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In the Spotlight: Kara Tripp

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Explore Montana’s scenery through the palette knife

By Timothy Behuniak

BOZEMAN – There is a saying that one should do what one loves in order to be happy and successful. For Kara Tripp, that means creating paintings of her backyard with a palette knife.

The third-generation Bozeman native has always been surrounded by the creative world. Her father was an artist who painted wooden decorative decoys and her family traveled with him to art shows in the summer.

Although she studied chemical engineering at Montana State University, Tripp worked odd jobs after graduation until fully dedicating herself to a creative career.

“My mother-in-law is also an artist, so her and my dad both encouraged me to start painting,” said Tripp, now 40. “There was a gallery in Big Timber that was opening and they were accepting new art, so I submitted a few pieces, which was in 2008.”

Beginning with just a few paintings she created, Tripp enrolled in the Montana Artrepreneur Program in her early 30s. MAP, as the program is known, is a Helena-based business school for artists, one that “demystifies the world of business” and affirms a creative path as a credible profession, according to its website.

“The program really propelled me from being a hobby artist to doing shows and selling more work,” Tripp said.

After completing the program, Tripp’s production and sales skyrocketed. One factor is that her pieces transport you to a familiar place, like driving down Highway 191 into Gallatin Canyon. Another is Tripp’s style of chosen medium.

“I used to paint with a brush but switched to a palette knife because of its impressionistic feel,” she said. “I can quickly move the oil around, scrape or build up the paint to create nice textures.”

A palette knife looks like a miniature trowel and artists often use one to mix paint before applying it with a brush. But Tripp uses the palette knife to create her paintings because of its ability to quickly put paint to canvass and to give her art a thicker, mosaic quality and depth.

“I paint fairly traditional subjects in terms of bison, cranes, foxes and Montana landscapes, but the way I paint and frame them is a little more contemporary,” Tripp said.

In her artist statement, Tripp describes the palette-knife approach as a liberation from her fixation with minuscule details: “I feel sometimes like I’m sculpting things to create my shapes, which leaves an impressionistic end result and leaves a little to the imagination.”  

Tripp draws inspiration from her childhood and her present-day surroundings. Growing up in southwestern Montana meant regularly witnessing the sights and scenes of The Treasure State, including bison and other wildlife. Plus, she works from photographs she takes while driving around or near town.

“I take photos of hay bales everywhere I drive when the light is nice,” Tripp said. “My kids can get annoyed and think each one looks the same, but they always look different with different light and trees behind them.”

Tripp finds her muse in the old masters of impressionism, but also in contemporary artists, such as Robert Moore, an Idaho-based palette knife painter. “After taking his class I realized that a palette knife offers the results I want,” she said. “His work, bold technique and first instinct of not reworking his paintings once starting really attracted me.”

At the Sweet Pea Art Festival in Bozeman, Tripp was a featured artist in 2014 and her artwork was chosen for “Best in Show” three years in a row at the event’s art exhibition. “I grew up going to Sweet Pea every year so it was a really cool full circle to win their poster contest,” Tripp said.

The artist now creates and hangs her work for the public to view in studio 111 in the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture. “I love the Emerson,” Tripp said. “It’s a great place to be because of the events they always put on and I think people really know it for its one-of-a-kind Montana art.”

Along with the Emerson, Tripp’s work has been featured throughout downtown Bozeman in various local businesses and public spaces, including the library and Lockhorn Cider. She has also been featured in galleries in Billings, Bigfork and Big Sky among other Montana towns.

In addition to painting familiar subjects, Tripp also produces commissioned pieces in specific sizes and themes for clients, such as portraits or family pets. “Anything is possible if someone knows what they want,” she said. “It’s a really fun part of my business because I get to paint things I never would have created otherwise.”

For Tripp, there’s no slowing down anytime soon. “I like being my own boss and speaking with people one-on-one when they come to my studio,” she said, smiling. “I’m happy to say that this is my full-time gig.”

Visit to view more of the artist’s work.

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