AIP: How would you describe your style of work and what is your preferred medium to work in? 

KL: I would say I have two distinct styles. In my figure and landscape work, I usually incorporate finer detail, often with collage elements using a variety of papers. These pieces, especially the figurative work, often illustrate a more personal, narrative theme.

In my Wild Things series of animal portraits, I am freed up to apply a more expressive painterly approach using bold colour and strokes. Sometimes I apply collage to these pieces as well; I have always loved the texture and layering that is used in textile art and found I could satisfy the desire for texture by incorporating collage elements into my pieces.

Pursuing two styles used to confound me, as I’d always heard that artists need to focus on producing a cohesive body of work in one recognizable style, but now I accept them both as expressions and extensions of myself.

AIP: What were you first steps toward selling your art and what type of setting was this in, a gallery, art & crafts show, market, on-line or elsewhere?

KL: I was an illustrator for 20 years, but always harboured a desire to find my own voice without client-driven projects. When I moved away from Calgary to the small community of Crowsnest Pass, I found a community that supported the arts through a local public art gallery. It was through this gallery and community that I became brave enough to put my own work into the public arena. It was initially a difficult transition, in the sense that I kept trying to figure out who I was painting for, having been used to receiving art direction for so long. But soon I was able to let that go and focus on what I wanted to express for myself, and this became the greatest lesson of my early painting career: 

“Stick to what inspires you, without thinking about who it is for, or who will buy it, and you absolutely will find an audience who responds to your authentic voice”.

Even though those early figure works were very personal, I received so much positive feedback and encouragement, including many sales, that I never looked back. 

I joined an arts co-op in nearby Fernie, where I began to sell art cards and prints of some of my work. I decided to apply to Art Market in Calgary, a beautiful show that I’d attended for years but never imagined I’d be a part of. It was a hugely rewarding experience, as I found that people did not come into my booth who did not like my work. As a result, I had many wonderful conversations with people who shared stories and spoke to me of the connection they felt to my work. This left me wanting to continue to sell my work in this way, rather than pursuing commercial galleries; I find it so rewarding to have that personal interaction with my patrons.

Now I do three markets a year, as well as three wholesale shows in which I sell reproductions of my Wild Things imagery to retailers across Canada. I also consign to several co-operative galleries in Alberta and BC, and participate in group shows in public art galleries when I can. I have had one solo show in our local public art gallery, but find it difficult to carve out time to create a large body of work for these types of shows too often.

AIP: Why do you choose Art Ink to print your reproductions, and what products to you order from us?

KL: I was introduced to Scott and Art Ink in 2009 through another artist who recommended him, and I have never once considered looking elsewhere for my card and print needs. From the beginning, Scott amazed me with the attention and patience he applied to my endless questions and concerns, as well as the care he took in making sure that the reproductions were produced as close as possible to the original art.

It is apparent he is an artist himself, and his knowledge of printing, marketing and art is so broad that he can answer just about any question posed. If he can’t, he will direct you to someone who can. And now with Dan handling sales, it just gets better. He is an absolute delight to work and correspond with- I can’t say enough about the professional and courteous way I have been treated over the past decade by Scott, Dan and the Art Ink team.

AIP: If you could look back in time and meet yourself when you first started making an income as an artist; what would be the most valuable piece of advice you would give yourself?

KL: I would say what I say to all artists: stay true to yourself and listen closely to what is whispering in your heart. Follow those doors that open and keep an open mind to the endless possibilities. I couldn’t have imagined I would be where I am at now years ago when I was focusing exclusively on figure work. When those bears kept whispering in my ear, I had to sit up and pay attention.

Painting of 3 bears by Kari Lehr

‘Haven’ by Kari Lehr

AIP: What are your favorite methods for marketing yourself as a self representing artist?

KL: I do love attending markets and shows which allow me to experience the immediate reaction of patrons and visitors to my booth. Often they react with delight to the colours in my Wild Things series, and it is not at all uncommon to witness an emotional reaction or share tears over a memory or experience that is recalled through the contemplation of a painting. It is just so rewarding to connect with your audience on such a personal level.

After I realized that my bears were being purchased and commissions requested, and that there was a market for the reproductions, my husband Dave and I decided to take the plunge into wholesaling this imagery to retailers across Canada. We attended our first Gift Show in February of 2015, and marketing and selling reproductions of the Wild Things line has become a full time business for both my husband and me. I am not in any retail art galleries, so I do not have the pressure of needing to quickly paint a bear to fill a space on a gallery wall. This is immensely comforting to me, as I have been able to retain the wonder and joy of painting bears and other animals without feeling that it’s become a chore.

AIP: Can you tell us an event or occasion which excited you the most, with regards to getting your art ‘out there’ for people to see?

KL: I think my first Art Market (the Calgary show) and our first Wholesale show were the most exciting and nerve-wracking experiences for me. I’d always admired the Calgary show but had bought into the idea that it was beyond my ability and that I wasn’t good enough. Experiencing the first show gave me so much confidence and clarity in terms of not buying into the “not good enough” line of thinking from then on. The wholesale show was a total game changer for my career, and it is a very different type of experience.

Again I felt overwhelmed with my lack of knowledge, but found that by remembering that people are just people everywhere you go, and not being afraid to say when you don’t know or understand something, you get by and do just fine. It was a huge learning curve that took a long time to adjust to (still working on it!) but has been a very rewarding and positive experience. More than anything, I value connection and relationship-building, and many of my retailers have become friends. The Wild Things line is now in over 110 shops across Canada – something I could never have imagined years ago when those bears kept trying to get my attention!

AIP: Where can our followers and your patrons find your work, and keep up to date with your new creations?

KL: Instagram @karilehrart

Facebook: Kari Lehr Art

Website: where I have a list of retail locations for my work, as well as a list of shows and markets I’ll be exhibiting at. Currently I am working on having a shopping cart added to my website.

AIP: Any other comments you would like to share?

KL: The cultivation of gratitude is a constant in my life. I am so grateful for all the art lovers (some self-proclaimed, and others who have just been awakened to the joys of art) out there who not only connect with and purchase my work, but who take the time to email me or share their thoughts in person. It is encouraging and validating, and keeps me painting; it also proves to me without a doubt, that art is not a luxury, but a vital, nourishing and necessary part of our human experience.

Thank-you so much Kari for sharing your story with us. Your creative style and joy of painting help us all reflect on the natural beauty of our environment as well as our inner souls. Life in colour truly lets the wild things stay free.