something look like what I am seeing.”
Eland has also developed a way to paint with beer, especially dark ales.
“I started out as a colored pencil and watercolor artist, and currently still do oils, acrylics and watercolor paintings when I want a break from all-brown paintings,” she says.
Eland starting painting when she was 15, when she took a portrait class at the former Triangle Art Supply store in Tulsa.
For those interested in creating art or branching out to a new medium, Eland has nothing but inspiration to offer.
“I encourage people to follow the spark of curiosity when it hits,” she says. “You never know where it will lead.”