Hitt painting at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in La Conner, Washington

Karen Hitt is a woman on a mission, and she’ll travel 12,000 miles before her journey is through. Why is she painting across the country?

“Birth Home,” by Karen Hitt, 2013, oil, 11 x 14 in. Painted in Columbus, Ohio

The Florida painter explains that it just seemed more practical to stretch out the road trip instead of making two separate ones — she was already booked at the Plein Air Convention & Expo, in Monterey, and the Publisher’s Invitational Paint Out, last week in the Adirondack Mountains. That put her in California in early April and New York in mid-June. Then one of her students turned patron and sponsored a long road trip, with the idea being that Hitt would generate enough plein air paintings to spur some studio work and together form a large exhibition, which has already been planned for the Venice Art Center, in Venice, Florida. “My main goal was to build up my painting inventory, cover the nation, and grow as an artist,” she says. 

“Full Moon Room May,” by Karen Hitt, 2013, oil, 9 x 12 in.
“High Falls,” by Karen Hitt, 2013, oil, 11 x 14 in. 

Hitt’s setup at High Falls, in the Adirondack Mountains

Hitt participated in the Paint the Town event in Bradenton, Florida, on April 5, and then drove straight to Monterey for the Plein Air Convention. She then drove up the West Coast to Washington to catch the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, and then, after exploring Washington a bit more, Hitt drove down to Big Sur along the Pacific Coast Highway. One of her sons lives in Big Bear Lake, California, so she used that as a base as she flew to Boston to see the Anders Zorn exhibition and to paint lilacs at the Arnold Arboretum. After flying back to Big Bear Lake, Hitt drove her car to Zion National Park, painted a moonrise, then proceeded to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. She next painted at various spots in Colorado before heading to Chicago, and on to Columbus, Ohio, where she painted the house where she was born. After going through Pittsburgh (and painting), Hitt made her way to the Adirondacks to participate in the Publisher’s Invitational. Afterward, the artist took the ferry across Lake Champlain and stopped in Burlington, Vermont, long enough to speak with us. She will now drive up the Maine coast, painting as she goes, before driving down the East Coast all the way to Florida. “Everywhere I went, the lilacs were in bloom, but now it’s getting hot,” she says.

Hitt also sketched in her Moleskine notebook on the trip.

“Shrimped,” by Karen Hitt, 2013, oil, 12 x 16 in. Painted in Bradenton 

“Wedding Rock,” by Karen Hitt, 2013, oil, 6 x 8 in.
“Scent of Spring,” by Karen Hitt, 2013, oil, 16 x 12 in.
Hitt wasn’t fazed by the prospect of traveling alone, but she says several women have approached her and said she was an inspiration to them to head out on their own and do the same. “I camped as much as I stayed in bed and breakfasts,” she says, “but I learned that even camping, with broken nails, I could still be a girlie girl out in the woods.”

What else has she learned on this mammoth trip? “I’ve learned to edit my supplies and to simplify my paintings,” she says. “I often told my students that it’s about shapes and values and temperatures and a strong composition. It’s not about details. I’ve learned to be better at editing.”

“Gabriel’s Farm,” by Karen Hitt, 2013, oil, 8 x 19 in. Painted during the Publisher’s Invitational Paint Out

“Zion’s Welcome,” by Karen Hitt, 2013, oil, 14 x 24 in. Hitt calls this a personal favorite.

“Asilomar Wind and Surf,” by Karen Hitt, 2013, oil, 8 x 10 in. Painted during the Plein Air Convention & Expo

Hitt has some tips for people who want to try a similar trip. Apples are a super food, she says, and give you energy to drive without making you feel lethargic. Have dark chocolate on hand, always — she prefers Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips. Take plenty of bug spray, and protect yourself against the sun. Hitt wears a big hat, long sleeves and wool socks, regardless of the weather. And finally, don’t count on your smartphone or your GPS. Not all parts of the country are covered. “If anyone is thinking of doing this, make sure you have a roadmap and a good compass,” Hitt says. “There are more women out here doing this than I think people realize. I encourage people to do it, and do it safely.”


  1. Excellent piece in all respects: general content, photos, philosophy, “pointers,” artist’s profile, etc.! Thanks!!

  2. We have been privileged to have Dawn teach portraiture as well as plein air painting at Peninsula School of Art for many years. A frequent featured artist in our Door County Plein Air Festival, she was also featured in a recent portrait exhibition at our School. The photo of “In Tandem” shown in your article here identified the painting as being shown in our Gunzel Gallery, which is actually spelled Guenzel. Thank you for including us in your post.

  3. I am so glad to see her get the recognition she so richly deserves. I’ve taken a few of her workshops…and hope to participate in more. She always brings something new to the table.

  4. Dawn is a top notch painter and top notch person in every way! I’m glad to see her receive the recognition she deserves.

  5. Have been a big fan of Dawn’s for years. She did a lovely portrait of my daughter when she was about 18 months. It’s fabulous. She will be doing both my kids when they are older. Her landscapes are incredible as well. She is an fabulous talent and a wonderful person both personally and professionally!

  6. I follow Dawn Whitelaw’s work and teachings whenever I can. Her influence on the art community is far reaching. She is a rare master who still devotes her generosity to others. Thank for doing this article. Would love to see more on Dawn Whitelaw.

  7. Your wonderful article captures Dawn’s lovely spirit and philosophy. Those of us living in Middle Tennessee are unusually fortunate to have in our midst someone of Dawn’s caliber as a mentor and role model, gifted teacher, beautiful painter and generous member of our art community. She is a remarkably talented and giving person who has made a significant difference in the lives of many of our local artists.

  8. I recently took a “plein air boot camp” from Dawn. She is a wonderful teacher and now I consider her a friend and mentor. I love her passion for painting and willingness to share her gift.
    Great article for a great person and artist.

  9. Dawn Whitelaw is a superstar! She has devoted her life to painting, and her dedication is clearly visible in her work. Her paintings capture endless layers of emotion, interpretation, and presence. After a lifetime of preparation, she is being rightly recognized as one of the most precious jewels among fine artists. Indeed, she has risen far beyond being regionally recognized as a painter of portraits and landscapes: Dawn Whitelaw is a world-class artist.

  10. Her paintings are as beautiful as her soul! Took her workshop in oil and she was hands down the best painting instructor I’ve encountered…and that includes classes in college and at RISD!


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