The Motif is Me: I think that I should never see a poem as lovely as… a tree!

Heart of Old Town, detail, acrylic painting, Karen Gillis Taylor

Heart of Old Town, detail, acrylic painting, Karen Gillis Taylor

Motif: A recurrent thematic element in an artistic or literary work.

That’s one definition of motif. I love finding motifs repeated in my favorite painter’s works. Once you start to notice this concept, it becomes extremely revealing about the artist employing that motif.

The Tree motif: I paint trees differently depending on the concept or “style” of the painting, but lately I’m finding that my favorite trees I’ve painted have an element of playful design, interesting color, or a little mystery. This detail from the Heart of Old Town painting has interesting color for me. Blue leaves. There could be no other color here.

"Just off of the Piazza," detail, Acrylic, 12 x 24", Karen Gillis Taylor

“Just off of the Piazza,” detail, Acrylic, 12 x 24″, Karen Gillis Taylor

The placement of this tree reminds me of a childhood game. “Stop, tell me the password and I’ll let you pass!” Who plants a tree in the middle of a narrow street after all? Now the tree is a character. I often think of the subjects in my painting as characters even if they are trees or buildings or roads with reflections.

Skiers, detail, acrylic, Karen Gillis Taylor

“Skiers”, detail, acrylic and ink on canvas, Karen Gillis Taylor

I really like the mixed media and positive/negative effect of this tree theme in “Skiers” that I’ve used often in art work. Seems to make the trees and the whole scene come alive. Nature is alive, and I want to paint it lively!

The trees I paint in compositions provide a real vehicle for expression I seem to connect with, ever since the first time my 6th grade art teacher, Miss Nelson, took our class out into the neighboring field to draw a tree. This was my first real revelation that I could draw what I saw. Now I draw what my imagination sees, no less important to me!

Do you love a particular motif? I like to draw things living in the ocean, and I found there is a symphony called “Ocean”, by Anton Rubinstein. He found his motif and made an incredible work of music.

We could go on and on with motifs and how artists use them. Do you like jazz? I do. Big time! Miles Davis made a recording of My Funny Valentine, and that is also “our song” for my husband and me. Kind of explains my use of the heart motif over the years as well. I love to paint things close to my heart and inspiration. That is why the word “motif” is useful and worth exploring.

What do you think? Do you connect with a favorite image or idea that might be your motif of choice? (We might have many, tell me one of your favorites!)

I am sharing this poem by Joyce Kilmer, “Trees”, which is a classic, simple and lovely. My Grandma Kay loved poetry and would have known this one, maybe by heart.

“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”

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4 Responses to “The Motif is Me: I think that I should never see a poem as lovely as… a tree!”

  1. Leslie Clark Says:

    I love your trees!


  2. becky Says:

    You never cease to amaze me. do you have the first trees in a photo and lesson plan of colors that I can purchase. I love it!!! As a matter of fact, I love all your art….and look forward to your sharing.


    • karen Says:

      Hi Becky,
      Thanks so much for your comments! Hoping to inspire readers, so it means so much to me to hear this.
      I have an upcoming book/ebook coming out this year if all goes well, about color and design, with tips for gaining more confidence as you create your own work. Please shoot me an email to get into my address book so I can keep you informed about it.
      Here’s my email address:
      Thanks Becky,


  3. magicinthewoods Says:

    I love your use of colour. Very powerful. I like to create bookarts, and each one surrounds a theme of sorts. The current one is treehouse, tho not always always treehouses…


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